How to study 3rd position

Edited: December 28, 2018, 3:25 PM · I've been playing violin for one year and I'm now studying 3rd position with Laureoux II. However, I'm really discouraged to practice because I'm finding it too hard and I can barely see my progress, which discourages me even more. I feel like I may be wasting my time because I can't even vibrate yet and my teacher is already teaching me 3rd position.

I don't really know if Laureoux II is a good idea for beginners at 3rd position (sometimes it seems too hard to start with), if I should be studying something else before or even if it's normal feeling so much difficulty in the beginning.

I'd appreciate some advices.

Replies (14)

December 28, 2018, 3:44 PM · Hi! Welcome to the forum :)

I'm not familiar with the study you're using, but a good way to start third (at least, what I've found, and I'm sure more experienced players here can give you better advice) is to put a tape on your fingerboard where your fourth finger goes in third. When I came back to violin at 22, I had to because my fingers forgot where everything was. I used black electrical tape (everyone, let me know if that's a bad tape to use!) so no one would see it as easily as red or white.

Then, when you practice, I'd do all of your third finger scales (so, C, G, and D) up in third position. You can take other rep/etudes you've done (Suzuki? Wohlfhart?) and try the easier ones in third position too. When I started that, I always had a tuner on to make sure I was in the right spot.

To get better at the actual movement of shifting, what I did was use my D scale. I played first finger B and then slid up to first finger D and back slowly. Once I did that several times, I would speed it up a bit, keeping my finger down on the string. Then, I'd do it and release pressure a bit and go faster. Make sure it's in tune every time. After I got first finger down, I did the same thing with second finger C#. Do it on your A string and E string, the same way.

Don't worry about not vibrating yet, it'll come! I was instructed to stop vibrating by the teacher who helped me get back into the swing of things until after I was better at shifting.

December 28, 2018, 3:54 PM · Most teachers don’t teach vibrato until after 3rd position is learned. I would work on one string at a time doing scale patterns. Just do a C major scale in 3rd position but only one string at a time until you can do it 8 times in a row with no mistakes. What I mean is, for example, put first finger on C on the G string, using a tuner if you need help finding C. Then, go C D E F E D C and repeat. Go very slowly and listen to intonation. If you aren’t sure use a tuner for the first few. Do this every string every day for a few weeks and, if you did it slowly and carefully, you should have a good introduction to 3rd position.
December 28, 2018, 4:59 PM · Hi Henrique, is this the book you're talking about?

I recently started learning 3rd position too and the Laoureux already has what looks like a pretty "jumpy" etude on the third page. Yikes, I see what you mean... that's a lot to swallow so quickly!

My teacher started me on "Introducing the Positions" by Harvey S. Whistler. It seems like a popular choice if the number of Amazon reviews is any indication. It starts off way slower than Laoureux. Much like Christopher suggests, Whistler takes the first three pages introducing one string at a time before getting to a two octave scale in 3rd position. My teacher introduced me to one string per week. The intro of 3rd position on each string is followed by some scale-like exercises with ups and downs across all four strings. Those are followed by some simple interval etudes and the introduction of slurs.

I began this process three months ago and have just recently gotten to actual shifting from first to third position (again one string per week.) This may sound slow to many but when my teacher handed me Mozart's "Table Music for Two" (a duo with a bit of shifting) I noticed that the "take it slow" strategy is paying off.

As for vibrato... not yet for me. I've watched a bunch of Youtubes on the subject and many start vibrato exercises in third position. So I guess it makes sense to be comfortable in third position before starting vibrato exercises. Hope that's in my not too distant future. Love vibrato :-)

Edited: December 28, 2018, 6:33 PM · My teacher always told me to think with your fingers and know the note before you reach for it. In other words, don't focus on the postion—focus on the note you want to hit and go for it.
It's been a long time since I learned how to shift, but that's how I think about it.

It may also be helpful in the beginning to slide up to the note on shifts before you learn how to hide it. That way you'll always get the right spot.

Edited: December 28, 2018, 6:52 PM · Question: What is it about this that is actually holding you back? Knowing where to put the left hand? Shifting up and down? Figuring out which finger plays which note (this is after all the first time you have changing assignments)? It is difficult to advise if we don't know more detail.

My own experience: It was after 2 years that third position was introduced to me. I had no special book for it. I was taught shifting and playing in third position in parallel. I remember having to read notes out loud and assign the finger (as in "d, first finger, e, second finger etc.) for several weeks until I was fluent with the exercise (the same later for second and fourth position). I did not have any tapes on my fingerboard at any learning stage BTW (only at the bow at 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4). I was told to feel the box of the violin touching my left wrist and that would tell me I was correctly positioned. Easy.

Interestingly enough around that time (late 60s early 70s) there was a push from some people to start beginners in third position (rather than first) because it is easier to find for the left hand than first and more comfortable for beginners because the distance between the fingers of the left hand are smaller. The arguments against that proposal pretty much write themselves but people were very serious about it for a while. Yet in practice it appears to have gone nowhere.

Vibrato came much later for me, approximately around the time I got to fifth position. I believe that was a good idea. It is easier to practice intonation without vibrato than with and on the other hand it is too easy to cheat on intonation using vibrato (after a few weeks my teacher said: "So you have figured this out already!"). So patience please! (Both of these problems keep bugging me occasionally to this day).

December 28, 2018, 9:35 PM · The Whistler book mentioned above is how I was also introduced to 3rd position
December 28, 2018, 10:35 PM · Whistler is what I use.
Third position will-eventually--be the easiest position. Trust me.
It will become your "default" position because of its accuracy and ease of playing without fatigue. I think most people in a professional orchestra will revert to 3rd when given a choice. It's less tiring than the stretch required of first position.

Accuracy comes from learning the position with the bottom of the left palm against the ribs of the instrument. That's why it's so accurate.

Just be patient.

December 28, 2018, 10:52 PM · I did "Introducing the Positions" (Whistler) when I was a kid too. That's a good book. Eventually you'll find shifting and positions to be one of the most blissfully logical features of violin playing. As Scott said, third position is kind of a "sweet spot" on the violin because of just the way you're holding your violin and because the first finger makes an octave with another string (G, D, & A) and those are primary reference points for intonation.
December 28, 2018, 11:03 PM · I also second what Scott said. Like him, I eventually found that first position causes quite a bit more fatigue than third. These days, playing in third is so instinctive that I sometimes have to write in fingerings to remind myself to play in first position!
Edited: December 29, 2018, 6:19 AM · Position Changing For the Violin by Neil Mackay (OUP, 1963, ISBN 978-0-19-357653-7) sounds technical, but in reality it is a very gentle introduction to 3rd position and shifting between 1st and 3rd and back.
December 29, 2018, 9:36 AM · Hi Henrique,

My advice to you is stick it out and hang in there. Practice, practice, and more practice. There is nothing easy about playing the violin and your wonderful teacher is just pushing you along in unfamiliar territory and likely thinks the Laoureux is best for you. I do not want to discourage you but it does get harder as vibrato and third position is just the beginning. Two and three octave scales and doublestops, artificial harmonics and various bow strokes etc. and more to come, so practice much and always work on practicing efficiently.

December 31, 2018, 5:25 PM · Kristen Stadelmaier, great idea about the black tape (although I'm afraid to "get addicted", not being able to play without it) as well as playing nice stuff in 3rd position because methods can be very boring. Thank you very much!

Christopher Sinkule, your statement about vibrato really reassures me. I'll surely practice one string scales, thank you!

Holly Lerner, hello! Yes, that is the book. The etude in the beginning makes no sense... a lot of hard lessons for starters to be stuck. I'll surely take a look at the book you've mentioned. Thank you for everything you said!

Cotton Mather, your teacher's advice sounds a lot like I've heard from Eddy Chen. That really works, but it's kinda hard to mentally focus on the note while playing a piece. I have not found a solution for that yet.

Albrecht Zumbrunn, while shifting up and down (mainly up) my fingers won't land precisely where they should (not all the time, at least). I know where the notes are and which finger to use, but I can't play in tune as I'd like (same as when we start at 1st position). Thanks for sharing your experience. It seems, after all, I am not too late to learn vibrato taking as reference your experience and the other replies.

Craig First, a lot of replies talking about Whistler. I'll seriously consider it.

Scott Cole, I was reading on another topic about keeping the hand aganist the intrument, because I'm not getting used to do so. Once I reach the 3rd position, my wrist gets away from the violin because it's more comfortable. Do you think I should try to force myself playing with my wrist touching the violin in 3rd position?

Paul Deck, thank you!

Andrew Hsieh, hahahaha it seems patience is a virtue!

Andrew Fryer, I'll take a look on this one too, thank you!

Jeff Jetson, yes, you're right, but "this kind of practice" is not so cool. What I mean is some people seem to already know how to play flawlessly, they don't have to worry about being in tune, posture, shaking bow... it's like they can focus totally on learning the piece, tempo, speed, etc. Maybe that's a wrong impression I have as a beginner.

December 31, 2018, 6:22 PM · Hi again Henrique, I think that the people you are referring to that appear to play so effortlessly and flawlessly have put their hours in the practice room day in and day out most of their life. There are many videos out of six and seven year old kids playing memorized first movements of concertos that just simply astound me and so i guess they are truly gifted in this life to play the violin like they do.

You must put in your time like everyone else if you desire to excel at playing as there is no shortcuts. It is okay to feel frustrated and inadequate as this instrument is so hard for most folks, but instead let these feelings be the impetus to keep taking your lessons and putting in the hours at your music stand. You put in the time my friend and it will all come together for you someday.

Edited: January 1, 2019, 7:32 AM · Henrique, yesterday I discovered Mackay also wrote "A TUNEFUL INTRODUCTION TO THE THIRD POSITION" ISBN 9790220210709

(sorry about the caps - cut and pasted)

"I feel like I may be wasting my time because I can't even vibrate yet and my teacher is already teaching me 3rd position."

Galamian recommends vibrato after 3rd position, if I recall correctly. ABRSM and Suzuki seem, roughly, to introduce basic 3rd position at level 3 and more thorough 3rd position and basic vibrato at level 4-ish.

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