Extended finger or Squared finger on Shifting

Edited: September 11, 2023, 7:59 PM · I've been doing shifting for a long time now but it never mattered to me if the shift-to note should be extended or squared finger.

Example #1:
Starting note: F natural on E string (squared)
Shift-to note: A natural on E string

On this first example, I would play F natural on squared finger(Low 1) and what I tend to do when doing the shift is keep my squared finger and land on A(Low 1) but what if I need to land on A sharp?

Should I keep my finger squared and land on A sharp? which then my hand will be closer to the body.


Switch to extended (high 1) and shift to the note?

Example #2:
Starting note: F sharp on E string (extended)
Shift-to note: A natural on E string

If I am to shift to A natural, I would keep my extended finger and land on A but my hand will be a bit further away from the body of the violin compared to shifting with a squared finger.

It never really mattered before until I started learning arpeggios as there are some cases where you play on the same note but use 2 different fingers(squared/extended), I mostly notice these different use cases during ascending and descending, inverted arpeggios, augmented, diminished and so on.

The challenge for using 2 different finger forms is having to adjust your hand/finger frame depending on your shift-to note. It's like having to learn 2 different finger pattern for the same position.

So I guess my question is:

Does it matter to stick to a single finger form when landing on the shift-to note?


It doesn't matter what my finger form is as long as I hit the shift-to note.


I have to vary my finger forms as some pieces/Passage would necessitate it.

For me, the latter is difficult as you would need to adjust your finger pattern and your mental picture of the notes on the fingerboard which is exactly the challenge I'm having right now learning arpeggios.

Replies (12)

Edited: September 11, 2023, 9:32 PM · I honestly am struggling to understand what you mean by squared or extended. To shift, you just need to release some pressure from the note and smoothly glide to your target, where you can then find the minimum pressure you need to stop that note. You don't need to particularly change your finger or hand shape (unless maybe you are really shifting high up).

Same hand, less pressure on the finger, glide the whole hand on the finger, more pressure on the finger. I like to work on shifts by immediately starting vibrato to test if my hand is relaxed, but I feel like may have missed your question with my square thinking. You can also figure out what the ending handframe needs to look like, and then move backwards to the initial note, which can help you trace the shift in reverse. Did I get it this time?

Edited: September 11, 2023, 9:20 PM · It's a good question, I believe. I really think it will depend on what you're going to play after the shift. If I were shifting from F to A#, and the next three notes were B-C#-D#, I could see doing a longer shift so that I'm landing in "high" third position so that the A# was not extended relative to my thumb underneath. I believe this is the situation you're describing as a shift to a square finger. But if my next three notes after A# were B-C#-A, I might not want my thumb that far along because then reaching back for the A natural could be awkward, and I think that's what you mean by the other type of shift.
September 11, 2023, 11:04 PM · When I first moved here just north of the Golden Gate Bridge 28 years ago, our community orchestra had a violin coach (who also played with us) who had retired after 20 years as Principal Second Violininist of the San Francisco Symphony and was Concertmaster Emeritus of the Marin Symphony (one of the regional professional orchestras). He recommended that when making the really big shifts rather than aiming the finger you were to "land on" (i.e., "sound" after the shift) you should aim the index finger, and thus frame the whole hand. It does seem to work. If I recall correctly, it was when we were rehearsing Shosty's 5th Symphony that he suggested that. Of course, what else you have to do "up there" has a bearing on this.
Edited: September 11, 2023, 11:28 PM · @Christian Lesniak, what i mean with 'squared' finger is what a finger looks like when playing F on E string, it is curled so the form of the finger looks like square, while extended is playing F# on E string. Basically, it's another way of saying Low 1(F) or High 1(F#).

@Paul Deck, I see. So you'd do a 'high' third position but follow a whole step finger pattern except for the first finger.

Exactly, it is indeed awkward, I usually shift down a half step or play the A natural on the lower string.

I guess it has to be planned because it's also awkward (at least for me) to shift the finger on 'high' while the thumb stays at 'low'. I'm used to the thumb staying in line with my finger.

@Andrew Victor, I see. So it really depends on what the next notes are and what makes the piece easier.

September 12, 2023, 2:58 AM · What is missing is conscious teaching and practice of all the half positions.
F natural can be played in first position with the index leaning back (behind the thumb); during the shift it will resume its square shape.
To play F natural with a "square" index, (opposite the thumb) the hand must be in "half" position, and the shift will be a major third instead of a minor third.
And so on.
If this relation between the "mapped fingerboard" and the logic of the finger shapes is not established, we will not play fast and in tune at the same time...
September 12, 2023, 11:03 AM · It is traditional to first learn the positions and shifting with the 1st finger, but I have found that the 2nd and 3rd fingers are more stable. I have noticed with students that they tend to release that uncomfortable square first finger, lead the shift with the 1st finger instead of the arm, which changes the angle of the hand to the fingerboard.
Agree with Adrian; the half positions are separate spots on the fingerboard. I think of the positions as 1/2-1-2-2 1/2- 3, etc. Half position makes all the flat keys mechanically easy. That F nat. on the E string is either half-position, OR, first finger extension (back) in 1st position, depending on the technical context.
Of equal importance is being aware of the interval distance of the shift, like min3rd vs maj3rd. Moving from F nat to A# is a perfect 4th, which for some reason is difficult to gauge.
Edited: September 12, 2023, 1:01 PM · Joel - so by extension of that thought - there is only one major scale, just 12 different notes to start it on (same for harmonic and melodic minor scales too)? (Would that take care of 300 years of "Western Music"?)

I wish my brain were young enough to tolerate a redo!

Edited: September 12, 2023, 6:19 PM · -Andrew,--Yes, one could construct a 3-octave scale manual where each octave starts on the first finger. I think one of the older violinists (Tartini?) did that, but for real music we need a lot more options.
Also, very fortunately, there is only one chromatic scale, with too many possible fingerings, which causes problems.
As a Cellist, you are very familiar with the technique of 1st finger extension--back, and each 1/2 step being a position.
September 12, 2023, 4:34 PM · You bet!
Edited: September 12, 2023, 6:34 PM · The first shift in the Suzuki series is from a "2" to a "3" I believe, from F# to F# in "Humoresque" by Dvorak.
September 13, 2023, 3:50 AM · The first required shift in Suzuki would be in Vivaldi A minor for the ledger line D on the E string. Even the C in Humoresque or the "Lully Gavotte" could be done with extended 4 although I think some (including me) teach the shift in Lully and many more teach the shift in Humoresque (and I teach the F# to F# and all the others as well).

Example #2 can occur in Lully (technically it's open E to 3rd pos A but you have just played F# before open E). For the kids, we keep the 1st finger shape and "close the elbow" to shift. If I don't monitor this, they tend to extend/stretch 1st finger forward in search of the pitch rather than actually shift. (This kind of "forward 1" does properly occur in Seitz.) Shifting down, they are to "open the elbow" to move 1 from A to F#, then continue with a "back 1" to reach F natural. If I don't monitor this, they tend to end up in half position and play the next augmented second interval (G#) flat.

Example #1 occurs in Vivaldi A minor and at that point, they should be doing "back 1" for F natural, "return 1" to reset finger shape to F# which is not played, then shift, but the return-and-shift process should become one seamless action. Elsewhere in Vivaldi A minor, there are shifts to D# on A string, which would be shift to 3rd then do "forward 1".

The point is to know which position you are going to and what finger shape to use when you get there and it does depend on the context of notes (essentially what Adrian, Joel, Paul said). I would say students could "get away" with being lax with 3rd pos finger form but it becomes more of an issue in 4th and 5th, so if I want to reduce technical resistance and obstacle later on, I'd better get on top of it early.

Edited: September 13, 2023, 6:57 AM · When I was learning Lalo Symphonie Espagnole with Josef Gingold he told me that in the opening 3 notes
1.play the first A with the first finger curved, then point the first finger at the E you are shifting to. When you land on the E the first finger will curve in order to supply pressure to the string. 2.Then point your first finger at the next note (A), simultaneously shift, and land on a curved first finger.

Thus the technique of shifting is to press down, release and slide, Then press down at the arrival note.

This is the same technique we use to jump. 1. Bend leg muscles to prepare for the jump 2.Release leg muscles and move. 3. Land and bend leg muscles to prepare for the next jump.

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