More about Shifting---

September 13, 2020, 2:35 PM · Oops, I missed the cutoff for comments on Paul's entry.
By now you have probably discerned that I tend to approach these topics being rather mechanical, simplistic, or what L. Auer called "a little stupid".
There are three ways to shift. What most of us do is the arm-shift, what I call the 'bump-shift". The hand and arm move as a single unit; Smooth, Straight, Simple, and Slow. Even at high velocity the shift looks slow; do not jump, lunge, etc.
Then there is the "Crawl-shift", where any finger can extend (or contract) an extra 1/2 step; after the extension the arm slips into the next position while the next note is sounding. Those blessed with long or flexible fingers can crawl-shift farther than a 1/2-step. The crawl-shift will be preferred by those that do not use a shoulder-rest.
The Pivot-shift is discussed somewhat in Ricci's book on left hand technique. I did not realize I was using it until I had that book. If you are in a high position and want to quickly drop down to a low position, you don't have to move the arm, but just straighten the wrist. This motion is the same as a single cycle of the wrist-vibrato. Bass players do this pivot all the time to get extra distance, because their 1/2 steps are very far apart.
What the fingers do is of equal importance, but is more difficult to see. We first learn shifting as sliding on the same finger. The finger stays down on the wood. Most of the time this audible slide is not desired; the extra friction damages the intonation and slows the velocity.
If the finger completely leaves the string, it is like throwing darts. You might hit the target note, or perhaps not. The 1/2 steps are only about 1/4 inch apart up there. My life-time struggle has been to hit those long distance shifts without preparation time, which are so common in first violin orchestra parts.
What is preferred is sometimes called the "Float-shift", (a concept I first learned from Harris Goldman). During the shift the finger lifts off the wood, but stays in contact with the string, like playing a harmonic. Three motions;- Lift, Move, Set. The float-shift is a more reliable way to measure the interval distance between the positions.
We all first learn shifting on the same finger, but there is a temptation to dig into the wood. Switching fingers during a shift is better, because we naturally release the tension in the hand while moving.
Lastly, I find that shifting on the second or third finger to be a little more accurate than the first finger.

Replies

September 15, 2020 at 04:30 AM · Joel, you bring up excellent descriptions of what happens in various shifting situations. Please let me know what Auer was referring to when he called mechanical explanations of shifting a little stupid. If he actually meant that, he should have been ashamed of himself. Eventually, in music, most things can be explained both mechanically and poetically.

My own experience taught me that shifts should be generally quick and forthright. The reason for the quickness is that I could include a feeling of being drawn by a magnetic force. That was something simplistic I needed because my finger is so much bigger than the target area. The magnet made the fingertip much more focused.

Mechanical explanations are always helpful. The ideal is a combination of mechanical and the expression of natural ability.

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