By Katharine Rapoport

Once you feel you have developed your skills to a comfortable level on the violin, you’re ready to move on to trying your left hand in different positions along the neck. Position refers to the place where your hand goes on the neck of the violin in order to play the notes.

Playing in third position

Playing in third position is violinists’ second favorite thing to do (after first position)! It’s a “handy” position to find; your hand feels very comfortable on the neck of the violin. An added advantage to third position is that finger 1 plays exactly an octave above the next-lower string, so the outer edge of your palm (just under finger 4) is very near to, or just touching, the body of the violin.

For third position, you need to put your first finger on the spot where the third finger normally plays in first position. If you use the same idea that you use to prepare for second position you start out with the following moves:

  1. Start in first position, with finger 1 playing the note E on the D string.

  2. Play F with finger 2, and then G with finger 3.

  3. Take a good look at the spot where finger 3 is playing, and listen to the sound of the G so that you can match the location and sound when you shift into third position.

  4. Release finger 3 from the string, and then slide your whole hand up into third position.

    Finger 1 plays the note G on the D string, exactly where finger 3 was playing a moment ago.

Take your thumb along with the rest of your hand when traveling to a new left hand position, to keep your hand in good playing shape.

This is where all the fingers land on the strings in third position.

Finger placement in third position.
Finger placement in third position.

When preparing to play in third position on the D string, check the pitch of your first finger against the open G string of your violin, and adjust slightly, if necessary.

After finding your finger placements in third position, you’re ready to set up for a scale and a song in third position. You can build a third-position G major scale by starting on finger 1 on the D string. Your fingers work in exactly the same way as they do in the F major scale you play in second position, but your hand position is a step higher.

This shows you the notes you can play in third position.

Notes you play in third position.
Notes you play in third position.

To find your starting note, follow the same four steps above about third position. When you drop finger 1 on the note G, you’re all set up. Look at the G major scale in third position.

G major scale in third position.
G major scale in third position.

You can add two-note slurs (and even four-note slurs) to the scales when you’re comfortable with the finger placements and ready to flow along.

After playing the notes of the G major scale in third position, you’re ready to play, “Joy to the World” in third position.

“Joy to the World” in third position.
“Joy to the World” in third position.

Venturing forth in fourth position

You take just one more step to arrive at the fourth position. Although third position gets all the attention, finding fourth position is just as easy, because as you look down the “telescope” of your strings, your first finger plays the same note as the adjacent open string to the right. For example, if you play in fourth position on the A string, your first finger matches the E of your open E string.

This shows you where to place your fingers on the violin strings in fourth position.

Finger placement in fourth position.
Finger placement in fourth position.

Your thumb, which moves along more or less opposite finger 1, is now near the place where the violin’s neck joins the body. The neck thickens slightly, but it has a nice curved shape underneath for your thumb to slip around. To find a comfortable (and effective) thumb placement, line up your fingers in fourth position on the D string, and then allow your thumb to slip a little lower around the neck, as if the thumb’s tip is doing a demonstration of a beautiful sunset.

Of course, your own hand’s shape and size determine how much adjustment you need. But in mid-sized hands, the tip of the thumb arrives at (or a little below) the level where the ebony fingerboard joins the light wood of the violin’s neck.

The example below shows you all the notes you can play when you go to fourth position on your violin.

After orientation, you’re ready to set up an A major scale and prepare to venture into songs using the fourth position. Look at the process the same way as you do for preparing the second and third positions. Start by playing fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the D string in regular first position

Listen to the note A that you play with finger 4, and look at where it’s playing on the D string so that you can target that spot with finger 1 when you shift up. Release your fingers, smoothly shift up to fourth position, and then place finger 1 on note A. Remember to move your thumb along with the rest of the hand.

Notes you play in fourth position.
Notes you play in fourth position.

When preparing to play in fourth position on the D string, check your first finger’s pitch, A, against the open A string to ensure accuracy, and then adjust your placement up or down a tad, if necessary.

Now you’re ready to set forth on your A major scale in fourth position. When you start with your first finger on note A and follow the above for third position, your resulting scale is A major. Check out the A major scale below.

A major scale in fourth position.
A major scale in fourth position.

And finally, “Joy to the World”in fourth position.

“Joy to the World” in fourth position.
“Joy to the World” in fourth position.