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VENGEROV'S VIEWS | Shifts & Connection with the Fingerboard

In this, the fourth of eight teaching classes, violinist Maxim Vengerov discusses how to shift in the most efficient way

To help celebrate the launch of our new site, and the re-launch of Maxim Vengerov's new website, maximvengerov.com, over the coming weeks the superstar violinist, teacher, and conductor, will be guest presenting a series of exclusive teaching advice classes for our readers, teachers, and students everywhere.


Accompanied by helpful teaching videos that demonstrate key concepts, Maxim will cover a wide range of topics including sound, left and right-hand technique, bowing, breathing, harmony and structure, and interpretation.

In today’s fourth lesson, Maxim discusses how to shift in the most efficient way.

Join us over the coming weeks, and be sure to share the classes with your own students and friends, and let us know how Maxim’s advice has helped you on your journey to learn more.



Shifting positions in the left hand is a logistical obstacle string players must learn to deal with to navigate smoothly around the fingerboard. Beyond the technical aspect, a shift can also be an important expressive tool, especially in more romantic repertoire where portamento is part of the stylistic vocabulary. The way you shift should reflect your understanding of the deeper musical sense - the style, and the context of the interval within the harmony and phrase. 


In order to make a successful shift, you need a few ingredients. In this post, I will share with you some key principles to keep in mind, to help you shift smoothly and with confidence.



Before a shift

"The secret of a good shift is a loose left hand, and not to rush."

Keep your left hand and finger very relaxed during the note before a shift. This helps you really control the shift - if your left hand is tense, then you cannot move freely. 



You must always have a reference when you shift, to keep your bearings and not lose your orientation on the fingerboard. To help with this, your thumb should move before the rest of your hand, rather than moving your whole hand in one jump. The thumb then acts like a scout, moving ahead to find the right position, and then inviting the rest of the hand to join.



Hold the first note long enough to imagine the next note before you start the shift. This is like a singer first engaging and controlling their diaphragm before singing an interval. Having your destination clear in your mind before you start your journey will help ensure you arrive at the right place (i.e. with good intonation!)



During a shift

"During a shift, do not press your finger into the string: this is a golden rule."

Your left hand and finger should always stay relaxed. During a shift you should not press too much into the string. Your finger should only press halfway, not fully touching the fingerboard, but never losing the connection. This reduces the friction, so you can move more easily to get to your destination.



Generally speaking, you should shift on the outgoing finger, and then place the next finger cleanly once you reach the new position. The movement should not be too fast - avoid jumping, to keep a good connection and stay in control. Start the shift very slowly, and then move like a magnet to the other note.



Shifting with your finger slightly flattened will help you stay relaxed. If you shift with your finger in a more vertical position, perpendicular to the fingerboard, it is much harder to move smoothly, and to keep a good connection and sound.



The speed of the shift depends on whether or not you would like it to be heard, and this depends on the style of the music and what you would like to express. If you do not want the shift to be audible, consider the right hand as well as the left hand - i.e. do not use too much bow during the shift. Specifically, you can slow down the speed of the bow after you leave the first note, and then increase it again after you reach the second note. 


On the other hand, if you would like to emphasize a shift, you can do the opposite - as well as slowing down the movement of the left hand, you can increase the speed or pressure of the bow. It all depends on what you would like to express in the music.



After a shift

"First left hand, then right hand - for a clean shift, you need a good connection with the fingerboard before you start to play the note."

Finally, when you get to the top (or bottom) of the shift: first press your finger down fully from halfway, to make no gap between the string and the fingerboard. Then comes the speed of the bow, to voice the second note of the shift. First the left hand, then the right hand, and not the other way around - they are like a married couple, and they must cooperate with one another! 


Without this good connection between your finger and the fingerboard, the sound will not be clear. You will hear what sounds like “sand” or graininess in the sound, like in an old recording. Listen carefully and always use your ears to guide you.



To conclude

Shifting smoothly and accurately is an important part of developing good technique. I hope these recommendations will give you some ideas about the key things to think about, so shifting is no longer a technical obstacle, but an additional resource in your violinistic toolbox to help you add expression to the music.


Watch the full teaching video below, where Maxim explains in further detail and demonstrates the concepts he introduces in this article:


This series was curated and co-written by Anna Gould.


Previous posts:





To find out more about Maxim, including his recordings and upcoming performances, visit www.maximvengerov.com.

You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow his official social media sites:

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