Guide To Shifting Positions on the Violin

In order to progress on the violin, you must master the art of shifting positions on the violin. For many students this can be a frustrating road block. But it doesn't have to be. Simple mental visualizations, finger exercises, and workbooks can help.

Basics of Shifting

The definition of shifting positions on the violin is; moving your whole hand up or down the fingerboard to change notes.

Below is a short description of the location and uses of the different position. It is listed in order that the positions are typically taught.

1st Position is the very basic position. Almost all of beginning music will take place in 1st position. In this position, the hand is low on the fingerboard and closer to the scroll.

3rd Position is the first new position you should learn when advancing from beginner to intermediate. In 3rd position the first finger will shift up to the location where the third finger is placed when playing in 1st position. Next in rank to 1st position, 3rd position is where a violinist will spend a majority of their playing.

5th Position is usually learned after a player gains a great understanding of 3rd position. 5th position is used in more difficult intermediate music and early advanced music. It is also common for higher level school orchestra music to contain a lot of 5th position work. 5th position is higher on the fingerboard and (varies slightly from violin to violin) is located close to where the body of the violin begins. To play 5th position, shift your first finger to the spot your third finger was placed in third position. Many students love learning 5th position because it is exactly the same fingering as 1st position with an additional range of notes on the E string.

2nd Position can be a confusing position to learn, but is also a very helpful position. Part of the reason that students have difficulty with 2nd position is that all of the fingerings are just one finger off of 1st position. Usually 2nd position is played to avoid crossing strings in music and to play an extended fourth finger. 2nd position is located in between 1st and 3rd position. To play in this position put your 1st finger where your 2nd finger would normally play in first position.

4th Position although less common is also very helpful, particularly in the study of scales. 4th position is also frequently used when playing in 3rd position and you want to extend your note range for a short period of time to avoid crossing strings, as well as when you are playing in 5th position and you want to catch a note that is a little lower, but don't want to have to change strings to do it. 4th Position is located in between 3rd and 5th position.

6th and 7th Positions are for very advanced students. 6th Position has the same fingering as 2nd Position and 7th Position has the same fingering as 3rd Position.

Mental Visualizations for Shifting Positions on The Violin

A mental picture that my students have found helpful when shifting positions and changing fingers at the same time is comparing shifting to an airplane. Like an airplane coming in for landing; shifting into higher positions needs to be a gentle transition. Begin on the old note and slide into the new one. Wait to place the new finger down till you get close to the final destination. Like an airplane if you drop too fast and land too soon, the results could be disastrous. Hold off on putting the new finger down until you are close.

Finger Exercises for Shifting Positions on The Violin

Start with practicing shifts that use the same finger. Put down your violin bow and practice with just the left hand shifting up and back down. Then add the bow to hear how your shift sounds.

Move your left thumb so it stays inline with your first finger. Your thumb should never trail behind or move ahead of your hand. One easy way to help with proper thumb movement and placement is to use Mark! Set! Go! Instrument Fingerboard Tape. "Mark! Set! Go!" comes with tape to place where your fingers need to be. It also comes with sticky foam sheets to put on your violin for thumb placement. This is a cheap, excellent tool for students learning new positions and shifting.

The key is to move your hand quickly through the shift and land in the right position. It is also essential that your bow moves slowly during the shift so you don't hear the shift. Just remember...slow the bow down, speed the hand up! Actually doing that is harder done then said. Practice makes perfect.

Three octave scales are really beneficial to students learning their positions. Incorporating scale work into your daily practice routine is a very simple way to become proficient at shifting.

Excellent Workbooks that Teach Shifting Positions on the Violin

Introducing the Positions for Violin: Volume 1 - This is the book that I myself have used both as a student and a teacher. In fact, I still use it even now as warm up exercises, and finger workouts. "Introducing The Positions" is really good at bringing in a new note, new finger, and new position gradually so you really master the skills piece by piece, and understand the whole picture of how the violin notes and positions fit together. Volume 1 teaches 3rd and 5th positions.

Introducing the Positions for Violin: Volume 2 - This workbook teaches 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th positions. Like volume one, this book includes a variety of teaching methods including finger exercises, scales, etudes, and even solo pieces that practice shifting positions on the violin.