Alto and Tenor clefs may look the same, but they indicate a completely different set of notes! I made a video to spell out the difference. Check it out!
Just like a painter using the three primary colors to conjure any hue desired, we cellists can use three bowing variables in different amounts to create a rainbow of tone colors.
Three Primary Colors of Tone
Here's a video explaining what I mean:
How Do You Feel Today?
My teacher used to have a poster on her wall, the How-Do-You-Feel-Today poster, that she would point out to us when she felt we needed some inspiration for the sentiment in a piece we were playing.
“What mood are you going for here?” she would ask.
We would need at least one idea for each phrase—maybe more—and we would then have to decide how we would alter our placement, weight, and speed to create these different impressions.
I thought it was such fun to work out a way to convince the audience of the story as was telling without saying a word!
You can use this same technique in your own cello life!
Feel free to print and keep this poster (below) near your practice area to refer to when deciding on a mood. Or simply think of an adjective to describe the emotion in one section of the piece you are working on.
Then experiment with changing the different variables of placement, weight, and speed until you find something that seems to you to express that adjective most effectively!
You are an Artist!
This technique unearths a whole new layer of cello fun that facilitates the ultimate expression in music.
Want more guidance on this topic? Check out my previous blog post: Practice: A Gift to Your Future Self
Let me know how your practice is going in the comments section below. Happy practicing!
It was about a week before Christmas and I was massively overscheduled--but the Falcons wanted Celli to be involved in a project for the playoffs.
Sure, I thought. AFTER Christmas!
In case you didn't know this: Christmas is when most musicians make most of their money. Sometimes our extra earnings from the month of December are the only thing that keeps us fed in the lean summer months! And because there is so much work to be had then, it keeps us extremely busy.
Here's how busy I was:
First things first...
We had to go into the studio to record a track. The idea was to remake Jermaine Dupri's legendary "Welcome to Atlanta." Luckily, I had a 10-hour bus ride a few days before we were scheduled to go into the studio to record, so I could listen to the track and write out parts for us to play.
Then we spent a day at Silent Sound Studios having fun and recording the track.
Then we had to shoot the video...
It was HARD to find a day where we could reschedule everything to try to fit in a video shoot. But we were told it was to be on the ROOF of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium, so we had to make it work!
The day before the shoot, we were told it was going to be too foggy to get any footage of the skyline behind us on the roof so they asked if we could reschedule. We couldn't make it work, so we would just have to shoot our part of the video indoors.
We were so disappointed!
In the meantime, I had to figure out how to do "edgy, goth" makeup! That was an adventure in and of itself!
The toilet situation...
COACH DAN QUINN'S OFFICE!!!
This was very nice--much better than the press room! But there was one disgusting aspect...
I know. Weird, right? I definitely took a picture, but I won't post it here in case some of you have sensitive stomachs. Let's just say that I had never seen that many different colors of MOLD before.
Of course, the powers-that-be sent in someone to clean it ASAP.
It only occurred to me after the shoot that this was probably a good luck dirty toilet. You know how that sport-ball jinx stuff goes. Maybe this was a "don't-clean-until-after-the-playoffs-are-over" type of dirty toilet.
The shoot itself was so much fun, but it was lots of hard work too. I had to concentrate on looking mean (not my usual face as you probably know!), and we had to make the same wild arm motions over and over and over... Luckily we were playing to our previously recorded track, so we didn't have to sound good. Whew.
When we were finally finished, my faux leather jacket was soaking wet!
To the roof...
Though we didn't actually get to shoot on the roof, they let us go with the whole crew to the roof to watch Jermaine's shoot after our part was finished filming. I have never in my life been that excited to climb so many steps! At one point we were standing on a catwalk right behind the halo screen which I had watched from way down below at so many Atlanta United games!
Well the Falcons made it to the playoffs, so our video was released on January 4th 2018. If they hadn't made it, I would have felt so guilty about that toilet cleaning... plus the video would not have been released until NEXT SEASON!
You can find the article they put out about the video HERE.
And the finished product itself:
Another side benefit is Jermaine Dupri and I are now besties. Although I am not sure he knows that...
I wonder what he would think about my rap video.
More new friends made along the way...
“Have you seen Chicken Attack?” asked my friend Chris.
“I don’t think so,” I replied.
I opened the YouTube link he sent. “Looks like a kung fu movie,” I thought. “Wait, did that chicken just turn into a ninja?! Oh my god. Now he’s fighting that guy. And this music is awesome.”
I informed Chris that this was the best thing I’d ever seen, and listened again. And again. I was hooked. After the fourth play in a row, I glanced across the room. Surprisingly, my cat did not look perturbed in the slightest, despite the continuous stream of yodeling coming from my laptop. I clicked the video a fifth time, and pictured how it would sound on the cello. I had to try it. A couple of Google searches later, I was the happy downloader of a straightforward-looking transcription. I printed it out and set it on my music stand.
The first thing I noticed was that the notes on the staff looked higher than Snoop Dogg. No problem, I could just move things down an octave or three. My mind wandered to my cello lesson, which happened to be the following day. I hadn’t played much this week. I pictured Nan, with her usual smile, asking me how my practicing had gone. “Well, I didn’t work on anything except for Chicken Attack,” I would have to confess. How embarrassing. I racked my brain for a way I could make Chicken Attack educational, more respectable. Then I noticed that playing it as written would put it in thumb position, which Nan had conveniently just gone over with me. “Perfect! I’m going to use Chicken Attack as a thumb position exercise!” I declared. My cat seemed unimpressed.
I sat down with my cello (which caused my cat to flee), and set my thumb on the A and D harmonics. I found I could play the beginning of the verse in the hand position Nan had showed me, without having to shift. Sweet. This was going to work well.
I was congratulating myself on my brilliance when my eyes fell on this high E:
Not too scary, though. I knew where that note was, after all: a whole step above my third finger on the A-string. But how to get from point A to point B? (Or, more accurately, point E to point higher E?). I wasn’t sure. “I’ll I just skip all those high Es for now,” I thought to myself. This allowed me to continue for a hot two seconds, until a wild F appeared:
Son of a monkey. If I wanted to play this, I would have to learn how to shift in thumb position. It was inevitable.
I brought the music to my lesson the next day. As Nan and I went over it, it became clear that Chicken Attack would be no mere exercise. It would involve a range of techniques, from basic to advanced! It was the perfect way for a thumb position newbie such as myself to dive right in.
Are you new to thumb position, too? Want to join me? Here are a handful of exercises plucked (sorry) from my practice pad! (Note: the version of Chicken Attack I’m using has been transposed down a fifth from the original, to be a bit more cello-friendly).
Finding thumb position on the harmonics:
Learning how to move the left hand in an octave structure:
Utilizing technical shifts:
Employing a sneaky pinky move in measure 11:
Chicken Attack used as thumb position training is such a breath of fresh air in the studio! Thanks so much to Erica for sharing it with me and the rest of our cello family. -Nan
I received an email the other day that I wanted to share:
Many of us can relate to the bow issue this cellist described. The concept of a relaxed bow hand/arm is one thing, but putting it into practice...
...and making it feel easy...
...while making a decent sound...
...is a whole other struggle altogether!
Here are a few exercises to help normalize the feel of the bow and the motion of the right arm so you can eventually forget about it.
Ricochet and Tapping
These exercises, developed by my cello guru, Martha Gerschefski, are so sneakily helpful. They provide tons of time for you to focus on holding the bow without the pressure of making a good sound. This is a big deal, since our need to make a good sound can sometimes take precedence over an ideal bow interface--and we end up learning a hand/arm action that isn't ergonomic at all.
Keep in mind this will not sound good at all!
This will be the same as RICOCHET, except you will control the bow with your bow hand in between bounces to make specific rhythm patterns with the hits (do not try to make this sound good!)
Both of these exercises, and combinations of the two, are going to give you lots of training time with an ergonomic bow hand, so it should soon become more comfortable.
Want more exercises like these?
Order Martha's Strong and Flexible Bow for the Cello!
As far as the "how to bow" issue is concerned, the main problem I see the most often is crooked bowing. To clarify: If left unchecked, the bow will naturally make a motion in the arc of a smile across the strings. Blame it on our physiology! (For some reason, evolution hasn't provided more cello-playing adaptations. )
To complicate matters, students will move their arms in complex and stressful ways in order to fix the crooked bowing.
I have found that the best way to counteract all of this is with an exercise I call "table glides." Again, it focuses on training the relaxed motion of the arm without any sound-production distraction.
This is adapted from Martha's exercise, Piano Glides.
When these exercises start feeling easy, you can move on to putting the bow to the string--just keep in mind that you will have to keep checking on the motion in order to keep training it effectively.
Do not get distracted by the sound! That will get better eventually...
I hope these exercises help you in your quest for a more ergonomic and relaxed bow interface!
Please leave any feedback or tips for your fellow cellists in the comments section below.
But first a few common questions....
How often should I change my strings?
There are many opinions out there as to how often you should change your strings, everything from "never" to "every few weeks." How confusing!
Some musicians say that strings go "false" after some time. No matter what is "correct," our best bet is to change our strings when they start to sound or feel weird to us.
I choose to change my strings once a year. It is especially convenient for me to accomplish this in January since I usually get a set of strings from Santa right before the new year starts.
What strings should I use?
Short answer: I don't know!
It's such a personal thing. Different strings sound different on different cellos with different cellists!
You will have to do some experimenting with different brands and types of strings.
Here are a few links that I hope will help:
Changing your strings
Good luck and happy 2017!
It's no secret that you need to have short nails to play the cello effectively. But I have found that "short" has different meanings for different people. What exactly is short enough?
Make the Cut!
The following video is the only tutorial I could find on the subject of cellists' nail length. Near the end, RealCelloGuy explains that you should cut your nails as short as you can "without hurting yourself."
The Long and Short of it...
First of all, let's clarify what I mean by "nail bed." A picture is worth a thousand words:
So now that we have the terminology solidified, grab your equipment (nail clipper and file) and watch my video:
This is exactly what Martha recommended to me many years ago, and now the tips of my left hand fingers are super meaty, perfect for easy cello playing--even when my nails are "long."
Need more proof?
Okay, it's time to get to work! Here's what I recommend you use:
Feel free to leave questions and comments below. Happy filing!
Musical notation can be puzzling, and you as a cellist will be expected to know what the hieroglyphics mean. Rarely do you learn all you need to know about notation in lessons or theory class, so no wonder there is confusion in this realm-- even among professionals!
Recently, one of my students asked about slashes across a note stem. She came across these markings in her orchestra music and couldn't remember what to do.
I told her, of course, but then realized this would be an excellent topic to clarify in a video!
Of course, more questions about notation erupted and I thought we might be in need of a whole series about notation.
So, here is the first installment of Cellist's Guide to Notation!
Can you clarify the examples below, knowing what you know now about this notation?
Here's the actual video. I hope you like it!
In an effort to help you "get experimental" with your cello vibrato, the following is a breakdown of the techniques suggested in the song.
What method has worked best for you? Is there some technique you like that I completely left out?
Lets' talk! Leave a comment below--I would love to hear from you.
In the meantime, here are a few videos I really like that deal with cello vibrato in a helpful way. If you don't have much time, watch the first one (top left). The adult amateur cellist in the video speaks very candidly about her frustrations--and offers a logical and fresh approach!
Don't forget to leave a comment--and happy practicing (yes, karate chopping counts)!