How to Play Intermediate-Note Shifts and Finger-Substitution Shifts on the Violin

By Katharine Rapoport

You will want to have a firm grasp on the different types of shifts to be a successful violinist. The intermediate-note shifts and finger-substitution shifts will help you become a well-rounded musician.

Intermediate-note shifts

Another type of shift involves using an intermediate note, which is an extra note that a player creates very discreetly to help make shifting smooth in two particular instances:

  • When you’re shifting up from a lower-numbered finger to a higher­numbered finger

  • When you’re shifting down from a higher-numbered finger to a lower-numbered finger

A careful sequence of actions conceals the sound of the slide very discreetly so that the actual notes of the music are clear to the listener. Shifting well is a bit like knowing that a house has all sorts of structural beams and electric wires in order to be functional, but they’re concealed behind the designer wallpaper. Here’s how you execute an intermediate-note shift:

  1. Play the old note, the one just before the shift happens.

  2. Begin at the end of the old bow stroke and at the end of the old beat, and use the old finger (are you starting to feel very old?) to prepare for the new note by slightly releasing the weight of the old finger from the string, sliding to the new position on your old finger, and thus creating the “intermediate note” of the name of this shift.

  3. Land your new finger on the new note at the click of the new beat when you’ve concealed the shift inside the end of the old everything, and then play your new bow stroke.

You can practice doing an intermediate-note shift below. In the first measure, you can see the starting note, followed by the intermediate note in parentheses, so that you know what you’re aiming for. In the second measure, you see the new note in the new position.

You actually play the measures marked a, b, and c, which show you how to achieve a smooth shift by concealing the intermediate note more and more, as you become familiar with the shift. You have a rest measure of four beats between each version, so you can set up the starting note again in first position.

  1. Begin your down-bow near the frog at measure a.

    This measure works like a same-finger shift on finger 1, going from first to third position.

  2. Release your finger’s pressure on the surface of the string, and then slide lightly to the note G on the second half note in the down-bow.

    The up-bow on finger 2, playing the note A in third position, is your destination note.

  3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 for measure b, but hold your original note for three beats and shift on the fourth beat.

  4. Treat the shift in measure c like a dandelion puff and float up to your new position at the very end of the down-bow, just touching the intermediate note for a fleeting shadow of note G.

    This step brings you closer to the real thing.

  5. Notice that the intermediate note in measure d is so light and so hidden just before the bow changes that only you know you’re measuring out the distance with it!

    Intermediate-note shifts, up and down.

    Intermediate-note shifts, up and down.

Finger-substitution shifts

Finger-substitution shifts are very subtle shifts where you change fingers midway into the shift, a bit like relay runners passing the baton. Doing the actions in the correct order helps you achieve a smooth result. When shifting up, a lower-numbered finger is passing by a higher-numbered finger, rather like passing a slower car on the highway. Follow these steps for finger-substitution shifts:

  1. Release the weight of the old finger to the surface of the string as you begin the shift on the old finger.

  2. Touch the new finger to the string when the momentum is underway, skimming the string’s surface as you move, until the new finger arrives at its new note, having taken over from the old finger en route.

  3. Press the new finger down on the string to make the new note.

Here, you practice a few examples of finger-substitution shifts:

  1. Begin a down-bow on finger 2, which is playing note F on the D string.

  2. Lighten finger 2, and begin to move your hand up toward third position.

  3. Let finger 1 brush on the string close behind finger 2 as you near the halfway point in the shift.

  4. Let finger 1 take over from finger 2, which then floats off the string.

    Finger-substitution shifts in action.

    Finger-substitution shifts in action.

At first, when practicing finger-substitution shifts, you need to take up quite a lot of the bow and make some sliding noises just to get all the movements in order. But when you know the sequence, you can move the shifting process later and later into the bow stroke.

Here, you try out finger-substitution shifts in Mozart’s Trio from the “Haffner” Symphony, composed in 1782.

Trio from Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony.

Trio from Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony.