Finger Substitutions

When we play the same note, usually on the same string, consecutively, but with different fingers, it is called a finger substitution.

For example:

Finger Substitutions - Ex. 1

This technique is most often employed is when we want to avoid shifting within a slur. While we should be able to shift silently within a slur, it is sometimes musically more appealing, or simply cleaner, to use a finger substitution instead.

Let’s take the example below:

Finger Substitutions - Ex. 2

There are a number of ways to finger this, of course. Let’s discuss a few, including the use of finger substitutions.

For this example assume we are playing the entire excerpt on the G string.

1. We could, obviously, use a traditional fingering and just make sure our shifts are pristine and silent:

Finger Substitutions - Ex. 3

While intonation may not be an issue with the above fingering, cleanliness within the slur might.

2. We could make use of pivoting, and/or four finger technique where we would also need to be careful about the cleanliness of our pivots and shifts:

Fingering below is just one possibility using pivots.

Finger Substitutions - Ex. 4

This has it’s own set of challenges to accuracy and cleanliness, evident for most people if you attempt it.

3. Or we could use finger substitutions:

Finger Substitutions - Ex. 5

This particular fingering provides for a nearly guaranteed cleanliness within the slurs. However, we are, of course, presenting a challenge with intonation of consecutive notes. (The first two “B’s” for example.)

Finger substitutions are not cleanliness magic! However, if you are looking to clean up a passage full of shifts and slurs, or if you have even a single unfortunate shift within a slur, consider employing a finger substitution to help clean things up. It may do a passage good.

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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