Cello students who have studied the entire range of the cello will almost certainly have discovered a recurring pattern of similarity between certain positions one octave and string apart. Recognising this pattern can be very useful when it comes to getting secure in the higher positions, the fear of which often causes poor intonation and inferior tone production. The pairing I’ll be discussing in this and the following four posts is as follows:
1. First and fourth positions:
1.1 First position on the D string and fourth position on the A string
1.2 First position on the G string and fourth position on the D string
1.3 First position on the C string and fourth position on the G string
1.4 Half position on the D string and upper third/ lower fourth position on the A string
1.5 Half position on the G string and upper third/ lower fourth position on the D string
1.6 Half position on the G string and upper third/ lower fourth position on the D string
2. Second and fifth positions:
2.1 Second position on the D string and fifth position on the A string
2.2 Second position on the G string and fifth position on the D string
2.3 Second position on the C string and fifth position on the G string
3. Third and sixth positions:
3.1 Third position on the D string and sixth position on the A string
3.2 Third position on the G string and sixth position on the D string
3.3 Third position on the C string and sixth position on the G string
4. Fourth and seventh positions:
4.1 Fourth position on the D string and seventh position on the A string
4.2 Fourth position on the G string and seventh position on the D string
4.3 Fourth position on the C string and seventh position on the G string
The first pairing (first and fourth positions) shares identical fingering patterns since both are neck positions. The same applies to lower second and lower fifth positions. From extended fifth position onwards, the three finger system comes into use, so the notes of the paired positions remain the same but the fingering does not. The changes are as follows:
In the higher positions, the second finger plays notes that would be covered by the second and third fingers in the lower positions.
In the higher positions, the third finger plays notes that would be covered by the fourth finger in the lower positions.
This discrepancy applies to closed and stretch (or extended) positions.
The following four posts will show these pairings through simple exercises and melody lines.
The following worksheets are designed to help your younger beginners associate notes belonging to the key of C major on the stave with notes on the fingerboard in first position. They combine music theory (learning to write neatly and accurately on the stave) with basic cello theory (learning the notes and fingering of first position). Each document is arranged in the order of an ascending C Major scale (2 octaves) – one page per note. By mixing up the pages you can make the worksheet more challenging. Kept in their current order they will be much easier to do, but a good way to introduce the C major scale.
These worksheets are free to download and print out, but please observe the copyright: no selling, no incorporating into other works or documents. Feedback welcome – especially from those who try them out!
My regular readers may recall my previous post on warming up. Whether you’ve read it or not, I’ll not be repeating myself, except to remind you of the importance of warming up before you launch into your practice session. It makes no difference what level of playing you’ve achieved – warming up is about being kind to your body and ensuring healthy playing habits. The following exercises were devised for some of my students whose practising habits needed improvement. The students in question are at very different stages in their technical development, but the exercises have made a noticeable difference to all of them. For anyone who is either unconvinced of the importance of warming up, or uncertain of how to, these exercises are for you. What you will come to realise is that not only do they make a difference to the comfort and success of each practice session; they make a difference to your overall progress. No matter where you are in your technical and musical journey, you will always benefit from revisiting basic technical cornerstones: bow control, string crossing, left hand stability, and agility. If you’re new to doing more than a cursory scale or two to warm up, try these and keep a diary to monitor the difference they make. Not over a few days or a week, but over several months or a year.
At least two of the following warm-ups (one for left hand, one for bow) should be done at the start of every practice session. Rotate them to ensure that all are covered.
1. Open String Bowing
Set the metronome to 100. On each string play the following:
i. 4 bows with 8 ticks per bow
ii. 4 bows with 12 ticks per bow
iii. 4 bows with 9 ticks per bow
iv. 4 bows with 6 ticks per bow
Points to remember:
Bow hold: always check before you start. Relaxed, soft hand; no pressing with the thumb; use the WHOLE arm from shoulder blade to fingertip.
On the string: 90˚ angle between the string and the bow AT ALL TIMES; always halfway between the bridge and the fingerboard.
Don’t change the speed or weight while bowing – keep the sound as EVEN as possible.
Do you like the sound? If not, why not? Always aim to make the very best sound you can.
2. Left Hand Pizzicato
Set the metronome to 120. On each string, pluck with the left hand fingers one finger at a time, one metronome tick per pluck in the following orders:
i. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th
ii. 4th 3rd, 2nd, 1st
iii. 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th
iv. 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 1st
Points to remember:
Keep the left hand in exactly the same position you would if you were playing in first position – fingers curved and spaced away from each other; thumb RELAXED and only touching the neck.
Keep the thumb touching the neck when the finger pulls away from the string – the left hand must remain stable and in the same place throughout the exercise.
Keep the sound of each pizzicato even and clean; avoid bumping next-door strings.
Keep the tempo very stable. If 120 is too fast, try at a slower speed and gradually work your way up to 120.
3. String Crossing (separate bows)
Points to remember:
All points from “Open String Bowing”
Use the whole bow for minims.
Use half the bow for crotchets. Practise the crotchet exercise in the LOWE HALF of the bow and the UPPER HALF of the bow.
Use around a quarter of the bow for the quavers and play towards the MIDDLE of the bow.
Adjust the bow when crossing strings so that you always maintain a 90˚ angle.
Turn your whole upper body around from the hips to get to the A string. DON’T lift the right shoulder.
4. Finger Press-ups
i. Sit at a table or desk with a good cello posture
ii. Place your left hand flat on the table directly in front of you with your fingers a small distance apart from each other (just like they would be in first position on the cello), keeping your arm heavy and completely relaxed
iii. Very slowly begin curving your fingers so the fleshy tips are on the table
iv. Keeping your shoulder relaxed and down and your fingers curved with the tips on the table, slowly lift your hand and arm so that you can feel the weight of your arm being transferred into the fleshy tips of your first, second, third and fourth fingers. Your thumb should be relaxed and gently touching the table.
v. Transfer the weight of your arm from one finger to the next beginning with the first finger and finishing with the fourth finger.
vi. Relax and flatten the hand again
vii. Repeat the exercise several times; imagining the cello string being trapped underneath the fingers each time the arm is raised.
Points to remember:
Maintain a true cello posture throughout the exercise: sit tall, keep your head on top of your body, and keep shoulders completely relaxed.
Left hand fingers must remain curved and FIRM but NOT STIFF – imagine holding a raw egg in your hand.
Keep your feet flat on the floor underneath your knees. Do not pull your heels off the floor, or your feet underneath the chair.
5. String Crossing (with slurs)
Points to remember:
All points from “Open String Bowing” and “String Crossing (separate bows)”
Slurs must be LEGATO and CLEAN (i.e. very smooth string crossing with no scratches or “holes” in the sound)
6. Left Hand Agility
Points to remember:
Curved fingers falling down from the top knuckle
Thumb: relaxed, touching the neck, NO PRESSING
Straight line from hand to elbow – no bend in the wrist
Stable unmoving hand – only the fingers should move
Keep fingers OVER THE STRING at all times – no curling under the hand
I’m very excited to announce that a new cello album and method which I was approached to write and arrange last year is now in print and will be released on 31 March 2012.
The book is called Restart Cello, and is part of an instrumental series created by Wise Publications (part of the Music Sales Group) aimed at adults returning to their chosen instrument after a break of several years. As a teacher who has always welcomed and enjoyed teaching adult learners, I am passionate about developing teaching methods that are better suited to older novice and intermediate players, since most methods at this level are traditionally aimed at children.
As it is, there is somewhat of a shortage of cello methods better suited to older players. Those who took lessons during their childhood are always faced with an additional challenge: they know what they were previously capable of and often feel frustrated with no longer being able to play to the same standard. The Restart method takes into account that those using it are not complete beginners. They will almost certainly progress more rapidly than most beginners, and need to feel that they are making music from as early on as possible. Essentially, the book is a compilation of twelve specially selected and arranged pieces ordered from easiest to most challenging. Each piece is preceded by notes and exercises that carefully take into account the aspects of technique that need to be revisited when returning to the cello after a long break. To further enhance the music-making experience, there is an accompanying CD with beautiful renditions of each piece and accompaniments for the student to play along with. The chosen pieces cover a variety of styles and genres, which I hope players will find fun and enriching!
If you purchased a student cello outfit you will already have a bag or even a hard case for your cello. Just like bows, the quality of bags and cases varies a great deal from one outfit to the next, and you may need to upgrade what you have. This is especially important if your cello is doing a lot of travelling with you to and from school or your workplace. A very basic cover with limited or no padding will do little to protect your instrument when it’s in the car, on the bus or train, or being carried around.
The more travelling you do, the greater your need to fully protect your cello with a hard case or very well padded soft case. There is a lot to choose from ranging in price from around £50 to thousands of pounds for professional level flight cases and covers. You’ll be pleased to know that £80 will buy you a very robust and well-made padded bag, which offers a good level of protection for everyday transportation of your instrument.
When choosing a suitable bag or case for your instrument it is also worth considering the weight. If you’re likely to do a lot of walking with your cello, you don’t want a case that will weigh you down and cause back or shoulder ache. 6kg may not sound like much, but add to that the 2.5 – 3 kg of your cello along with your music bag and you’ve got quite a load to carry – especially if your frame is relatively small. Here’s the catch though: entry level cello cases tend to be a lot heavier since they are made out of cheaper materials – usually fibre glass or moulded plastic. Lightweight cello cases are made out of high tech materials such as carbon fibre or carbon composite. These materials are much lighter and extremely tough and durable, but they come at a high price. Unless you have a valuable instrument and are likely to fly anywhere with it, you are unlikely to be looking at this calibre of cello case. You might think that buying a heavy case with wheels is a perfectly good solution, but your cello will not thank you for the bumps and jolts it will get on the majority of road and pavement surfaces, and you certainly won’t be using the wheels up and down stairs.
This is where semi-rigid cases (made out of high density foam or styrofoam) and thickly padded gig bags really come into their own. Styrofoam cases tend to be rather bulky and are often poorly made, but they are lightweight and offer suitable protection for everyday use. When considering padded bags, 11mm of padding should be the absolute minimum.
Here is a list of reliable bags and cases for a tighter budget:
Make: Tom and Will Description: 20mm padded cello bag Price: £60 – £70
Make: Fusion Description: 15mm high density foam padded cello bag Price: £75 – £90
Make: Hidersine Deluxe Description: Deluxe 22mm padded heavy duty cello bag Price: £75 – £90
Make: Turtle by Gewa Description: 25mm padded cello bag with wheels Price: £100 – £125
Make: Excalibur Description: High density foam semi-rigid cello case Price: £110 – £130
If you’re planning to fly anywhere with your cello you’ll need to invest in a good quality case. The bad news here is that even the very best cases sometimes fail to fully protect instruments on airlines. There is always an element of risk when you fly with your cello, and you should always check your options with the airline or travel agent before you fly anywhere. The same applies to any other form of long distance travel that does not allow you to take your instrument on board with you.
The following is a list of more robust cello cases worth considering if you’re planning to do any long distance travel with your cello or you’ve invested in a good quality cello:
Make: Archer by Gear4Music Description: Durable fibreglass case weighing 7.6kg Price: £140 – £150