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Drew Lecher

“GPS” –– 2.1 Shifting

December 5, 2007 at 9:12 AM

How do you think of, view and order the movement?

Plan actions > Accuracy, Fluidity > MASTERY

Your Global Positioning Satellite/Mental Positioning Satellite is all-important.

This is the 2nd of what is intended to be a series of blogs dealing with:

1. Left Hand
2. Shifting
3. Right Arm
4. Right Hand
5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of ”GPS” for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope it is of benefit to you.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the numerous variables –– they will free you to maneuver, easily flowing into any setting for the left hand to accomplish the passage.


Everything affects everything.

Intonation is one of the primary areas of focus in all we do. This applies to the intervallic measurements set about for the left hand fingers and arm, and also the contact variables of the Bow Hair to the string — the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to accomplish the desired dynamics and character of the music.

The above statement is also true of shifting. The various parts of the arm and hand always work in concert together.

(Excerpted from my violin and viola books.)

See – Left Hand/Arm; Posture 2 & 3; Guide Notes;
Basics III pg 14-15; Basics IV pg 16-17; Shifting pg 24-26.
Note the method of training shifts throughout the studies.

Shift/Full Shift:

1. Shift arm/hand/thumb/fingertip simultaneously maintaining the face angle (fingernail) of the sliding finger.

2. Practice slow, smooth movements of varying touch, rhythm and tempo — avoid whiplash or fishing for note/position (where the finger searches/rolls for the missed note).

3. Shrink the hand gradually while shifting up the lower fingers/knuckles close in the direction of the shift toward the higher finger.

4. Expand the hand gradually while shifting down the lower fingers/knuckles open in the direction of the shift away from the higher finger.

5. In points 3 & 4 above, use the contracting or expanding capabilities of the palm and knuckles.

Pivot Shift/Half Shift:

1. The thumb retains its location, only pivoting as needed.

2. Move arm /hand/fingertip simultaneously.

3. The face may or may not change angle.

4. Generally used for shifting smaller intervals especially when there will be a quick return to the previous position.

Walking Shift :

1. It could be referred to as Left Hand Traveling.

2. The finger extends/contracts (walks), during which time the left arm and hand are moving in the same direction.

3. Do not roll off the pitch of the note you are walking from. Keep the face of the finger you are walking from — if it must move/twist/roll then compensate so the pitch is retained.

4. Closely related to the Pivot Shift/Half Shift , the thumb does slide during the “walk” or immediately thereafter.

5. It is used in small to moderate shifts when no audible slide is desired — the arm/hand will attain the new position.

In all of the above, the musician must have a discerning ear and incredible sense of touch.

The period of music, composer and character of the given section in the composition must be studied and analyzed, not with clinically cold analysis, but rather in a search for the most artistic complement that enhances the musical content. Then perform with total mastery and commitment to that goal. Every note is derived from the previous and affects the next — they are like little people fulfilling their duties leading to and responding to one another.

Rhythms should be practiced for shifts as we do for the left hand fingers and bow arm. After mastering the slow, smooth, well balance slide add subtle rhythmic patterns — at first lazy, quasi grace note shifts with the arrival pitch being the longer of the two. These must be technically well formed in the finger, hand, wrist and arm. Follow this with more rhythmic precision, i.e., an 8th note sliding up to a dotted quarter, etc. Always slur these together so no false sense of clarity is present — there is no place to hide in a slurred slide.

The best and simplest move to conquer a wobbly, collapsing wrist and delayed finger movement when shifting up and a thrusting out wrist with overly elongating fingers when shifting down is high-speed shifting up and down between Low 1st and 4th Positions. Do several non-stop and do not concern yourself with the pitch initially, just the consistent high-speed motion — don’t press the fingers more then mp. Gradually slow this down maintaining the smooth continuous flow of the slide and beginning to zero in on the desired pitches. It is no good to shift badly and arrive at the correct note periodically — this will fail you. Finger shape must be maintained during this, as its primary training is that of balance and coordination of the simultaneous movement for the left arm (complete) hand and fingertips.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

To be continued…


Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Jasmine Reese
Posted on December 5, 2007 at 10:24 PM
Thank you for informative articles. I read each one before practicing now.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 5:05 AM
That makes it worth it, thanks for letting me know:-)
From Albert Justice
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 7:42 AM
Hey Drew! Thanks. Though as you well know some of this will beyond me for a while, a lot of it I can use now. (hand shaping, nail faces, smoothness)....

The full and half shifts, I'm sure, will make me better--now.

I intuit, that tweaking (lift>shift>drop) in the spirit of your remarks, may even get me experimenting without my shoulder rest again--I love playing without a rest, but the down-shifting, 'got me'..

From Samuel Thompson
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 8:26 AM
Wow...incredibly detailed and specific. Thank you.


From Ray Randall
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 2:47 PM
And another thank you, I deeply appreciate your advice.


From Corwin Slack
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 3:26 PM
So tell us how you feel about Ruggierro Ricci's recent book. :)
From Royce Faina
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 9:10 PM
Dear Sir;
This imformation has assisted me to jump light years... And How Genorous of You!
From Holly Hunter
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 11:51 PM
This is a great article to help with those intonation issues! Thanks, and I look forward to other articles in this series.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 6:25 AM
Thank you for your kind remarks.

Al — the most important assist in the downshift is keeping the violin strings level to the floor or 1-3º ascent from the player toward the scroll. Never feel your arm descend in a descending shift. Never have the action of hanging on the violin or pulling down the scroll at any time, anywhere or for any thing.

Another extremely important item is the chin-rest. Even a light shift has friction and the violin should never feel as though it is being pulled away from you. Do not clench. (See my Jaws 3 blog.)

I do not use a shoulder-rest, though I used to all the way into my early-mid 20’s. (This was about the time of the last dinosaurs as I regularly road Bronte around:-) I have a relatively long neck, as I am 6’2” and moderately square shoulders. I give this description so you understand where I come from on the hot topic of hardware. About a third of my students use a shoulder rest of some sort. I am not opposed to them and feel that the player must be comfortable and free to move at all times and in all directions. It really just has to do with physical build and in some cases, desire.

The chin-rest must not be too flat as it comes to the neck. I use a Strad Model by Gotz and have had it slightly modified to raise a few degrees to the left, Ging side. I find this both follows the jaw-line better and the violin remains stable on my collarbone. The chin-rest is center-mounted and my chin is in the air on the right side of the tailpiece. There is enough ridge or hump that fits comfortably behind the jawbone so that there is absolutely no feeling of the violin being pulled out when shifting down — I do not put any pressure on the chin-rest as it is simply blocked by the jawbone.

One other little trick — during up-shifts, sit or stand tall and lift your face fully toward the ceiling. The left hand and arm will support the violin so this should not be attempted beyond the point of their supporting the instrument easily and lightly. Do not arch the back, keep straight and erect. Upon returning to the chin-rest do not let the collarbone or chest fall forward — maintain this position and breathe deeply, not shallow chest breathing.

Personally, I think the chin-rest should be called the jaw-rest.

Jasmine, Sam, Ray, Royce and Holly I am glad to hear that the blog helps. Thank you for letting me know.

I read Laurie’s interview and am interested in reading the book. I think it is on my Christmas list…

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