Shifting On String Instruments: Finger Choreography

Shifts on any one string can be divided into three different categories depending on the finger choreography. Each one of these shift types is explained in greater detail on its own page (click on the highlighted link).


The most basic, most simple, and most important shifts are Same-Finger Shifts. In these shifts, the “destination” finger is the same as the “start” finger and the hand moves exactly the same distance as the musical interval of the shift. This makes the same-finger shift the easiest shift both to do and to understand. These shifts are the foundation on which all other shifts are built. If our Same-Finger shifting is insecure, it is impossible that our other shift types be secure. All cellists should dedicate special time to this category of shift, especially to shifts on the first finger, and the beginner cellist should definitely start to learn shifting with this type of shift.


The next category, in order of complication, is that of  Assisted Shifts. Here, the placement of the destination finger actually shortens the shift distance (that’s why they are called “assisted shifts”). For example, in a shift upwards this occurs when the destination finger is a higher finger than the start finger. For a shift downwards, it occurs when the destination finger is a lower finger than the start finger.


The most complicated shifts are Scale/Arpeggio-Type Shifts. In these shifts, the hand actually has to shift a greater distance than the musical interval of the shift because the relation between the destination finger and the start finger is “in the opposite direction to the shift” !!??


Don’t panic – these definitions might sound complicated but can certainly be more easily understood through the following examples of the three types of shift:

The beginner cellist would be well advised to approach the learning of shifting in the order shown above: first Same-Finger shifts, then Assisted, and then finally Scale/Arpeggio-Type shifts.