Half Position

“Half position” is a very strange name, and we do tend to treat this position as though it was a bit of a strange place, usually spending as little time as possible in it. We often just don’t feel comfortable down there. We are so close to “home” (First Position) yet it feels so different. Both fingering (reading) the notes and playing them in tune can be problematic, so we prefer just to get back up into First Position at every opportunity.


It is as though it were a dangerous no-mans land, the dark underbelly of our sparklingly clean home base First Position. This is a shame because by using and staying in “half position” we can often avoid certain difficulties, most notably the prolonged use of the extended-back First Position. This is of course mainly useful for cellist with XXS hands. In certain passages where the large-handed cellist will just stay in the extended-back First Position, the small handed cellist may prefer to do frequent small shifts between the Half and First Positions to avoid the extensions.


By using the Half Position instead of the extended-back First Position, we can avoid 4 extensions (red circles) but, to compensate for this (nothing comes for free) we will need to do 3 semitone shifts between the two positions instead (red rectangles). Here we are using agility to compensate for lack of size (see HAND SIZE AND EXTENSIONS).

“Half Position” really should be called “First Position” because it is in fact exactly that. There is no possible lower position, unless we consider “Zero Position” in which the first finger is placed on the nut at the start of the fingerboard to make trills on the open string easier (see TRILLS). The name “First Position” is not in fact a geographical description but is rather a pedagogical term. It is called FIRST Position because when we start to learn the cello this is almost always the position that we first learn with our left hand.

Half Position is a little like Thumb Position in the sense that we just have to use it more often in order to get fully comfortable there. Click on the following links for material to work specifically on playing in (and going into) the Half Position: