Shift and Bump?

November 11, 2009 at 06:11 AM ·

I recently noticed that when shifting up to 3rd position, I bump the body of the violin with the heel of my left hand.  I think this gives me a good reference point so I can consistantly get to the same spot.  In that respect, it seems like a good idea for achieving good intonation.

But I've also been working on improving my vibrato, in particular, maintaining a steady vibrato when shifting.  I set the metronome to 95 mm and vibrate twice per beat (16th notes) while playing scales.  When vibrating, it is difficult to get a free motion when the heel of the left hand touches (e.g., bumps) the instrument. 

So, to bump or not to bump, that is the question. 

Replies (20)

November 11, 2009 at 06:29 AM ·


I would personally be opposed to that particular action.  The key to left hand technique for me is keeping the shape of things.  If one drops the wrist inwards then for that moment in time one has created a whole rearrangement of the hand,  a whole new set of messages for the brain which ultimately are confusing.  I think one learns to play in tune in third position by separating the two elements:  work in the position itslef and shifting to the position.  Then one combines them. However,    If one cannot shift to that psoition in tune (welcome to the club) then thigs need to be examined slowly and in more detail,  but I don@t think adding an element thta throws things physically out whack is going to help.  The problem is perhaps better addressed through the notion of `is your arm (as opposed to to fingers or hand )in tune?`



November 11, 2009 at 09:45 AM ·

Isn't this bump reference the reason, why 3rd position is often taught before 2nd, and why many amateur players try to avoid the 2nd and 4th position?

November 11, 2009 at 11:26 AM ·


well, Galamian taught the cocnept of `double contact.` When playing up unitl third or fourth the thumb an dindex finger provide the necessray information to shift accurately.  Fourth position can be somewhat ambivelent. It depends on context. At around this point the palm of the hand touches the instrument and the index finger must release thus creating a new `double contact.`  if the index finge rremains touching one then has a `triple contact.` Galamian warne dagainst this as it limits the freedom and flexibilty of the hand.



November 11, 2009 at 11:28 AM ·

I was taught without the bump ... previously it was mindless repitition (and I was quite accurate) but now I use Portamento. My shifting action is completely differntly, it used to look like it was a spring and just go PING straight to the spot, but now it looks smooth, and I'm always in-tune (When I don't rush.. If I rush then I know I have to practice this particular point till I don't have to rush)

I avoid hitting the neck, as I recently started playing without a SR (I was taught a diff violin hold, I dont even use a cushion), since its a balancing act .. if I hit it,  I might end up knocking it out of my hands lol

November 11, 2009 at 12:23 PM ·

I do find my index finger not touching the neck naturally when I shift up to 3rd or 4th, where my palm is touching the violin body. I thought I was wrong because my teacher only teach me about the bump but mention nothing about my index finger touching the neck or not.

November 11, 2009 at 06:18 PM ·

My teacher tells that you shouldn't make an event if you hand touches a little the body in 3 or 4 position since it's very close to the body of the violin but to make on purpose and bump it??? Sure depending on physionomy, some play with wrist slightly more inwards or outwards but it must all fit in the "acceptable" range.   Ask your teacher if she/he thinks your wrist is ok when you play in these positions.  

Good luck to find the answer.


November 11, 2009 at 07:42 PM ·


I absolutely believe in and teach the idea that the hand MUST contact the body of the instrument at exactly the instant 3rd (or 4th or 5th) is reached. Whether it is a pronounced bump or not, the hand needs the reference point both up and down.

The metaphor I use with my students is that of a blind person (because essentially we play blind) in a swimming pool: once you touch the edge of the pool you know your location. Otherwise, you're just somewhere in the middle of the pool.

I have noticed a huge improvement in accuracy in my playing and that of my students with this concept.

Can one learn the fingerboard without it? Yes. But it becomes a matter of accuracy. When going for a shift into the upper positions, is 70% acceptable? 85%? 97%? My experience tells me that a conscious bump of the heel of the hand when shifting greatly increases the odds of an accurate shift. We can never be perfect on the violin, but we can certainly turn the odds in our favor. Naturally, 2nd position still presents problems that this will not solve.


November 11, 2009 at 10:54 PM ·


Shouldn't it be possible to get the best of both worlds: the tactile feedback from the violin's neck and body, but without the bump? Just feeling one's way around?

my 2 cents, fwiw.


November 12, 2009 at 01:02 AM ·

 I'm assuming that Smiley doesn't mean a hard and disruptive slam, but a light touch to establish the reference point for the position (and one that is only needed for an instant).

November 12, 2009 at 01:50 AM ·

Absolutely correct Scott.  Perhaps I should have used the term "tap" or "touch" instead of bump.  When trying to vibrate while simultaneously shifting from 1st to 3rd position, even the slightest touch of the violin body disrupts the continuous vibrato motion.  When no vibrato is involved, there is no problem; life is good.  It's only when trying to maintain a steady vibrato that I find the bump / tap / touch (whatever you want to call it) disruptive to what I am trying to achieve. 

I think Buri may have hit on the issue.  The act of touching the violin body in 3rd position does require a slight change in the wrist angle.  This change is what is disrupting the vibrato movement. 

November 12, 2009 at 05:43 AM ·

There are differing views on this. I personally like touching the bout of the instrument in 3rd position. Like others have said this gives one another contact point with the instrument (Galamian), However, this will not work if you are an only arm vibrato person. One of the advantages to having a wrist (or hand) vibrato is that this gives extra security. If you look at the pictures in Ricci's new book you will see an inwardly inclined wrist in lower positions. In any case it works for me.

November 12, 2009 at 08:34 AM ·

I never relied on the bout to locate the position, I think it gets in the way, but it's handy for making adjustments to the fiddle on my shoulder.

November 12, 2009 at 02:25 PM ·

I'm with Buri on this. A couple of my students tend to use a fairly solid contact with the bout as their placement guide for 3rd position. We notice problems playing 3rd finger in tune or reaching 4th finger which relate to that change of wrist angle already noted. It also seems that learning 4th pos.& up becomes a substantially new endeavor instead of a variation of shifting technique. Re students/players who avoid 2nd & 4th positions, I think this is more about music-reading, since what used to be line-notes are now spaces, and lack of routine inclusion in lessons than something tied in so tightly to shifting technique. Sue

November 14, 2009 at 03:30 AM ·

There certainly seems to be differing opinions on this, a bit like the shoulder rest (or not) debate which seems never ending.  I am going to experiment both ways and do whatever works best.  I may even do a combination of both; e.g., bump during fast passages that do not require vibrato, and not bump when vibrating.  Thanks for all the input.


November 15, 2009 at 01:48 PM ·

Smiley - what this debate shares with the shoulder rest debate is a similar answer, as one of  my teachers once told me when we discussed whether to bump or not.  It is probably an advantage if you can do the position changes without bumping, but not fatal, just as it is probably an advantage to be able to play without a rest but not fatal.

November 15, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Hi Folks!

I teach "shift and connect palm", as it helps students to avoid "fishing" for the note too much, or doing extravagant glissando up to third position all the time. I wouldn't call it "shift a bump, as you don't want them to connect too hard, and disrupt the bow contact.

One situation where shift and connect is very useful, maybe even essential, is when you are sight reading in a large orchestra, especially where there is a very loud brass section, and you can't hear yourself all the time. This is when shift and connect comes into a world of its own, as you can confidently shift to third/fifth/ eighth position and anything in between, and know by feel whether you are in tune or not.

Best regards,


November 15, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

Kym, you made a very valid point.

Can testify to it as we play Mahler's First in my orchestra- with overwhelming brass while we are in the stratosphere.


November 15, 2009 at 11:27 PM ·


I think you should `shift and bump` the conducter who has no ear for balance....



November 15, 2009 at 11:38 PM ·

yeah, he should learn from a young lad called Gustavo Dudamel.

November 16, 2009 at 09:45 PM ·

Yet another place where extra contact comes in very useful: the harmonics in the beginning and at the end of Kreisler/Albéniz Tango. Practicing it tonight I thought of this thread, and you.

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