shifty shifts

January 29, 2007 at 05:34 AM · What suggestions do you have as ways to practice shifts in more advanced pieces, pieces that have wide leaps and unusual interval jumps? How do you get them right all the time? Are there considerations in regard to how fast the shifts come,and does it help more to practice them at real time or at a slower pace?

Replies (37)

January 29, 2007 at 05:50 AM · Greetings,

1) whatever spee dyou are practicing a passage, the shift should be at that speed. Thus if you are getitng gradually faster so should be your shifting.

2) Singers typically shift very rapidly to just below the note and then listen carefully as they slide into the the note form just below. This is an invaluable technique on the violin and well worth extensive practice.

3) One way of building a more secure shift is to practice it in all three basic types even if you only ever use one. Thus practice a shift with a classical, romantic and combination shift.

4) To develop security in shifting pracitce long shifts up and down the violin everyday.

5)Shifting comes form the elbow not the hand. Very often a psychological misconception is at work here.

6) Very often shiftinh is based aorund knowing what the first finger is doing. So if you wnat to pracitce a scale like passage for security pracitce onlthe notes played with the firts finger.

7) The shape of the hand changes on long shifts.

8) The position of the elbow changes back to normal when returning from a higher to lower position. A lot of players sometimes forget to do this.



January 29, 2007 at 03:04 PM · Hi,

Buri`s advice is excellent as always. For me, three small things I might add. First, it helps if the arms move at the same speed (bow and shifts). Second, it helps to sustain the bow through the shifts. Holes in the sound prevent you from hearing where you are going. So, don`t slow down the bow or portato to hide a shift. Third, for long brilliant shifts, accelerate the bow through the shift while sustaining the sound. Heifetz does this a lot. It helps. Make sure that you sound is horizontal - that helps to syncronize the hands and lighten the shifts.

My own two personal cents...


January 29, 2007 at 08:16 PM · I feel a little silly responding to this question when I don't know your level--"getting" shifts is one of those varying levels of degrees issues, so maybe none of this will apply, but here goes anyway.

Rock solid shifting comes with knowing your fingerboard. My thumb tells me where I am on my fingerboard. I've done so much leaping around with arpeggio practice and thirds and just general repretoire experience that I know where everything is. Do what Buri is telling you to do and it will give you the experience you need to know your fingerboard and make those shifts every time.

As far as speed--go slow until you can go faster. That usually works.

Christian--brilliant! I never thought of explaining it that way. I'm borrowing that to teach to my students. I'm not so mechanically minded. In the past, I've explained what you're saying with the following metaphor: If you're a snowboarder, and you're coming up to a jump, you have to make your decision and go for it. If you hesitate, if you try to back down, you will crash every time. I notice beginning shifters are tenative with the bow because they're tenative with their fingerboard. At some point, you have to develop a "take no prisoners" approach to shifting or every shift will be muddy. Many times that metaphor is met with blank stares. I think your explanation might work better.

Oh, and one more thing Michael--learn to love your friend "portamento"--but not too much.

January 30, 2007 at 02:43 AM · I practice shifting very slowly with a metronome and make sure it is in tune every time -- when I can shift in tune 10x in a row twice I move the metronome up a notch. I use Sevcik Shifting the Position because it is so complete in terms of what it demands. I am sure there are other equally fine texts.

January 30, 2007 at 08:51 AM · Practice only the shifts of the whole piece, in time, with a metronome... and know where they come, and count them out. These two exercises should be played with your right hand (so play it all out).

It's tedious, but it creates a memory map of the piece -- where shifts come... how prepared you have to be... in what position where you in... what notes you should be listening to, to make sure you are in tune and land well... where your fingers are before you even shift -- then you fill the rest in, all of the notes. If it's an advance piece, shift by anchor association, mostly the first finger or whatever finger.

Also, practice ghosting. Play without pressing and slide freely. Play your whole piece that way, so when you know you have to move you revert to and automatically do what teachers refer to as textbook shifts and with an ease and relaxation that is built into what you remembered from the first exercise, and this last one. Ghost with complete accuracy and seriousness, that this is how you will be performing it. Ghost it through often, before playing. This is a real adaptation, of visualizing your performance.

Good luck homeboy.


January 30, 2007 at 12:06 PM · Hi Michael,

It depends on the kind of shift. In general, there are two kinds. One has an intermediary "glide note" and the other is done solely with the finger you started on. Some people call these "French" and "Russian", respectively.

I think what's most important is that you do practice slowly, however you have to practice the shift in the speed in which you'll eventually play the piece. It's a bit like giving a speech and saying words quickly with lots of space between the words.


January 30, 2007 at 02:26 PM · Lots of good advice on here already. Glad Daniel pointed out the two major kinds of shifts: French and Russian. Fritz Kreisler would use a great deal of French shifts in his playing. It is very important to learn to do this type of shift properly. For instance the opening two notes of the Glazunov VC require one to do a French shift (although Heifetz chose to do a superhuman stretch in 2 of his 3 recordings). The French shift is executed properly when the bottom finger (in this case 1 on the a-natural) shifts to the position of destination (which in this cause is 3rd pos. or c-natural) then the 3rd finger should be dropped on the note without any kind of gliding in with the 3rd finger. Also it is important I think to prepare the non-shifting finger to drop before actually starting the shift. Kind of like a golf back-swing almost.

The Russian shift in my opinion, is a bit harder since it does involve 2 fingers, there will be a bit more friction. There's also the dreaded crossover shift; going from a lower finger under a higher finger to reach a higher note and vice versa. A way good way to practice crossovers is to practice scales. Scales have a ton of these crossovers.

I have to agree with Buri on what he said earlier. Practice the shift commensurate to the tempo in which you are playing. I also would have to say that I try not to ever shift faster than I have to. No one is going to blame you for shifting to a note accurately and touch slower, it will be noticeable though if the shift is missed by going too fast. Also I don't believe the bow should change course (speed up or slow down) due to a shift. I know there are some teachers that teach students to accent with the bow when practicing a shift I don't really agree with this. One other thing is to make sure to avoid any kind of added finger pressure while shifting, this can cause you to overshoot the note if you aren't careful. Happy shifting!

January 30, 2007 at 06:24 PM · Yeah, accenting a note just for the purpose of hitting a shift could definitely destroy a beautifully composed musical line (unless that were the effect that was called for). Now we're getting to the nitty gritty of shifting--there's an art--it really makes me appreciate the greats.

Shifting always provides an opportunity to create an effect. You can either choose to take it or not. If you choose not, you must work to make that shift imperceptible. If you choose to take the opportuntiy, then you have to decide whether to fade, hold or cresc., whether an indirect or direct shift is desirable (I think that's your Russian and French), how much slide is appropriate (in the case of a direct shift--when do you pop that finger down and how subtle should the slide be--top half of shift, all the way?), and how meaty/graceful the shift should sound (finger pressure). Oh! and whether you're slurring notes or separating bows or whether you're on a down or up REALLY influences the sound, and there are many more considerations I'm probably forgetting. (See what I mean about "varying levels of degrees" in shifting?)

There's no specific bowing practice to use with all shifts because every shift presents its unique issues depending on what effect or non-effect you're trying to create. Christian is right about "brilliant" shifts--speeding up the bow on a big meaty romantic shift can create just the right effect for that particular case.

I've gone back over Christian's post--did I misunderstand you? I thought he was speaking in the context of helping a beginning shifter just make the leaps in general. When my students start making those leapy shifts, the first thing that goes is the bow (they're worried about the shift, so they try to hide it in sketchy bowing--always creates a crash and burn scenario). In other words, even if you're going to miss the shift entirely--don't lose control of the bow too! (That's when your old friend glissando comes in handy--sometimes you can just slide around until you find where you're supposed to be--not reccomended, but tried and true by many a performer LOL ha ha ha ha ha).

January 30, 2007 at 06:58 PM · Hi,

Kimberlee, you did not misunderstand me. I did not mean to accent with the bow, or do something weird with it during the shift, but not to lose control. Is that clearer?!


January 30, 2007 at 10:27 PM · Thanks. Good. I knew I was inferring a lot from what you were explaining mechanically. I had assumed your thoughts were geared at helping someone to keep control of the bow during the shifting process. I'm glad I was right!

January 30, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Greetings,

I thinkHeifetz recognized and applied a relatively new technique which contributed ot his unique intensity. As described baove, he realize dtaht attahcing intensity and meaning to the shift itself with the bow rather thna the note one is aiming for created an amazing effetc . Thistehcnique wa san integral part of his sound.



January 31, 2007 at 11:50 AM · Here's an interesting way to practise fast shifts (..can't remember where I got it from, though.) Basically you stick in an open string note between the first note of the shift and the arrival note.

For a same string shift:

eg 1st finger B, on a-string, to a 4th pos. F# with 2nd finger.

Play B with a down bow, then make the shift on an up bow but put in a very fast open A, on the up bow, just before you sound the new note. Then shift back down to the old note on a down bow but playing a fast open A on that down bow just before you land. And so on backwards and forwards. It's like throwing darts really. The fingers are forced to be fast, accurate, and the open string also forces you to release any tension in the hand!!!

(I probably haven't explained well...)

Actually Enzo Porta in his 'Basic Movements of The Left Hand' has created exercises for agility by using open strings in the middle of repeated scale patterns that shift up the fingerboard by degrees

February 1, 2007 at 05:44 AM · My teacher is working with me pretty instensly on my shifting right now. Tonight he introduced me to a technique that may be helpful in your circumstance (soon I will know for certain since he suggested this to master shifting up an octave on a piece I'm working on). I hope I get this description right...

You start in a position, say 2nd with your first finger on your string of choice using a key signature of your choice, then shift to one position higher - first time through 'landing' on your first finger one note higher than the original note, second time with your second 2 notes higher, and so on. Next round, you shift 2 positions higher, and so on... The exercise book is by Yost (if I can read his writing correctly).

February 1, 2007 at 11:46 AM · Anyone know how to get a hold of the Yost shifting exercises mentioned by Mendy? Is it true they are out of print??


February 2, 2007 at 12:02 AM · Yes, it's true. It's too bad; Yost is my favorite.

February 2, 2007 at 01:34 AM · the Yost is lost at terrible cost. Thats why I`m an agnost.

February 2, 2007 at 03:51 AM · I didn't know it was out of print! Well, here is what he wrote in my book (I'll try my best to do this in text)... the notes below are an example of doing this on the D string in F Major

1st pos --> 2nd pos

Choose a string

Choose a key

1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4

/ \ / \ / \ / \

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1


1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4

/ \ / \ / \ / \

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4

/ \ / \ / \ / \

3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3

Hope this helps!

February 2, 2007 at 04:06 AM · I didn't know it was out of print! Well, here is what he wrote in my book (I'll try my best to do this in text)... the notes below are an example of doing this on the D string in F Major

1st pos --> 2nd pos

Choose a string

Choose a key


..../.….\… /....\ ... /....\...../…..\


.F,G G,F F,A,A,F F,B,B,F F,C,C,F


..../.….\… /....\ .. ../....\….../…...\



..../.….\… /....\ .. .../.….\…../…..\


Hope this helps!

(sorry for the dual post, the text isn't coming out right.... but you get the idea!)

February 3, 2007 at 07:36 PM · My teacher loaned me her Yost book which I then took to be copied and bound. If I can do it I'll put my copy through a scanner and try to post them on the V.Com site.

February 4, 2007 at 12:09 AM · Greetings,

which would be a service beyond measure,



February 4, 2007 at 02:17 PM · Thanks Mendy ... actually I just managed to borrow a copy of the Yost yesterday, It looks very, very interesting and I am looking forward to getting stuck into it. If Ray could scanner it and get it onto this site I'm sure there would be a lot of grateful people out there.

Buri: you wrote:

2) Singers typically shift very rapidly to just below the note and then listen carefully as they slide into the the note form just below. This is an invaluable technique on the violin and well worth extensive practice.

Is this a tecnnique you use any other time aside from shifting? I ask because it is something I have been thinking about a lot: for horizontal movement in the left hand, intonation, and the general elastic feel I'm looking for. (Eg. if I cross strings, going from a fourth finger up a step to a first finger note, just for practise, I like to hold the fourh and do a small slide up to the first finger note.)

Now what about for teaching beginners? I know some teachers wont allow their pupils to adjust their notes ... if it is out of tune you aim again, and again, 'til you get it. ..... !!

Obviously we like to hit the right spot first time, but in reality we are always making micro-adjustments, right? So, while I see you certainly don't want pupils continually sliding around the fingerboard ...I just question whether there is not a place for teaching slides right from the start?

Would be very interested in any opinions or insights that anyone has........


February 4, 2007 at 11:47 PM · Greetings,

its an interesting questions. I think for many stduents, but especially children, the problem is not so much the tehcnique as having a point of rereferenc eot three to put the technique in context. So in this case it may be well worth experimenting with contrasting a positon change made with a slide to a positon change in which the finger slides along the top of the string. get studnets to udnerstand the difference in feeling so they have the abilty to use both. It`s also fun. Who can produce the biggets, nastiest slide and then spend time figuring ou t with the child how to eliminate it. A kind of discovery lesson.

What I really stres sfrom an early stage is the importance of continulayy praciticng being able tyo hit any note in tune anywhere on the fingerboard. Kids can leanr to do that using an exercise from Kievmans book`Praciticng the Violin Mentlaly/Physically.` They play a note in forst positon. Remove the hand and bow, then play it an octave higehr or in another position. A simple version of this can be done with elementary studnets. Find the note kind of stuff.



February 6, 2007 at 11:32 AM · Buri...

I'll have to look into that Kievman book. I saw you were at RCM ... I was there in '81. (Have also emigrated.) Who did you study with at RCM?

February 6, 2007 at 08:31 PM · Greetings,

Hi Teresa, i studied with Ken Piper, John Ludlow and very ocassionally Hugh Bean. Margaret Major for quartet. We had Jack Steadman for orchestral repertoire. Now there was an underrated teacher...

Uncle Norman was livng death.



February 7, 2007 at 06:51 AM · Buri:

Uncle Norman? as 'of the sea?' aaah,... that was quite an experience was also my first experience in learning how to play behind the beat!!!!!!!!!!!!!


February 7, 2007 at 11:16 PM · Greetings,

what beat?

One thing that did make me laugh recently. Milstein had an absolutely intense hatred of conducters who conducted everynote and even more so those who subdivided quarter notes into 16ths as though this actually helps. The DVD of him playing Mozart five has uncle Norm doing this as per his norm.... I suppose it is the masterful Hugh Bean a s concert master who is actually holding the performance together.

I thought Christopher Aidy was pretty much the best conducter to leanr with at RCM aslthough Mr Friend`s group was the business.

One of my favorite memories of college wa swhen a group of thoroughly bored orchestra players were told by stromin norm just before tehe nd of the last pre cocnert rehearsal taht we had to play the national anthem, from memory. We all blanked out at this `first` and crashed in in differnet keys and rythms. After a few notes he chucked his baton down and exploded.

Still not clear why a non english speaking Vietnamese student should have God Save the Queen memorizeed. But there you go....

Who did you study with?



February 8, 2007 at 09:32 AM · I studied with Tessa Robbins-Khambatta. Great lady, violinist and teacher ... I'm so grateful for my time with her. Actually she didn't have so many pupils and was interested in you even if you were a lesser mortal. I guess it was Vanacek who grabbed most of the star pupils in my day. But I wouldn't have had it any other way....(even if I had been a star-pupil, which I wasn't) she helped me to think, and was always open to exploring different ways and ideas herself, which ecouraged me, just by example! Musically I think she's phenomenal ...

Also as a teacher: now retired and eyesight destroyed by glaucoma, she can still tell spot tension in my left or right hand ...and that's without even playing for her!

My favorite motherland memories are not really at the RCM, I have to say. Mind you, I was post-grad, so maybe that had something to do with it. Didn't really get into life at the College as such(was there one? apart from the bar downstairs?) .... I also found a lot of people very upper class (Princess Di's flate-mate was studying voice at the time..) ... I guess things might have changed these days.

Keeping on topic with the original thread ... SHIFTING! VERY interesting the two octave scales all on one string with one finger and other multitudinous fingerings,... in the YOST which I have gotten hold of.

Also I think Buri mentioned somwhere in a post about double-stops .... and just playing a string of thirds on the same two fingers gradually inching up the same two strings. This is much more difficult than I thought and as they say here .. really gets the knots coming out in the comb!!!!

Yost also has a simplified set of exercises for beginners...basically reduced to one octave up the string, rather than two ... He says these exercises are for students of 6 months or more! 6 months seems kind of soon ..... (well, given the amount my pupils practise!!! :( ) BUT, BIG BUT (with one 'T') .... it would be an interesting shift in thinking to start students with 8ve scales on one finger rather than diving straight to 3rd position.

Any thoughts on what benefits or dangers could there be in getting young, and not very advanced students to do this? And what about if you have some pretty good (not whizz-kid category, but good) six year olds? Any two cent contributions (or more...)

This is quite an amazing place .... search the archives and it's like being in a gold mine ... and it is all free! I hope people like Buri aren't going to start charging ....

February 8, 2007 at 10:33 AM · My question about beginners was referring to one 8ve scales on one finger ... not double stopped thirds ... that would really be too much..

February 8, 2007 at 11:30 AM · Greetings,

Teresa, I am a very strong advocate of one finger scales on one string introduce early. One of the things that tend sto happen with the traditional approach of Learning one position thoroughly, then the third and then shifting is a kind of atrophy of the elbow joint. It is really helathy, in my opinion, for studnets to utilize some kind of exercises of moving up and down the fingerboard early on.

I wnated to study with TK. Did you meet Natalie Dumolo? She wa sone of her studnets but perhaps after you Yes, I remember the upper class cliques including Lady Di"s friend all too well.



February 9, 2007 at 09:04 AM · Hi

OK I'm going to experiment with one fingered scales with some pupils ...... !!

I don't know Natalie .... how many years did she do with TK? Did you ever get to meet TK? I have a beautiful cd of her, a compliation, from maybe the late'50s. It was going to be released for charity ... but I don't think it ever happened. She sounds almost Kreisler-like. I sometimes wonder how many really great people there are who's names you never see in lights or cd covers.

The original question on this thread was actually to do with BIG shifts and accuracy etc.

I have also been thinking about this how do we get from one note to another when there is a big string crossing and it's from Ist pos. to somewhere in orbit? To find a concrete example ... what about Paganini 9th Caprice. The A minor section. Starting from the 8th bar:

How are you going to find the top A, 4th finger in 7th pos coming from the bottom A on 1st finger 1st pos. Do you:

a) Just plop your hand straight into 7th position because you physically know the feel of 7th position as well as you do 1st position.

b) Move your hand silently over to the e-string and then measure up a minor 7th.

c) Rapid fire think of your self doing an A-min arpeggio.

d) ............. ?


My question is ... we know where we want to go but there are different paths to getting there, and it is obviously good to practise different ways, but in the end which are the quickest routes?

In the rest of the Paganini A-minor section you spend your time having to find notes and bunches of notes with 3rd and 4th finger extensions (changing the shape and feel of the hand) coming from lower strings in low positions.

Any advice on the best\good ways to practice this section????????????



February 9, 2007 at 11:56 AM · Greetngs,

I practice all the guidelines I can think of, but in actual performance the ost iportant thing is to know exatcly where that note is. That is why I have always strongly advoicate dthe Kievman exercise of playign anote in first position, pause. while eharing an octave higher or whatever with hand soff instrument. Then hit the note out of the blue. Pracitce a little everydasy until you know you can do it.

Memory of shape of hand and positon of ar are crucial.

This is also a good case of where giving yourself permission to fail or even trying to fail can be very helpful,



February 9, 2007 at 11:37 PM · Buri,

I must dissagree strongly with one thing you wrote, though it concerns singing not violin playing.

quote: " Singers typically shift very rapidly to just below the note and then listen carefully as they slide into the the note form just below. This is an invaluable technique on the violin and well worth extensive practice"

I am a voice teacher with fairly excellent credentials, and IMO that would be incredibly bad advice to a singer. This reinforces the idea of "reaching up" to a note, which creates tension, and also causes missed intonation. One should typically think ABOVE the destination note, and pull the tone up (from above, mentally) This is rather crtical to good singing technique.

Additionally, a trained singer NEVER "listens" to find the note. (horrors!) One learns to sing by sensation. You know you're intonation is on because you can feel it. There are no varying schools of thought on this issue, it is inviolate.

While I am the least-qualified person on this forum to be abIe to offer violin advice, I don't see why this technique would not also apply. It is, IMO, a matter of confidence.

February 9, 2007 at 08:47 PM · Greetings,

I"m sure you are right about the singing thing. Its taken directly from Basic so maybe you might wnat to ask Mr Fischer where he got it from. I" gquite willing to belive a violinist is miscontruing soethign a singer does.

However, the technique you advocate of thinking obove th enote does not, in my opinon ofgfer anythign but trouble to violinists. Your fingers knowexaclty where they go because thta is what you are programming yourself to do. Any above or below thinking would make one play sharp.

That is, I think an inviolate ruleof string instruments.



February 10, 2007 at 02:33 AM · Touche, Buri.

-But still, I will continue the argument, as it applies to violin: (I don't think you understand the concept exactly as it applies to singing, but then it's hard to explain quickly)

Image a shift from first position to fifth, in very slow motion. The finger comes off the FB,and begins it's slide... does it not make sense to arrive right above the exact note-position, and then push down into it? (a slight bastadization of the vocal concept, but not that far off) as opposed to sliding into it from underneath?

Shouldn't the goal be to train one's muscle memory so that the exact movement happens, with no need to "fudge" it afterwards?

With singing, the reason for "pulling from above is two-fold. 1: it avoids tension in the larynx, and 2: it results in a subjectively "better" note. A clearer and more defined attack. With violin, reason #1 does not apply, but surely reason #2 does. No? (unless, as with singing, you intentionally want to slide as an affectation)

February 10, 2007 at 02:46 AM · Hitting the note on the money should be the goal not below or above.

February 10, 2007 at 04:48 AM · Greetings,

not being conmpetitive Allen. Yoru comments are very helpful. I think it is quite possible Mr Fischer borrowed a concept without fully understanding it as a trained singer such as yourslef would.

I am still a little in the dark. If you are referrign explicitly to pitch then going abobe tyhe note and sinking back makes no snese to me at al. If you are referring to a more physical action of the finger sinking into the note then I concur, but it would be from directly above but a kind of rollign action depnding on the spee dof the music. I think it is importnat not to confuse the act of sliding which is a releas eof pressure , and where one actually slides to which is, as Nate says, the note, the note and nothing else..



February 10, 2007 at 05:53 AM · OK, that makes sense.

I was mostly concerned about the "listen carefully" part. I imagine it was just a bad choice of descriptive wording, making it sound like a tentative move.

Re-reading your post now, it makes perfect sense, whether I'm now interpreting it differently or wether you made it more clear.

No problems!

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