Half Position on the violin

Half position on the violin

Elementary Scales and ArpeggiosLast week I discovered the half position while practicing scales. As stated in my post about my violin goals for this month, I am practicing all scales with up to 4 flats and 4 sharps. I had played all those major scales before, but not all their corresponding minor scales. I am now practicing those scales with the help of the Scales Book by Fabrizzio Ferrari. And here is what I discovered on page 7:

Half Position - Violin Scale

The notes marked in the blue square have different fingerings than I would naturally do. I would play D with 1, then move the first finger to also play the E. So I would play it as 1 – 1 – 2 – 3. But here it says 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. Normally we wouldn’t play E with second finger and definitely we wouldn’t play F sharp with third finger. Also the low 4 to play G sharp feels weird. But of course it makes sense, because then we don’t have to move the first finger to play two consecutive notes. Changing the fingerings like this is what sometimes they call half position.

It’s the lowest position on the violin and could be defined as the position where we play a low first position note like D sharp on the D string, and the fourth finger is in a downward extension from its usual position like G sharp on the D string. Easier said: low 1, low 4, and the 2 and 3 in any position as needed. Of course the thumb stays in the same position as in first position.┬áThe thumb doesn’t move but the other fingers all move backwards. That’s why it’s not an actual position and why we don’t hear/learn much about it.

But this gets especially interesting when you play the same scale downwards. Going up still makes sense, just put one finger after the other. But when you go down, it feels so natural to play the G sharp with the third finger. It’s really weird to use the fourth finger there. Just try it for yourself and see. :-)

Half Position - Violin Scale descending

By the way this “position” is also used to play chromatic scales. It’s not used very often, but in some passages it’s definitely very useful. I read that the┬áMendelssohn E-minor concerto also uses this position in the 26th measure in a 6 note passage. Also, on the viola it’s used much more often to avoid extreme extensions, since you would need very large fingers to play them on the viola. But also on the violin, for people with short fingers, the half position can be very useful. So, that’s what I learned about it so far. Be sure to comment if you know anything else about this “position”.

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14 thoughts on “Half position on the violin

  1. Hi Mariko.
    Half position is a very useful tool – there is numerous repertoire using it, but not many people realize that they are actually playing in half position then. An easy example of its use is Suzuki Version of Beethoven Minuet from book 2. I have come across half position also in one of my duo pieces – Baklanova Variations (violin 2, I don’t know the first violin part).
    It’s use is similar to other positions use – makes playing certain passages easier. I don’t know many other things about this position. Mainly some positions like 2nd position can be played with 1st finger in higher or lower position (like 2nd finger in 1st position).

    1. Hi Emma, that’s very interesting. I didn’t know half position was used so often. And you’re right about that piece in Suzuki Book 2. I played it already and indeed I see now that it uses this position!

  2. Oh for cryin out loud! As if I don’t have enough to worry about, now there’s a half position. I’m going to keep working on Kamarouski till I nail it. Then I think I’ll see if can the 1 1/2 step. There must be one. I’m glad you posted the circle of fifths. I’ve worked itch for a long time in understanding chords and the structure of music.

    1. :-) ;-) Yes indeed there is a half position. Just yesterday I was using it again when playing this C# minor scale. It’s a bit weird at first but after playing it a couple of times it’s not that hard anymore. Anyway I’m glad you like the post about the circle of fifths. Good luck with your chords!!

  3. I’m having such a good time with that Kamarouski song. Can’t spell it but I can play it. It helps me go to sleep at night. It’s so stuck in my head. By the way, have I told you how much I love your site? It’s really great. I’m finally back on track again. Played in front of the mirror today to make sure my bowing is on track. Played all my songs and am happy again with my progress. Not the greatest yet by I hope now that I can and improve. I really thought I’d lost it. Oh well.

  4. This morning I washed my bow and tried the half step. I find I’ve been doing it and didn’t know it. Because of arthritis in my middle finger and ring finger I try to use my 4 more often to save the stress and pain. As for washing the bow, I noticed some black spots on it and couldn’t stand it. It’s just one of those ‘keep it clean, and it will sound better’ things. I’ve seen violins with a build up of rosin so thick, it will never come off. Yuk

    1. I’m glad you were able to play all your songs and that you keep progressing! Progressing goes slow, just stick to it! ;-)

      I wonder how you washed your bow. Do you mean you washed the hair of the bow or just the stick? I’ve never washed it. But after each practice session, I do wipe the stick clean from any rosin.

  5. I wash the hair very gently with a mild shampoo and rinse it really well, then dry it with a soft cloth and set it out to dry completely before using it. It turns out great every time. I’ve done this at least three times.

  6. Today I watched Emma on YouTube and couldn’t be more proud. Wow she is really progressing fast, just like you, Mariko. One of these days…… I just found out my husband bought me another violin for Mother’s Day. I really need the camera but I won’t turn down a violin ever! I’ll let you know when I get it. Mickey

    1. I’ve seen the newest video of Emma too!! And indeed she did great!! :-) I’m happy for you that you’ll be having a new violin! Enjoy it! Oh yes, I would be glad to hear about it when you have it.

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