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Drew Lecher

Violin Technique/Viola Technique: Shifting Questions

February 8, 2011 at 4:16 PM

 Hi N,


“When sliding up do you recommend keeping finger pressure on the way up or lighten up and run the finger along the string and apply the necessary pressure right before slightly sliding into the next higher note?”


Actually both of those and additionally with "feather-light" slides (pp to ppppp touch). The danger in the light slides is the player arriving on the pitch with the light touch and when adding weight onto the string the pitch sharpens due to increasing the string tension.


I do not like the "staple shift" in the most deliberate sense, where the player plays the note, lightens the finger—thereby going flat before shifting—then proceeds to slide to the pitch with the light touch and upon arriving on the pitch presses down the finger—thereby going sharp. This gives a grotesque distortion of pitch. 


What I generally do is barely feel the fingerboard when sliding, and in the final approach the finger, via timing and pitch, sets into the note's location. The character and dynamic of a given passage necessitates a variety of touches for the left hand and the bow. 


Watch the fingernail during the shift and maintain it's angles of approach to the string. The exception to this will be when changing balance, say from single notes to double-stops. For this, the forearm rotation and hand angles can require quite extreme modification—always maintain smoothness and fluidity of motion through the building of speed, i.e., slow-motion control sped up.


On the way down same  pressure question but  approaching the next (lower)  note  slightly under it and fine tuning up? (ex  g string   using 1st finger going from the e to the c to the a .) What do you suggest?


Though more difficult, shifts down are really the same moves in reverse—like a movie backwards. If one shifts down from E-1 on G to C-1 on G and actually drops below the pitch to tune it up this will distort accuracy in the very least and sound drunken in the worst case—which is how we can make a passage a bit that way, if we choose or a composer requests us to do so as with R. Strauss.


Great intonation has a center to the pitch that is unmistakable—shifts are no different. It is as if the finger sinks into the center of the note like letting our head sink into a pillow and then it settles there, as opposed to bouncing back as if on a mattress spring.


In general:

1. Use a well shaped left hand and fingers, moving simultaneously from the arm. 

2. Vary the speed of shifts, initially arriving to a longer note, i.e., 8th to quarter.

3. Hold/support the instrument with the left arm and hand.

4. Vary the weight of the finger(s).


5. Do not lead shifts with the wrist, whether ascending or descending. All parts—upper arm, forearm, hand and fingers—move simultaneously.


6. NEVER, NEVER hang on the strings and 

7. NEVER, NEVER squeeze the chinrest and instrument like a vice. 


The last two points are possibly the areas of greatest confusion and conflict. I have had wonderfully talented students come to me with so much tension and pain it would stop their playing. Alexander Technique and Feldenkranz methods can be of tremendous help.


Our instruments are incredibly light, hollow little boxes—sit or stand tall in the torso and move with grace, ease and agility at all times.


Here is a link to a past blog on shifting in the “GPS” series I did—

“GPS” Shifting 2.1


Hope this helps—


God bless,



Drew Lecher String Academy


Author of 

"Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master"

"Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master"



From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 9, 2011 at 6:18 AM


What do you mean by #6 "hanging on the strings"?

From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 9, 2011 at 7:07 AM

 Hi Mendy,

Good to be around, again:-)


What do you mean by #6 "hanging on the strings"?

I am referring to a player putting weight on the strings, fingerboard and neck of the instrument by “hanging on the strings,” as in hanging on a tree limb.

With or without a shoulder rest, there is a common danger to all of us if we allow the left hand and arm to apply weight in this way. It inhibits all movement and contributes terribly to fatigue and potentially dangerous neck, shoulder, jaw, back and arm pains. Additionally, it has the effect of trying to pry our head off the chin-rest like a bottle cap.

I constantly remind my students and myself to stand/sit tall and work from a strong well structured/supported torso. The feeling and freedom gain by moving the arms and hands freely from the body is amazing. It is all at once, strong, powerful, agile, light, nimble and absolutely free of tension. 

As soon as we allow ourselves to sink down heavily in our posture and actions we increase our work many fold and literally lower our level of playing.

This is easy to put to the test…

Play a short passage feeling lethargic, weighted and fatiguing—trying to project the musical character, even a slow phrase. Then immediately energize and lighten your posture and play again. The results can be startling. 

Often playing something deliberately wrong clarifies what we really want to do with the music and how to apply our technique to that end.

Best wishes—D.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 10, 2011 at 1:55 AM


It is good to see you back again.  I've missed your blogs and gems of timely advise.

From al ku
Posted on February 10, 2011 at 3:17 PM

 hello drew, as mendy said, it is alway a treat to read your Q and A.   hope all is well and you are still doing your "aquatics":)

here i have 2 clips, one by heifeitz, another by kogan.

to my ears, at least with this take, kagan shifts "cleaner", thus creating one type of effect or what i call,,flavor:)  perhaps this is a good role model to demonstrate to students who are having a hard time doing or understanding it?

then we have heifeitz who seems to do a tenny weeny slide here and there, esp going uping, creating a different flavor, if not a more interesting one.   more creamy and dreamy.

i am not sure if you even agree with my assessment on this distinction.  if you don't, all well:)  if you do, i would like to hear your thoughts on this tech or artistic expression.  not SLIDE, but teeny weeny slide.



From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 10, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Thanks, Mendy and Al…

Al, you have hit on one of my favorite short works arranged for the violin—what a glorious composition!

I like your use of the word “flavor” as that is exactly what we do with the multiple variations of shift types/styles and weights, vibrato speeds and weights along with the touch, draw, speed and placement of bow hair.

Heifetz and Kogan are taking entirely different approaches to this piece—both outstanding—showing the artistry and technical control players of this caliber consistently achieve. 

Personally, I am more partial to the Heifetz performance as it offers such variety of sounds within a compact work. To me, it has a more personal and intimate pacing in all it’s interpretive sophistication. Heifetz turns in the direction and emotion he chooses within and throughout each and every note. Visually and audibly, this is also born out in his varied use of the bow.

Kogan’s interpretation is more austere and solemn to my ear, and I fully appreciate it’s beauty and broad, grand and tragic sweep. 

I would hope to hear this piece performed 100 different ways by 100 different violinists, and each make further changes for each performance and occasion. I would not play it the same for a friends funeral as I might for a recital.

Perhaps Kogan had a loss or tragedy near that performance. It is filled with immense pathos and utterly profound.


From Christina C.
Posted on February 10, 2011 at 8:50 PM

"As soon as we allow ourselves to sink down heavily in our posture and actions we increase our work many fold and literally lower our level of playing....."

So very true! I mentioned this on the discussion on tension, but I'm becoming increasingly aware of how a lot of my technique & tension issues are a result of nothing more than not holding my arms high enough.... I'm basically allowing myself to sink down into my posture.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on February 12, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Hi Christina,

Keep your core muscles (torso) tall, alive and alert—the energy and freedom to move are greatly enhanced. Even the mind stays more active—at least, my old brain:-)


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