Beginner trying to shift to 3rd position with small hands

August 12, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Hello First post here.

So I was taught shifting from 1st to 3rd position. My teacher told me that the side of your left hand hits the ribs of the violin.

Now I'm pretty young so my hands haven't grown much. I experimented with a chromatic tuner to find the D note on the A string and found that my hand doesn't hit the ribs at all. I tried all the methods that helps this but to no avail.

Now because of this I became more fond with 4th position since my thumb hits the curvature of the neck so I have a good clue.

But sooner or later I need to shift to 3rd position accurately so how do I shift to 3rd with my prepubescent hands?

Replies (35)

August 12, 2014 at 11:42 PM · best practice is to use your ears! learn how it sounds to play 3rd finger C(on G string), G (on D string), etc. then learn to move your hand smoothly so the 1st finger is playing same note. Check the octave on the string below (exc. G) and learn to hit it first time every time with practice! Millions of other exercises, etudes, techniques, etc. for proficiency in shifting, but get away from the "hand on the body" kind of guidelines...

August 13, 2014 at 01:32 AM · I suggest you watch Todd Ehle's video to get started on shifting. Watch his hand very carefully and you will see how the various events are timed -- the lightening of the finger, the movement of the finger and thumb (and arm), and the use of the ghost note.

The concept of the "ghost note" is very important and you will use it for a long time. For clear instructions on how to make the most of ghost notes I suggest reading the section on Shifting in Simon Fischer's textbook, "Basics." Fischer explains how your various parts should move, and when, which depends on where you are on the fingerboard and whether you are going up or down. Ehle also breaks this down nicely.

Using the bout of your violin to guide your shifts is a crutch that can be useful in a pinch but is not reliable as a general principle.

August 13, 2014 at 05:07 AM · Oops!

August 13, 2014 at 05:08 AM · My hand only hits the violin shoulder in 4th position, even on the viola. Same for all my young female students..

I teach 2nd & 3rd positions by substitution: e.g. on the A-string, playing C or D in 1st position, releasing all fingers, and shifting until the index finds, visually, the same spots. Then the note is corrected aurally with the whole hand and forearm, not just the index.

August 13, 2014 at 07:04 AM · Good advice on here but you have been given poor advice about the place of the third position by someone previously.

Use your ear and rather than a shift do a push with whatever finger you want to move up on. It should come from the finger rather than the whole hand or even worse, the arm, where people dangerously use the tombone slide effect. (Use a light touch with the finger on the string, don't press down).

A good teacher should put you right on these technical matters if you can find one (which is often quite hard).

August 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM · "It should come from the finger rather than the whole hand.."

O.k. I am watching the fingers, but I find the shift still comes from a whole arm swing, however small. In fact I use the same movements for shifting and vibrato. And I never encourage "trombone" slides!

August 14, 2014 at 03:00 AM · ...

August 14, 2014 at 05:03 AM · use the finger lightly on the string, as Peter suggests, it has a lot of nerves and will learn the distances much better than your elbow will. Move your whole hand, but focus on the finger. There's a saying in golf, the body will follow "educated hands" that applies here; your elbow will bend and your arm will follow the hand- it has no other option! haha It's just a question of what you focus on....

August 14, 2014 at 09:29 AM · Thanks for the suggestions guys :)

Can I ask 2 more questions?

August 14, 2014 at 09:29 AM · Thanks for the suggestions guys :)

Can I ask 2 more questions?

August 14, 2014 at 09:39 AM · You can ask as many questions as you like :) but if they are not related to shifting then it might be better to start a new question. That makes it easier for everybody else to find it in future.

These questions and answers are valuable advice to many people and not just to the person asking the questions.

August 14, 2014 at 09:44 AM · Okay thanks. Here are my 2 questions (all related to shifting).

First question: Is it okay for my thumb to move first and then my fingers catch up? (Like playing from 1st pos to 2nd pos, I move the thumb to align to the second finger and then the hand follows)

Second question: If I can train just my thumb so that only the thumb learns the positions and the fingers just follow, will my shifts be accurate?

August 14, 2014 at 11:53 AM · You really have to think about how your thumb will "learn" where to go. What are the most sensitive parts of your body at your disposal? The finger tips and the ears. After that my guess is it's the feel of your whole hand combined, which includes the thumb. While your bicep is ultimately the muscle that must pull your hand up, it's also the most crude tool in the kit sensory-wise.

I have to add that I think there is a difference between just getting started shifting and overwhelming yourself with so much "expert knowledge" that you end up paralyzed. While you don't want to take on bad habits, the simple process as described in Ehle's video will get you started and take you quite far, you might try following along with it with your violin, doing what he does.

And there is no substitute for just working on pieces and studies that involve shifting, starting with Wohlfardt and a nice piece is Humoresque in Suzuki Book 3 (the marginalia in the Suzuki book also describe the ghost note approach).

August 14, 2014 at 05:13 PM · You should let the thumb do what it does naturally. Follow the position change or stay back. Coming down the same, stay behind or come down later. You should creep into the change and let the thumb be free and keep the hand open.

See what Ricci says about this. He's correct, the others are wrong.

August 14, 2014 at 08:57 PM · "use the finger lightly on the string,..., it has a lot of nerves and will learn the distances much better than your elbow will".

Sure, Tom, but does your sensitive fork slide up your face to find your mouth? Or does your very accurate elbow just take it straight there?

Ghost notes?

I use and teach them, but I am also a stickler for tone/semitone groupings in the new position. Sometimes the ghost-note finger travels more or less than tne shifting hand.

August 14, 2014 at 10:12 PM · "Using the bout of your violin to guide your shifts is a crutch that can be useful in a pinch but is not reliable as a general principle.."

Ridiculous. I couldn't agree less. Students generally have problems with shift accuracy because they AREN'T using the violin itself as the guide. We learn to play by feel. By the time the note sounds, it's too late. One should be able to feel perfectly where 3rd position is with the heel of the hand against the fiddle. This is why 2nd position presents such problems and why it was generally avoided in older editions.

August 14, 2014 at 10:19 PM · I'm with Scott on this one.

Contact with the bout is tactile information. The more information a player has, including the aural and visual, the more reliable the movement and placement of the hand is, especially while shifting.

August 14, 2014 at 10:28 PM · Perhaps my arms are abnormally long, but even on the viola my hand touches the edge of the back in 4th position, and the ege of the belly in 5th position..

Of course we want tactile and visual clues, but may I insist on the value of skeletal angles: there are captors in the joints which are less susceptaible to weather, fatigue, digestion etc. than muscular or tactile sensors.

August 15, 2014 at 06:58 AM · It's interesting that Heifetz said that he played no more in tune than anyone else, but that he was much quicker in correcting it before anyone realised. Kind of says it isn't too late to adjust.

Just muddying the waters a bit in my usual way!

August 15, 2014 at 11:35 AM · Angga, welcome to, where opinions are many and congeniality is scarce.

August 15, 2014 at 12:57 PM · "Angga, welcome to, where opinions are many and congeniality is scarce."

Paul is putting a negative slant on it, we are all pretty friendly really, but we Brits have a strange sense of humour ... (Of course, everyone else's opinions are rubbish!) (wink)

August 15, 2014 at 02:20 PM · One cannot forget the timeless quip attributed to Henry Kissinger, among others: that the reason the arguments are so fierce in academia is precisely because the stakes are so small.

August 15, 2014 at 05:23 PM · If I have small steaks on the plate then I want extra chips ...

August 15, 2014 at 10:14 PM · I'd say that the stakes are pretty high when shifting, and certainly worth getting technique right.

While was Heifetz was right that one must learn to correct faulty pitch correctly, I'd say it is better to hit the note the first time.

August 15, 2014 at 10:22 PM · To the OP, I'd say that for where you are with your playing right now, you're definitely over-thinking this! It's the downside of learning these things when you're actually old enough to understand them, I suppose. I learned to shift before I knew what I was doing, and ironed in plenty of bad habits along the way. But I've had the chance to work on them since.

Your thumb will definitely be part of the process, and there are rules (of thumb, I couldn't help it) that distill what's worked for other people through the years. Simon Fischer and Galamian mention these in their excellent books. A teacher can help with the mechanics.

Use whatever helps you hear the two notes on either side of the shift, whether that's arm motion, parts of the violin, visual clues... in the end, the fingers themselves have contact with the string and they will "find" the notes for you, along with your ear.

August 16, 2014 at 02:42 AM · Nathan, I agree with you except for one small point: The OP isn't over-thinking this -- we are.

August 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM · You could be right! I'm tempted to just say "do what works" and leave it at that... if that ends up being helpful. Regardless of how you learn, nothing will feel totally natural until it's repeated many, many times. It's sort of freeing as a kid when you're just told, "Do a hundred more!" without having to worry about whether you're doing it right.

August 19, 2014 at 05:05 AM · Thanks a lot you guys. So far I kept shifting for about a week and it didn't work as well. Sometimes I would hit it perfectly and then I messed it up.

For the mean time I'll just keep shifting to my best friend, Fourth Position.

August 22, 2014 at 02:47 AM · Hey guys I'm back with another question! Sorry if I'm bothering you guys with my bundle of questions.

Is it much more valuable to me to learn the even positions (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) rather than the odd positions (3rd, 5th, 7th, etc.)?

August 22, 2014 at 07:25 AM · I teach 3rd before 2nd only because of the it is temporarily more useful in the common keys; 2nd follows immediately, followed by 4th & 5th, and so on. The 1-3-5-7 syndrome I find ludicrous: once a good shifting motion is established, one can use mutiple small shifts, half shifts, creeping shifts, or giant leaps at will (with suitable preparation and lots of practice!)

August 22, 2014 at 08:37 PM · To avoid that, I don't even really teach "positions" in the traditional manner. My teacher introduced me to Yost 1-finger scales, and that's what I use these days to get my students all over the fingerboard. :)

August 27, 2014 at 04:10 PM · Bumping thread because I need more advices.


Is it much more valuable to me to learn the even positions (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) rather than the odd positions (3rd, 5th, 7th, etc.)?

August 27, 2014 at 07:03 PM · I'll try again!

All positions have equal valitidy.

I would play a simple scale, say, on D & A strings:

- D major 0-1-23/0-1-23

- then the following keys 1-2-34/1-2-34

- Eb:Half position

- E: 1st position

- F: 2nd position

- F#:High2nd

- G: 3rd

- G#:High3rd = Ab: Low4th

- A: 4th

- A#:high4th = Bb: low5th

- B: 5th

And so on and so on up the figerboard...

Try shutting the eyes, dropping the arm (not the fiddle!) and finding each position directly (like finding one's mouth without looking in a mirror..)

The elbow joint remembers more reliably than the muscles.

August 29, 2014 at 03:05 PM · I could not disagree more with the advice to bump the rib of your violin when shifting to third position. My wrist isn't anywhere near the rib when I'm in 3rd.

Basic shifting technique: Release the weight of the finger you are shifting from but do not lose contact with the string. Close (or open, depends on whether you are shifting up or down) elbow, keeping hand frame stable and moving on a "whistle" (finger lightly touching like a harmonic), until your "old" finger is in place in the new position but do not put it down unless that is the note you're shifting to. Simultaneously completely release your "old" finger and put down your "new" finger.

This is grossly oversimplified and there are lots of exceptions, depending on the passage in question and the kind of expressiveness you want in your shift. But I find that intonation is much improved if you consider shifting to be fundamentally a motion of your elbow, and keep the integrity of your hand shape (i.e. do not do funny things with your wrist).

August 29, 2014 at 07:43 PM · "My wrist isn't anywhere near the rib when I'm in 3rd position". At last someone with normal anatomy (wink, smirk)!

I also initiate shifts in the elbow, which even swings inwards from the shoulder.

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