Second position

December 2, 2004 at 08:20 AM · It is my understanding that, when shifting into third position, we relocate the hand to place first finger on the third finger's 'natural' position - so even if we're playing in E major, the thumb (if using the 'opposite first finger' technique, which I do) will be in the natural position and the first finger will reach forward into the sharp position.

However, I'm mighty confused about the technicalities of second position: Samuel Applebaum's String Builder book implies that there are *two* second positions, according to whether you're using a wide second finger or a close one. I find this difficult to grasp; let's imagine we're playing in G major, so we'll have a sharp F on the D string, but a natural C on the A. What should the thumb's position be in this case? Please help!

Replies (25)

December 2, 2004 at 10:04 PM · Did I articulate this well enough? All the note/finger examples are given in first position.

December 2, 2004 at 11:03 PM · I was hoping to see an answer myself since this has me curious. But I'm wondering - it's such a small position change, especially if it's a "low" 2nd position - do violinists with large hands even bother doing a complete shift including the thumb?

Actually when I learned my first little one-octave scale of F+ in 2nd position way back when I think I asked my teacher exactly what Applebaum is saying. I'm moving my hand only a semitone up from first position to play F+ starting on E. But what if I had a scale that started on F#, would second position be a tone up from first position? Therefore are there two second positions? Or is there one second position a tone up from first position with reaching back with the fingers for F+? That was for a simple scale that would only have one version of 2nd position, while your example shows both variations in the course of playing.

But then after writing about fingers reaching back I'm reminded of Fischer in Basics and others who talk about basing your hand position in any position on the 3rd finger or "what makes the 4th feel comfortable", especially for people with small hands, and then "reaching back" in any case. Might that imply something about the 2nd position question?

Actually this is something that has been bugging me for a while. In shifting, is it always necessarily the first finger that has to give the reference point for the final hand position? I mean, if you are shifting back into first position on a descending scale and the first note you are playing is the third finger what really is the sense of sounding out the first finger to "locate" yourself and then bouncing back to the third which obviously already knows its location a tone below the last tone you just vacated. So ..... and I hope this ties in, in some way, with the 2nd position question .... is the 1st finger always the mental reference point for hand (therefore thumb) placement?

Please chide me if I've overdigressed.

December 2, 2004 at 11:39 PM · Greetings,

moving from ist to second position there is no reason to apply any rule other than moving from 1st to 3rd as far as I can see. If you have a finger hand thumb position okay for you in 1st then don`t chnage it. Just move up.

It might be useful to practice one finger scales from 1st to third position and back (only five notes intotal) with the tumb off the instrument and slightly forwrad of its usual psoition.

Then let the thumb function as it wants to while the fingers decide where things are going to go.



December 3, 2004 at 12:48 AM · damn, i just wrote a huge response and it got erased. grr.

anyhow i agree with buri, its not really a special case position, the thumb stays relative to the rest of the hand like in 3rd position or 1st. As for the first finger dropping a half step in second, i treat it exactly the same way as if it happnened in first position, i reach back a little bit.


I have huge hands, but in general i find it better to shift rather than reach. For instance with my first finger on the b flat on the a string i can almost reach the b flat two octaves up on the e string, but i would never do this. I've noticed a lot of the time i have trouble with quick things up high i'm just not shifting and i'm trying to reach instead.

December 3, 2004 at 01:31 AM · I think I understand Sue's question, though. If you go into third position, then you move your hand up to "third position" which is defined by the normal first finger, as for example G on D, D on A etc. and keeping the hand the same. If you were to play something that started on G# on D then you would (I assume - though it begs the same question) you don't bring your hand up to an alternate third position that would be up a half step with the first finger on G#, the thumb matching - although you could, and knowing myself I possibly might unwittingly.

But in the 2nd position that is exactly what the writer is proposing if I understand it right. One "2nd position" placing the hand according to where the first finger would be for F on D, and another "2nd position" placing the hand according to where the first finer would be for F# on A, with the thumb following the finger of course. So do two 2nd positions exist and what happens if your fingering involves both scenarios? This is a question that I had quite a while ago. Maybe it only comes up for the 2nd position for some reason.

So Owen, what I understand you saying, if you drop the 1st finger "back" in some cases, you must be placing your hand in 2nd position as if for F# on D rather than F on D. I think in fact that first 2nd position scale I was taught the hand moved up a semitone from the 1st position to F on D. The next scale I was taught was C on the A string, again starting in a 2nd position that would be a semitone above 1st position 1st finger. That would be different from what you are doing.

For the first time I'm understanding why 2nd position is considered awkward and avoided so often. It doesn't seem to be such a big deal: but it's a semitone above 1st position or a semitone below 3rd position so it's quite an in-between thing.

About big hands: I know a young man with gigantic hands of pure rubber - I swear they contain no bones - and I'm sure I've seen him playing up to 5th position and when I looked back, way, way down the fingerboard, his thumb was still happily planted in first. Probably not advisable but apparently he could get away with it. I wonder if his teacher ever noticed.

December 3, 2004 at 01:34 AM · Thanks Inge, yes, that's exactly what I meant. Following the thumb-opposite-first rule for the sake of argument, let's talk about the A string. In first position we keep the thumb opposite the B natural position, and move the finger back to play a Bb. In third position we keep the thumb opposite the D natural position, and move the finger forward to play a D#. When teaching a beginner second position, where exactly do we define it? First finger in the C natural position, or the C#? And if it's dependent on the key we're in, what happens in G major where we have a combination of finger placements between the strings?

December 3, 2004 at 03:13 AM · Are you saying, Sue, that in your world the THUMB becomes a reference point? That's a visual reference point then. In the way I learned it, the first finger audially became the reference point by sound. I.e. when you first learn to shift down in a scale, let's say from 3rd position in the 2 octave D+ scale, to first shift down to first position, sound the F# with the first finger and locate your hand that way, and then play the remaining A, G F#. Later on the step of actually sounding the F# is left out. --- so the hand position is located by sound and position of the first finger, not the thumb. This is actually where my slight digression comes in because I can't see sense in that. If I'm descending from third position, having just played D, C#, B and then want to play the A in first position to continue down the scale A, G, F# -- then the A that I want to play is visually just below the B I've finished playing. It's very easy for me to see as well as feel the distance of the tone below the B and bring my hand down in such a way that my third finger hits the B and then continue descending. Trying to find the F# with the first finger first, and THEN play or locate the B seems clumsy. Do people really play that way or is this just something that beginners are taught for some odd reason? In a small way it ties in with your story of the thumb. I hadn't thought of the thumb that way and it could be useful.

But continuing with your original dilemma, I wonder how sound the reasoning of the writer of the book is. I mean, if that's true for the 2nd position, it would have to be true for all other positions too, like your example of G# vs. G in 3rd position. Because thinking in line of what your writer is saying, when I first worked in various positions I found myself thinking "Wait a minute - this melodic line starts in G# - could my 3rd position then be governed by G# so I move my hand a bit higher up?" (and ditto for Gb).

You have been playing for quite a few years. How do you yourself approach 2nd position? Maybe that gives you a final answer. Trying to put myself into the shoes of a beginner child I would think that one rule would be less confusing than two - either the F# or F idea. When I was introduced to F+, I played D0, E1, F2 and then slid the hand up to F1. After a while on my own accord I thought "Hang this - it's a minor third." - played the E, found the F - and went on from there out of laziness I guess.

Actually, this begs a few questions of my own, dear teacher, that are totally related. If teaching the Db + scale (starting on G string) would your students bring their thumb over to 4th position along with the rest of the hand of course and then start a semitone below - or play four notes to get there (A, B, C, D) slide the hand up and then again start a semitone below .... or play something like the Ab+ scale and start with the hand in a slightly lower position, thumb and all? That's your 2nd position question transferred to a different hand position. If you have only one standard 4th position, then maybe you have only one standard 2nd position. Since I think I'm doing the latter option (don't know if it's right) then I must have two "fourth positions" like the two "second positions".

I see you're talking about teaching beginners. But later on doesn't making the hand comfortable fit in? I mean the suggestions of experimenting with bringing the thumb further forward or further back, fitting the hand to make the 4th finger comfortable and so on in order to win flexibility and "stretch". Those would have to be opted out of for the beginner if the thumb and/or first finger define positions. For 2nd position, wouldn't having the thumb closer to F# on A be easier on a smaller hand because of the maxim of reaching back?

OK, enough semi-beginner thoughts. I have a Db question to iron out thanks to this thread. ;-)

December 3, 2004 at 03:46 AM · Greetings,

all these complex and wonderful posts are giving me brain damage so I think I will cite an example of a scale rather than a few notes. Assuming that the studnet is required to play c major starting in second position then the leading note on g string would be upper second position, the sub dominant on d string in lower second position, ditto the a and e string. Inb other words , in an extende passage on cannot be said to be shiffting in and out of upper and lower verisons of psotions. It is just too much for the student.

I woiuld much prefer an appraoch where a student is very comfortable in 1st and third position using the four basic finger patterns. Plus a much earlier development of `playing up and down -one string=` which is introduced way too late in my opinion. By introducing this latter aspect of technique the student will be yanked out of necome over compartmentalized by psoitions at the expesne of knowing that notes simply exist all over the fingerboard . These two conepts shopuld complemet each other.

So , when one gets to second position it should not be too difficult to get the studenbt to undertsand that instead of starting a c major scale (or whatever) with a first or third finger they can use the second. With a well elarnt understanding and use of the finger patterns the studnet can figure out the scale without wondering if they are in some kind of nutty upper or lower version of this new position. The role of the thumb is then determined by what the fingers aree doing rather than the reverse.

Of course, lots of sevcik is also going to make the position clear enough.

I also think there is a related problem of not undertsanbding shape chaniging of fingertiips which must be taught as soon a spossible. If studnets have control of this then they simply need to note that a sharpened version of a note has a diffenret finger shape and practice acccordingly.



December 3, 2004 at 04:03 AM · Forgive me, Inge, I didn't quite grasp the D major fingering you described in your first paragraph. Different teachers use different fingerings for scales (along with everything else!) and I didn't really get what you meant. But as far as Db major goes, I personally teach it starting in third position on a 2nd finger. It's not the only fingering available, but I find it logical when so many other scales begin on 2nd finger also and share the same shifting points.

Regarding what I personally do in second position, I confess that I spend as little time in this position as possible - it's usually a roundabout way of moving between first and third positions. For scales in second position, for example C major, when I think about it I use a Bb first finger/thumb position from the outset, in preparation for the F natural on the D string.

You mentioned the idea of the fingers leading: generally speaking, I think left hand technique is basically structured towards getting your fingers to the desired fingerboard locations as quickly and easily as possible. In this way, at a more advanced level you develop a more accurate mental picture of the fingerboard (like your wool experiment) and are less conscious of the specific position you're in (well, I am anyway:?). So in the long run, you position your hand to facilitate the motion of the fingers. But students beginning position work need to have some kind of mental (and aural) anchor point, or they mislay the position they should be in (this often occurs when the hand loses its basic shape). This is one reason we initially use specific shifting points, for example to third position on A string D, or up to fifth on E string C.

I was practising fifth position sightreading tonight, again from the Sam Applebaum series. At no point was there an indication of either thumb placement or finger placement for first finger on each string, although each exercise was in C. If I was new to fifth position, I wouldn't have had a hope.

December 3, 2004 at 04:04 AM · P.S. Hi Buri, I think we ended up posting simultaneously... I was hoping you'd pitch in for this one:)

December 3, 2004 at 07:19 AM · BURI: I like the concept of "decompartmentalization" and also "the two concepts" i.e. that of the notes on the fingerboard and the other of finger positions. I think when we stay in 1st position, we identify the fingers with the fingerboard. D is third finger and third finger is D. When I first learned shifting I suddenly realized that it's not that obvious that the hand and the fingerboard are two separate things. D is a LOCATION that the 3rd finger presses, but it can be pressed by any other finger to still get the same sound, or even with my nose if I'm flexible enough. I had to mentally separate the two, which is what you are saying. Your stressing of the physicality of playing, especially fingertip shapes, is refreshing. It is just at this point during the my first year of learning that I realized there was a skill I did not have or understand -- and I think in fact it's not really taught that much yet: How, exactly, do you effectively and comfortably reach those notes, change the shape of the hand etc.

SUE: When you describe how you actually play as opposed to how beginners are taught to play, you seem to be saying the same thing as Buri. Sorry about being confusing about the D+ scale. I was describing a typical basic scale that shifts up into 3rd position, then descending you would start on the highest finger (4th or 3rd) and play the lower ones - but the instruction is to first play the lowest finger rapidly to check your position and then descend normally. I very soon began doing what you do, that is to say simply play the next note with whatever higher finger is supposed to play it and just bring my hand to where it would go to get the finger there. If my next note after being in a higher position is a D in 1st position played by the 3rd finger, followed by a C# 2nd, why on earth would I shift down to 1st position, locate E with 1st in order to play D with 3rd. Wouldn't my 3rd finger TELL my hand where 1st position is since D is such an obvious note with the open D below it?

I too did some sight reading tonight to see HOW I perceive shifts. And then I read yours about no indication of 1st finger so a person new to 5th would be lost. This relative newbie (moi) sight read Cinquantaine (G. Marie) and the first shift that came marked a 2nd finger so no 1st finger orientation was in sight. But I don't relate to the thumb. The melody started in 1st position playing E & A below middle C; then E above with a "2". Mental process went: "number beside E, so it's not open E but it's not 4th finger." Physical reaction: having seen E, perceived E, heard E, the 2nd finger scooted over to the E taking the hand with it. The next notes were D,E,F so the brain just took off fingers and added fingers depending on whether the notes were going above or below that 2nd fingered E. Still no awareness of what position I was in and no time to think that if I'm playing D with 1 then I must be in 3rd position. Some confusion when with F(3) A(3) the A was also played with the 3rd finger as a harmonic and then followed by a G (4) ... total confusion about position or anything until I played the G with the 4th and realized the 3rd finger kind of scoots over to the A, flattens itself out into the harmonic and the 4th does a graceful jump back giving the hand its shape.

So those are 5 second period of sight reading by a semi-beginner. No thumb position, no 1st finger - just the 2nd finger going to the appropriate note. I DID find that it was important to catch what position I'm in, and it WAS important to recognize the position's "shifting point" as you explained it to me. That was when the music suddenly jumped down a larger interval. If I know I'm in 3rd position, then I know my 1st finger is in the vicinity of C, G, D and A on the four strings - from there the A below middle C for example is simply a matter of going one step over from the G. It's all a matter of quick flashes of pictures and my "wooly friends" have actually helped too.

I wonder just how many ways there are of actually perceiving what we are doing in sight reading.

December 5, 2004 at 02:32 AM · Owen, I read your post again. Although you say you're in agreement with Buri that there's no specific thumb position for second position, your reference to reaching back with first finger implies that you personally use a 'sharp' second position, in that you're reaching back for, say, a natural C on the A string, rather than forward for a C#.

It seems that neither Galamian nor Simon Fischer has anything to say on this subject, which I find interesting.

December 5, 2004 at 07:51 PM · not quite, its not that i have a "sharp" second position per se, i think we're thinking too mechanical. if it were a c sharp, the hand would be foward a bit, right? if it were one c natural i woiuld likely reach back, but i think the hand naturally would shift back were they all c naturals.

December 5, 2004 at 11:33 PM · What is anyone's opinion on Applebaum's initial premise, that there are two "second positions"? Sue, does he actually expect these "two" positions be be taught? Maybe it's not a good idea if it leads to such confusion - or maybe it's just nice to be aware that 2nd position can be approached from a bit higher up or a bit lower down. But isn't that true for all positions and depends on the size and shape of your hand? (I'm thinking again of the advice to place your hand in such a way as to make your 4th finger comfortable.)

December 6, 2004 at 02:16 AM · Owen, what would you do in G major, where the first-finger sharps and naturals are equally divided?

Inge, Applebaum *implies* two positions using exercises for one, then for the other. He doesn't actually state anything really.

P.S. I posted this question on the forum at Twenty-nine people have viewed it, and no responses have been offered. Is it possible I've discovered the only issue in violin playing without any answers?

December 6, 2004 at 03:01 AM · its exactly the same as first position in f major where they are divided, the hand doesnt move much although whatever you have to do to preserve the balance is good.

December 6, 2004 at 03:05 AM · In F major first position my thumb is opposite the B on A string. Again, this indicates the thumb's second position as being opposite the C#, with the finger extending back for a C natural.

December 6, 2004 at 03:12 AM · greetings,

I don`t necessarily think it is what you are doing but this seems ot me to be wandering onto terrotory that has litlte foundation. Yes we base the hand on the fourth and third fingers so there is a sens of stretching backwards for the lower fingers, but the variation between these notes is essentially caused by a change in the shape of the fingertip. Any attempt to change into a dififernt position is , as far as I am concerned, false. It is precisely the idea that a hand moves to accomodate accidnetal variations that causes so much trouble in the early stages that can become embedded forever (or even longer...). Second position is where it is and then one changes the shape of the finger tips or expands and contracts the base joints somewhat. Any thing more complex is the consequence of too many cranberries,



December 6, 2004 at 03:18 AM · It's not my own second position I have a problem with; it's how to define it to a beginner who is accustomed to keeping their thumb opposite their first finger when in first and third positions.

December 6, 2004 at 04:47 AM · May I make a suggestion? I have the feeling that you already have the answer and expertise in this area, Sue. You base your teaching on some specific criteria. You like to give your students clear instructions, you don't like them to become confused by too many options, and you teach them to recognize positions through thumb / first finger placement. So according to these criteria you would want to choose one version of second position and stick to it because that fits what you believe in. You are the expert because you have studied the violin for a fair length of time, you know how to play in 2nd position, and you know what feels comfortable. So perhaps it boils down to which of Applebaum's suggestions you think will suit your students better.

I'm partial to the "low 2nd position" (F, C). I can clearly remember it as my first introduction to shifting, and it seemed "safe" because it was so close to the familiar home-base of first position.

I think that Applebaum has given an interesting perspective that it is POSSIBLE for more than one version of 2nd position to exist. That might be useful in the future in your own playing, or if you get a student with unusual anatomy needing an alternate approach. It's horizon-expanding but are you obligated to use his idea just because it's there?

Just my uninformed two cents worth (about .075 USD).

December 6, 2004 at 04:57 AM · Greetings,

Sue, I can`t see the point of changing the relation between the thumb and hand in second position if it is the same in first and third.

I have Applebaums book on string playing so I will consult it tonight and see what he says.



December 6, 2004 at 05:34 AM · Dear Sue,

What Applebaum is refering to here is different than you think. He is refering to the idea of the hand in multiple positions vs. the hand in one position.

Here's a brief explanation. Both Ysaÿe (in his Études for solo violin) and Oistrakh talked about this. When making a brief excursion into the second position (usually in the half-step distance), the thumb doesn't change position, although the hand moves forward by a half-step.

That is less possible when going a whole step away as the thumb's behind position affects the balance of the hand. The thumb than takes its natural place opposite the first finger in a true second position.

However, in the first idea, the thumb assumes a position that enables one to play in both the first and lower second position, while in the second idea, the hand is solidly placed in second position.

I hope that this clarifies this to some extent. Take care and cheers!

December 6, 2004 at 02:11 PM · Christian, would that principle also apply to other positions? I.e. I've seen G# minor played with the finger reaching back but also with the hand moved back a half step but the thumb remaining where it is in 1st position, and I've been wondering why in a certain set of chromatic scale I was told it was advisable to do this kind of half shift. Actually I think this clarifies quite a few things for me. And I'm starting to understand the (new for me) premise of the thumb being a kind of position holder in and of itself as well as in light of its role in determining hand shape. I'm into thumbs this month and the word for December is "opposable".

December 6, 2004 at 06:24 PM · Funny you should mention G#m, Inge, as I was dealing with 'extra sharp' sightreading last night and found myself playing using a combination of half, first and first-and-a-half (which of course is 'lower' second) positions. From everything that's been said on this thread, including Christian's contribution, I think for myself I'd teach the higher of the two. Does anyone know if Neil Mackay has anything to say about this issue? I use his books for third position, and understand there's a second position volume also available.

December 6, 2004 at 06:45 PM · "Funny you should mention G#m, Inge, as I was dealing with 'extra sharp' sightreading last night and found myself playing using a combination of half, first and first-and-a-half (which of course is 'lower' second) positions."

That's actually what jogged my memory, Sue (You mentioned the G#m somewhere else). It was the first 2 octave scale in the abandoned grade of which I only had 6 weeks or so. I remember my teacher telling me that this is a completely different hand frame and was trying to remember the details of it for the other scales that start with a low 1st finger (Eb for example). The way it's in my old book, it's all in 1st position but two of the notes are played with the 2nd finger which at the time was hard for me. So starting with G# on the G string that fingering went 1-2-2-3-4 with no shifting anywhere in the scale. I reach back with the first finger but someone else does a half shift which you seem to start with, pointing out that the accompanying Ab maj. is nothing else than an A major in fingering that has moved down a half step, so why not use the same fingering and move the hand? Now that I understand the role of the thumb a little better in terms of how it allows the fingers to have their shape, I'll be keeping that in mind in deciding which I'll end up doing. Boy, I'm glad I don't have to teach anyone! If I change my mind, I only have to undo my own hand.

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