Harmonic Shifting Exercise: Find Positions 1-7 Quickly and Accurately

This exercise is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that!”, slap yourself on the forehead kinda deals. It is borrowed from Paul Rolland, but I have a hunch it was probably invented by someone else, or even multiple people, way before he shared it with us*. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. Even a child could do it! And they should! The earlier you can get your students to move up and down the fingerboard the less trepidation they’ll have about shifting when the time comes to shift.

This is a great example of a drop and replace exercise. You start with the instrument in playing position, raise the hand and drop it in position. Here’s the exercise notated to be played on the A string on the violin:

And the D string on viola:

Start with the first line as it’s quite a bit easier. It goes from 4th position up to 7th and from 1st to 4th. Don’t wait too long before going to the second line, which goes from 7th position to 1st. I think it’s healthier for us to set our hands up from the pinky back to the first finger. Getting into the habit of reaching back rather than reaching up is something that needs to be done as soon and often as possible. Intermediate learners can start with the second line. Use your judgement. If you think there’s a decent chance that your learner will succeed starting with the second line I encourage you to start there.

A few thoughts:

  • This exercise gives students a general idea of the basic positions. As your keys get more complicated finding positions this way becomes less specifically useful. That said, the key needs to be really complicated before this stops being useful, so for daily driving this is a great place to start.
  • I think it’s okay for the instrument to droop slightly when the arm is taken away when you drop and replace. It will come back up when the hand is raised. I prefer to support the instrument with my hand rather than with my head so the instrument always droops a bit when I take my arm away. If you prefer the opposite, then this will not be an issue.
  • Make sure that all of the fingers are ready to go when you land on the string. If you’re landing on the 4th finger 1, 2 and 3 should be on the string. You or the learner can even decide what “key” you’re in and land in position in the appropriate finger pattern.
  • Once the learner is comfortable on the A (violin) or D string (viola), nudge them over to the other strings. Remember to align the elbow to the string (parallel motion) when moving to different strings. This is a great chance to teach students how to get their elbows out to clear the upper bout, as well.

Here’s a quick video of the exercise:

I hope you found this helpful!

*The only reason I point this out is that I feel that there are always people out there selling the notion that there is a “new and improved” way to teach strings. I don’t think that what we’re doing is fundamentally different from what Vivaldi was doing with his students at the orphanage. The basic principles of string playing have been the same for more than 400 years. Tastes might change, but physics and physiology don’t. And the brain? Much slower than we think. The major problem is one of curation. We have a Google problem. There’s simply too much stuff to choose from. This blog will curate the solutions that work best in a group setting or with minimal supervision so that you can cut through the fog. Everything we need to teach strings successfully is already all around us and best of all, it’s free.

Next Time: The Beauty of the Korg TM60

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)

Please contact me at chung@chungpark.com if you’d like me to come and lead a workshop. I’m available for student workshops and teacher professional development sessions.