Single String Shifting Exercise

Single string shifting exercises are great for teaching us the geography of the fingerboard. Not to mention the help they provide in solidifying pitch accuracy and bow control.

As a result, variations of the exercise given below have likely been in existence since the first human put first put bow to string. Edouard Nanny has a version at the end of his Méthode Complète pour la Contrebasse, Book 1 and, of course, Gary Karr made his version (memorably entitled “Vomit” exercises) famous. Most versions are presented in Major tonality, but I encourage the chromatic one seen below.

Some suggestions:

  1. Use a metronome. I suggest 60 bpm or slower
  2. Use a tone generator or some other sort of pedal note to keep the pitch stable
  3. Stay light in the left hand during the shift
  4. During the shift, move the bow at the speed appropriate for the lowest note.
  5. Don’t be in a hurry, let the shift be slow. Feel every millimeter between the pitches in your left hand.

Single String Shifting Exercise

The exercise above is presented as a single finger exercise, i.e. you use first finger for everything. You should also:

  1. Play the exercises with second finger only, third finger only and fourth finger only
  2. Play the exercise using finger combinations. For example, first finger on the low note and second finger on the higher notes, or fourth finger on the low note and third finger on the higher notes. Do this with every possible finger combination


Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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