Violin Third Position

Violin Third Position

Hi Guys and thanks for dropping by!

In today’s lesson, we’re going to look at violin third position, and in particular shifting from first to third position. Many of you struggle with shifting and maintaining intonation in different positions so this is a perfect introduction for those of you who are just starting with your shifting, those of you who are preparing your AMEB exercise 2A or even those more advanced students who are discovering deficiencies in their shifting technique and need some pointers.

Are You Ready?

Shifting in and out of third position on your violin should not be a difficult or uncomfortable process. To ensure that you become a successful shifter, you want to make sure that your technique is absolutely ready and that you’re not going to be introducing any bad habits as you learn violin third position.

Below are the three checkpoints that you should consider before you attempt violin third position. Go through each check carefully and only when you are confident in your basic technique begin the shifting process.

Violin Position
Make sure your posture and violin position are strong and correct
Watch This
Left Hand And Wrist
Don't forget the mouse and the cheese!
Watch This
Reliable Intonation
If you're flat in first position, it doesn't get easier when you start shifting!
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Is Your Violin In The Correct Position?

This sounds so basic and is no doubt something you take for granted. However, take a moment to check out my left hand technique video and ensure your position is up to scratch. If you are struggling to hold your violin up comfortably and correctly, perhaps review your shoulder rest; this post might help.

When we start moving our left hand up and down the violin neck, there is absolutely no room for discomfort or inaccuracy in posture or violin position. Your violin needs to sit comfortably on your shoulder and be independent of any left hand support. If you’re not able to maintain your violin position when you remove your left hand, you’re not ready to begin moving to different positions.

Is your left hand and wrist correctly placed?

Don’t forget the mouse and the cheese! Again, my left hand position post will be useful if you’re not quite ready with this. It’s so important that we maintain a loose left hand and wrist as we’re shifting!

Is Your Intonation Reliable In First Position?

There’s no use moving to different positions if you’re struggling to hear the difference between a C natural and a B or if your fourth finger isn’t stretching quite high enough. Take time to develop your intonation in first position before attempting to shift and ensure that you’re able to hear the notes without the aid of finger marks!

Did You Answer 'No' To Any Of Those?

Review Your Basic Technique!

If you Answered 'yes' to all three:
start shifting!

Let's Do Some Shifting Exercises!

The Basic B to D shift

Now that you’re sure you’re ready to begin shifting, we’re going to try a really basic exercise. The aim of this is to ensure that your left hand position remains loose and the mouse and cheese position is not disrupted.

Using your first finger on B (just its usual first position spot on the A string), slide up to D (where third finger usually goes). As you slide, make sure your finger moves lightly and swiftly up the string.

Stop on D and listen to the sound you are making; you could even check your intonation with the open D string. Stand in front of a mirror and make sure that your left hand position looks just like it does in first position.

Now slide back down to B, again making sure that you maintain the correct left hand position; be especially careful not to leave your thumb behind!

Practice shifting up and down the fingerboard from B to D until you are confident in your technique and intonation.

Pop, Slide And Swap – The C# to D Shift

Pop, slide and swap are three words that my shifting students hear A LOT. Let’s go through each in detail, using the shift from C# (high second on the A string in first position) to D (first finger on the A string in third position) as an example.

The notes we’re going to play are A B C# and D. I’ve used whole bows but you could do chain bowing or slur in 2s if you prefer. 

Step 1 – Pop

Play A and A1 as you usually would but when you put your second finger down to play C#, ‘pop’ your first finger up into the air. I’ve exaggerated this in the video and it’s probably good to do the same while you’re getting used to the process.

Step 2 – Slide On Your Preparation Finger

The ‘preparation finger’ is the second finger. Slide from C# (high second in first position) up to E (high second in third position). You might like to check this E with your open E string to ensure you’ve slid enough.

Step 3 – Swap To The First Finger

Place your first finger down and release your second finger and you should be playing D. You can check this with the open D string for intonation. 

Exercise 1 - AMEB Grade 2A

In this exercise, you will practice shifting from first to third position on each of your fingers. The main things to look out for here are:

  • left hand (including your thumb) slides up easiy and maintains the proper left hand technique
  • The frames of your fingers are observed
  • Shifting is light and fast
  • Intonation is well established 
  • A steady tone is maintained throughout the exercise

Exercise 2 - AMEB Grade 3D

This exercise is not very pleasant to listen to but excellent for improving your pop, slide and swap technique. In each section, we practice shifting on the preparation note slowly and then repeat the same notes with a faster, more elegant slide and swap. In addition to the points covered for Exercise 1, above the things to look out here are:

  • Secure slide and swap technique 
  • Refrain from rushing the slides, especially where a longer preparation note is required in each section
  • Economical use of the bow, especially for the slide into third position.

Congratulations!

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve made a great start to your shifting journey. This is the first of many posts I will write on this subject; there’s so much more to learn!

As always, good things take time so practice the exercises daily and keep a firm focus on your left hand and thumb; shifting should be comfortable and never cause pain so if there is any discomfort, or if you have any other questions or thoughts about shifting, please reach out in the comments section below.

Happy Shifting

Marketa 😉

Founder of myviolinbff.com

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your expertise. I’m having trouble with the feel of the fingerboard on the shift. It’s really like hard to move my hand up. I always feel like I get stuck or something. Is there something wrong with my violin or can I get a product that will make it more smooth to shift on?

    1. Hi Ivan,
      It’s most likely that you are just grabbing the neck of your violin too much. I think you need to address how you’re holding your violin. Can you remove your left hand all together and keep your violin up in the correct position? If not, then most likely your left hand is being used to actually keep your violin up rather than being free to shift up and down. It’s difficult for me to diagnose without seeing. Feel free to send me an email at marketa@myviolinbff.com and some photos/videos etc.
      best wishes
      marketa 🙂

  2. Hi Marketa, such a well-informed post!

    I started playing the violin a couple of years ago as an adult and find it really difficult to move up the finger board and keep my fingers curved.
    Do you have any ideas to help with this?
    Thanks so much
    Stefanie

    1. Hi Stefanie and thanks for your interest in my post,
      What you’re saying is actually quite common. Although I can’t diagnose 100% without actually seeing what you’re doing, I’m fairly confident that you’re not moving your left arm and hand into third position. The higher you go up the fingerboard, the more your left hand and arm comes round – your elbow will creep under the neck of your violin as you go higher. If not, your fingers are ‘reaching’ from an unnatural position and have to stretch and straighten to reach their positions. Do feel free to send me some photos or videos at marketa@myviolinbff.com if you’d like
      best wishes
      marketa 🙂

  3. Hello Marketa;
    My 16 year old daughter plays the violin and she is beginning to have difficulties on the transition to third position. I am a bass player and I was wondering a lot about the relationship between the two instruments and the shifting required for each. I believe that your article will bring my daughter a lot of clarification on this so I will subscribe for more so I don’t miss anything of your next publications thank you.

    1. Hi and thanks for your input.

      I think the main thing with violin is that there are no frets or guide of where you need to shift to and that shifting can be done in a variety of incorrect ways. It’s really important that your daughter takes the time to master this skill before she moves on to more difficult material; also note that this is probably the easiest position to move in and out of, so it’s important to get it right before trying other, more advanced positions

  4. Wow, it is very interesting to see how one can actually make use of the violin by making sure that it rests firmly on the shoulder. I have to say that playing the violin at first can be a bit of a technical thing to do but I wouldn’t mind going through all this process. Thank yu for this tutorial.

    1. Hi again Henderson, 

      It’s just so important that your beginner technique is strong before you begin any of the more difficult material; do take time to make sure your shoulder rest is comfortable and your violin rests well on your shoulder before moving your hand down the violin neck. You may like to check out my article on this exact topic here
      https://myviolinbff.com/best-violin-shoulder-rests-lets-get-comfortable/

      Best of luck with it 😉

  5. I suspected it was hard to play a violin, now I see it is.  Wow..  

    It must take a lot of practice to learn the shifting aspect

    I see how important it is for the. violin to sit comfortably on the shoulder

     This is amazing detail for those who want to learn how to play the violin

    Do you give Video lessons?

    1. Hi Phil and thanks for your input. 

      Yes, I do have videos for all the techniques I write about which I will be posting soon. Please do bookmark my site and you can follow along with the videos soon 😉

  6. Hello Marketa. Thank you for sharing this post on Violin 3rd position. Learning to play the Violin is not an easy process at all. You’re doing a great job making the process easier than I thought. You covered the important aspect I was thinking you will not cover. Especially areas like bad habits while learning to play the violin.

    Kind regards!

    1. Hi again and thanks for your feedback.

      It’s really important to quickly identify and address bad habits; please do feel free to shout out if you need a hand with any aspect of your violin journey

      Best wishes 😉

  7. Hello Marketa!

    A comprehensive article about learning how to shift positions with violins. It’s not needed to attend a school or any special course for learning these tips about a Violin. It is enough to love violins – like you do – and to be willing to out their fingers at work for singing & shifting!

    Keep being a Violin BFF and kind regards,

    Peter

    1. Hi Peter and thanks for your message,

      violin is a very difficult instrument to learn and master so if you do have the opportunity, also take lessons with a teacher who can help you directly with your learning. I’m glad you found my post useful and hope you will be back for more 🙂

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