William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Advanced Approach to Violin Shifting - Part 1

Learn unique insights about shifting on the violin

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick approaches shifting with very interesting and unique insights you may not hear often in regular violin instruction.

Released on November 5, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Temianka professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music which is located on the Campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I'm as well Director of MusiShare in Irvine.

So let's a deeper look into shifting, shifting with the left hand. First of all, where does the shift originate from? Well, let's see. What are the possibilities? Does it originate from the finger, from the hand? What about the wrist? Or maybe these muscles, or maybe my elbow. Well, I am a firm believer that the gesture of the shift originates from the elbow. What if we were to consider a sport as a model for shifting? Suppose we were to consider baseball. Suppose we were to consider throwing a baseball.

Let's see, with my students, my younger students, we do a little thing. I take a piece of paper, and I roll it up. Now, my baseball. And what am I going to do? I'm going to throw it. Let's see. How would I throw my baseball, my piece of paper? I would go back and throw. Did you notice that my wrist went this way? Well, let's try this baseball thing again with my little piece of paper. Well, what would happen if I put it in my left hand, and I were to throw it over my shoulder? Let's see. Did you notice my hand went like this? How come? Well, because it was powered by my elbow, and my elbow allowed my wrist, my hand, my fingers to be free. No stress, no strain. I simply move my elbow just like a baseball player and there it is. Voila, a shift.

Now, let's look at that shift again with the violin up. It would mean I would be doing this. Can you see that? This. You see, my elbow, I'll do it from up here. It moves which moves the rest of my arm. Now, what does that sound like? Well, that sounds like this. [plays] To understand this better, I use Yost. Yost is a one octave scale, either a chromatic or just a normal scale.

Here, let me show you. Let's do a F major on the E string, one octave scale. [plays] Now the beauty of Yost is we can do it. What, like that? We can do it with our second finger, third, fourth, but if I really want to explore what the gesture is like, maybe I should just do an octave. [plays] That gets me to do that gesture. [plays] So are you seeing? Oh, and the Yost you could do thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths and, of course, what I just did, the octaves.

Okay, so we've explored the rudiments of what's going on. Let's be a little bit more specific. If you are playing a piece, there are basically two types of shifts. One would be going on the original finger, say, if I were going to my second finger. That's called fetch or Russian which would be going on a new finger. [plays] Russian. Now to use our shifts, we need to develop the ability to recognize what's happening in the shift that we've decided to do. So we have to really understand how to develop what I might call areas of awareness.

For example, we have to develop a kinesthetic sense, that meaning an understanding or evaluation of how far the distance of the shift is. For example, if I am going from [plays] I have to understand how far that is. Okay, then I need to understand what kind of release am I doing? Am I releasing the finger and then sliding? Or am I jumping? [plays] Well, I didn't jump, so now I know that I released the finger. But sometimes you might jump. Or what about the speed pattern? Let's see. Was it slow to fast? Or fast to slow? [plays] Well, unless I'm mistaken, I believe that was fast to slow, as it slowed down as it approached the note.

So understanding these areas of awareness, while they're of the utmost importance if we are going to be able to work on our shift, to be able to understand the choreography of what's surrounding that shift, this awareness will lead us to develop better practicing strategies to be able to try to ensure that we will not miss that shift. Well, that's it for Understanding Shifting, Part One. If you have a comment, question, or special request, please feel free to post them below. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kathy Barry * VSM MEMBER * on November 29, 2014 @11:40 am PST
I love the sound of your violin. And one finger scales help with finding the distance between notes. It sure takes a lot of practice to be able to play one finger scales and get them in tune. Thank you for posting this subject.
William on December 1, 2014 @12:21 pm PST
Glad that you liked it!
Andreas on November 11, 2014 @10:25 am PST
Dear Prof. Fitzpatrick,

Thank you for this video (for me it was a new approach).
The problem I have is that my fluent motion of my Left hand is disturbed when I have to turn my left hand for the high positions. I can move very freely into the lower positions but when I have to go to 6th position suddenly, I all of a sudden turn my left hand but it does not happen fluently, the thumb does not feel comfortable anymore. It helps when I press more with my head on the chinrest but I am told this is not good. In fact I should be able to play from low to high without shoulderrest and without pressing the chinrest, only when I go down, I can press a little bit with my chin to prevent my violin of going down with my left hand.

What do you think?
William on December 1, 2014 @12:23 pm PST
If I understood your question correctly perhaps the problem isn't with your hand but with your elbow? Have you tried bringing it under the violin and releasing your thumb - depending on how small or big your hand size is?
Mary Wancewicz on November 7, 2014 @11:30 am PST
I enjoyed your lesson and the ocean paintings in the background done by your daughter I guess. What is the name of the song the violin played when it was over.
William on November 8, 2014 @10:07 am PST
The music is from a recording that I made while in France called "Recital...". The piece is Massenet's Meditation from "Thais". The art is by my daughter, Nina...
Hazel * VSM MEMBER * on November 6, 2014 @4:05 am PST
At 5:32 I think I'm correct in saying that the word you say is "French" = the shift using the original finger, not 'fetch' as in the video transcription; the shift using a new finger is the one you call "Russian".
William on November 8, 2014 @10:10 am PST
Hi ... French - go on the original finger / Russian - go on a new finger. Hope that I am clear? Thanks for your response.
Bill * VSM MEMBER * on November 5, 2014 @9:41 am PST
I very much enjoyed your mini â lesson on shifting. I never thought much about the mechanics of shifting, but I do it exactly as you demonstrate.
I like your vibrato, which my violin teacher of 68 years ago called the Mischa Elman (i.e., wristy?) type as opposed to the Jascha Heifetz (elbowy?) type. He used the same as yours (and Mischaâs) and so do I (when I play â which is seldom these days).
A teacher from a nearby town had an elbowy vibrato and all of his students did, too.
I always thought their vibrato was somewhat harsh (or maybe I should say nervous) sounding.

Bill (age 78)

P.S. Wikipedia says that Elman was particularly known for his beautiful tone, which I remember from his recordings. I think itâs partly because his vibrato was just a slight bit slower than the more brisk sounding playing of Heifetz (not that I mean to criticize the great Heifetz whose technique is unmatched to this day in my opinion).
William on November 8, 2014 @10:11 am PST
Thank you so much for this reply!
chaim on November 5, 2014 @7:01 am PST
Hi exceptional good tutorial.
You mentioned a word I never came across in music : yost. I am sure I misspelled it. What does it mean?
William on November 5, 2014 @9:39 am PST
Hi! Yost was first introduced to me by Ms Delay. They are one string scales, arpeggios, etc. He was an american violinist that studied abroad and lived and taught for a while I believe in Pittsburgh.
Jon O'Brien * VSM MEMBER * on November 5, 2014 @6:10 am PST
Hi Professor Fitzpatrick, could you please do a video on right arm wrist flexibility? Thank you. Nice paintings in the video.
William on November 5, 2014 @9:38 am PST
Hi and will put it on the list! The paintings are my daughters!
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