In the Practice Room

Vowels and Sound Production on the Cello — by Gregory Beaver

Originally published on   For many of my student years as a cellist, I struggled to achieve a fully resonant sound on the cello. The ever-elusive goal would seem within grasp, and then I would start trying and tension would squelch the sound. Or I would finally achieve relaxation, and look down to see my bow gently dusting the edge of the fingerboard with rosin. Rarely was I able to fully engage the core of the string while releasing energy through my body. As a teacher, I found producing a great sound to be a particularly interesting mission. I learned early on that telling students to play close to the bridge simply doesn’t work. If a student doesn’t naturally play close to the bridge, the bow will hover near [...]

Introducing: Impossible Etudes and Possible Etudes for Cello! — by Gregory Beaver

Etudes that fill a hole in the rep that are actually fun to play. In the world of etudes for cello, there are many great etudes to choose from, whether it is the Duport, Popper, or my personal favorite, the Piatti. The Popper High School Op. 73 is particularly amazing for the range of cello technique it encompasses. In addition, its focus on chromaticism makes it very useful for developing the ear. However, there are some holes in the etude literature that keep popping up. For example, the idea of finger independence while playing double stops is partially found in Piatti Caprices, but true finger independence is elusive for many of my students even after playing these etudes. Polyrhythms are a perfect vehicle for this challenge. Many contemporary works require [...]

By | 2018-02-15T05:56:19+00:00 December 20th, 2017|Categories: In the Practice Room, Beyond the Traditional, Repertoire|

Turning on Your Musicality — by Gregory Beaver

“You can teach how to play the cello, but you can’t teach musicality!” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this old chestnut espoused, both by teachers and by students. For many years, I believed it. But is it really true? Let’s start by asking the unasked question: what is musicality? Can we even agree on which performances are musical as opposed to “technical?” After years of performing, teaching, and carefully observing both my own playing and that of others, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon: everybody sucks at answering this question. Many times I have been upset at myself for playing a wooden performance, and then upon hearing a recording of that performance, was moved by what I heard. Many more times, the opposite was true. Very [...]

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 2) — by Michael Haber

Frustration and Discouragement, Orchestra Auditions, Some Final Thoughts, a Final Comment   FRUSTRATION AND DISCOURAGEMENT: Now is the time to talk about our number one enemy. When I look back over all my teaching, one observation stands out above all others. It has not been a lack of talent or intelligence which stood in the way of progress for most students. It has rather been the fact that many people become both frustrated and discouraged by the amount of work and the unwavering discipline and persistence it usually takes to become an excellent musician. I have something simple to say on this subject: frustration and discouragement have been the common lot of most of the musicians I've known, born of the eternal gap between our dreams of how we want [...]

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 1) — by Michael Haber

I've written this brief essay for purely selfish reasons: I like to see my students improve. When they do, I feel happy, they feel happy, I go home for dinner a happy man. What follows is intended to help you organize your practicing, and your thinking about your practicing, in an effective way. Your progress, mine too, depends on the quality and quantity of this work. It's also intended to encourage you to practice, period. Not all of my students are always inclined to work as well and as much as they should. I should confess from the beginning that I have always loved practicing. It is the royal road to instrumental mastery and the incomparable satisfaction of playing music as well as it deserves to be played. I have [...]

Conquering Coordination Through Broken-Rhythm Patterns — by Grigory Kalinovsky

Reposted from Strings Magazine. One of the most common problems encountered by string players in virtuoso pieces is the coordination between the bow strokes and the left-hand fingers in fast running-note passages (passages consisting of mostly the same note values), especially when the majority of notes are played with separate bows or with a few small slurs thrown in. Examples of these types of passages abound—they include sections from the Finale movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto in D minor, several episodes and the entire coda section of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, the majority of the Allegro movement from Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro, and many, many other pieces. Without proper coordination training, playing these passages can create a feeling of the two hands “chasing each other”—and getting tangled up [...]

By | 2017-10-30T04:19:22+00:00 June 14th, 2017|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery|Tags: , , |

The Most Erogenous Region of the Cello — by Stefanie Buller

Search for resistance—enjoy the friction! I have been considering the topic “sounding point” (contact point, in German) for a long time now. Where bow hair and string meet is where everything we have to offer—regarding material, technique, power and ease—is channeled. This is the origin of the sound! This is where the action is! Isn't the sounding point therefore the most erogenous region of the cello? But at first a little anecdote: After the Christmas mass the priest stood at the exit, shaking the hands of the parishioners and wishing them a Merry Christmas. What a nice gesture! So I took his hand in return. But it felt like a rubber glove filled with jelly. By intuition I tried to get a grip. (“There must be bones somewhere in this hand…”) [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 3: Stretches – Part One – by Robert Jesselson

  I think that most people understand the importance of stretching before (and after) playing an instrument. I like to say that we are athletes: we are “small muscle” athletes involving the fingers, wrists, and arms. But actually playing the cello really involves the entire body. Whether it is a matter of producing sound from the lower back, or being physically expressive with our movements, we need to make sure that we are using our bodies in the best possible ways. Just as with any athletic use of the body, we need to make sure that our muscles are warmed up well before we start playing – and that we “cool-down” afterwards.  Warming-up helps by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, reducing the possibility of soft-tissue injury, and [...]

If it Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Break It? Thoughts About Playing Bach Today…. — by Inbal Segev

When I decided to record the Bach cello suites a couple of years ago, I started not by playing but by reading. I read Bach's biography, and then a few Baroque practice books (extremely dense and quite boring) and then I became inspired to change almost everything about the way I played Bach. I eventually came back to doing things the way that had been a part of my DNA after years of playing Bach the "modern" way (but improved), and I'd like to share some of my experiments with you. I never played from a manuscript copy before. The notes are difficult to decipher and so the work is slow and cumbersome. Worth it! Playing from copies of the surviving manuscripts by Anna Magdalena and Kellner taught me so much. There is really no way of [...]

17 (not so) Random Tips for Practicing the Bach Cello Suites — by Inbal Segev

1. First play the bass line. Then add the top voice. 2. Think about voicing. 3. Sequences. 4. Find circles of fifths and enjoy them! 5. Gestures on slurs—the Baroque bow is heavier at the frog and lighter at the tip and sometimes it's beautiful to show the tapering of sound towards the tip. 6. Show where codas happen. 7. Interrupted cadence? 8. Sigh figures. 9. Be aware of the underlying harmony. 10. Echo effects (not too much!). 11. Vary bow pressure—Baroque bow is heavier on the down bow, lighter on the up bow. This can shape a passage of descending eight notes for example. They are not all equal in length and strength. 12. Gigue—breathe more. Feel like you are about to skip before the start. 13. When playing [...]