cello technique

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. 

Introduction

In a moment of cheekiness (or perhaps geekiness, or cheeky geekiness or geeky cheekiness), I once told a student that cello technique is the study of geometry, physics, and ergonomics put in the service of musical expression. It is endlessly fascinating trying to figure out the best way to use a stick with horsehair (or your plucking fingers) to get four strings and a big ungainly wooden box to make exactly the sound you want, to create the character you want, at exactly where you are in the musical line or phrase. With this blog I hope to gradually introduce various thoughts and ideas regarding cello technique, covering a range of examples and issues that we face in multiple genres of music, whether in solo works, chamber music, or orchestra playing. I suppose this is a bit like writing a book or treatise in publicly viewable fragments, rather than waiting until everything is compiled and edited before publishing it all in one fell swoop, but I'd rather get any piece of useful information up as soon as it's presentable.

I also will write about various works of cello repertory that interest me and their challenges, whether technical or interpretive. There will be postings about the nitty gritty of balance, voicing, and unity of conception in an ensemble, and what it takes to learn a score and get to its expression and character. I expect to occasionally be guilty of being opinionated, but I'll leave the comment box on so you can feel free to engage and/or challenge anything here I write.

It may seem weird to be starting a blog on September 11, but I also gave my first cello lesson at Brandeis University on September 11, 2002. Life goes on and so does music. So here we go...