Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Hello Cello

Due to the growing up (and away) of many local young cellists (including my own son, who travels mostly by banjo now), our Summer Strings orchestra will be left with only two cellists. I decided that the best contribution I can make this year would be to play the cello, so today I spent 15 or 20 minutes playing Ben's cello, and I made it rather quickly through his Suzuki book two (where everything is in either C major or G major).

The left hand isn't much of a problem: all is relative, and the pitches are rather easy to find. Vibrato is a piece of cake. I'm comfortable with the clef (at least with the bass clef), but boy, cellists need more developed upper arm and shoulder muscles than fiddle players do. We upper string players can let our upper right arms relax in a very natural position, and we can use their almost dead weight to get sound out of our instruments. The forward position of the upper arm that is necessary simply to reach the strings requires all sorts of new muscles that I have yet to understand. Perhaps my problem is that I know what a good cello sound is, and I definitely don't have the brawn to make one yet.

So, between now and the summer I'm going to try to devote an ever-increasing daily time to the cello, with the hope that I can make it through a two-hour playing session by July.

Cellists, I salute you (with my tired right arm)!


Erin said...

Welcome to the tribe! We feel your (right arm) pain... playing the long stretches of battute out at the tip in the Overture for the Barber of Seville I thought my arm was going to turn to jelly.

Keep us posted how it's going!

Gottagopractice said...

First response: the arm position of upper string players is natural? OK, wait, I'm thinking of the pretzelly left, and you are speaking of the right. Still, it takes some reach to play the lowest string.

Second response: cello bowing isn't about brawn. It should be similar to reaching in front of you to place your fingers on a rail, and moving the arm back and forth while allowing the weight of your arm to hang off the rail. Pretty natural. You'd benefit from having a cello teacher check out your budding technique, as muscling the sound out can lead to problems.

Third response: maybe this is an April Fool's joke!

Elaine Fine said...

Nope. It isn't an April Fool's joke. It seems that my right shoulder difficulties come from having short arms (and legs--they often don't reach the floor when I'm sitting in a normal chair, so I'm considering practicing the cello in heels). I talked with a cellist friend last night who told me that the only remedy for short arms is to stay away from the upper half of the bow, which seems a little self-defeating on any string instrument.

On the cellist "survival of the fittest" scale, I would be eaten and rendered extinct! Perhaps having short arms is why I find violin and viola so comfortable to play without a shoulder rest, even on the lowest string. Thank goodness I have no aspirations to actually become a real cellist.

Gottagopractice said...

I'm not buying the short arms can't use the whole bow argument.

You might enjoy watching a master, Andre Navarra, explain the basics of cello bowing. His arms are not long, either. (Part 2 translated by the same user is also available.)

Be careful, though, this stuff is addictive.

Elaine Fine said...

Compared to me Navarra is a veritable chimpanzee! He can bend his arm when playing on the D string! I think that this man is a little larger than he seems in the film--certainly taller than than my 5'1".

I do love these films. And the flexibility of Navarra's right-hand fingers is a wonder to behold.