Preparing for Saint-Saens
The Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor is a work for cello and orchestra (or piano), written at an advanced level. Studying this Concerto often takes a year or more; it's a major work!
While there are no clearly marked or numbered movements, the Concerto does have three fairly distinct sections that might correlate with our idea of typical concerto movements.
Some techniques used in the first two movements are octave shifts, fast shifting (sometimes called "runs") into the high positions, double stop fifths and sixths, spiccato, and thumb position.
Free Saint-Saens Preparatory Exercises
These free preparatory exercises can help you get ready to start studying the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto. They work on some of the basic techniques needed to play the first few pages of the Concerto: bowing, octave shifts, chromatic scales, and more.
Books to study in preparation
The Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto is much easier to learn if you have acquired a solid grasp intermediate and advanced cello technique. You should be able to read bass, tenor, and treble clef and play in thumb position. You should have learned three-octave scales and it would be helpful if you have also studied octave shifts, double stop sixths, and double stop octaves.
Like these exercises? Now, you can learn the rest of the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto using a Study Book!
We are very excited to present this new release:
The Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 Study Book for Cello, Volume One!
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.
I fell in love with the Romberg Cello Sonatas when I started using them regularly as teaching pieces. It took me awhile to fully the understand the breadth of cello technique that Romberg teaches in his Sonatas but when I did, I was entranced.
From shifting and positions to rhythm patterns and bowing challenges, the Sonatas gave my students a music experience that prepared them for much of what is to come in cello study.
Students would finish studying a Romberg Sonata and be playing at an entire level or two above their original level when they started the Sonata. They would be much more competent than when they had started, easily playing exercises, etudes, and pieces that would have given them pause before Romberg.
Other teaching pieces didn't give cellists that same skills that Romberg's Sonatas did. As I saw the effect that playing Romberg's music had on my students, I came to deeply respect this music that so wonderfully transformed my students.
Two of Romberg's Sonatas became my favorites: the Sonata in E Minor and the Sonata in C Major. I use the Sonata in E minor as the first Sonata after a student has started shifting and has learned fourth position (plus a little second and third positions). I might use one or two other pieces after that, depending on the student, and then we are ready to start the Sonata in C Major.
Over the past 20+ years, I've taught a lot of Romberg to students. It's gotten to the point where I can predict mistakes before they make them. It was getting boring hearing the same mistakes over and over. I really wanted to expand the influence of Romberg on my students and teach all of the skills that he required in his Sonatas.
So I wrote The Romberg Sonata in C Major Study Book for Cello and now, teaching that Sonata is much more exciting! Where I used to sit and drone corrections over and over, I can now have my students play the exercises and improve in front of me. We can spend the lessons working on phrasing and expression instead of rhythm, shifting, and bowing.
I love hearing them play the Sonata excerpts after they've played the exercises. Where students used to stop or struggle, my exercise-powered students sail through. They play confidently and they enjoy the music they're making instead of wallowing in frustration.
Here are some pages of free cello exercises; Preparatory Studies that have a few bits of technique that you will use in the Romberg Sonata in C Major:
And when you've tried those studies, move on to the much more comprehensive Romberg Study Book available in print here and as a download here.
Why play an entire book devoted to a Romberg Sonata? Because teaching students to be both solid and creative musicians is fun! Because playing well brings joy. And because mastering this wonderful Sonata might be the most satisfying thing you've done all year!
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.