Never miss a shift again

Never miss a violin shift again! (video)

The link to Simon Fischer’s Basics (below) is an affiliate link. If you click it to purchase the book through Amazon, it won’t cost you anything extra, but part of your purchase will go toward supporting

The recommendation

Simon Fischer’s books have changed my violin life. Several years ago, thanks to a recommendation on a discussion forum, I ordered a copy of Basics. A few days later I heard a thump on my front porch; the postman had dropped a giant paperback book out there! I tore open the package and got started right away, because that’s what I do when I’m on the scent of new violin tips. And since that day, Basics has never been out of reach when I’m practicing at home.
If you’re serious about improving, I highly recommend that you click here and pick up a copy of Basics for yourself.
Go ahead, I’ll wait here!

The shifting story

One story Simon told about shifting (involving a valet parking attendant) completely changed my thinking on the subject, and gave me an immediate confidence boost. I quite literally couldn’t miss a shift! That feeling has stayed with me in the years since.
So I knew that at some point I’d have to make a video to demonstrate how anybody can put this technique to use in their practicing. But I was waiting for something to click. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for. And then it clicked.

The two-putt game

I’d actually gotten this same confidence boost before, as a teenager on the golf course! See, in golf, most wasted strokes happen on the green. So the first thing most golf teachers do is to help you limit your putts to two per hole. If you can reliably hole out in just two putts, you’re on your way to scoring much better.
The trouble is that as an amateur, you can only expect yourself to hole that second putt if it’s really short, say within two feet. Most of the work has to be done with that first long putt. But amateurs tend to freeze up at long putts; their stroke gets stiff, unnatural, out of sync. They see that hole far away and dread what will happen if they don’t get it close. And most of the time, they don’t!

The big circle

So one of my golf teachers spray painted a big white circle around the hole, two feet in radius. “Here’s the new target, guys,” he said. “Just get it anywhere in here, and pretend that you see it dropping in.” Suddenly things seemed easy. With a target that big, it was almost as though I couldn’t miss

If you want subtitles, just hit CC in the video above.
Let me know in the comments how this technique works for you! If you want to try it on the Saint-Saëns, here’s the link to it on IMSLP.

Download the first edition on IMSLP

27 thoughts on “Never miss a violin shift again! (video)”

    1. It’s the same idea as far as listening, guide fingers, etc. But one of the keys to shifting down accurately is that you need support (to counter gravity) from the left hand. In other words, lifting up even though you’re shifting down!

  1. Nice going, Nathan! Your approach is not only idiot-proof; it’s even violist-proof! Hope you and the family are well.

    1. Hi Max! Great to see you here! We are well, and I miss playing with you. I suspect you have lots of good methods tucked away that we violinists have missed out on over the years.

  2. Thank you for this! When I shift correctly, it’s likely because I’ve used such a “two-speed” shift. Articulating the technique in such a clear way helps guide the focus of my practice and makes for a far more productive practice session. I’m now nailing both the Saint-Saens shifts 10 for 10!

    1. I think it does in one way at least: the final motion (or flexibility) that will allow you to make that last little adjustment (warming) into the note is the same flexibility that will contribute to a great vibrato! I specifically avoided mentioning how to do any of these motions since I didn’t want it to get in the way of the listening. But I’ll make another video about vibrato that will cover some of the motions that contribute to a wonderful, free vibrato. Simon Fischer’s ideas will have a lot to do with that video too!

      1. That’s the BEST NEWS I’ve encountered in my almost 4 years of bowing.
        Wishfully thinking your new video will lead to my 27th and “last” attempt
        at developing a vibrato.
        Thank you!

        1. I hope so too! If you’re getting my emails, you’ll know as soon as I make that video. Thanks for the idea and I look forward to making it reality!

  3. Hi Nathan Cole. I’m a Brazilian violinist. My teacher sent me this video. And i liked so much!!! It’s exactly that my teacher talked about the shift . Your video help me so much. Congratulations. And thanks. I will wait for your next video.

  4. Awesome, Nathan. Thank you for this. I wish that I’d had this video available when I first started studying the Mendelssohn. Seems that if shifting was mastered, it would be quite easy. Seems! Thank you for your dedication to this wonderful art.

  5. Hey Nathan,
    I just played the Saint Saens concerto for my studio recital and this video really helped me get those two giant shifts down. Thank you!

  6. Love the analogy! You may have all the technical ability in the world, but if you can’t anticipate the note and lead into it with appropriate intonation, the music’s soul is lost. Thank you for this!

  7. Nathan, how do you listen to your shifting when playing in an orchestra – especially when the music is very loud?

    1. Then it’s almost impossible! You have to rely on the “muscle memory” (although we now know there’s no such thing) and good will that you’ve built up in all your individual practice. If you only try to get by on your playing in the group, you will lose that finely-honed ear you’ve worked to build!

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