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…”)
This is how our little encounter turned into an embarrassing moment.
Contact needs resistance.
Resistance is the force an object puts up against the attempt to be set into motion. We need this counterforce to get into contact. Although the hand of the Monsignore approached me, it didn’t put up any resistance against mine. My hand therefore missed its mark.
No contact without resistance. No sound without contact. What a pity.
This is why we use rosin—instead of oil—as a “friction agent.” We need the resistance, the substance. We need something that answers “No” before it consents to getting into friction and vibration. In Tango the dance becomes exciting when the Follower reacts with a minimum of delay. If this positive ductile elasticity succeeds it can become a “high voltage dance.”
Resistance does not equal conflict or fight.
It is just a force opposing mine and giving me resonance to my actions. Isn’t a successful handshake in which two persons meet a terrific thing? When two people truly meet each other—not flinching—not squeezing? Amazing intimacy and closeness is possible in these moments. What if we would appreciate resistance and friction, possibly asking for them instead of judging them as negative?
Anyway: friction at the right spot is a blissful thing, isn’t it?
What does this have to do with sound production?
Well—casually said: You’re “pleasing yourself” when you play the cello. You are responsible for both sides of the contact point.
You are responsible for both sides of the sounding point.
We are bothering about our bow technique in great detail—but how about the opposite side? Your bowing skills can unfold their true magic only if the strings offer a decent counter-contact. And this counter-contact is created by your whole body (especially legs and torso). This part is equally important and should be considered with the same accuracy and attention as the bowing technique.
Why? More than 80% of the cellists I have worked with (more than 300 by now) are flinching their cello away from the bow in the critical moment. Why? Because the combination of a backwards dropping pelvis with an extended bow arm preparing for the great attack leads to a slumping of the ribcage area. Unfortunately that’s where the cello is supported. And similar to what I did when I wanted to shake the hand of the Monsignore, the bow arm grips tighter in order to achieve the contact.
The consequences: A tired bow arm (searching for contact but missing the mark) and back pain (because intuitively we try to regain the stability).
Vice versa the majority of these cellists created a better, juicier, more controlled sound after achieving more stability from the perspective of the strings.
You want a sound that is red hot, exciting and interesting? Take care of the other side!
Video yourself as you practice from a side perspective and observe the movement of your body with the cello. Especially when you play high notes or want to achieve a huge sound. Celebrate everything that you notice.
Play some long notes on open strings. As you do this let your pelvis slowly rock backwards and forwards WITHOUT adjusting the bow. What happens to the sound? If you don’t notice a change, make a video.
ATTENTION: This is not a license to do weird things with your pelvis! It is an exercise to increase your awareness of how you can influence the quality of the sounding point through body movement.
3. Focus on “counter-contact”!
Put your hands on yourself! e.g. put your hand on your leg and sense the leg with your hand. Now change the perspective and sense the hand with your leg. Which one is easier? What happens if you intend to sense both sides equally at the same time?
Find infinite opportunities to play with this principle.
4. Change your perspective!
Notice how your cello contacts the bow, as if the cello were playing the bow—not vice versa. What is your intention for this “love affair”? Do you want a nice handshake, a gentle teasing or hot sex? Remember: “It takes two to tango.”
Whatever you’re aiming for, as with a successful handshake suddenly an intense intimacy can occur when two partners really surrender to their touch.
We often wish for contact but if it’s there we flinch. Renewing contact ever again and staying with it sometimes needs more courage than we think. That is my experience. And what is yours?
I too am looking forward to resonance—e.g. by receiving your comment, a share or a newsletter sign-up! In return you’ll receive even more tips and ideas on how to achieve more sound with less tension. Friction and resistance is also welcome – but not obligatory!
And now: Have fun with your sensual practicing!
More details on sitting with the cello here.
Visit the author’s YouTube channel for more in-depth videos.
The German performance coach and Alexander Technique teacher Stefanie Buller fell in love with the cello at age five when she heard “The Swan” for the first time. She had to become 37 to eventually take up the cello herself in 2013 and started to learn to play it. At this time she had already finished her 4-year Alexander Technique Training and specialized in working with cellists, such as members of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
The center of her work is that the human being is a magnificently integrated overall system in which all aspects such as body, emotions, thoughts and environment constantly interact. To distinguish what we can train and control and what we should instead hand over to our inert self-organizing potential is key for efficiency and high-level performing. Trusting in the power of ease and the intelligence of our nervous system is a process. Stefanie understands how to set an empowering environment in which this trust can grow.
The main ingredients of Stefanie´s coaching/teaching are the discoveries of F.M. Alexander and how we approach our goals as human beings, a great knowledge of functional anatomy, and her versatile experiences in music and dance, injury and recovery, success and failure. Having been a high achiever herself as a Key Account Manager in Plant Engineering, she had to experience the painful consequences of a constant aim for perfection, extreme willpower, the neglect of self-care, ignoring all signs of exhaustion, and the necessity to ask for support.
The art and music teaching she had been exposed to in her childhood turned out to be her strongest and most resilient resource for recovering. Musicians and music teachers can have a huge impact to the life of people. So supporting them in finding their own individual voice and strategies to take care for themselves is more than “just another job” – sometimes it seems like a tiny contribution to world peace.
For five years now she has been co-teaching a master course with Stephan Schrader, cellist of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. She offers group classes, individual lessons and online consultations. Her own workshop format CelloBliss for adult amateurs opens a non-judgemental space to experience the physical pleasures of cello playing as well as learning to practice in a joyful and stress-free way.
Her passion for supporting high-quality performers also led to her working with the Swiss Olympic rowing team (men’s quadruple sculls) and other high-potentials athletes in German rowing.
www.blog.leicht-bewegen.de (German and English)