Half position on the violin
Last 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:
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. The 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.
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 Mendelssohn 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”.