The Laws of Shifting

  1. The shifting motion comes from the arm, not from the hand or fingers! Our goal is for the fingers to stay neutral while being carried to the new position by the arm.
  2. Release string with you fingers and make sure your thumb is relaxed before shifting. During the shift your fingers and thumb should slide freely over the strings and neck of the instrument. 
  3. Make sure you can sing the note you are shifting to, either out loud, or in you head, though out loud is more fun :)

In an ideal shift, we should arrive at the new position in such a way that all of our fingers can comfortably drop on the string. For higher positions (above 4th or 5th position), the thumb will need to move underneath the neck of the instrument to allow the fingers to fall on the string naturally without reaching outside of the frame of the hand. Practice all of your shifts with this in mind. If you are shifting to a first finger, do not just push your finger up the fingerboard leaving your thumb and the rest of your hand behind! It may seem like more work to carry your whole hand to the new position, but doing so will allow all of your fingers to be comfortable in the new position and will ultimately make your shifting more accurate.

One-finger scales

This is a basic beginning exercise to get comfortable moving around the fingerboard. It can be done on any string, but for this example I will use the D string (A string on violin).





All of the rules above apply to this exercise. Keep the bow moving during the shift, and listen for the squeeky, slidey sounds that come from your finger resting on the string without any pressure. If you hear a clean glissando during the shift, you are pressing too hard with your finger!

Also take a look at the Yost shifting exercises, which you can download on the Materials page.


More information about shifting

Here are some good videos demonstrating shifting techniques on


check out this post from a 14-year-old violin student on