Never miss a violin shift again! (video)

July 15, 2016, 9:46 AM · Simon Fischer's books have changed my violin life. Several years ago, thanks to a recommendation here on, I ordered a copy of Basics. A few days later I heard a thump  on my front porch; the postman had dropped a giant paperback book out there! I tore open the package and got started right away, because that's what I do when I'm on the scent of new violin tips. And since that day, Basics  has never been out of reach when I'm practicing at home.


The shifting story

One story Simon told about shifting (involving a valet parking attendant) completely changed my thinking on the subject, and gave me an immediate confidence boost. I quite literally couldn't miss a shift! That feeling has stayed with me in the years since.

So I knew that at some point I'd have to make a video to demonstrate how anybody can put this technique to use in their practicing. But I was waiting for something to click. I wasn't sure what I was waiting for. And then it clicked.

The two-putt game

I'd actually gotten this same confidence boost before, as a teenager on the golf course! See, in golf, most wasted strokes happen on the green. So the first thing most golf teachers do is to help you limit your putts to two per hole. If you can reliably hole out in just two putts, you're on your way to scoring much better.

The trouble is that as an amateur, you can only expect yourself to hole that second putt if it's really short, say within two feet. Most of the work has to be done with that first long putt. But amateurs tend to freeze up at long putts; their stroke gets stiff, unnatural, out of sync. They see that hole far away and dread what will happen if they don't get it close. And most of the time, they don't!

The big circle

So one of my golf teachers spray painted a big white circle around the hole, two feet in radius. "Here's the new target, guys," he said. "Just get it anywhere in here, and pretend that you see it dropping in." Suddenly things seemed easy. With a target that big, it was almost as though I couldn't miss...

If you want subtitles, just hit CC in the video above.

Let me know in the comments how this technique works for you! If you want to try it on the Saint-Saëns, here's the link to it on IMSLP.

Download the first edition on IMSLP

You might also like:


July 16, 2016 at 04:57 AM · Love your videos, Nate! Thank you!

July 16, 2016 at 06:07 AM · This is the right way, very nice. I'd only add a request to do shifts with no pressure by the sliding finger as not all shifts need to have a sliding sound (for example, in Baroque or Classical music). This is why I teach my students to slide by the same finger very thorougly before proceeding to study shifts from one finger to another. One more thing: never practice shifts with vibrato.

July 16, 2016 at 04:22 PM · Yippee, another Nate Cole video! As always, thanks so much!

July 16, 2016 at 06:14 PM · Great video. I really liked it, thank you! I actually noticed that I practice like that although I never read Basics by Fischer. I have a question though. How should I practice shifts for baroque pieces where I don't want a "sliding" sound? I have troubles with that. Should I stop my bow for a tiny moment before the shift? That's what I'm trying to do at the moment...

July 16, 2016 at 08:46 PM · I think you're on the right track - hiding shifts is a matter of coordinating the speed of the right and left hands - may be not stopping the bow, but slowing the bow speed in order to be fast enough in the left hand? Hope that helps. Baroque shifts are so hard - especially with no shoulder rest!

July 16, 2016 at 09:10 PM · Hi guys, thanks for watching! For the comment about never practicing shifts with vibrato, I'm curious what you mean? Since so many shifts end with a vibrated note, such as the ones I demonstrate here, I practice them with the same vibrato I'll use in performance.

As far as avoiding a "sliding" sound when you don't want one... I'd encourage you to play with timing and bow speed before changing the left hand. Keep the left hand finger pressure as a "last resort" type of change after you've exhausted all other possibilities, including simply avoiding a shift altogether.

The reason is that taking the finger or hand "out of the string" for shifts can lead to bad habits and spotty intonation if it becomes a habit. It can also unduly influence the bow to follow suit and then you've got a shift that's hardly worth doing!

For those true "transportation" shifts, where you don't really want to hear them: they should happen quickly; they should be old-finger shifts; if they happen on a bow change, they should be timed at the very end of the old bow, almost "in between" the bows. But the bow and the left hand can remain smooth and connected to the string.

July 18, 2016 at 09:21 AM · Thanks for the cool video Nathan. I'm just starting to shift, are you saying one should always practice shifts with portamento?

July 18, 2016 at 11:16 AM · Hello Nathan and Anonymous ( Thank you for your replies, they were helpful. Now that you mentioned it, it does make more sense to play with bow speed rather than stopping the bow completely as I was doing. I'll certainly try that, thank you!


(previous IP:

July 18, 2016 at 07:22 PM · Great video, so clear. Even though I had been taught all of that already, it is always great to hear it a different way and thing about it again. Plus, it makes me feel like I spent well on my lessons. And on "Basics." :)

I'm working on Mozart 5. In bar 110 of the first movement there is a shift from low B (2nd finger on the G string, first position) to B on the E string (taken with the first finger, fourth position). I was able to work that one out in stages, initially stopping for a moment with my first finger on the A instead of the B and then pulling up a whole step. Might seem like an unorthodox solution, but it's principled, and it worked for me.

But how do you practice the shift to the high A at bar 30-31 of the Joachim cadenza (Mozart 5, first movement), which comes from an open string?

July 18, 2016 at 07:54 PM · I second Paul's question. What to do about shifts coming off an open string, and sometimes going to a different string at that?

July 19, 2016 at 04:16 AM · To David, actually I do think that shifts should be practiced that way! In the end, a shift is a slide, whether you want to call it that or not. What makes it sound "slide-y" is a combination of the speed of the shift, the speed/pressure of the bow, and where it falls relative to any bow changes. But the shifting motion I think should be demystified in this way.

For Paul and Christian, for that measure my hand starts in third position. The first finger was the last one used, on an A. So I would practice the shift on the first finger from A to the guide note E, dropping the 4th finger immediately on reaching the E. In this case I'd really have two "guide notes", both the A and the E! So the repetitions would be to get the timing fast enough that both "guides" could fit and eventually be eliminated.

For that shift, I would also work it from another angle: that of the feel of the hand against the neck. It's useful to have at least two different "systems" in place; I find they don't compete with each other but rather complement each other. You never know which will come in handy when you're under pressure!

But the way I outline would be the first one I would work on, to build confidence and comfort.

July 19, 2016 at 03:30 PM · Nate, thanks! Actually I use the feel of the neck and bout to nail that shift okay, but it's not really a hard one. I agree that your guide-note method should be general, and I'll try it to see if I can improve my confidence on this one too. Your instructions were just what I anticipated, which I think is a good thing, at least from my end of things. :)

July 19, 2016 at 08:59 PM · Thanks Paul!

July 19, 2016 at 09:31 PM · All I would add is that you must hear the note in your head and know where your are going pitch wise.

July 20, 2016 at 04:08 PM · That makes sense, Nate, and Peter, that's a very good point you make. Thanks!

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine