2nd Position- why is it awkward?

December 4, 2004 at 08:57 PM · Out of curiosity, why is second position so much more awkward than the others? Is it because it is taught after 3rd? Would it be more "normal" feeling if it was taught after 1st and before 3rd?

Replies (65)

December 4, 2004 at 11:01 PM · Hi Candace,

2nd position was just discussed in terms of how it should be taught here: http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=5610 A lot of thoughts started bandying about. Actually I think in RCM 2nd position IS taught first, in the form of a little one-octave F major scale in grade two, but it doesn't seem to be used or taught often after that. 3rd position is probably easier in the sense of finding the first finger note because you can reference the open string below. But hey folks, why IS 2nd position practically ignored?

December 4, 2004 at 11:11 PM · It's difficult because your 1st and 3rd fingers are used to being put down on notes that are on the lines while 2nd and 4th are used to being put down on the notes that sit in the spaces.

It's a mental thing for everyone that's a bit tricky to get around.


December 4, 2004 at 11:14 PM · i know buri has some feelings about this.

i think it is likely a combination of the fact that it is often taught second and that it seems to be used less. After a while, however, positions seem to matter less and less, until you know longer think of it that way and they're all hard.

just kidding actually they all get easier, provided your prune consumption is moderated.

December 4, 2004 at 11:27 PM · I actually teach second position before third. I introduce it in Lully Gavotte (Suzuki Book 2) in the harmonic minor scale section.

December 5, 2004 at 12:02 AM · Alittle off topic here - you know, fourth position basically doubles second position in difficulty--if it isn't regularly exercised. I found this out doing one of the fourth position Rode studies awhile back. I was frustrated with my ability--or lack thereof--to play in the fourth position. Second and fourth should be part of the curriculem taught regularly by teachers and used by performers alike.

December 5, 2004 at 01:11 AM · Second doesn't have the physical reference points for the hand that first (nut) and third (body) have. Also, the shift to and from second is tiny compared to first-third, especially when it's only a semitone, so it's easy to overshoot in the beginning.

December 5, 2004 at 01:34 AM · 2nd position is only awkward if you dont practice it. In the same way that 14th position is awkward if you dont practice it.

December 5, 2004 at 01:55 AM · Hey, in 3rd position does your hand actually touch the body somewhere (re: reference points nut & body). Mine never really reaches it but I don't think I have it shaped or positioned ideally anyway.

What I actually find awkward are those scales that start with a low first fingers like G#+ because I have an awkward way of reaching the 1st finger back. Some people I know bring the hand back a bit while leaving the thumb, (called a semi shift? half shift?) If I have any problem with 4th position it would be that my lessons were interrupted shortly after that was taught and I have a vague recollection that at this point the thumb starts moving underneath or meets the neck in some kind of a different angle and the hand starts moving a little bit more inward so it's a formation thing. But the position itself is easy to find because it corresponds to an open string.

As far as lines and spaces are concerned, I learned to find 2nd position by playing for example D, E, F (on D) where on the F the 2nd finger is kind of sidled up to the 1st (on your tape) and then sliding the whole hand up that little bit of a space while releasing the 2nd finger. Nowadays I think of it as a minor third above the open string and I orient myself aurally. But recently I wanted to get a more visual picture of the fingerboard and created some temporary tapes out of wool strands and that helped me "see" the path and relationship of fingerings in a given position of all the fingers ACROSS the four strings. It improved one aspect of my playing.

December 5, 2004 at 07:26 AM · Greetings,

for some people the hand may touch the body of the violin in third position and this is okay as long as the index finger is not touching the neck. But generally the 'double contact" is between thum and base of index finger in third. In fifth position the hand touches the violin and release the neck for the double contact. If hand, index finger and thumb are all touching you get triple contact which means you do not pass go or collect 200 pounds.

One reason fourth position is ifficult is it is slightly ambivalent: which double contact should one be using- it is not always clear,



December 5, 2004 at 02:48 PM · There is not enough music and etudes written for the 2nd and 4th. positions. Ricci has even mentioned this. Switching from 1st to 3rd and back is a piece a cake, because thats what is stressed. As soon as 2nd position gets involved people panic. I never knew until recently how important the 2nd and 4th positions were. Knowing the 2nd and 4th positions well makes everything come together musically better. Play simple pieces and use the 2nd and 4th positions. Experiment a little. The music will flow better using the 2nd. and 4th positions. Take it from an amateur! I had to learn the hard way.

December 5, 2004 at 11:41 PM · Greetings,

Rick, the seccik opus one exercises cover the 2nd, 4th and 6th posiitons perfectly. Then there are the two Rode caprices in thos epsoition which should be learnt to concert eprfoamnce standard.

As far as I am cocnerned, if you aren`t comfortbale in the even positions then you don`t know the violin.

As you say, the musicla and expressive possibilties available through knowing the fingerboard are huge compared ot knowing only half of it.



December 6, 2004 at 12:22 AM · "for some people the hand may touch the body of the violin in third position and this is okay as long as the index finger is not touching the neck."

The reason I'm asking is because whenever I see someone's hand touching or close to the violin body in 3rd or 4th position, it always seems as though much of the flat of their hand (palm?) is in line with the body. But for me it's more like the side of the hand mostly is facing it and I'm not that happy with my left hand fingers. There is still something awkward about them and it seems to have to do with the hand position itself. So the body as reference point for 3rd position interests my from another aspect.

It's interesting that you are mentioning that the 4th position is an "in-between" position just like 2nd, but for reason of point of contact. I think I need to have my teacher clarify some things because I've been kind of floating around in this position.

December 6, 2004 at 02:23 AM · Buri, I disagree on the third position posture thing: when I'm in third position I maintain double contact, and can feel the heel of my hand graze the heel of the violin. I think a lot of people find they contact the body in third; that's one of the reasons third is easier to find than, say, second or fourth. I have one student who finds third position challenging to find, and I don't think it's a coincidence that he's the only one who doesn't use hand/body contact to orientate himself.

December 6, 2004 at 02:32 AM · I find that second position is hard because the string below does not vibrate on the first finger to be used as a marker. This is also true when there are many flats or sharps and you are in third position.

December 6, 2004 at 02:37 AM · Sue: When it's the heel of your hand, would that be all the way across, more the part at the thumb side or more the oart to the 4th finger side? I've always wondered whether my hand was too parallel to the fingerboard. That angle toward the fingerboard would be the same in 1st and 3rd & all positions in between (meaning 2nd, hehe).

For 2nd position might some ear training be in order? After all, how do we find first position accurately if not by memorizing the interval between the open string and a whole step up? 2nd position would be a minor or major third depending on the note or key. And then, though you don't have an open string above or below as reference point, how about being able to check by sound when you play another finger? If I play F major in 2nd position (D string), the second finger I put down will play a G which will ring with the open G below it if I'm in proper position. If not either the G will not ring or the F will prove to be flat or sharp in comparison to the G I played. Are our reference points too narrow and are we not listening to enough clues outside of what the first finger will tell us?

Just some thoughts.

December 6, 2004 at 03:17 AM · Greetings,

if your hand is touching the violin in third position and you have index finger contact then the wrist is probably collapsing inwards too much. If it just grazes it ocasisonally then that may be a differnt thing but the principle itslef is pretty standard violin technique. Non-contraversial as far as I am aware. There is a fairly extensive passage on this issue in the Galamian book.



December 6, 2004 at 03:38 AM · After reading the previous comments, I must say that the references to the bumping points of the violin to hand are of great importance. I believe that second position should be taught in conjuction with third. Once the concept of replacing a finger to play the same note using a different finger is introduced, this will give a sense of fingering for practical and comfortable reasons. When I worked with Yehudi Menuhin,he stressed that second postion was the answer to excessive shifting,and was the secret to clean playing. I agree, and also prefer to pivot on half steps to avoid unnecessary shifting. In the proffessional world, there are certain passages that can only be played in second postion. Like Menuhin, I believe that it is the upmost important and unfortunately neglected postion. However the succesful execution of second positon does depend upon how strong you are with the fourth finger, and vibrato.

December 6, 2004 at 03:23 AM · Collapsing inward as in sideways inward on 4th finger side, kind of inward and sideways? Possible. Either that or it's still the stupid turned the wrong way at elbow and/or shoulder issue I've been battling for months. Reasonable intonation but at a cost. If it's the "collapse" thing however, I'm suspecting a weak wrist. (?)

December 6, 2004 at 06:33 AM · I must sing praises to second position! I agree that it is the key to cleaning up sloppiness and overshooting in shifting, as it pins down the specific distance between whole and half-step movements when you are shifting from first to second. It is gradually taking me from a wholly right-brained shifting approach in which I moved by feel and intuition and hoped I got it right, and is centering it on a more left-brained approach using precise mathematical caluculations, through a better awareness of the exact interval I'm covering. Second position, as well as fourth, helps to disconnect the fingers from their habitual note assignments and helps my brain to see notes, intervals, scales--everything--without fixed fingerings to accompany them. And once you can master that, you will start to see so many easier options for fingerings! I can't wait to get better at this.

December 6, 2004 at 06:53 AM · In the 18th century the first position was considered normal position and the second position was labelled first position by some and half position by others.In fact the Germans refered to the 2nd ,4th and 6th positions as 'halbe applicature' (half application) whilst'ganze applicature' (whole application) refers to the 3rd,5th etc.Interesting that through the passage of time certain conceptions remain ingrained.With the odd numbers retaining the idea of being the main positions and the even numbers as something to be used quickly in passing

December 6, 2004 at 09:54 AM · Greetings,

and we are still stuck with those bloody awful German editions....



December 6, 2004 at 01:56 PM · So that's what happened? One group of people formed a concept, and now everybody thinks a certain set of positions is difficult because of the concept because of which the position has been avoided which makes it difficult through disuse which makes it avoided etc.

December 6, 2004 at 10:38 PM · lol, buri got demerited.

December 6, 2004 at 11:33 PM · Greetings,

yes. Some ignoramus who has no understnding of this list and no guts.



December 7, 2004 at 01:04 AM · Naw, it was someone who can't tell a modifying noun from a noun. It was "bloody awful German EDITION". "Bloody awful German" however would have been a racial slur meriting a demerit. Sorry, no remerits handy at the moment.

December 7, 2004 at 01:23 AM · I think if we think in terms of the intervals between fingers within a given position rather than from position to position, many of the problems fade.

I don't know what position I am playing in most of the time, but then I am a self-taught improviser.

I have noticed, however, that many straight players who play some jazz can play a practised piece well in tune and with good phrasing, yet play their improvisations out of tune and not at all clearly, in terms of phrasing.

I think this is partly to do with thinking in hand positions rather than in intervals between notes on each string and on the fingerboard.

It doesn't matter what the position is, so long as the relationship between the notes is right. And that really only comes with thinking in string lengths.


December 7, 2004 at 01:30 AM · Greetings,

thanks Inge. It was a statement of fact. There are inummerable incredibly poor editions by dead Germans (and innumerable other nationalities) floating around that do everything possible not to utilize the violin in an efficent or musical way, much to the detriment of aspiring young violnists. The publishing companies have much to answer for,



December 7, 2004 at 02:24 AM ·

December 7, 2004 at 07:41 AM · there's a lot of bad editions period, i've noticed, honestly how hard could it be for the industry to clean up its act and remove the mis-prints among other things.

December 7, 2004 at 01:27 PM · The second half of Bach's D min Partita's Gigue is a nice exercise for 2nd position


December 7, 2004 at 03:05 PM · ...unless you've learned it in 1st and 3rd only.

December 7, 2004 at 10:30 PM · A VERY QUICK QUESTION: What is 1/2 position? Is it moving the hand back 1/2 step while keeping the thumb in 1st position (now you've got me thinking about thumbs, Sue)? I grabbed a copy of the first violin part of my duet so that I can start working on the bowing of my 2nd violin part a bit more meaningfully. I mean, when you're mostly playing C C, C, C over and over again it's not that musical. I've been playing back and forth simply from memory but wanted to actually see the music. The 1st violin actually has finger markings in it, oh wonder. The repeated notes are F & B on the E & A strings respectively marked 1st & 2nd finger respectively and under them the words "1/2 step". Since F is a "low 1st finger" and the B is usually a "high 1st finger" I'm assuming the hand is back by the F so the 2nd finger can fit comfortably over the B. An alternate way is to span both strings with the 1st finger which I think is what I was doing when playing it from memory and by ear. "My" part repeating B & E on the A & D strings doesn't have the luxury of choice because both notes are a normal 1st finger and I'm spanning the two strings ad nauseum for numerous lines of music.

So the question is -- is a 1/2 position what I think it is?

December 7, 2004 at 10:52 PM · my understanding of 1/2 position, to describe it, is moving the position a half step back - example from b natural to b flat, and fingers in sequence from there.

December 7, 2004 at 11:04 PM · Thanks, Jenni. That would make sense in the context. I've never encountered it in music before.

December 7, 2004 at 11:15 PM · I recently learned it...to play my violin version of Badinerie...

...heh...it's the one position I can switch to with no problem...go figure...:D

December 7, 2004 at 11:49 PM · Thumb remains in first? ... otherwise where would it go ...?

December 8, 2004 at 03:17 AM · its when the first finger is on a half step above open, but the second takes a note that normally the first would play like the e on d string, and the the thrid takes the f and the fourth takes the g, it makes life a lot easier sometimes.

December 8, 2004 at 03:27 AM · Greetings,

Inge, if you play a chromatic scales using thre fingering 121234 on each string then the thumb remains in first postion and the had/fingers are in half position. If you move the thumb back then the hand has no refrence point and becomes lost with dire consequences.

Oddly enoug, I had a dream two nights ago about a study written by Ricci designed ot teach half psoition. It appeared to require one to play a simple Christmas carol in half posiiton for about three bars. This doesn`t seem like something Ricci would advcoate so I suspect some pernicious Swedish influence creeping in from my delinquent offspring,



December 8, 2004 at 03:31 AM · Believe it or not, I was just going to ask Owen whether that's what's in the works with chromatic scales going 1231234 and before I could write, you posted it. Something magical is in the air when coincidences occur. Prunes on angelic wings?

December 8, 2004 at 04:43 AM · Greetings,

just `stoned` as opposed to `pitted` I supose,



December 8, 2004 at 05:50 AM · Hmm, positions, interesting, I have basically taught my self to play, I am basicaly a luthier and used to set up a lot of violins, I decided to learn to play, what I did basically was... to step back a few pages, I have been a lead guitar player for 30 some years, and have studied classical guitar for perhaps 20 years, so when I play, I play by the sounds I hear, I do a lot of improvization, so I play the whole neck most of the time, I do like to do a lot of doublestops using open strings just to verify that I am in key, but I have just recently learned the second and third positions, and have found myself referencing them quite often when I am playing a new piece. Of course for me, I only learn the songs in the Suzuki method books, I am working out of book 4 currently, but under normal circumstances, I play , mostly improvize on bluegrass , celtic, or pink floyd style rock, so I don't think in terms of position when I play that stuff, I am all over the neck, and rely on basically open strings and octaves to check my self now and then, but to the normal listener, they have no idea that I myself have no idea what i'm doing..LOL

December 8, 2004 at 06:56 AM · My mom prefered playing in second position. When she was growing up second was the common position used in her school orchestras. (That would have been in the early ‘30s.) My classical teachers have taught first, third & fifth positions with never any mention of second position. I became somewhat comfortable playing in 2nd position when I needed to learn a piece in F#Maj for my bluegrass group and now find myself playing there quite often for pieces in B or Bb. I’ve done so by mentally mapping out the intervals needed for the key and getting the frame in my hand. But now that I’ve started analysing 2nd position I wonder where it is exactly. Which interval? Or is it a “floating” position depending on the key signature: Bb or B...?

January 23, 2005 at 07:32 AM · I do not think 2nd position is awkward!!! ..if you have a very very very hard passage, 2nd position always helps!!! For real! Try!!


January 23, 2005 at 07:44 PM · What I don't think is a good idea is learning second position and vibrato at the same time. I dropped the vibrato.

January 24, 2005 at 12:48 AM · Good idea, Inge. Have you found Rode #3 yet? I love the musicality of it, and it is very useful, too.

January 24, 2005 at 01:24 AM · If you come across a hard passage in your repertoire, try playing it all in second position.

I think one reason why second position is so hard is becuase you have no foundation to rely on. For example, first position is the very bottom, and you can feel the scroll (upper neck) with your hand. Third position can be found because your hand is touching the violin body. All the other positions have relation to something, but second position is just in the middle of nowhere. It's just floating. You just don't know where to put your hand.

January 24, 2005 at 01:30 AM · Good idea to drop it? I'm still upset about the whole story a year later. Anyhow. Rode what? I was looking for it? Confused.

Just read the other post. I don't know why I'm the only person from whom 3rd position is also in the middle of nowhere. My hand is not that tiny! 3rd rings nicely with the note below when you're 'anchoring' with the 1st finger so it's still reliable, though.

Cheers Emily. I think I'll go find a pipe and learn to smoke it. I can't think of the v-word without getting grumpy.

January 24, 2005 at 01:53 AM · Greetings,

Rode Caprice no.3 from his book of 24.



January 24, 2005 at 02:09 AM · Gracia, senor. Was that from the old "that horrid duet using mostly the first finger" discussion? I have now written it down so I won't forget again. The duet, by the way, went surprisingly well and carried away the tiny audience with its wild rhythm. It was kinda fun in its own way.

January 24, 2005 at 03:16 PM · To points made earlier on this thread, second position tends to be practiced and used less often than other positions, especially in the early stages of learning. There are types of folk music which use a position similar to second as a primary position. In these fors of music, it is not difficult for the performer, as he/she uses it all the time.

As stated again earlier in this post, with time and learning, the aim of the violinist is to move away from notions of "positions" and learn the fingerboard for its full length and beyond. Position-centered references are very limiting, especially when used against modern pieces.

January 24, 2005 at 04:01 PM · If you consider your index finger as Tonic of the key signature you're in and work on intervals in the range of one octave on two strings , you have no longer problem with position. Leopold Mozart recommended C maj piece to be played in Second position for exemple.

January 24, 2005 at 11:45 PM · Andrew, yes, star, Buri.

January 25, 2005 at 05:11 PM · Lefebure Alain, it seems that what you are speaking-to is the idea of finger patterns. This is used in many different pedagoque systems for ultimately learning the fingerboard. Some will use the "finger positions" in combination with finger patterns.

One method that I currently employ to keep on top of the finger board and aid in sight reading (especially parts in the upper ledger line stratosphere) is to practice all intervals up and down (as high as possible and as low as possible---and in all keys) and also to name single notes and play them without preparation--striving for accuracy and lack of hesitation. This type of exercise obviates the idea of finger positions or finger patterns simply because there is no way to reference them, since the idea is to play notes randomly but precisely. The only reference is the sound and the physical relationship between your hand/arm/body and the intstrument. It may seem rather difficult, but once one realizes that all four stings are simply THAT ---four strings that have relatively fixed points along which the pitches are produced, it is not a great mystery to devide them up.

If one works from the center point outward, it is much easier to learn where the pitches are produced and thereby forming a "reference point."

January 25, 2005 at 11:09 PM · i dont believe in positions at all...if i had to say how many there were total, i'de say maybe 2 or 3.

before i explain myself, does anyone agree or already know what im talking about?

January 25, 2005 at 11:13 PM · Are you talking about having huge hands like everybody else here so that you never have to move anything?

January 25, 2005 at 11:57 PM · "positions" are a very effective tool in realaying how one more advanced player (namely, the teacher) navigates the fingerboard to a less advanced player (namely, the student)...it is a starting point and not an end point.

What should not be lost on anyone is the fact that the notion of "pedagogy" is only relevent in terms of conveying information from one person to another in a consistent manner. It is not the end-all for conveying technique. I don't believe anyone on this board would hold the inverse view.

Position exist so far as they are useful in teaching.

January 26, 2005 at 02:07 AM · Learning positions, knowing positions, and being able to refer to positions in discussing playing is a very useful and necessary device. But it is with immense relief that I discover here and someplace else that it's an artificial tool and not some holy grail. For some time now I think I've been relating to the areas from where the notes emanate (i.e. the spots you finger) independently of positions per se and have worried about doing something wrong. In fact, I'm relating to it correctly and maturely, but also have to keep in mind "positions" for other matters.

It is a relief to be able to separate artificial teaching ideas to what really happens, in order to be allowed to relate to the instrument in a more direct way. It's hard to describe. But in the last year I'm finding more than once that I have suppressed some natural thing in trying to follow a simplified block of ideas designed for explaining things to students, only to find in a teacher's or advanced player's subtle motions hints of what I have suppressed or "blocked out". Issues of bowing motions, string crossings, and shifting down on particular fingers spring to mind. While I will watch a 'simplified' demonstration of how it's done, demonstrated with the student in mind, I now like to look as much as possible at how a violinist plays in his most natural and fluid state ... thought to be continued when it's more connected .... anyhow, I do appreciate seeing this more comprehensive perspective on positions. I wouldn't leave the concept as a student, but I like leaving room for the more comprehensive perspective.

January 26, 2005 at 04:32 AM · i think using all these positions is just as useful as memorizing where the half steps are in a scale.

January 26, 2005 at 05:49 AM · Greetings,

also true. I insist on my students being as competent in 2nd, 4th and 6th as the evens. If you aren`t then your orchestral playing is usually second rate.

Looked at from the non-position position, one might say er `there appear to be a number of blank spaces in your mental concept of the fingerboard occuting at fairly regular intervals.



January 26, 2005 at 09:11 AM · "I insist on my students being as competent in 2nd, 4th and 6th as the evens."

A new Buri-ism!

January 26, 2005 at 09:28 AM · Hi,

maybe it's not a Buri-ism but a subtle hint about the truth - the "even" positions feel "odd" to most violinists ;-)

Prunes, anyone?

Bye, Juergen

January 26, 2005 at 10:25 AM · Greetings,

Emily, given my precision spelling is it really surprising that odds comes out as evens?



January 26, 2005 at 09:54 PM · oddly enough... (badum-ching)

January 26, 2005 at 10:01 PM · yeah, its funny. After a while its really just a question of shifts and intervals, but it would likely be difficult to teach it in that manner. I'd like to see a pedagogue try though, that couild have interesting results.

February 23, 2005 at 02:25 PM · Hi,

All interesting stuff. I do think that even numbered positions tend to be neglected still. Why, I don't know. Part of the answer is that the systematic study of a position starts too late. Often one waits until Sevcik Opus 1 Bk 2, which is quite difficult. This said, I have recently stumbled on the second book of opus 32 by Sitt, which contains etudes in second, third, fourth and fifth positions (all etudes are in one position only and there is 4 or 5 in each position). There are good, not too difficult and suitable for less advanced students making it possible to begin an earlier study of the positions.


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