Here is a large variety of practice material (exercises and drills, but also repertoire excerpts) for perfecting the skills required for comfortable shifting up into (and down out of) Thumbposition. We will separate this material into two sections:
- shifts to (and from) the thumb
- shifts to any other finger (not the thumb)
These skills can be practiced using easier “single-note” (non doublestopped) exercises, exercises making some use of doublestops for intonation checking, and finally (and most usefully), with the somewhat more difficult “entirely double-stopped” exercises. Because shifts to and from the thumb tend to be a weak point in our technique, we will start with those.
SHIFTING UP TO (AND DOWN FROM) THE THUMB FROM/TO THE NECK AND INTERMEDIATE REGIONS
These are some of the most difficult shifts as they require four different components. Here below are the four different movements necessary for an upwards shift to the thumb, the order of which can sometimes change:
- the release of the thumb from its contact behind the cello neck
- the placement the thumb on top of the fingerboard
- the hand/arm displacement required for the shift
- the change of the stopping finger from the pre-shift playing finger to the thumb
When shifting down from the thumb, the corresponding movements will be reversed, giving us the following order:
- the hand/arm displacement required for the shift
- the change of the stopping finger from the the thumb to the new finger
- the removal of the thumb from the top of the fingerboard
- the placement of the thumb behind the cello neck
In spite of their difficulty, shifts up to the thumb, just like shifts on the thumb (for example in octaves and thirds), can be a real lifesaver as the following examples show:
At first glance, we might think that shifting up to the thumb, although occasionally very useful, is a rarely-used fingering, and that perhaps it might be one of the last skills we would need to learn. But this is in fact not true. The following two “easy” forms of the shift up to the thumb are used very frequently, and can be considered not only as “light” versions of shifting up to the thumb but also as very useful preliminary skills with which we can gradually build up this skill.
1: THE SHIFT UP TO THE MID-STRING HARMONIC
This is an extremely common fingering, in which the thumb on the harmonic is used as a “stepping-stone” to get between the Neck and Thumb regions:
These shifts are easier than “normal” shifts to the thumb because of the fact that harmonics have a wide margin of positional error (tolerance): they will always sound in tune even if the thumb’s position is not perfectly on the desired note. In fact, Wolfgang Böttcher maintains that these so-called “shifts” to the thumb on the mid-string harmonic are not actually “shifts”, but are rather rapid “placements” (see Shift or Placement?). In other words, he maintains that we don’t actually slide up the string on the thumb in these shifts (as we do in any other normal shift), but rather make a quick jump (leap) in the air. The truth of this idea is confirmed by the fact that we don’t use the same fingerings in other keys in which we can’t use the harmonic as the thumb’s destination. In the following examples we can see that if the Haydn D major Concerto is transposed just one semitone up or down, we would be very unlikely to use that same fingering (with the “shift” up to the thumb), because now we can no longer use the harmonic as our “safe” landing point:
2: THE SILENT SHIFT UP TO THUMB WITH TIME FOR A LEFT-HAND PIZZ CHECK
In these very commonly-used shifts to the thumb, we will pluck discreetly the thumb’s note with a higher lefthand finger (usually the third but it can be any finger) in order to check our hand’s position (intonation) before sounding our “real” destination note. Sometimes our destination note will be the thumb, but at other times it might be a higher finger, in which case our thumb is used as an “Intermediate Note“. These shifts can be considered as the first (easiest) step in the “shifting-to-the-thumb hierarchy of difficulty” because the fact that we have time to pluck (and therefore also correct) the thumb’s intonation means – almost by definition – that the shift also has plenty of time.
PRACTICE MATERIAL FOR SHIFTS UP INTO (AND DOWN OUT OF) THUMB POSITION INVOLVING THE THUMB
Here, in approximate order of technical difficulty, are some compilations of practice material to develop the highly sophisticated (and extremely useful) skills of shifting from the neck and intermediate fingerboard regions up onto the thumb and then also the opposite: shifting back down from the thumb. We will use the above two “light” versions of thumb shifting as our introductory/preparatory stages to the “real stuff”. The “real stuff” is where our shift to/from the thumb is both stopped (unlike the shift to/from the harmonic) and audibly bowed (unlike for the silent shift).
THE PREPARATORY STUFF
Silent Shifting Up To Thumb With A LH-Pluck: REPERTOIRE EXCERPTS
THE REAL STUFF
Stepwise Shifts Up To (and Down From) the Thumb: Single-Notes (Not Doublestopped): EXERCISES
Stepwise Shifts Up To (and Down From) the Thumb: Doublestopped: REPERTOIRE EXCERPTS
From some of the above exercises we can make extended drills by moving them through all the keys, raising them a semitone higher on each repetition, and then coming back downwards, also moving a semitone each time. This procedure is shown in the following examples.
SHIFTS UP TO (AND DOWN FROM) OTHER FINGERS (NOT THE THUMB) IN THUMB POSITION
While these shifts do require the placing of the thumb up on the fingerboard, this thumb placement is made easier by the fact that we are not actually shifting to the thumb but rather are shifting to another finger, from which we can then find the thumb. This makes these shifts “easier” than shifts in which the thumb is directly our target finger (note).