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November 22, 2007 | Getting the Shift

You've no doubt discovered there are many opportunities for a mandolinist who is able venture out of the lower seven frets (1st Position) of the instrument. One of the benefits of our FFcP system is of course, to make fingering in the upper frets comfortably familiar. The question arises, when do I leave the lower frets, or when do I need to "shift."

We can look to violin pedagogy for answers to questions like this, the purposes, the various types, the actual mechanics, and the appropriateness. We want to borrow from an excellent online resource by By Dr. Rami Kanaan, in his text "A Handbook for Teaching Shifting to the Intermediate Level Violin Student." His thoughts (substitute "mandolin" or "instrument" for "violin":

The purposes of shifting
1) Shifting extends the overall tonal range of the violin
2) It extends the tonal ranges of each of the four strings
3) It facilitates the playing of awkward passages and eliminates string crossings
4) It opens the door to technical mastery on the violin through the knowledge of all the positions and their fingerings
5) It relieves the tension of the left hand from being constantly locked in 1st position (especially during the elementary study of the violin)
6) It enhances the musical expression and interpretation of musical passages
7) It makes the slide or portamento possible on the violin

Types of shifts
1) Same-finger shift (1-1, 2-2, 3-3, and 4-4 in an ascending and descending direction)
2) Two-finger shift, which can be subdivided into:
a) low-numbered to high-numbered finger ascending or vice versa descending (for example, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, and 3-4 in an ascending direction)
b) high-numbered to low-numbered finger ascending or vice versa descending (for example, 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3 in an ascending direction)
3) Half shift (the thumb does not move from the original position while the hand and fingers extend to another position, and then come back to the original position)
4) Retarded or delayed shift (the fingers extend or contract to the new position, and then the hand and thumb follow the fingers)
5) Shift from an open string (the hand shifts during the sound of an open string)
6) Shift between two strings (the old and new positions are on two different strings)
7) Substitution shift (shift to the same pitch with different fingers on the same string or on two different strings)
8) The portamento (the audible slide which is used for its artistic effect)

The mechanics of shifting
1) The hand and fingers must slide smoothly
2) The hand, thumb, fingers, wrist, and forearm must remain relaxed and must move together as a single unit (in shifting among the lower positions)
3) The hand shape must be maintained during the shift
4) The thumb must pass under the neck of the violin when reaching the fifth position and higher to allow the hand and fingers to maintain their shape above the fingerboard
5) The speed of the shift must be controlled
6) The pressure of the shifting finger must be minimized on the string
7) The speed and the pressure of the bow must be minimized during the shift
8) The finger must remain in contact with the string during the shift
9) The hand should shift on the beginning finger in two-finger shifts (this rule is very general and exceptions exist)
10) The left elbow must be mobile during the shift (the elbow moves to the right in ascending shifts and to the left in descending shifts)
11) Violin hold, balance, posture, and the use of proper accessories are crucial to the execution of successful shifts
12) The role of the ear is paramount in shifting (the combination of aural, tactile, and visual clues help the violinist to execute successful shifts)

When to shift
1) Minimize the sound of the slide by shifting during a rest, after an open string, after a harmonic, during the same consecutive notes, during staccato notes, and after a dotted figure
2) Employ similar fingerings for similar passages (like in sequences)
3) Shift on strong or relatively strong beats (the concept of “rhythmic fingerings”)
4) Employ shifts that ensure the smallest shifting distance in order to affect a smooth and unnoticeable slide (like shifting with one finger on the half step)
5) Use contractions and extensions in shifting to accomplish smooth and secure shifts

Of course, some of this needs to be adapted for the violin. Devoid of frets, the violinist has a whole different baggage for determining finger placement and spatial reference. Most are taught to keep fingers down, if nothing else as a tactile guide to position. Holding the instrument vertical to the body rather than parallel like a mandolin requires a slightly difference way of handling the thumb, but in essence, there are far more similarities than departures.

An excellent (and free!) download is available on the website with some golden shifting exercises and etude to keep you busy for a while. This is well worth the time looking over!

Downloard the whole thing: A Handbook for Teaching Shifting to the Intermediate Level Violin Student

Posted by Ted at November 22, 2007 4:33 PM

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