Tricks to Shifting on the Cello

Shifting makes it possible to play the entire length of the cello.

Shifting, also known as changing position, on the cello, is a complex subject with many possible tricks to make the process of shifting less complicated. Some cellists think in terms of shifting from note to note and others think in terms of position to position. Shifting between positions uses less movement, which makes mistakes less likely. Shifting from note to note can get complicated and leaves additional room for error since your entire hand has to move more often.


Determine the position before and after the shift occurs. Practice moving the first finger from the first position to the first finger in the second position. Once you have established what it feels like to move from one position to the next, it is easier to add in the extra notes. On the cello, your index, middle, ring and the pinky finger can be positioned to play four base notes. This makes it easier to play since if you need to play a note with your first or third finger all you have to do is depress the string since the finger is already in place.


When first learning to shift from position to position, move slowly. Moving too fast will create an uneven and uncontrolled movement. By learning to move slowly, at first, you increase your accuracy and eventually speed will come as a result of familiarity. Resist the urge to practice everything as fast as you can, this will only result in a sloppy shifting technique. Concentrate on moving from position one to position two, then one to three and so on through all seven basic positions.


Begin moving the arm early to prevent a jerky shifting. Moving the arm from a resting position to the new position immediately creates tension. Instead, once you have played the notes with each finger, begin to move those fingers and angle the arm toward the new position. Time the movement of the arm so that you never stop moving. This will provide you with a smoother transition. If you move too fast, you will have to abruptly stop the movement, if you move the arm too slow, you won't make it to the next position in time. Practice getting the movement timed exactly.


Avoid moving from one position to the next by moving in a straight line. It is true that a straight line is the shortest distance, but it creates extra tension. By using a half-circle movement toward the new position, you create momentum which frees the arm from some of the tension that a direct line would create. Practice this technique by moving the elbow in a half-circle while preparing to land in the new position. This will help incorporate more muscles into the process, thereby reducing the tension.


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