Don't Choke the Cello!

Left hand technique can be a tricky subject. Cellists who are new to the instrument often find themselves squeezing the neck of their cellos between the fingers and the thumb. This can create all sorts of problems that include an inability to shift smoothly and in tune. As many of my students are finding themselves in this predicament, I felt this would be a good place to talk about how we can avoid "choking the cello." The sensation you should be aiming for is almost like a hanging off of the fingerboard, similar to the sensation of hanging on a set of monkey bars at the playground. The weight of our bodies is perfectly adequate to hold down each string, without the thumb! Now, this does not mean the thumb has no job and can just hang free and be lazy. The thumb is our place keeper when extending, and serves to keep our left hand balanced. When a cellist reaches a point where he or she can play without squeezing (assuming this cellist is playing in tune), it is time to graduate to vibrato.....also known as that "shaky thing." But while we are on this subject, can we all agree to quit calling it the "shaky thing"?? :))


A big shout out to these string camp cuties. I pushed them hard last week and they met the challenge with grace and gusto!

Iron Sharpens Iron

Most of us have heard the idiom that "iron sharpens iron," and if you are a cello student of mine you have probably heard me say this more than once. Now before you open a new tab to Google fact check me, yes I am aware that during this modern age of science, typically iron is not actually used to sharpen itself. However, it will still remain one of my favorites for this reason:

Musicians often need accountability in order to achieve their goals. For many of my students, just the fact that they have to play each week for me when I may or may not have had my afternoon coffee is motivation enough. But for others, competition and positive peer pressure is more inspiring. This past February I decided to create a visual way for my students to not only keep tabs on their own progress, but on each others' progress as well. In my studio is now a dry erase board with each student's name, assignment, and the date it was assigned in a list form. Each cellist can now see what their colleagues are working on and how long it takes each one to learn a new piece of music. Although they have so lovingly nicknamed it the "Shame Board," the differences I've seen in their speeds of progress is pretty drastic. It seems to have helped create a kind of cello community, where we all can have positive effects on each other. Here are some ideas to help multiply your opportunities to encounter people that challenge you to be a better musician: participate in a music ensemble, go see a concert, find a practice buddy, or just befriend someone who is good at being awesome. It will rub off!