The tenor register of the cello — the part of the A-string that spans between fourth position and the upper positions — can be tricky to navigate. Many of us fear shifts on the “cusp” of the neck and upper positions because the body of the instrument feels like an obstacle to be overcome.
“How should I practise?” This is the most frequently asked question of cellists at all levels. It’s far more common than “How many hours a day should I practise?”, because we all know the answer to that one: that is, as many hours as we want to, need to, and can feasibly devote without neglecting our human needs and human responsibilities.
A seventh chord is defined as a chord composed of a triad, plus a fourth note that forms the interval of a seventh (diminished, minor, or major) above the root of the chord.
In the classical music theory classroom, students are usually called upon to be able to notate and identify five types of seventh chords:
Today, during a chamber music coaching, I decided to stop micromanaging my students and let them figure out how to fix their intonation, time, and group sound themselves. I jumped in when needed, and when I wasn’t, I backed off.
I could do this because I trusted them and trusted myself. I knew I had taught them task mastery: of their instruments in their studio lessons, of the language of music in the theory classroom. Using a set of guidelines, it was now up to them to become their own best coaches.
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.
I love to multi-task, which is why I've started to compose fundamentals exercises for my students in the University of Idaho cello studio that reinforce the fundamentals they learn in Theory I-IV and Aural Skills I-IV at the same time as building their proficiency in the principles of cello playing.
This is my first post in a projected series on learning and using music theory in cello practice. As well as my cello studio at the University of Idaho, I also teach a class in aural skills -- essentially the laboratory class for what students learn in music theory. In most theory methods, the material is taught in a piano-centric way, and I've been looking for a way to make it more applicable to the cello. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some exercises that "kill two birds with one stone" -- that is, teach the principles of music theory at the same time as getting a good cello warm-up.
In a previous post, I addressed the technical issues faced by cellists with "double-jointed" (more correctly, hypermobile) left-hand fingers. An equally common problem that you'll see on cellists with otherwise decent bow-hold setups is a hypermobile right fourth finger that "buckles" on the bow.
This "collapse" isn't so much caused by the person's hypermobility, but by a misconception of what the fourth finger is supposed to do on the bow, in combination with finger shaping that places the finger on the bow in a way that's likely to cause buckling.
There are some things that are quite common in beginning cello pedagogy that I don't like much. The beginning bow hold with the thumb under the frog, for example, which teaches--for no good reason--a habit that has to be unlearned later. Another is the "left thumb as anchor," which teaches little hands to hit pitches chronically out of tune, and little ears to accept this poor intonation. I know why some otherwise good teachers are doing these things: because we all want to get a student set up with decent hand shaping so that they can advance to playing pieces quickly and not get bored and quit. But the fact is, poor setup leads to fundamental misunderstanding of how the body can be used to our advantage in playing the cello, and this in turn sets the student up for endless technical challenges later on.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. When I thought back to some of the exercises I was taught as a child, it seems that many of them make a lot of sense, even if children don't know what they're doing them for.
Open up Google and type in "Can I play cello if I...". The first thing that came up for me was "...am double jointed?"
The answer is a resounding YES. Cello is for everyone. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and abilities,