Cello Exercises

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 [...]

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: […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 14: Isometrics, Strength and Articulation Exercises — by Robert Jesselson

In today’s blog I will discuss two related left-hand issues: finger strength and articulation, and offer some isometric exercises to strengthen the fingers. Finger Strength So, actual muscle strength is probably less important in cello playing than flexibility, release of tension, and gentle power.  In Western culture one of the symbols of strength is a powerful tree, such as an oak tree or a chestnut tree. For example, in Longfellow’s poem The Village Blacksmith: “Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands; The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands. And the muscles of his brawny arm…” However in some Asian countries strength is symbolized by a willow tree, which flows with the wind. In a storm, it is more likely for the powerful oak tree to fall than [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 13: Breathing and Relaxation

We all know how important relaxation is in playing the cello – if the muscles are tight our body and brain do not work efficiently and effectively. If we are tense we can’t shift properly, we are more prone to silly mistakes in a performance, and if our breathing is shallow then not enough oxygen gets to the brain. We need to figure out how to release tension and relax as we play. As Janos Starker said, his entire life was a search for more and better ways to relax. Playing the cello is difficult enough as it is, so whatever we can do to relax will help us perform better and be able to play longer in our lives. I tell my students that I hope that they will [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 11: Flexibility and Coordination – Part One

Today’s blog will deal with the twin issues of flexibility and coordination, which are closely related for string players. Flexibility is the range of motion of your joints and the ability to move freely. Flexibility can be improved by stretching, which we discussed in an earlier blog. Coordination refers to the relationship between different parts of the body during movement. […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 8: Open String Warm-Ups – Part Two

Part Two of Open String Warm-Ups will continue with exercises for sautille, bow changes, string crossings, dynamics, etc. Bouncy Bow Exercise: This exercise is a great way to work on sautille, building it up from spiccato to the fast, uncontrolled sautille stroke. […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 7: Open String Warm-Ups Part 1

On most days I like to warm up with open strings. I love the sound of the open strings, and the feeling of the natural vibrations against my chest. I like to listen to the fundamental pitch, and then try to hear some of the overtones that make the tone color – a pure sound which connects me back to the earliest sounds of music, the aural “ur-sound” of the first stringed instrument played by a human being. […]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 6: Balance Exercises, Part Two — by Robert Jesselson

In Part 1 of this blog on finding balances, we discussed the large body balances which are useful in playing the cello. As Elizabeth Morrow wrote in a 2007 article in the American String Teacher journal: “Balance is a necessary component to arriving at maximum energy efficiency with minimal effort, a sensation we interpret as relaxation”. Next, we will explore some of the balances involved in using the bow. I prefer to use the term “bow balance” rather than “bow hold” or “bow grip”, because “holding”or “gripping” implies using muscles. Just as we prefer to use the term “arm weight” rather than “pressure” in describing the way to produce sound, the words we use influence the way we think about what we are doing. In our “bow balance”, the thumb [...]

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 5: Balance Exercises, Part One — by Robert Jesselson

  "It's All About Balance"   If you can walk or run then you know something about balance, and you do it every day without thinking about it. We figure out how to balance when we are small children, and then we go through life taking it for granted… …until something goes wrong. Then our body has to re-learn how to balance. Recently I broke my ankle, and when it had healed well enough the doctor had me stand on one foot, trying to find my balance—first with my eyes open and then closed. It was harder than you would think. He said that I had to retrain my proprioception, the awareness of the position and orientation of my body involving balance. This sensory feedback system also helps us understand [...]