To achieve progresses on the violin, you must control the art of moving the left hand on the violin fingerboard. This technique is called violin shifting.
For many students this can be a frustrating road block. But it doesn’t have to. Simple mental visualizations, finger exercises, and workbooks can help.
The definition of shifting positions on the violin is; moving your whole hand up or down the fingerboard to change notes.
10 tips to improve your violin shifting technique
1 – Move the whole arm as a single piece: fingers, hand, wrist, forearm and elbow.
2 – Consider the elbow as the initiator of the shift. Indeed, the distance traveled by the fingers on the fingerboard is greater than the one traveled by the elbow. It is therefore easier for the brain to memorize the movement of your arm than your fingers’.
3 – Relax your fingers. The movement of your elbow should naturally lead the movement of your left hand, which is to say of your fingers. But if your fingers are clutched to the fingerboard, they will remain anchored to their initial positions or randomly move with difficulty.
4 – Relax all your fingers. Do not forget your thumb! Avoid as much friction as possible between your thumb and the neck. Some even recommend no contact at all.
5 – Loosen the pressure in the moving finger while shifting. The finger should touch the string without being in contact with the fingerboard. The three steps are: (a) lift, (b) shift to change position, (c) drop to play the note.
6 – Make sure the violin is not supported by your left hand.
It should stay in place without using it, allowing the latter to move freely along the neck.
7 – Maintain a fluid motion. Do not go too fast at first. The first step is to reach the desired notes. Speed will then gradually come, along with confidence.
8 – Decrease bow pressure and speed when shifting.
9 – Use your ear. As finger pressure is applied on the string while shifting, it still emits sound. So use your ear to guide your decision and improve your accuracy.
10 – Persevere! Learning to move the left hand in the violin is a long, repetitive, frustrating and sometimes painful (my poor fingers…) process. But it is important not to skip steps to acquire a serious and precise technique.
Violin shifting is easier with a professional luthier 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.