Playing Healthy

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

The Spine: Our Very Own Superhighway — by Selma Gokcen

I only learned about the importance of the spinal column to cello playing as I was introduced more deeply into the Alexander Technique. Of course I knew the superficial facts about the spine and especially how vital it is to the health of the nervous system. But its particular relevance to cellists was not brought home until I began training in the work of teaching the Technique. Here are a few interesting facts about the spine to start off 1: The spinal cord is surrounded by rings of bone called vertebrae. Both are covered by a protective membrane. Together, the vertebrae and the membrane make up the spinal column, or backbone. The backbone, which protects the spinal cord, starts at the base of the skull and ends just above the hips. The spinal cord [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 21: Alexanian Exercises

Today’s Blog is devoted to some thumb position exercises by Diran Alexanian that my teacher in Freiburg, Spanish cellist Marcal Cervera, gave to me in 1972. These exercises are not in included in Alexanian’s seminal book on cello technique, Traite Theorique et Pratique du Violoncelle  (Theoretical and practical treatise of the violoncello).Alexanian’s book includes several pages of other thumb position exercises (pages 125 ff.) which are well worth practicing, but I believe that these 13 exercises have never actually been published.  I do not know how Cervera got these exercises, but I copied them from his notebook, and studied them with him.  I find them to be very useful. Alexanian was born in Armenia in 1881. He became Casals’ assistant at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His treatise [...]

100 Cello Warm-ups and Exercises Blog 19: Cello Geography -Part 5: Thumb Position and the Upper Registers – by Robert Jesselson

  Blogs #15 and #16 discussed the geography of the lower regions of the cello. In sorting out the “latitude” and “longitude” in this part of the instrument the main organizing principle is the knowledge and use of positions. We identify the positions by the location of the first finger on the string up through Seventh position, with “normal” and “extended” variants throughout. When the first finger is playing the A in seventh position on the A string the thumb is still behind the neck – so this is still considered neck position. Seventh position is a significant place on the cello, because it divides the string into two equal parts, and as a result we find the A harmonic there as well. After seventh position, the thumb is used [...]

Reflections on Bernard Greenhouse and the Importance of the Back

We are learning to do consciously what Nature intended.   – F.M. Alexander Spending a week remembering Bernard Greenhouse on CelloBello brought back memories of many hours of lively conversations and shared experiences. Bernie had naturally what we call ‘a back’ in the Alexander Technique, and there is no faking or pretending to have a back… […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 18: Cello Geography: The Fabulous Thumb

When students come to study cello with me in college they often arrive with problems in their fundamental technique which must be addressed: issues with collapsing fingers, bow angle, underlying tension, weak sound, etc. Most of these basic problems can be dealt with fairly quickly once the student becomes aware of the issues and knows how to fix them. However the bad habits that seem to be the most intractable are problems regarding the curvature of the thumb. In pedagogy classes and in talking with teachers I always emphasize that young cellists should be taught to train their thumbs correctly in order to help avoid excess tension and to allow maximum flexibility. Teachers need to be vigilant about this in the early stages of a cellist’s development in order to [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 17: Cello Geography – Part Three: The “Mary System”

This blog will be the last one of the year – but we look forward to starting up again in 2016. In the first two blogs on Cello Geography we discussed the basic neck positions, and extensions. Next I would like to focus on a tool that I feel is helpful for sorting out one of the most important fingering principles on the cello: the “Mary” System. […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 16: Cello Geography – Part Two: Extensions

In many ways holding and playing the cello is just a “natural” addition to the body. The instrument rests nicely on our chest, we don’t need to twist and contort our arms like violinists, and if we employ weight, healthy balances and learn the ergonomically healthy use of the body we should have no pain or tension in playing. One of the only things that is not quite “natural” about playing the cello is our left-hand extensions. Stretching between the first and second fingers requires some specific training. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I used to walk around Freiburg as a student with a cork between my fingers to help train this stretch: […]