Music Theory for Cellists Part Three: Compound Intervals

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By Miranda Wilson

I love to begin a fundamentals workout with shifting exercises, since the process of getting from note to note isn’t necessarily straightforward.

In Cello Practice, Cello Performance, I wrote some exercises in shifting between first and fourth positions, and another shifting exercise dealing with octave shifts in a variety of fingerings. These exercises comprise part of my daily workout, and the purpose of them is to help me feel absolutely comfortable with the goals, mechanics, and success rate of shifting.

The Thinking Shift

What do I mean by “goals”? Well, when you have a big shift, you have to know what you’re aiming at. What pitch are you trying to hit, and how will you know if you’ve done it accurately? Therefore, this is an exercise in shifting and thinking. For this reason, I highly recommend the study of moveable-do solfege, a method of speaking the principles of theory so that you can navigate all the intervals with ease.

How to Set a Goal

Audiate — imagine in your mind’s ear — what your goal note sounds like. Make sure you prepare your shifts with the slight backward pull (see Cello Practice, Cello Performance for details) that will give your arm the release it needs to shift. All the while, bow “through” your shift — remember, “all techniques are both-hand techniques.” Learn how far you must measure and judge your distance from note to note. Audiate again: have you reached the goal pitch?

Improve Your Compound Intervals — and Your Shifts

In a previous post, I shared a warm-up exercise that illustrates how best to hear and assign solfege to all the simple intervals — that is, the intervals we can find within the octave. Today, let’s work on compound intervals — that is, the intervals wider than an octave. The benefits of this are multifaceted. You can improve your solfege, your interval recognition, and your large shifts all in one go. Here’s what it looks like:

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