V.com weekend vote: How early in your violin studies did you start position-playing?

May 21, 2023, 11:58 AM · I'm not asking how old were you when you started with position-playing, but how soon after your first lessons did you begin learning the higher positions?


Of course, learning higher positions (and how to smoothly go between positions) is essential for playing advanced repertoire.

Traditionally, students first establish a solid first-position posture, with a hand set-up that allows for good intonation in many different keys. Then they start migrating up the fingerboard, learning third position and shifting techniques, with scales, arpeggios and etudes that move to higher positions, etc.

However, there are methods of teaching that start with position playing, right from the very beginning. I invite anyone to tell us about those!

As with everything, it really depends on the student.

As a teacher myself, I've noticed that one nice thing about getting going with the higher positions is that it can actually help a student develop a better hand position and vibrato, as shifting around the fingerboard necessarily requires more flexibility and mobility in the hand and arm. If you never resolved the issue of gripping with the left thumb, for example, shifting will force you into at least some kind of compromise - you can't grip and shift at the same time!

What do you remember about your first adventures with position-playing and shifting? If you are a teacher, how long does it typically take for a student to get going with position playing? When did you start with it, and do you remember how it was introduced? Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts in the comments.

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May 21, 2023 at 06:00 PM · I started to learn 3rd position after about a year of playing, maybe more like 1.5 years. It was around the beginning of Suzuki book 3. I was definitely a relatively precotious learner so that's why it didn't take me so long.

May 21, 2023 at 06:29 PM · It was about 1-and 1/2 years from starting. I remember not liking 2nd position, maybe because I wasn't taught very well at that stage, as it was a general music teacher at my new school. They soon brought in an actual violinist who could play, then I took to 3rd position very well. The strings we had then were raw gut, and the tone wasn't great on my Chinese factory-made school violin, but somehow I learned and became good enough to lead the school orchestra, a fairly good group in a major British city with an excellent symphony orchestra. The teachers around were professional players, who organised chamber music for us, and had a few of us play in Handel's Messiah at Easter. We sounded great by then, and played in 1st and 3rd positions mostly. Sorry to go on so long, but I wanted to tell the story of position learning, note-reading, and development/relevance to the topic.

May 21, 2023 at 07:14 PM · “Something else” - i.e., after the first 3 months of lessons. I, too, was a precocious learner, and my teacher felt that I was ready to start position-playing about 3 months in. She was right. I didn’t feel daunted by the challenge but took to this phase of study quite eagerly.

I first learned via Harvey Whistler’s 2-volume instruction course, Introducing the Positions. I learned, in this order: III, V, II, IV, VI, VII, and VIII+. I remember leafing through these books as bedtime stories, curious to see what technique elements were coming next.

It wasn’t long after the Whistler studies that I got into Sevcik’s Op. 8 shifting drills. Thanks to Whistler, I didn’t find Sevcik intimidating.

In my student years, I inherited a small instruction book - with a red cover - by a pedagogue who recommended starting 3rd position studies right away. I’d have to dig this up to tell you the author’s name. For a long time, I’ve used 3rd position as a starting point for daily warm-up drills.

May 21, 2023 at 09:43 PM · I think I started on third position about a year in. One of the advantages of starting later, even if I was self-teaching and not especially talented, is being able to read ahead and see what techniques were coming up in the future. Another reason I was able to jump ahead to shifting relatively early was that I never developed the bad habit of gripping with the left thumb; most of my bad habits were in the right hand!

(EDIT: "how soon after your first lessons" is definitely not applicable here, because my first ventures into third position were 15 years before my first lesson.)

May 22, 2023 at 01:08 AM · At the start of school year three, with teacher # 3. Teachers # 1 & 2 were public school music educators who were not violinists.

May 22, 2023 at 11:40 AM · I started with "Tune a Day, Book 1" for the first year in a public school program in the 6th grade. My private teacher moved to books 2 (keys other than D major) and 3 (intro to 3rd and 2nd positions) before moving to other materials.

May 22, 2023 at 01:28 PM · Guessing between 1.5 and 2 years in? (I voted for two years.)

That was a very very VERY long time ago.

May 22, 2023 at 01:59 PM · I voted one year, but it might not have been that early, and initially it was ONLY third position. But I also remember that I used the Whistler books.

May 22, 2023 at 05:01 PM · I started with that Whistler book as well. I still sometimes use it for students. For solidifying 2nd and 3rd positions (not really for first introducing them) - I very much like Doflein Book 3.

May 22, 2023 at 09:42 PM · I don't remember when I started shifting but as a Suzuki violin teacher, I begin kids around mid-Book 2, starting with a 2-octave D scale, and changing the fingerings of several of the pieces in the 2nd half of the book. I don't think so much of years spent with the instrument as progress level. Probably average around 2 years, though it varies widely. There's so much to learn leading up to shifting that I don't see any use in starting it sooner..

May 23, 2023 at 03:53 PM · my early experiences were terrible, the local orchestras expected you to play richard strauss and if you have only been playing two or three years this damages your playing, lots of position changes there, got me into bad habits which took years to overcome

May 24, 2023 at 03:12 AM · Something else - I have absolutely no idea. That's over half a century ago!

May 24, 2023 at 07:51 AM · I am an adult learner..started learning age 38 then had a couple of LONG pauses in learning and have been back at it roughly 2.5 years ago.

I'd consider myself as intermediate and I practice/play shifting up to 8th position quite regularly now.

Back when I first started I shifted to higher position after only about 6 months of lessons, however looking back my intonation and left hand were very far away from being secure! (they are now ok)

My current teacher who has been playing the violin for over 57 years and teaching for well over 40 years makes me giggle when she says she does not like 2nd position and finds it the most difficult, it is funny to hear a very experienced violinist who is indeed talented and plays well to say things like that but obviously I am sure any of us has their 'pet hates' or feels they need to be more focused on certain things

Anyway...when she took me on as a student she had (like often is the case) to unwrap some bad habits in my left hand and shifting and right hand etc, I have been studying under her wing now for 8 months and I can see HUGE/DRAMATIC improvements in my shifting and 2nd position now no longer feels so scary like in the 'middle of nowhere' and my hand can find it blindly and fairly accurately (of course it can improve further)

May 24, 2023 at 09:23 PM · I started as a violist so maybe a little later into positions than my violinist colleagues... somewhere in my 3rd year I started into 3rd position, and played the Telemann concerto 2nd movement at the end of my 3rd year, which I believe has some brief 4th position material.

May 25, 2023 at 06:16 PM · My first violin teacher was more into repertoire than theory; his approach to position playing was "go up there and find the note", which worked amazingly well. I soon became comfortable with third position, and my brief exposure to the Accolay taught me to not be afraid of fifth position.

There's something about second and fourth position, though, that makes them daunting. Perhaps it's that the fingerings aren't as intuitive as first or third position, probably because there seems to be some sort of conflict between them. Nevertheless, there are times where it's worth the effort to learn them. At a bluegrass jam we were playing a tune in B flat; a fellow fiddler told me to try second position, and presto! fingerings came out much easier.

I now play viola in a local orchestra, and I've found a number of places where second position is easier in the long run. Currently we're working on Bizet's L'Arlésienne suites, and in the last movement of the second suite (Farandole) there's a passage where it's easier to learn second position fingerings than to deal with the many rapid string crossings you'd need otherwise. As a bonus, shortly afterwards you can use the same fingerings in third position to play the notes an octave down.

But if you really want some position work on a viola, Dvorák is hard to beat. He loves to send the violins off into the stratosphere, and usually takes us violas along for the ride. In his 8th symphony the violas go up to 7th position, possibly with a brief excursion to 8th.

There's still nothing like the security of the nut, but it's nice to be comfortable at least in third position. After playing a series of notes in third position, it's often easier to find subsequent notes there than to shift back to first position - especially if more third-position notes follow. As Johnathan Livingston Seagull once learned, "Perfect speed is being there."

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