Building Blocks of Shifting

Mastering the mechanics of shifting ensures ease of movement and consistency of intonation. The technique varies for different kinds of shifts. Here we will examine the foundations of shifting: the four basic steps of shifting, the same-finger shift, the extension-shift, and the contraction-shift.

Four Basic Steps of Shifting

  1. Play the old note
  2. Release finger pressure into harmonic position
  3. Slide finger along string in harmonic position until you reach the new note
  4. Play the new note

Practice slowly enough that you can focus on following these steps exactly. It can be tempting to combine steps, but it is crucial to enforce good habits for building consistent technique. Combining steps is used for slides, which we’ll examine later.

A note about vibrato:

Emmanuel Feuermann described vibrato for shifts as zapping the notes with a quick burst of vibrato. Using a loose vibrato for both steps 1 and 4 helps keep the hand relaxed and prevent tension in the hand during the shift. Furthermore, using vibrato to press a note down instead of using finger pressure helps with ease of movement.

For slow and intermediate technique, using vibrato for steps 1 and 4 is a good default.

Same-finger Shifts

Same-finger shifts are both a type of shift and an important foundation for other shifts. For now, we will practice all four basic steps of shifting on one bow. Later, we will look at different bowings for shifting. The following example notates how to apply the four basic steps of shifting to a same-finger shift:

These steps should be followed whether for small or large shifts:

or

Extension-shift

It is sometimes helpful to extend into a new position. For example:

The process is simple: extend your finger to the new note, and then let your hand follow your finger and snap into the new position.

Contraction-shift

For certain shifts, even if the notes are close in pitch, the distance the fingers must travel is relatively large. Bringing your fingers closer together is crucial for these shifts, especially in fast passages.

Here is an example:

Notice the interval itself is only one whole step, yet both the first and fourth fingers must travel a perfect fourth in distance. If, however, you bring your first finger close to your fourth finger precisely when you use your fourth finger, the distance your first finger must travel is greatly reduced. For the descending shift, bring your fourth finger to your first finger instead.