The Path to Smarter Position Shifting

“You either didn’t get your arm to the right position or your finger was not thrown in the right spot,” said famous violin teacher Dorothy Delay in regard to shifting. Students should become adept at moving up and down the fingerboard and should get to know what each position feels like with the arm motion, angle of the elbow joint, palm of the hand, and thumb. This will eventually transfer into muscle memory and students will soon be playing in higher positions and more challenging repertoire.

Gabriel Villasurda, recently retired teacher and MENC member from the Greenville, Michigan public school system, says that students should always negotiate their shifting so that they are able to fit the optimum number of notes into the span of the hand. In other words, they “should move into a position so that they can stay there for a while.”

Learning shifting between positions on a single string can increase facility with movement up and down. The next step is to increase agility moving across strings while in position. Here are some shifting exercises from Gabriel Villasurda for violin, viola, cello, and bass that focus on these two techniques.

— Nicole Springer, July 28, 2008, © National Association for Music Education (
This article has been adapted from an article of the same name by author Cynthia Darling from the August 2008 issue of Teaching Music. Read the expanded article on page 65.