bow hand

A cello open-string warmup exercise (free pdf)

Here is a simple bowing exercise inspired by the teaching of George Neikrug. The point is to be aware of how the curve of the bow can be utilized to pull the string in either direction, and how it should take advantage of the cylindrical cross-section of the string to maximize the tonal output for the leverage which the bow-arm, shoulders, back, torso, and hips put into that string, taking into account the angle required by the string's position on the bridge. The angle of the bow is exaggerated in the graphics here, but the idea is to almost but not actually touch the adjacent string at either end of the bow stroke when using the whole bow to roll over on either side of the string (but you can start by playing a double stop with the adjacent string to get used to moving from one side of the string to the other, then work on avoiding it). 

One other thing not on this sheet: I generally prefer to play on the edge of the hair with the stick turned towards me, even at the tip. If you want consistency in your foundation tone, the string expects the same degree of focus at any point in the bow, so rather than play flat hair at the tip which can lead to a harder edged sound, I engage the core of my back muscles and rotate around my spine to help maintain strength and leverage (remember the baseball slugger on this blog?), and keep the same narrow amount of string under the bow hair to maximize how much of the string is vibrating. Of course, with variety of musical expression there should be variety of tone color, so in actual music making one needs to be flexible in bow usage, but this is a good way to start a practice session.

Open string bowing exercise, free pdf download

Hold the bow

This blog will eventually get into much detail about music making, cello playing, and cello technique. For now, as a teaser, here's a look at the bow grips of some of the greatest cellists (and maybe the greatest violinist). If I seem biased towards bow grips with the pinkie on top of the stick: well, yes. But there are always exceptions, and one should be flexible and adaptable.

Jascha Heifetz, whose favorite cellist was...    

Jascha Heifetz, whose favorite cellist was...

 

...Emanuel Feuermann. Their recording of the Brahms Double Concerto is one of the all time great recordings, stupendous playing.

...Emanuel Feuermann. Their recording of the Brahms Double Concerto is one of the all time great recordings, stupendous playing.

Another look at Emanuel Feuermann.  Check out his video on YouTube .

Another look at Emanuel Feuermann. Check out his video on YouTube.

A former pupil of Feuermann, George Neikrug became a devoted student and proponent of D.C. Dounis, a legendary teacher who tackled many physical issues of playing.

A former pupil of Feuermann, George Neikrug became a devoted student and proponent of D.C. Dounis, a legendary teacher who tackled many physical issues of playing.

Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals

Mstislav Rostropovich

Mstislav Rostropovich

Jacqueline Du Pre

Jacqueline Du Pre

Anner Bylsma

Anner Bylsma


Some baseball analogies

Josh at bat

Josh at bat

We all know Alex Rodriguez has had a rough year, but you can still learn from studying him in his prime, even about cello playing. This article made the front page of the New York Times in the spring of 2007. I keep this graphic from it taped to the wall outside my studio. Regardless of how you might feel about baseball, it is worth looking at some of the physical parallels between the motion and efficient body movement required to swing a baseball bat and that which is required to pull a cello bow across a string in either direction, or move the left hand up and down the fingerboard. The principle of rotating around a stationary spine was revelatory for me as a cellist, and has helped me be much more solidly planted while dealing with both bow-arm movement and left hand / arm movement. Keeping my head stationary was one of the first suggestions I ever heard from Harvey Shapiro (himself a baseball fan, years later we watched on his TV as the New York Mets won the 1986 World Series final game).

A web page devoted to the subject of rotational hitting can be found here.