Shifting principles

April 6, 2005 at 07:05 AM · Was interested in peoples view about the principles of shifting in the left hand and what are good scale and study exercises for beginners and those for more advanced students.

Replies (58)

April 6, 2005 at 10:10 AM · Hi,

It's such a complex issue that I won't attempt to describe everything here. Needless to say, one of the most neglected and important aspects of shifting today is intermediate notes. They are the key to playing in tune and mapping out the violin.

For excercises, I don't know for beginners, but for advanced students, Sevcik Op. 1 Bk. 3 and Sevcik Op. 8 are a must. 3 octave Scales and arpeggios should be practiced too, broken thirds, chromatics and all double-stops (including, thirds, sixths, octaves, fingered octaves and tenths and harmonics). I like the Galamian scale scale formula, the Flesch arpeggios (same as Sevcik) and just normal double-stop scales. Once again, I think that practicing scales with intermediate notes to control all shifts (helps to control intonation, distance and finger relaxation during the shift) are very important and time saving features in scale practice that are too often neglected.

Hope this helps!


April 6, 2005 at 04:28 PM · Hi, I would rather use a kind of extention than intermediate notes. The keyword of doing shifts is: anticipation, physically and mentally. I would describe the movement as follow. First you bring your elbow into the right position. Then your finger releases the string and slides over the string into the right position and now you press again with your finger on the string, on the right note. So, by bringing the elbow in the right position before the hand, your hand is better prepared to execute the shift and will find less resistence. Releasing the string is especially important when you do shifts with one finger. Like that you avoid that terribly ugly MIAUW-sound.

Getting the shift perfectly in tune is a question of being mentally prepared. First of all, before you do any movement, you try to remember exactly the place of the note and how it feels to get there. The first time you execute the shift, you might probably play it out of tune, but the second time you do it, you should never repeat the same mistake. Already after the first try, you have to ask yourself immediately: Was it too sharp or too flat? And the next time you put it sharper or flatter. It's really dangerous to repeat the same mistake twice as it will become a bad habit. For every mistake you make, you should in fact play it at least four times correctly to have a chance of 80% to play it in tune at the concert.

A useful exercise: play arpeggios (e.g. Flesch) on the G-string with the following fingerings:

- only with the fourth finger or only with the third, to make these fingers stronger and to learn shifts

- with the fourth and third finger, once starting with four, once starting with three, to learn shifts AND extentions AND to improve articulation with fourth finger.

It's hard in the beginning, but it helps.

The best thing is always to avoid shifts and the terrible MIAUW-noice by using extentions, but therefore you need to practice extentions of course.

Oups, this is a very long explanation and maybe it's not very clear. These are things you must be shown in fact...

April 6, 2005 at 05:01 PM · Wait, I'm stuck on bringing the elbow to the right position. The elbow? OK, I know it travels a little bit with the motion, but I always thought of shifting as being an opening and close kind of motion AT the elbow, and what is really being brought into position was the HAND. So elbow and hand .... clarification of the thought process, please? ---- OK, I'm reading this again and I see you move the elbow, then the hand (with the finger) - It's the first time I've heard of elbow involvement and I'm intrigued and a bit confused. I don't think I've ever consciously moved my elbow. Actually I think I've worried about possibly bringing it where it shouldn't be. Do other people do stuff with their elbows before they do it with their hands? If so, is that different depending on down and up shifts?

April 6, 2005 at 05:09 PM · Inge, maybe I make you even more confused now, but when you do shifts towards a higher position, you can bring the violin higher so that you actually go down into the new position. When you go to a lower position, you can bring the violin a little bit lower. It's not necessary and you should not exagerate with it, because it can affect your arm, but you move more freely. That's also why the elbow precedes the hand, to move more freely with the hand.

April 6, 2005 at 05:13 PM · It doesn't make any sense Inge. This is how I always ignored my teachers and never felt bad about it.

April 6, 2005 at 05:34 PM · No, Jim, it does make a little bit of sense. The problem is that those of us old enough to think overly rationally take what teachers say quite literally. It might be why "less is more". However, in almost everything I've run across in this board there has always been a kernel of truth, and I've been gathering these kernels and keeping them in my imaginary jar, when you least expect it, one of those kernels suddenly turns out to be a tiny piece of the puzzle.

I'm in the middle of preparing for my lesson and taking some breaks in between, and I'm working exactly on a study that involves a lot of shifting. I remember before I was ready for it, someone telling me about this little "wrist flick" thing in the downshift, but told me "make it subtle enough that your teacher won't notice it because it shouldn't be exaggerated. The "wrist flick" went into my mental archives because it didn't work for me and didn't go across too well in the classroom either, lol. However, this elbow thing does have something to it. In fact, I think it's the "wrist flick" in disguise, because when you "flick the wrist" you are in essence bringing one part of the hand-arm continuum over a bit before the other. I've puzzled a bit over the elbow in shifting, because it does seem to move ever so subtly. The whole argument for the "wrist flick" was that if you try to move everything at once, it becomes like an unwieldy truck. That thing about the elbow seems to remove a certain amount of "unwieldiness" in the same way - but I think it has to be very tiny. I'm playing with the idea. Not too long - don't want to create a mess before my lesson.

April 6, 2005 at 06:00 PM · Sarah,

Can you say Kato Havas? I knew you could.


April 6, 2005 at 06:15 PM · To me it's like gibberish. It's good to think overly rationally. Something either moves or it doesn't.

Seriously though, it's interesting to hear people try to explain what they do. Some people are clearer than others and I think those would be the most beneficial by far (all else being equal). Some are more thought through or serious too.

April 6, 2005 at 05:59 PM · Yost is great for shifting, but I think it's out of print. DeLay kept huge piles of it photocopies of photcopies.

April 6, 2005 at 06:16 PM · Hi,

Inge: It's simple. For a big jump, the elbow should already be in the position it will arrive in before you start. For normal gradual shifts, rolling is fine.

Also, wrist flicking should be avoided. Although the wrist should be relaxed, the motion is in the arm.

On the subject of intermediate notes, if you are controlling intonation once you get there, it is too late. The reason for using intermediate notes is to correlate hand and ear. Your ear tells you hand when and where to stop, therefore controlling the pitch value. Also, by knowing exactly where you start, and having a finger feel the string along the way, you map out the distance better increasing accuracy. Throwing your hand or starting from a different place every time makes control impossible. The principal is simple. You have to think that shifting is like being blind.

As for extensions, it depends where and what kind. If you break the frame of the hand, that also makes it harder to control intonation.


April 6, 2005 at 06:17 PM · Christian,

I second that emotion.


April 6, 2005 at 06:32 PM · The elbow can only move side to side unless the hand moves up or down the fingerboard. So side to side is the only movement that can happen before a shift. Therefore, how can the elbow be where it will be after the shift, before the shift occurs? Where am I missing it?

April 6, 2005 at 06:59 PM · OK, Christian - are you saying that a shift is the function of an elbow motion, meaning that basically the upper arm is pulling the hand into position, or a forearm/hand motion in which the hand moves up the fingerboard to its spot with the forearm acting as a fulcrum, or the second with the the elbow doing a bit of motion. Like: when I reach for something that's not too far away, my arm opens up at the forearm but the elbow extends a bit forward too, but the main motion is the forearm extension thingy.

April 6, 2005 at 07:16 PM · No. He means that in a large shift going to sixth or seventh position or higher, the elbow has to move to the right as well as closer to the body in order for the left hand to be in correct position over the fingerboard in the higher position. He's advocating a small preparatory motion to the right for large shifts. That way there is no "roll"; the motion is more in a straight line toward the body because the elbow has already moved to the right before shifting. I don't do this, at least not conciously, but some teachers (Berkely for instance) do advocate this.


April 6, 2005 at 07:28 PM · Ok so that explains the roll he was talking about too.

April 6, 2005 at 11:08 PM · Yeah.

April 6, 2005 at 11:13 PM · Cool.

April 6, 2005 at 11:16 PM · I think I understand this concept of the elbow moving first, before the position change. You can't do it on purpose though, it happens naturally when you slow a passage down and mentally anticipate the shift. Its like your finger is already there in your mind, and your elbow anticipates the motion, and the hand and finger follow. Ive never thought about it until reading this thread, but save to say that this anticipating motion is impossible to practice at high speed, but if you slow a passage down and mentally anticipate all the shifts and play them in a relaxed manner, when you speed the passage up, your shifting will be just as relaxed, but maybe 3 or 4 times quicker.


April 6, 2005 at 11:36 PM · If it was impossible to practice at high speed then your shifting when sightreading would be different from all your drills.

April 7, 2005 at 12:18 AM · dude, the best way to figure out what your elbow is supposed to do is to put your fingers down on all 4 strings and slide your fingers as high as you can on the fingerboard.

April 7, 2005 at 12:28 AM · Hi,

Benjamin: Thanks! That's exactly it!

John: No, that's not it. Everything in slow practice must be planned consciously to be effective at high speed. No mindless playing ever.

Marty: That's a good way, as in the Flesch Urstudien. On drill for the sensation is to take the Geminiani chord and move up and down the fingerboard.


April 7, 2005 at 12:28 AM · Hi,

Benjamin: Thanks! That's exactly it!

John: No, that's not it. Everything in slow practice must be planned consciously to be effective at high speed. No mindless playing ever.

Marty: That's a good way, as in the Flesch Urstudien. On drill for the sensation is to take the Geminiani chord and move up and down the fingerboard.


April 7, 2005 at 06:36 AM · That Urstudien is strong medicine, yah? One of these days I will get it back out and master the whole thing, but right now I'm having too much fun with his scale system. What is even more fascinating to me, though, is his work on tone production. Another incredibly useful work is his fingering book - it should be required reading for all university violin students. Too bad it's so hard to find nowadays. But Flesch's opinion concerning shifting studies was that Sevcik's Op. 8 and Op. 1 Pt. 3 were the best materials available, and said that Op. 8 was the best thing that Sevcik had written.


April 7, 2005 at 07:00 AM · Re shifting from 1st into 3rd position, I was taught to lead with the thumb, as did Heifetz. This way the thumb acts as a scout for the rest of the hand and establishes a settled and solid position as you find the note.

April 7, 2005 at 11:24 AM · John, I think I agree with you. And Christian: Maybe intermediate notes work for you, but not for me, but maybe you misunderstood me. I don't control my intonation after I made the shift, but like John says, I first try to imagine where my finger will be and I catch the note without any doubts. It's all about anticipation. You are right when you say making a shift is like walking like a blind. First you discover the unknown area, you memorise the place of the note and once you've been there you don't forget it for the rest of your life anymore. You are sure you can catch that note hundreds of times without making a mistake.

Also, when you want to make safely a shift, you should try not to change the position of the hand. Always keep the hand steady and you will be more secure. That's also why my elbow should precede the hand, I think. So I think your elbow should precede your hand for three reasons: to move freely, to keep the hand in a steady, secure position and to obtain fluidity.

I think Marty has a good point when he says you should slide with all four fingers on the strings, to find out how to move the elbow. In fact, when I practice arpeggios with the fourth finger, my teacher adviced me to keep all four fingers on the string, just to get a more secure position of the hand. I also don't think extentions disturb that secure position, it's just part of it. Did someone ever practice Dont nr 1 (chords)? This is a good study to learn all the different positions of the hand, but very painful too. That's why many violinists say: Don't play Dont! ;^)

April 7, 2005 at 11:47 AM · Benjamin, I didn't say Kato Havas. I first like to know what it means!

April 7, 2005 at 12:26 PM · Hi,

Benjamin: You are right. However, Flesch said that the Urstudien were to be used only for emergency situations or as a diagnosis tool to detect errors in movements. I have his book on tone production. It's excellent. But I have never been able to find his book on fingerings unfortunately.

Sarah: I guess we misunderstood each other and have a different concept with the same end result. I have done DONT No. 1. It's a must to practice when doing Bach fugues. As for extensions, I am not against them, but like you I like the secure frame of the hand. What I don't like, is when there are so many extensions, or changes of position through extensions that the hand is never securely in one place. That makes intonation difficult. Also, the bad habit of many of using an extended 3rd finger instead of the 4th finger.


April 7, 2005 at 01:01 PM · Here's a thought (or two),

The thumb only needs to move first if it is placed back near the first finger. If it is in the center of the hand (across from second finger) then it can stay in place, as does the handset, and be the fulcrum that roles under the neck as the elbow comes to the right. I would also say that the elbow doesn't move first (that implies a separate motion) but that the whole arm (which hangs from the arched fingers) moves as a unit with the motion initiating in the elbow.



PS My vote is also for the Yost shifting book, which I also xerox for all my students!

April 7, 2005 at 01:25 PM · Christian,

I'm not sure what you are trying to say about the Urstudien; I was simply trying to say that I think they are very good technical studies. Of course I know what they were written for. Flesch said those words because he didn't want people using the Urstudien as the sole basis for technical developement. I just like the Urstudien because I find some of the bowing etudes useful for me, just as Heifetz made regular use of the silent trill studies (not to imply that I am on a par with Heifetz).

My remarks weren't aimed at you, because I knew from experience that you knew about all these things; I simply mentioned them in the general public's hearing because I'm sure some of the younger or less experienced players may not be familiar with them. I can tell that you are something that is all too rare these days: a violinist who studies and thinks for himself, and doesn't have to be spoon-fed. Bravo.


April 7, 2005 at 02:05 PM · Hi,

Benjamin, my apologies. I wasn't implying anything but wanted to open the discussion on Flesch's idea. But, I see too that you know all this stuff already. I appreciate your bringing this to light, and the Urstudien. I often find that Flesch as a pedagogue is overlooked often, though his teaching was really something else.

On the subject of the bowing etudes, I have never really felt all that comfortable with some of them. I wonder how he arrived at those...


P.S. Thanks for the compliment. You just made my day! :) Same back at you!

April 7, 2005 at 02:11 PM · In response to Sarah's statement about anticipating the correct finger position, I'd argue that this is pretty much impossible - especially using finger extension rather than arriving in position using intermediate notes, which is both unstable and unreliable - unless you can *hear* the note you are aiming for in your head. Once you can do this it is much easier to get there. Obviously this makes aural skills such as interval recognition important.

Unlike Lisa I prefer to keep the thumb opposite first finger until fourth position. This gives the whole hand a point of reference, and makes location of intermediate notes much simpler since most intermediate notes use the first finger. It also maintains the hand's frame. Btw, about hand frame, of course it's important to recognise that the frame becomes narrower as you travel up the fingerboard.

About the elbow suggestion, if I've understood it correctly I don't believe it's necessary unless you are shifting beyond fourth/fifth position in which case Marty's(?) point holds. A colleague of mine once told me she teaches students to swing the wrist back before shifting, like when you throw a ball. Talk about complicating the issue! It's unnecessary. The hand and arm should travel smoothly as a complete unit, with the wrist remaining aligned: Release pressure. Shift. Reapply pressure. And personally I find that feeling a kind of arc as I shift is helpful; that is my finger pressure on the string is at a minimum when the shift is halfway through.

Exercises/studies: Neil Mackay's An Introduction to Third Position and Introduction to Shifting/Changing Position/can't remember which.

April 7, 2005 at 04:57 PM · Thanks for the reminder of the "arc", Sue. Doubly important in double stops, and I'm still figuring out why I can't release the fingers properly there and in some other particular situations. I can't imagine what it is like not to "hear" the note in the beginning. It's an intriguing idea. Does that mean that those who don't hear the note in their head just put their finger down where it belongs visually and then are pleasantly surprised at the sound, like someone pushing a piano key at random? I'm not being funny about it - I really am trying to imagine this. I have meant to try out what it is like to use the thumb as a reference point for where the fingers are. I suppose it makes sense since the thumb is more visible than the tops of the fingers which is where I tend to direct my gaze, or maybe I'm directing it at the line of my first finger and edge of hand: actually I think that's what I'm looking at when I'm judging position.

A serious question: Do most people when shifting into third position tend to have the back of their hand touching the violin body? It seems to be a tool for aligning the verticality and overall shape of the hand and I seem to see people kind of slide their hand up their when not playing and then sliding back as some kind of reference point. My hand has been turned in too much for the longest time, and I clued in when the outer edge meets the body at a bit of a distance rather than moreof the inside of the hand that I see with others. The problem could stem anywhere from the shoulder to the elbow or turning of the hand itself and is probably a combination and I thought I'd address it from the hand angle for once. This indirectly affects some of the mechanics of shifting. Once I'm past 4th position, I'm fine. 1st is the pits for me and I'm hard put not to avoid it altogether.

April 7, 2005 at 05:22 PM · Hi,

Sue: Excellent post, especially on the unit shifting thing. Couldn't have said it better. Star to you! (I never get any to give, so this is the best I can do).

Inge: About the hand coming in contact, I think that you mean probably fourth position. If in third position, then your wrist would not be straight or aligned to use Sue's words and that would spell disaster. There is maybe contact, but that should not be used for reference I think.

On the hearing thing, I see it in two ways. One, you can actually hear the note ahead. Two, you know where you are going, what the note is, how it sounds when it's in tune, and you stop there. The idea is kind of the same in that you have to know what the note is and know what in tune is, if not there is no hope. But's that a whole different issue.


April 7, 2005 at 05:34 PM · The karate edge of my hand touches the body in 3rd pos. when I'm playing on the G string. If I move the elbow to the left to get over to the E string then it moves away from the body. I don't think of it as a reference though, and it's just how hand works personally.

April 7, 2005 at 06:29 PM · So if playing E string I'm still "karated" there's something freaky going on. I know I have an elbow/arm/shoulder/twisty issue going on which I've been undoing for a while now -- kind of like turning a crooked plant around so it faces the sun/window the other way around.

April 7, 2005 at 06:47 PM · Not necessarily maybe, but for me personally to be still karated in 3rd pos. on the E string my fingers would have to be scrunched in toward my palm too much to have much facility.

April 7, 2005 at 07:02 PM · I can just here it 100 years from now: "Oh yes, I introduce the Inge-Miller Karated technique right after Suzuki book 4." :)

April 7, 2005 at 07:38 PM · Hopefully there will be a big server fire at some point so nothing like that can ever happen.

April 7, 2005 at 08:04 PM · Say a prayer quickly! Do you want to tempt the evil eye?

April 7, 2005 at 08:44 PM · Hey, having practiced since my last post, I have decided that my old post was pretty inaccurate. You dont physically anticipate the shift at all, it all happens at once. You just anticipate it in your head and it will work!

April 7, 2005 at 09:12 PM · Hi everyone and thanks so much for your varied responses that are also VERY interesting, especially all the comments about the elbow. I think that that in the simplest terms the elbow should move more to the right and closer to the body which also results in the violin lifting slightly as you shift up and then the reverse and to the left on the way down. I also have been thinking about shifting and how we need to think about it more then just a means to getting around the instrument. But rather how we use them and how shifts in mozart are different to Tchaikovsky. of course this is obvious but it is very hard to determine what is tastefula dn more reminiscent and 'old school' or 'bel canto' style and what is a bit to cafe music. What are peoples thoughts also on how the bow aids the shift, moving it more as the shift happens, moving it closer to the bridge as the string length gets shorter and also should the shift begin to happen before the change or bow or afterwards?

April 8, 2005 at 12:29 AM · Sue,

Excellent post! Re "unit" and "maintain frame". My teacher, fixing some of my shifting problems, uses the term "block" as in "move the whole hand as a block". Very easy to visualise, and keep in mind when shifting. It's only the starting point of course - higher positions are different, and different styles demand slightly different reponses.

April 8, 2005 at 12:37 AM · "scrunched in toward my palm too much to have much facility."

... lacking facility in various areas, I'm still convinced that I have issues elsewhere. Not scrunched but everything parallel and flattish inside the hand. Maybe I think I'm playing a guitar, or maybe I unwittingly grew up in Flatland and have little concept of 3 dimensionalism. More work to be done. (sigh)

April 8, 2005 at 01:42 AM · When my elbow goes to the left, my hand does what it does because it's more comfortable. If yours stays more comfortable like it is then leave it is my advice. I think mine touches the body when I'm using the G string because it's more comfortable.

I think in playing instruments as long as you don't violate any of the big major rules, like totally collapsed wrist, you're fine, and maybe you can even violate some of them. That's why there's so many successful variations, a lot of which get debated here. They're all ok. The big major rules are just established as things nobody does, with a matter of degree factored in too.

You just apply your own problem-solving skills, like you would figuring out a document translation in your work, or figuring out how to get a couch from point A to point B. A lot of it is the solution you cook up and decide is right for you. You can't do it in a vacuum, but you have to determine what's right for you, yourself.

And, if a dozen people are translating a document, you'll get a dozen different results. They're all ok. There's not necessarily a single way that best expresses anything, or a single best keyboard to use, or a best way to hold the mouse.

April 8, 2005 at 04:30 AM · I get your kind points Jim and know what you are saying. Everybody has a different style, different body, and if it works, it works, even if it's different. But I'm looking at these particular differences for clues because I had problems for a long time and it's only in the past 4 months that the problems have "normalized" to the point that I can start bringing myself back. The last time that my playing in the left hand really felt normal and functioned in a predictable way was in my beginner year over 2 years ago. That gives me something to go on.

I've just spent I don't know how many umpteen hours going through all the stuff I supposed to go through, and I made a start on vibrato as well. The good thing about vibrato in this case is that you also start becoming aware of where the weight or force of the finger goes. More clues. I've now pinpointed the moment that triggered the falling apart of my playing which occurred over a period of several months until it was almost gone and I experimented myself out of what was left. It was when a new chinrest had changed the height of my violin making it dig into my collarbone at an angle, and inexperiences as I was, I lowered the whole violin height by clamping my arm to my body or something similar. I've only just figured this part out. I've been getting better tone and playing sporadically by playing with posture and tallness and such for the past few months. All this time I've been rather disturbed about the way the fingers of my hand seemed to want to point away from where they're reaching. A week ago I figured out that my shifting had turned into this pulling the arm into the body and then to downshift, just bringing the forearm back out and voila - there you have the fingers struggling to reach where they want to go. Unfortunately none of it is obvious enough to be very visible.

Anyhow, the first trial vibrato brought out some more stuff. I wasn't feeling the downward push of any finger anywhere and that didn't make sense. Now the very first and serious problem with my playing occurred in the past because of a very bad home-made (so I found out later) violin which messed up the interaction of fingers and thumb. So if there are forces and pressures, I'd try to divert them elsewhere. But I do remember that during the period of normal playing in the beginning when everything was fresh and new, that I would feel when my fingers did something on the fingerboard, and I would go back and forth interacting with that and absorbing probably where the violin met the body, possibly a bit with the thumb --- and that wasn't there. Where did it go? Well, it went into the hand and the upper arm that had managed to tuck itself against the ribcage again. No wonder I can't relate to anyone who gets tired arms after playing x number of hours! Mine is resting against my ribcage and I'm scrunching myself.

So at this moment after today's practice and what I saw, I'm trying to actually feel the weight of the finger the way I used to, and as I do that a lot of the left hand difficulties are diminishing. That bit of vibrato that I managed actually helped a lot in its own way.

The thing that clued me in, and I wrote it in the wrong thread earlier today, was a tiny movement I saw in the shoulder of someone (uses shoulder rest) every time a finger went down, and a larger movement when doing vibrato. That reminded me of my earliest time playing before all the nonsense put itself together. I'd forgotten about it until I started practising myself.

So to bring this back to the beginning of this conversation: when I see differences in what is happening with others, those differences are sometimes clues for me. I certainly won't aim to be the carbon copy of anyone else.

Apparently I'd been rotating my upper arm, in its socket (fixed that a while ago but sometimes I forget) so that when the elbow does move, it's not along the same line and again ... what happens when shifted into third or fourth position and then going from one string to another, isn't what is supposed to be happening. The elbow movement that should facilitate string crossing does nada - that is to say, it becomes part of "shifting" in a way it shouldn't.

The only thing that's not frustrating about this is seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and things getting better and better. After all, I've been able to produced the right notes somehow all this time, though with an effort at times that didn't seem justified.

(Oops: Am I in the shifting or vibrato thread?)

April 9, 2005 at 12:50 AM · Sue,

Thank you for the arc comment regarding shifting. I tried thinking about it that way while I practiced my Flesch last night after work, and it seemed to help my shifts to be more graceful. I was feeling REALLY good. I think when I am warmed up I do this automatically, but had never thought about it. And the more you have the ability to describe and conciously control, the better. Again, thank you.


April 9, 2005 at 02:10 AM · Any time, Benjamin:) I wrote a research essay including a chapter on shifting for my teaching diploma last year, so have spent a good deal of time trying to articulate the way I perceive it. The arc thing is, I think, really important, especially given that there are some weird analogies floating around out there: I think it was in discussion with Inge that I heard about 'the rollerskate'; someone else told me about 'the train on a track'... although these describe linear movement (as if you need a description), they reveal nothing about the use of pressure, the misuse of which causes some of the most common problems in shifting technique. Others include not taking the thumb with you (fatal), and failure to get round the neck above fourth position.

April 9, 2005 at 02:36 AM · I had one teacher years ago who said that shifts should be "like a beautiful ship sailing across perfectly calm waters." This did not help me and I had to wait till I got to Cleveland to actually find someone to help me with my shifts. They were always accurate, but jerky. Daniel Rains took a year and worked with me on my shifting in connection with bowspeed etc. using Sevcik Op. 8. Once I understood how it was supposed to FEEL I became a shifting machine! I guess that's why i'm such an advocate of the Sevcik; it just helped me so much.


April 9, 2005 at 06:30 AM · Hi,

Benjamin, you just brought up an interesting point. Shift always have to correlate in speed with your bow and the music. People often have jerky shifts because they are too fast and flick the wrist. It's true. Opus 8 is like a shifting bible. That's all I can say.


April 9, 2005 at 05:33 PM · A shifting exercise I was taught years ago is rather like bare essentials of Op.8: you start in first position on the D string, playing E. Double-stopping with G, shift up a semitone on the downbow and back to first on the upbow, up a whole tone and back to first, etc, increasing the shift by a semitone each time. Each shift must be accurate twice in a row before moving on. It sounds too simple to be effective, but the fact that you're using the double-stop as a reference really helps in a way that Op.8 doesn't - and personally I find the interval factor quite satisfying. Do it on all strings, using all fingers. And really you can place your base note in any position.

April 9, 2005 at 07:14 PM · How is the double stop a reference? I can see it teaching the mechanics of releasing the finger before the shift because it's harder to do on a double stop (reason enough to try it) but what am I listening or looking for in terms of reference? Isn't the interval I'm listening for along the string rather than across strings? (Feeling dense today).

April 9, 2005 at 10:34 PM · Hi,

Inge: It's a reference for intonation.


April 9, 2005 at 11:11 PM · I'll just have to try it to experience it. When I shift, I am moving relative to the previous note - tone, or semitone - along the diatonic scale and my ear is listening for the new pitch on the same string relative to the old pitch on the same string. So I can't quite get what the second string will do, unless it involves the sympathetic vibr... no, I don't get it. What am I listening for with the two strings?

April 10, 2005 at 12:54 AM · You play the two strings at once. The open one helps you tell if the finger on the other one is in tune or not - is it a pure 6th, 7th, etc. You could do the same thing just by listening closely to the shift and leave the open string out. But it seems like you always end up checking things against open strings.

April 10, 2005 at 01:02 AM · Boy, I am dense! OPEN string. I have no idea why I was picturing double stopping fifths all the way up the fingerboard. I feel rather stupid now. ;-)

April 10, 2005 at 02:35 AM · But you made me laugh, Inge. I knew something wasn't quite complete yet, because I know you enough to believe that double-stopping with open G wasn't hard for you to understand. And I'm laughing with you--not at you--because I lose my understanding a lot at this discussion board, too, simply because everything is so wordy, not demonstrated or visualised. The words are just not enough sometimes.

April 10, 2005 at 02:57 AM · I came up with a tentative formula for that: it takes twice as many words to articulate violin playing than anything else.

April 10, 2005 at 03:18 AM · Thanks, both of you, from the wordiest most obtuse person around. I'm taking umpteen breaks for practice: my shifting plus getting physically stuck at the ornamentation thingy I'm practising has brought me right back to the good old shoulder rest and catching pressures from fingers and how fingers go down etc. i.e. square one, so the double stop shifty thing seems secondary and laughably funny. Besides, I have two remnants of bandage dangling from my right thumb because I managed to slice right into that upper right corner where thumb meets bow. Making lemonade out of a lemon: perfect opportunity to make sure my bow hold is not too tight. ;-)

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine