3rd Position = Home Position?

March 17, 2011 at 04:33 PM ·

If not, how long was it from your first lessons before you began position-playing?

I practically started violin training in 3rd position.  Before beginning lessons with my first teacher, I had already been fingering and bowing 1st-position tunes from what was to become my first instruction book; and I could play randomly in higher positions by ear.  I couldn't explain now how I managed this, but somehow I did.

My teacher introduced me to 3rd position when I was only 10-12 weeks into lessons.  She felt I was ready.  She was right.

Some years afterward, in my later teens, I acquired a stack of old violin method books and repertoire sheet music from the estate of a family friend and neighbor who had been a professional violinist.  In the collection is a vintage book titled Preliminary Hand Training for Violinists by Lillian Shattuck, whose name comes up near the end of the Great female violinists of the past thread.

Shattuck's book advocates starting violin pupils in 3rd position instead of 1st. Is this approach being used at all today?  To me, 3rd position is home position -- just as the ASDFGHJKL;' row of the computer/typewriter keyboard is home row to typing students.  For years now, I've always started warm-up sessions in 3rd before moving down to 1st to open up the hand still more.

Please share your experiences.

Replies (21)

March 17, 2011 at 04:45 PM ·

I started in first position but I seem to remember going into other (3rd?) positions after a few weeks. It's a long time ago now. I also started to teach myself vibrato at about this time. I might have started the Vivaldi A minor concerto at this point.

Ricci suggests that we should consider the whole fingerboard as one position.

March 17, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

 I don't think I've heard a teacher refer to the whole of the fingerboard as "one position", but I remember my cello teacher, after the first couple of weeks, encouraging me to explore the length of the fingerboard, so perhaps he was saying the same sort of thing.  Since coming to the violin I've adopted the same philosophy. 

March 17, 2011 at 05:27 PM ·

My teacher started me off in first position, but soon he was giving me pieces with higher notes and telling me to "just go up there and find the notes".  Surprisingly, they were usually there.  I have experience with other instruments, plus a good ear; perhaps he wouldn't have taken this approach with someone starting violin as a first instrument.  But before long I was being introduced to third position in its "official" sense, and I've been moving higher ever since.  What's interesting is that I can go back to my earlier assignments and when I come to a high part I suddenly realize, "Oh, that's just third position," and finally know exactly what I'm doing.

And here I am, a year and a half later, working on that part in Kreutzer etude #5 where you have to go up to 6th position and stay there a while.  Yikes!

March 17, 2011 at 06:50 PM ·

There's a rather interesting little book by Mikhail Lobko (Mel Bay) which strongly advocates starting beginners with closed fingerings up and down the neck. He claims that his very young students quickly learn to play their pieces anywhere on the fingerboard with ease.

His argument is that as the muscle-memory of the large arm muscles is much stronger than the small muscles of the fingers, locking students into first position for years creates habits which are extremely difficult to overcome later, while students introduced to the full range of the neck at an early stage have no difficulty when introduced later to open fingerings in first position.

Seems to make perfect sense to me.

March 17, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·


"There's a rather interesting little book by Mikhail Lobko (Mel Bay) which strongly advocates starting beginners with closed fingerings up and down the neck. He claims that his very young students quickly learn to play their pieces anywhere on the fingerboard with ease.

His argument is that as the muscle-memory of the large arm muscles is much stronger than the small muscles of the fingers, locking students into first position for years creates habits which are extremely difficult to overcome later, while students introduced to the full range of the neck at an early stage have no difficulty when introduced later to open fingerings in first position."

Whilst I wouldn't totally disagree about muscle-memory, I'm not sure that Simon Fisher would agree, and he talks of "Mind not Muscles" and "Command-response." Galamian talks of this and not the training and building of the muscles.

This is why we can stop playing for years and come back to it immediately, taking into account sore fingers for a few days!!

March 17, 2011 at 08:11 PM ·


You make a good point, but I still feel that Lobko may be advocating the right approach, even if his rationale isn't entirely accurate. If he finds it's practical to teach young beginners to move freely around the fingerboard, what's the argument for restricting them to first position?

In the world of traditional music, I know so many players who have developed a complete block about moving up the neck, which cuts them off from so many styles of music...

March 17, 2011 at 08:20 PM ·

I'm not making a comment about moving all over the fingerboard - I agree that one should, as soon as possible and maybe from day one.

I was just reffering to muscle-memory.

March 17, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

I agree.  I wasn't taught anything other than 1st position as a child ....and now, while I do shift,  am still struggling to do so smoothly.  Had we learned the principles earlier on, I bet it would be a non-issue for me now.

March 17, 2011 at 11:19 PM ·

I started with the Suzuki method so stayed in first position for however many pieces that lasts!  I can't remember the first shift in the canon. :)

My next teacher (a student of Heifetz and a thinker about these kinds of things) often wondered whether a beginner would be better off learning a higher position to start with, although he suggested fourth position because of the way the hand hits the rib there, forming a great hand shape.

There are a few potential problems with starting beginners higher on the fingerboard early on, as I see it: first, the margin of error for pitch grows smaller as the fingers must be spaced closer together; second, you miss out on using open strings, and the more resonant sound of the lower positions in general (a real consideration with the fractional sized beginner violins); and finally, the placement of the bow is again made more difficult with a shorter string.

I don't doubt that many people stay too long in first position, but there are good reasons to build a very solid foundation there without worrying about shifting as well.

March 17, 2011 at 11:31 PM ·


I think I am right in saying that there are historical reasons why Eastern Eurpean and Russian teachers have started their pupils in third position. That is,   the lack of availability of smaller instruments made it a necessity.


I think having young styudents play with things like harmonics all over the finger board in the early stages can be useful and fun,



March 18, 2011 at 12:46 AM ·

About that one position thing, I find it's a good idea.... 

I would tell that what is really important is that people realize that a same note (a same spot on the finger board) can be played in many positions.  (not so obvious for beginners...)

When we switch from one position to the upper consecutive one, the only "new" notes we add are those played by the pinky.  (all the other one were there in the previous position.  Just that they weren't played with the same fingers)

Since each note can belong to so many positions, you can play it with many fingers and thus, it's easy to think for beginners that there are thousands of notes on the fingerboard!  (not true...)

Especially when we hear  that there is more than 10 positions...

But when we draw the finger board on a peice of paper and look at how many note there are on it (it's really not as endless as we think!) 

March 18, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

I play jazz, and improvise on the violin.  I have taught myself to make 2nd position my home position, and I play most of my scales and other exercises from there. Many common chords in jazz are easier to work in when 2nd position is home.  And most everything you want to play is just a whole step shift down or a whole step shift up.

It all depends on your objective.

March 19, 2011 at 05:37 AM ·


I am not sure that is really why, and at the risk of oversimplifying, I disagree with Simon Fischer's "mind-over-matter" philosophy because my reading tells me they are simply too interconnected.  Matter is a partner of mind, not necessarily slave to it.  For one thing, the difference can be almost indistinguishable to the brain -- that is, remembering the act of doing something will often activate the same areas in the same way as actually doing it.  For instance, when we read silently, our vocal cords are actually stimulated even though we hear no sound.  Odd but true! 

Procedural memory -- the kind of memory that is formed from repetition of an action, often discussed in connection with motor skills -- is so strong, it's often the last thing to go when people suffer brain damage.  For instance, Clive Wearing, who could conduct a choir or sit at the piano and play a piece beginning to end with style and inflection, despite having no memory of ever having done so.  Twenty seconds later, he thinks he has just "woken up" from a sort of unconsciousness.

Indeed, after invesigating a bit, the information I find suggests that we resort most to mental self-coaching when cracking under pressure.  In my own experience, it holds true that if I want something to happen instantaneously, I have to put some faith my arms.  Never entirely blind faith, but speaking relatively, sometimes shockingly blind!

March 19, 2011 at 08:24 AM ·


Interesting arguments! I think Simon also says somewhere that we do not know a piece well enough until we can be instantly woken up at 3.00am and when handed the fiddle be able to play the piece perfectly.

Your comment about subconsciously playing is also interesting because this does happen.

But I suppose if we play all the time and mostly every day then the physical side is in training, and well rehearsed.

What about sightreading though? That is mostly a visual/looking ahead intellectual thing, is it not? No pre-training regarding the sequence of notes can be fallen back on here. Why is it some can sightread very well, others not? If it is something we do regularly enough,  I suppose, we may eventually get good at it.

March 19, 2011 at 02:10 PM ·

I didn´t learn 3rd position until I had been playing fo 4 years. Now, many years later, I am most comfortable playing in 3rd position (even more comfortable than playing in first). But to me, it´s not very wise to teach students 3rd position first because most works are centered on 1st position and it´s the basic one on which we build all our foundation.

But saying that, ever since I learned 3rd position I am now 100% comfortable with the upper position and sliding into them. I learned to play and use 6th, 7th and 8th position and higher without even noticing I was learning it because it came so naturally to use higher positions. I believe that the firm foundation I got in 3rd position really helped with it.

So I believe students should be taught 1st position at firstbut 3rd position should be introduced early on.

March 19, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

A few years ago I was talking to someone with extensive teaching experience who was thinking about doing this.  One advantage I cn see is that third position encourages good alignment of the arm and wrist- with the hand lightly touching the edge and wrist straight, the first finger will drop right into place.

When my oldest kid started learning bass, one of the books his teacher had (I think it was actually the first Suzuki bass book) advocated starting at the neck block, kind of the bass equivalent.  Among other things, this was physically easier for a beginner than keeping the arm up to start in first position.

March 20, 2011 at 05:26 AM ·

After the first two years.

March 20, 2011 at 06:21 PM ·

 It's an interesting concept. So many young players, even those well into 3rd position, refuse to believe me when I encourage them to use it more, especially in their orchestras. I tell them that for professionals, 3rd is actually the default position--much physically easier to play in than 1st. 


One advantage I see in starting in 3rd is that they'd have to use their 4th finger fairly soon, which means they have less time to develop the bad habit of curling it up, and less chance of developing an open hand position. They'd be more likely to be successful at curving the pinkie as well on the string.

Now if I could just convince the world that the natural scale should really start with A instead of C...

March 21, 2011 at 09:35 AM ·

Interesting thread! I know Sheila Nelson in her Tetratunes (for beginners) has 'Cowboy Chorus' to be played in 1st and 3rd pos. So you get to play your first melody, (reading only from numbers, not notes, at first) in 'basic hand position' and then subsequently with a high three, (using fourth finger, too) I believe the motive is hand-shaping.

I don't know if Drew Lecher is still around on this site (I haven't been around myself for quite a while...) but I know he was starting a new pupil directly with 4th position ...if I remember rightly!

What do people mean when they talk about open and closed fingerings?  (in Geoff's post)...is it referring to the narrowing of the intervals as you move up the fingerboard? ....or the specific order of tones and semitones between the fingers?


October 18, 2011 at 06:52 PM ·

I always thought "closed fingerings" meant no open strings; is that right? It forces one to develop the pinky...

October 19, 2011 at 05:39 AM ·

I introduce students to playing one and two octave scales starting on 1st finger all over the violin as soon as they grasp what the concept of a major scale is (well, and whole/half steps).

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