Cello Fingerboard Map: First to Seventh Position (Updated 2020 Version)

Whether you’re finding your way around first position or you’re venturing into the tenor and treble clef registers, an understanding of the note layout is essential. The more demanding your repertoire, the more you need a detailed internal ‘sat-nav’ to find your way effortlessly through challenging passages. The less you have to calculate your route map, the more you can focus on musical shaping, phasing and interpretation.

The map below is a visual aid to indicate the location and content of each position from first (including half) to seventh. You’ll notice that some positions go by 2 names (e.g. upper first/ lower second), and some of the notes on the fingerboard include enharmonic equivalents (different letter name for the same pitch). Positions are named according to the note names they accommodate. For example, the notes in upper first position on the A string are B#, C#, D and D# – predominantly the same letter names as those in first position, while lower second position – C, Db, D, Eb share the letter names of upper second position. As a rule, positions with the upper label tend to favour sharps, while those with the lower label favour flats.

Cello Fingerboard Map 2020

 

Further posts on cello positions:
An Overview of the Neck Positions
An Introduction to Stretch Position
An Introduction to the Three Finger Positions

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© D C Cello Studio

Review: Larsen Magnacore G and C Strings

magnacoreNew strings! We string players are spoilt for choice these days with new brands popping up on a regular basis. As a rule I try not to get carried away with the need to try every string new to the market – no matter how tempting.  For the past five years or so I have settled with either Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Soloist, Larsen, or a combination of these. It so happened that the G from my most recent set of Pirazzis was not behaving very well – so much so I suspected I might have a seam crack. I took my cello (a Mittenwald instrument made C 1880, probably by Neuner and Hornsteiner) to my luthier for a check-up. The fingerboard needed shooting, but there were no cracks and the G string was still excessively volatile. We tried another Pirazzi and found it to be equally raspy; then tried an old Larsen and the buzz disappeared but the sound was rather dull compared with the brilliant, sparkling tone of the Pirazzi A, D and C strings.

For my session work I need a high performing set of strings with quick response and a big open sound right up to the highest register of each string. Normally the Pirazzi Soloist set delivers admirably on all fronts, but it seems the lower strings no longer suit my instrument. Whether it’s to do with slight changes they’ve made to the manufacturing process or a slight change in my instrument is anyone’s guess. I adore Larsen Soloist A and D, but find the G and C strings to be a little tame with a slower response than the Pirazzis. Enter the Magnacore G and C. Having read several user reviews, they certainly sounded like the strings to meet my requirements. Fingers firmly crossed as to whether they will agree with my cello.

Day 1

As expected and in line with every user review I’ve read, the strings are extremely metallic and volatile. I expect they’ll need a good 2 – 3 days of playing in to find their true voice. Listening past the ‘new string sound’, I can tell they are magnificently colourful, and should project very nicely indeed once the initial ‘zing’ has worn off.

Day 2

Still finding myself playing cautiously on the lower strings. After spending around 30 minutes playing exclusively on the G and C strings – scales and arpeggios with a variety of articulations, and exploiting the fullest possible range of each string – the metallic quality has diminished considerably and those wonderful colours I was looking forward to are really coming through. The strings still require frequent tuning, and the brashness hasn’t been tamed quite as much as I’d like.

Day 3

The tuning is still a little unstable (significantly flatter than the upper strings), but after a good half-hour warm-up I am doing my first recording session with them. I’m very happy with the results, especially the dynamic range on the new strings. I think they could still do with a few more hours’ playing in to realise their full potential. I’m also not convinced that the Pirazzi A and D strings make the best combination. Tomorrow I will be replacing the existing Pirazzis with new ones to see whether the overall balance is better.

Day 4

So it’s off with the 4 month old Pirazzi Soloist A and D, to be replaced with brand new ones. And what an incredible difference! My cello is now singing from top to bottom, and the strings compliment each other beautifully. After around 20 minutes playing in the Pirazzis I feel I have a robust, fully played in set with excellent projection, complex tonal qualities and a huge dynamic range. The Magnacore G and C are still a touch volatile, which I think has as much to do with my instrument as it does with the strings, but the G is much better balanced than the Pirazzi Soloist G was, and they lend themselves to just about any style and genre.

Conclusion

Overall, I love the Magnacores. As with all string manufacturers, Larsen had to decide whether to produce a string with no playing in time and a shorter playing life, or longer playing in time and a longer playing life. Thankfully they opted for the latter, and I certainly hope my strings last a good long while. Which brings me to my only gripe: the price. At a recommended retail price of £89.43 for the G string and £103.30 for the C string, they simply won’t be my regular lower string option – as much as I’d love them to be – unless the price comes by a good chunk. My rating: 4/5.

Here’s a recording I made with the Pirazzi/ Magnacore string combination on day 4:

 

 

An Introduction to Chords in Music

This post is a diversion from Bowing Technique 101, which will continue soon. I recently gave an introductory harmony lesson and thought I’d share it here. Although this does not relate specifically to cello playing, I have always found that an understanding of harmony and chords greatly enhances the study of any repertoire, especially when it comes to the interpretive stage of learning the music.

This lesson deals with the triads and seventh chords found in the key of C major. The chord labels (based on the baroque system of figured bass or Basso continuo) are relevant to the triads and seventh chords of all major keys, making it a wonderfully diverse system. As the building blocks of music harmony, chords are best studied in their simplest form in order to understand their use in music. So without further ado, I present to you An Introduction to Chords in Music!

Cover Sheet

C major triads and inversions 1C major triads and inversions 2The Dominant 7th in C Major

Seventh Chords and Inversions in C Major 1 Seventh Chords and Inversions in C Major 2

Minor keys and their scales Part 3

Melodic Minor Scales

I like to think of the melodic minor scale as the chameleon scale as it changes its colours. The ascending scale creates more tension by sharpening the sixth and seventh steps, and the descending scale relaxes that tension by flattening the seventh and sixth steps. The sequence of intervals for the ascending scale of A melodic minor is as follows:

Step 1 – 2 (a – b): whole tone

Step 2 – 3 (b – c): semitone

Step 3 – 4 (c – d): whole tone

Step 4 – 5 (d – e): whole tone

Step 5 – 6 (e – f#) whole tone

Step 6 – 7 (f#g#) whole tone

Step 7 – 8 (g# – a) semitone

The descending half of the melodic minor scale is identical to that of the natural minor scale:

Step 8 – 7 (a – g) whole tone

Step 7 – 6 (g – f) whole tone

Step 6 – 5 (f – e) semitone

Step 5 – 4 (e – d) whole tone

Step 4 – 3 (d – c) whole tone

Step 3 – 2 (c – b) semitone

Step 2 – 1 (b – a) whole tone

So the ascending scale shares its first five steps with the natural and harmonic minor scales, and its sixth to eighth steps with its major counterpart (note: the major key with the same keynote and NOT the relative major). As already mentioned, the descending melodic minor scale is identical to the descending natural minor scale. We now know that harmonic minor scales form the harmonic basis of minor keys, so it stands to reason (and the name suggests) that melodic minor scales form the melodic basis. The raised sixth step prevents the dissonant augmented second interval found in harmonic minor scales and the raised seventh provides a strong resolution from a leading tone to the tonic. Since descending passages don’t require the tension and definition provided by a leading tone, the descending melodic minor offers a sound truer to the overall minor structure.

The diagram below shows the structure of A melodic minor ascending on the keyboard:

Here’s a video diagram showing the lowest octave of A melodic minor ascending and descending on the cello.

A Bit of History

The development of melodic and harmonic minor scales as we know and use them in Western music happened over a long period. Their predecessors are modes, which date back to ancient civilisations - notably the Ancient Greeks. Mediaeval modes and scales share certain similarities, but follow different rules and form the basis of two different musical languages with distinctly different sounds.  It was during the Renaissance period, when polyphonic¹ music really came into its own that the modal system, which had served the simpler homophonic² and monophonic³ musical styles of the Mediaeval period perfectly well, began to prove inadequate, as did the notation system. The rise of polyphony meant that music was becoming considerably more harmonically complex. The need for stronger definition in harmonic resolution drove the development of major and minor keys, and in particular the need for different types of minor scales to cater for a strong leading tone (the raised seventh) and the avoidance of awkward dissonance in melodic vocal lines (the augmented second interval in the harmonic minor scale). Dissonance was a major consideration and was avoided wherever possible in the harmonic structure of renaissance music. For this reason we see elements of all three minor scales in minor keys.

By the early baroque era (from 1600 onwards), a harmonic language based on tonality (harmony based on a key center) rather than modality had emerged. Melodic and harmonic minor scales and major scales were in common use. The range of key signatures increased considerably, and the use of key signatures with sharps was introduced. Equal temperament tuning, a system whereby the octave is divided into twelve equal semitones gained wider acceptance by keyboard makers by the 1630s. Although it did not become the principal tuning system for another two centuries, it enabled the 24 keys found in the circle of fifths - the cornerstone of Western art music from 1600 - 1900.

¹Polyphonic: Musical texture in two or more (usually at least three) relatively independent parts [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]
²Homophonic: Music in which one voice or part is clearly melodic, the others accompanimental and chiefly chordal. The term 'homophony' has also been used to describe part-writing where all parts move in the same rhythm; a more precise term for this is homorhythm. [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]
³Monophonic: A term used to denote music consisting of only one melodic line, with no accompaniment or other voice parts (e.g. plainchant, unaccompanied solo song). [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]

The following table shows major keys, their relative minor keys and the associated key signatures.

Minor keys and their Scales Part 2

Harmonic minor scales

Now that we have studied the natural minor scale, we will look at and listen to the harmonic minor scale. The sequence of intervals in A harmonic minor is as follows:

Step 1 – 2 (a – b): whole tone

Step 2 – 3 (b – c): semitone

Step 3 – 4 (c – d): whole tone

Step 4 – 5 (d – e): whole tone

Step 5 – 6 (e – f) semitone

Step 6 – 7 (f – g#) augmented second¹

Step 7 – 8 (g# – a) semitone

The only difference between the structure of the harmonic minor scale and the natural minor scale is the seventh step, which is raised in the harmonic minor to create a leading tone². This means that there is an unusually large and dissonant interval between the sixth and seventh steps – an augmented second. For this reason the harmonic minor scale, true to its name is typically used as the harmonic foundation of minor keys. This means that it forms the foundation of the chords used to enrich melodic lines. The keyboard below shows the structure of a harmonic minor. The seventh step has been raised from the g natural found in the natural minor scale to g#. In spite of this the scale still shares its key signature with C major. The g# is shown as an accidental within the music. The same rule applies to all harmonic minor scales: the seventh step is raised and shown as an accidental within the music score, but never in the key signature.

¹Augmented second: an interval consisting of three semitones. An augmented second is the same size interval as a minor third but is spelt differently. If we were to spell the augmented second in a harmonic minor as a minor third we would spell it either as E# – G# or F – Ab.

²Leading note: the seventh step of a scale always a major seventh above or a semitone below the tonic. When the seventh step of a scale is a minor seventh from the tonic it is called a subtonic rather than a leading tone.

Here’s a video diagram showing the first ascending octave of A harmonic minor on the cello. The augmented second requires an unusual extension from the second to the fourth fingers.