I am delighted that Skype evaluation and follow-up can help cellists make significant and lasting changes to their playing. In Skype lessons, the student receives guidance and immediate feedback as they are led through exercises and techniques presented at celloessentials.com. Although Skype lessons do not provide certain advantages of in-person instruction, they do allow students the opportunity to ask questions, discuss sensations, and ultimately be led down the optimal path toward balanced, pain-free playing.
I am currently in Berlin for an lengthy sojourn, sans cello!, so this will be a text-only entry. A word about extensions. Be clear about the definition and purpose of an extension in your left hand. Too often when I query even well-schooled cellists about their perception of extensions, the reply is general and vague. A hand that does not experience the concept of balance in extension will be a hand rife with tension, sometimes to the degree of feeling “paralyzed” in difficult passages. The most common misunderstanding results from the belief that “extension” means “stretch” between all fingers, and/or particularly a stretch of the 4th finger. This misconception creates extreme stress in the hand.
As a basic fundamental position, extension implies increasing the distance between the 1st and 2nd finger by one half-step. We have two types of extensions, forward, and backward. The two types refer to our transportation into the position, not the resultant position. On a forward extension, the weight pivots on the tip of the first finger down to approximately a 45º angle, and the arm, thumb, and and rest of fingers drop one half-step. The distance between the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers remain in half-steps. For a backward extension, the arm drops forward and down by one half-step, and the tip of the first finger points backward toward the ear. The resulting “extended” positions will be identical whether they be forward or backwad. BUT, the hand must always be aware of an impending extension and properly prepare it in order to maintain a balanced, ie. relaxed position.
The importance of a good understanding of extension in a balanced hand can NOT be over-estimated. Extended position is FUNDAMENTAL to a well-structured, relaxed technique. Check back in September for a demonstration video of these concepts.
I was interviewing several new students yesterday, and showing them and their mom my web site. Her first comment was “I notice that in the home page photograph, the student’s arms are very high. My children have always been taught to keep their arms low.” There is a common misconception about arm position, from teachers and players alike. And great harm can be done a young student by suggesting that “by sight,” there is one optimal position for the arms. When we approach this issue from a question of balance, we discover that the height of the arm is a constantly changing entity, and in EVERY instance, it is dependent on a connection with the weight of the arm and the role of the arm as lever to channel that weight (or proportions of it) to the string. If we begin our positioning with an understanding of arm weight and the need to have it accessible, then the question of optimal arm height naturally resolves itself, in every position, on every string. You can find more information about finding this equilibrium at left arm balance and at right arm balance.
Teachers, beware! Help the student understand the sensation of pulling a straight bow! We most often see problems on the A string because of its extreme angle. To discover this angle, check out Defining Planes. The most common error is the student pulling the arm backwards while pulling the down bow, keeping the elbow bent after the halfway point in the bow. The solution requires pushing the hand forward and out – allowing the lower arm to extend from the elbow. After having explored this issue with a student MANY times, yesterday I took a quick snapshot of his bow angle on the A string. His response was, “oh, wow”! Yesterday, one picture was worth a thousand words and the student quickly repositioned his bow consistently perpendicular to the A string. Ahhhh, much better!!!!
TEACH YOUR FINGERS LIKE CHILDREN: give them specific information, repeat the information, be patient, be kind! I was working on a shift with a student yesterday, and the solution came down to geographical knowledge of the fingerboard, and the hand to measure distances accurately. It was a simple shift, from first finger C on the D-string, to third finger C sixth position on the A-string. If one thinks in terms of relative positioning, the distance the hand needed to move was ONLY one whole step. But several things were necessary for a successful shift. First, before shifting, the student needed to organize the hand by measuring a minor third between the first and third fingers. Then, the third finger needed to be resting on the A string in preparation. Thirdly, the student needs to Have a Specific Thought, “I am shifting one whole step”. Voila. Success. This particular student does not have well developed practice habits, and most specifically, relies on the ear to find notes on the instrument. What we discussed and practiced yesterday I call “mapping” – organizing our brain for geographical awareness and relationships. This is the information that our body needs – from there, we patiently and kindly repeat the pattern until it is learned. And success is achieved!
Welcome!!! This web site has been constructed as a resource for any and all cellists who are struggling with discomfort while playing the cello. It is based on the understanding of balance in all activities and how to apply it. Through balance it is possible to dramatically decrease inappropriate tension and eliminate pain while playing. The foundation instruction and exercises are posted here at celloessentials.com. Explore, experiment and please share!