sound production

The Joy of Feuillard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 1 – Introduction)

Part 1 – Introduction I started playing the cello seriously in 1971 when I was 22 years old. I had played somewhat earlier, but had very few lessons and was certainly not even considering music as a career. When I went to college I thought I was going to be a doctor, and I majored in anthropology and linguistics. It was only when I finally recognized that I really didn't want to pursue those career goals that I decided to “try” this music thing. When I went to Freiburg, I played for cellist Marçal Cervera, who ultimately became my teacher. He heard me play, and told me that there was “no way” that I could be accepted into the Conservatory. I just didn’t have the technique or background to make [...]

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 [...]

By |2018-08-05T06:29:22+00:00January 29th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Teaching|Tags: , , , |

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 5 of 6): Fleet Fingers — by Selma Gokcen

"The body is like an instrument; it depends who is playing it."  —F.M. Alexander In the Alexander work I do, I consider there are five stages in learning to let go of the left hand fingers in cello playing so they can be free to race around the fingerboard, as well as play expressively. The hand must be soft and empty of all intention in approaching the string. If it has preconceived form and shape, then it cannot function except within the confines of this preconception. In connection with this work, I often ask my students the meaning in Zen Buddhism of "the empty hand that holds the spade." We can think of the fingers as the end of a long chain of joints starting with the upper arm ball [...]

Exploring Beethoven 5th, Variation One — by Jonathan Pegis

Continuing our discussion of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, let us examine the first variation. As I did with the theme, I will first talk about the technical challenges of this excerpt and then look at the musical challenges.  First of all, it is very important that you play this excerpt in the exact same tempo that you played the theme.  A common mistake is to play this variation much faster than the theme simply because of that long first down bow.  One trick that helps is when you finish the theme keep counting the quarter note rests at the end of measure  10, and then count off the two quarter note rests in measure 49.  (Almost like you were making a cut!)  You can do the same thing at the end [...]

Raising the Arms (Part 2) — by Selma Gokcen

A wheel needs a central point of contact, an axis, in order to turn and spin. One never loses touch with one's central point—the spine—as one moves through life. But society today has lost that core. It has no idea where it is going. - Svami Purna When I was well into my studies as a young cellist, I became fascinated with the question: How does one raise the arms to play? My naive mind wondered: is there a wrong way and a right way, and how does one distinguish between the two?  I read a great many books on cello technique and for years I asked this question of my teachers. It seemed to me to be a very important gesture that most people took for granted, and my [...]

What’s the Passcode? — by Brant Taylor

In the reader chats I've hosted on this website, certain discussion topics make frequent appearances.  One of those topics, a question I hear often from students and other amateur musicians, is: "How do you practice?"  It's easy to see why.  The assumption is that professional musicians must be great, or at least successful, practicers, and that insights into the habits of accomplished musicians should provide valuable information about how to improve and make the best use of practice time. While I am always happy to share information about my own practicing, I always make an important qualification: practice is a personal thing.  There is no one way to practice, no secret passcode to gain entry to the clubhouse of good cello playing or success in the music profession.  You must [...]

The Eyes Have It (Part 2): More on Attention — by Selma Gokcen

"The obstacle is the goal." - Zen Proverb The training of attention through my line of work—the Alexander Technique—happens in a particular way, through the application of certain principles. We take the obstacles, in this case a pupil’s habits, and work with them moment by moment, observing and undoing the tensions in the neck area and throughout the back and spinal column. In this way the pupil’s habits become rich material for understanding how their attention can be directed. The head is heavy and bears a particular relationship to the spine, as it is either poised (gently balanced) on top of or pulled into the spinal column. Cellists are vulnerable to tightening the neck and pulling the head either forward and down towards the fingers or back and down, shortening the [...]

Looking & Seeing — by Selma Gokcen

In my last column, I mentioned getting to know some of your habits at the cello…the worst ones can become your best friends, in that they will offer the richest material for work on yourself. So now we step into the arena. Looking at oneself is not easy. The same instrument that presents the problems is also doing the observing, so how reliable can our observations be when the instrument itself is faulty? This was F.M. Alexander’s dilemma. His vocal problem was hidden within himself, and so he set about observing himself in a mirror, later three mirrors, to see if he could discover any correlation between what he was doing with his whole body and his specific vocal defects. After long and patient examination, he identified several harmful habits, [...]

Learning Through Listening — by Yeesun Kim

The other day in my studio class, an excellent question was brought up by one of the students.  How do we use the recordings of artists for study purposes? What is the right way and amount to listen to these recordings? How much imitation is acceptable? Can it be somehow detrimental? We had a wonderful discussion where everyone chimed in to share their experiences and thoughts about this question. It is a very important issue to be thinking about, considering how much easier it is to be downloading recordings than attending concerts these days. There are so many ways to collect many different versions of a piece one is interested in. Also, we can listen to it as many times and at any time of the day as we please. [...]

Defining the Intangible — by Melissa Kraut

Several years ago I was asked to contribute to an article for Strings Magazine on "what teachers look for in an incoming student."  I was excited about the article—what a fantastic idea—a compilation of suggestions from teachers who listen to 100+ cellists a year auditioning for music schools!  Despite my best intentions, I still haven't crafted a contribution. (Here is where I should publicly apologize to the cellist, who is no doubt reading this entry, for the 3 year delay in responding to your request).  My neglect  was not for lack of interest, or lack of knowledge or experience on the subject.  It came down to the difficulty in putting words to something that  is so nebulous—defining the intangible.  The title for this entry popped into my head during audition [...]

To Mic, or Not to Mic — by Jeffrey Zeigler

I must admit that I myself am relatively new to the use of sound design. Previous to joining Kronos I had only dabbled here and there, and even then only in small amounts. Like so many cellists that graduate from conservatory, it really wasn’t something that I encountered very much except in specific 20th century works that required its use. In fact, I would say that, like so many, I viewed the use of amplification as a form of cheating.   To some degree, I do not completely disagree with this notion. Like all tools, it isn’t the tool itself that is the problem, but what one chooses to use it for.  If one uses amplification simply in order to play louder, then you are in fact cheating. However, like any [...]