This past year Theresa Villani, a wonderful cellist and cello teacher, wrote and asked if I had any exercises for bowing on open strings for one of her students. I had a few pages of an incomplete book, which I was happy to share. She wrote right back and said "Please make a book out of these!" (Incidentally, that's how a lot of books get started; share your ideas on this page.)
Over the next few months, in between writing The Romberg Sonata in C Major Study Book and The Saint-Saens Concerto No. 1 Study Book for Cello, I got to work on the open string book.
After I had written about half of the book, I sat down play through it, rather reluctantly. It seemed almost a waste of time to sit and play through so many pages of just plain open strings.
But then I made some discoveries and found myself really excited about open strings!
1. Playing open strings really well is hard! They look easy (at least at the beginning of the book) but this is deceptive. Because the sound is so exposed, I found myself getting super picky with the sound I was producing. This in turn led me to work on fluidity in bow changes, relaxed wrist and fingers, and getting the string vibrating with the least possible motion from my hand.
2. Playing open string bow studies is a great way to isolate the bow, especially when you are struggling with note-reading. I have a student who started lessons a few months ago and was unable to adapt to note-reading. We started playing Open-String Bow Workouts and just a month later, he was reading all of his music much more easily.
3. Playing open string bow studies can help cellists at every level. I've used this book with a student who had just started playing a few months earlier and also with some of my intermediate and very advanced students. It helped them all, in different ways.
The beginning students used the book to discover what the bow can do. The intermediate students used it to listen more and improve their tone. And the advanced students played the slow exercises very slow and the fast exercises very fast to expand the range of their bow technique.
4. Playing so many open string studies gave me an incredibly smooth bow motion! I mean, wow. I was surprised and rather rueful; it was humbling to realize how much my bow can still use work.
To celebrate the release of the new book of Open String Bow Workouts, we are offering the above mini set of (all-new) cello open string studies for free!
When you play these, focus on correct form and how you're holding the bow. Keep the bow arm shoulder, wrist, and fingers as loose and relaxed as possible. The thumb should be gently balanced on the bow; never squeezing.
Listen for the smoothest, most even sound during each note and keep the bow moving at the same speed while you change bows so there is no variation in sound.
Strong, curved left-hand fingers are essential for good cello technique and for developing a beautiful tone.
By curving your fingers and playing on the very tips of the fingers, you can stop the string completely, which in turn allows the string to vibrate fully when you play it.
Some of the cello exercises in Finger Exercises for the Cello, Book One were written specifically to help cellists develop well-curved fingers through double stops.
Exercise No. 14 is the first study in the book that works on developing curved fingers. Here's an excerpt:
Although my cello students have almost universally decried these studies as "evil", the Finger Exercises have done SO much to help them play clearly and in tune!
Here is an excerpt from Exercise No. 20:
I have also found that some students benefit from preparatory studies that allow them to focus on the fingers with easier notes.
Check out these free preparatory finger exercises that help you curve your fingers, stop the string completely, and get ready to play the essential cello double stop studies in Finger Exercises for the Cello, Book One.
So, Devil's Dream has some tricky string crossings! Both the bow and the fingers have to change strings with efficient, agile movements in order to play this piece at a fast "fiddle" tempo.
Here's the version of Devil's Dream that we'll work on:
Here's a Warm-Up Exercise for String Crossings:
Focusing on just the bow can help you identify underlying string crossing issues. Here are the open strings that your bow is playing under the actual fiddle tune:
Now, one of the main difficulties with this piece is crossing strings with the left hand. Here is an exercise to work on crossing strings with the fingers:
And another exercise for the left hand:
And finally, three exercises for speed. Start slow and when you've learned them, play them as fast as possible. Keep your bow smooth and close to the strings. "Bar" your first finger across the strings in measures 3&4 and 11&12 to help make your motions as efficient as possible.
Happy cello fiddling!
When a teacher mentioned that her student wasn't allowed to play O Come Little Children because of religious reasons and asked about an alternative piece, I wrote this piece as an option that still teaches many of the same techniques: string crossing, slow and fast bows, etc.
O Come Little Children, in Suzuki Book One for Violin (or Viola, or Cello), is also a Christmas carol and some teachers may be looking for a substitute when students or parents request it. Or, Spring Melody (below) can be used as a supplemental piece in addition to O Come Little Children when students need more work on these skills. Beginning violin, viola and cello adult students can enjoy this free piece as well!
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Violin
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Viola
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Cello
I love the fact that scales are such a great vehicle for learning different skills on the cello! Scales can and should be much more than just playing notes in order in a particular key in a particular set of places on the cello; they can also be used for learning rhythm and bowing skills.
Today in the blog, we're going to focus on using a simple C major scale to work on cello bowing. Now, the possibilities here are endless. I could start writing today and never ever reach the end of variations I could make with this scale. But there are other books to write and so I will stop at 15 pages for this little booklet. Of course, I'll probably come back every once in awhile with another blog post on scales; scale variations are a bit of a passion of mine!
Scales are helpful because they are so predictable. You know what's coming and the notes (at least in these scale pages) are fairly easy. But that doesn't mean you should turn off reading and play from memory just yet; I have some breaks in the pattern built into these scale pages to help keep your attention while you play.
Scale variations are a perfect way to multitask. Variations are a great way to train your left and right hands to be more coordinated and also a great way to make your practice even more efficient; you're working on multiple skills at once!
Feel free to make variations on the variations! Boredom lets you turn your brain off and can be the opening for building bad habits! Cello technique should never be taken for granted; every minute of your practice should be spent actively trying to improve. Varying the exercises can help you stay focused. I play different pages of scale exercises every day (that's one reason why I had to write so many books!) These variations can be played on any scale but they're simplest on a 2-octave scale that starts on an open string. Try them in G major if you're into shifting and up for a challenge.
Cassia Harvey can't ever find or play enough exercises. She searches for rare and out-of-print studies and etudes in her free time. If you know of any, please let her know. Seriously; it's an obsession.