Shifting Doublestops

Doublestopped exercises in any one position help enormously with our strength, coordination and intonation but do not involve shifting. Shifting on (or to) doublestops is much more difficult than shifting to single notes so if we can do a shift in a doublestop, then doing that same shift on single notes will feel easy. With doublestopped shifting, we move into a very complex world in which all the difficulties of doublestops-in-one-position are now magnified and multiplied by the addition of the shifts. This is rocket science for cellists and it will help to move into it gradually, by progressively adding new complexities for both the ears and the fingers. The main lefthand factors that determine the difficulty level of a doublestopped shifting passage are:

  • shift sizes and speeds (normally faster and/or larger = more difficult)
  • finger coordination challenges
  • complexity of the aural intervals
  • hand frame changes during shift

Let’s explain this last point, which is especially applicable to shifts in which there is no change of fingers during the shift:


Look at the following examples. They are all in the midrange of the fingerboard and make use of the thumb, but all of them can be equally well transposed down into the Neck Region without the thumb. The first five lines show two-bar cells in which the musical distance (interval) between the fingers does not change during the shifts. We will call these “Whole-Hand-Regular” shifts. Beneath these, in the last three lines, we have examples in which the hand frame (musical distance between the playing fingers) DOES change during the shift. We will call these “Whole-Hand-Irregular” shifts:

WH regular and irregular

While octaves have no frame change as we shift them around the fingerboard, thirds, sixths and tenths change between minor and major in any tonal sequence (but not in chromatic sequences), meaning that the distances moved between the two notes of the doublestop are not always identical. As a general rule, it is more difficult to control the tuning of those shifts in which the hand frame changes during the shift. In other words, when the two fingers of the doublestop move by different intervals during the shift, this makes it harder for our ear, brain and hand to control the shift.

So let’s now work out how we can build up a gently progressive series of exercises to work on our doublestopped shifting. Let’s start with the smallest intervals, no finger changes, and no frame changes during the shifts.


Doublestopped scales move stepwise and have no coordination problems because they are normally played with the samefinger shifts. The most pleasant intervals to use in doublestopped scales are thirds, sixths, octaves and perhaps even fourths. Chromatic scales move by the smallest interval (semitones) and have no changes of handframe so let’s start our doublestopped shifting adventure with these.

dvorak chromatic scale

From a physical (hand, ergonomy) point of view, chromatic scales in thirds, sixths and octaves are the simplest introduction to doublestopped shifting. However, from an aural point of view they are not so simple, which is why we incorporate many open strings in the following exercises in order to check our intonation as we move up and down.

We will start with the closest finger spacing which is one semitone between neighbouring fingers. This gives us either an augmented fourth (if we have our higher finger on the lower string) or a minor sixth (if we have our higher finger on the top string). We will prefer the minor sixth for our first chromatic scale exercise as this is a much more pleasant interval than the augmented fourth. The next wider finger-spacing is the whole tone, which gives us either a perfect fourth or a major sixth, depending on which string we put the higher (or lower) finger. We will use the major sixth because, once again, it is more pleasant than the fourth. We follow the same principles for the minor and major third finger-spacings,  finishing with the perfect fourth finger-spacing of doublestopped octaves. This gives us five different chromatic scales, each with a slightly wider finger spacing:

chromatic scales finger spacings

Doublestopped Samefinger Chromatic Scales: EXERCISES


Standard major and minor scales in thirds, sixths, octaves and fourths are an OK next step in our progression of difficulty, but they become even more useful when we add an additional note/finger in each hand position. This reinforces both our hand strength and our sense of fingerboard geography. The following examples can be played on different pairs of strings and in different keys. They can also be played in thumbposition: just replace the first finger with the thumb and change the other fingers correspondingly.

scales 3rds 4ths 6ths

Doublestopped Major and Minor Scales


The above examples use stepwise shifts. Here below are a selection of “rolling” arpeggio exercises in doublestops which take us all over the fingerboard in easy-to-hear patterns in which every note is part of a doublestop and every shift is slurred for easy shift control (using the glissandi). These really make the cello ring and are excellent warmup exercises.

Rolling Doublestopped Arpeggios: No Thumb and No Extns: Hand Moves A Third

Rolling Doublestopped Arpeggios: No Thumb and No Extns: Hand Moves A Fourth

Rolling Doublestopped Arpeggios: With Shifts On Thumb

Rolling Doublestopped Arpeggios: With Shifts To and From Thumb