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!
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The Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 Study Book for Cello, Volume One!
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.
Etudes bridge the gap between exercises and pieces.
Etudes can be more melodic than pure technical exercises and this helps you get closer to what you’d actually play in a piece.
Etudes can also be called "Studies" and they are important for helping you practice technical exercises in the context of something a little more like music. Some Etudes are even performed in concerts!
Today, let's focus on Etude No. 2 "Exercise on the Legato" from 40 Melodic and Progressive Etudes, Op. 31, by the cellist Sebastian Lee. Legato refers to notes that are smooth and connected. Lee helps teach legato by using slurs of eight notes at a time.
Etude No. 2: Exercise on the Legato
Here's a sneak peek of Lee's Etude No. 2, Op. 31. The exercises that follow will help you learn and master this etude. The entire etude is after the exercises (See Step Seven.)
Step One: Learn the Positions that Lee Uses
You can get to know the notes Lee used in this etude by playing the short exercises below. For more work, or to learn 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions from the beginning, see the “Recommended Position Methods” below. Cello shifting isn't hard! It's just a matter of learning where to put your hand and remembering how to get there.
Step Two: Work on the shifts one at a time
By playing the shifts in a variety of ways, including changing slur patterns and rhythms, and using shorter sections of the measure, you can learn the shift more thoroughly.
Step Three: Work on the bowing
Cello shifting is only part of learning this etude. Next, start to work on the slurs by playing Measures 1-16 with only 4 notes to a bow. Then, use staccato (stopping the bow sharply on the string for each note) to help you divide the bow up into 8 even sections. This helps you fit all 8 notes in a bow that Lee has you learning. Staccato is a great way to learn to play long slurs.
Step Four: More Shifting Practice
These shifts have you going back and forth from fourth position to harmonic A on the A string. While this is awkward, make sure you use 3rd finger, as it is generally agreed that this is the easiest finger to use when going back and forth from harmonic A. Watch out for the rhythm in the last measure of each exercise below; make sure you play the quarter note so that it is twice as long as the eighth notes!
Step Five: The Challenging Part!
These exercises help you learn the most complicated part of the etude. Start in fourth position on the D string, play the easy pattern (1414), and then practice shifting back and forth one half step before continuing with the pattern in each new position.
In measures 25-32, Lee has you start in fourth position, play a pattern across strings, move back one half step, and play a similar pattern. You can shift back or extend back for the half-step changes, however it might help to extend first so you can learn how far back to move (it's harder to go too far if your hand is stretching!).
The cello exercise below still simplifies Lee's etude but helps you get closer to what he wrote. By the end of practicing the "Putting it Back Together" exercise below, you should be ready to tackle measures 25-32 in the Lee Etude.
Step Six: Final Shifts and String Crossing Practice
These exercises help you work on the cello positions and string crossing patterns at the end of the etude. Using open strings to learn string crossing can take away the distraction of the left hand and let you focus on balancing your bow across the strings. Feel for a relaxed right hand and arm as you cross strings and work toward getting the smoothest sound possible when you play.
Step Seven: Play the entire etude.
As you play, focus on shifting correctly, playing even notes inside each slur, and keeping your bow hand relaxed for the smoothest sound possible.
Tip: If you still find yourself running out of bow, try moving the bow on the string down toward the bridge, about 1/2-1 inch. The string has more tension closer to the bridge and your bow will naturally go a little slower as it plays closer to the bridge.
Step Eight: Take the technique you've learned and use it to help you play pieces and repertoire!
Exercises and etudes can help you master the entire cello. I love how efficient exercises and etudes are; they have a huge impact on the rest of my practice. If you have any questions, send me an email at email@example.com.
Have fun playing!
When I was a little girl, my younger sister Myanna took violin lessons from Estelle Kerner. Mrs. Kerner exuded all of the old-world glamour of the music world that I was craving. She had a hair net and wore clothes that looked right out of Tsarist Russia. Lots of makeup and copious quantities of white face powder completed her look.
Her soft calm voice had steel running through it and I was both scared and enthralled. Myanna was five years old and as she stood in countless hour-long lessons for the next thirteen years, Mrs. Kerner helped her fall in love with music and the violin. It was only many years after that that I realized how much Mrs. Kerner had changed my life as well.
You see, Mrs. Kerner taught with Schradieck and Sevcik (multiple volumes), with Wohlfahrt and Mazas and Kreutzer, with Flesch and Galamian and with a slow but extremely methodical march through Rieding and Kuchler and Vivaldi and Bach Violin Concertos, all the way up through Bruch and Brahms and Paganini.
Schradieck's School Of Violin Technics
I looked at Myanna's pages of Schradieck and Sevcik finger exercises with envy and tried in vain to play them on the cello. I realized almost immediately that the notes wouldn't work on cello, even an octave lower. I needed to know the ideas behind the notes and transfer those ideas to the cello. And I knew that I didn't have the knowledge to figure out those ideas yet.
My fingers didn't work well; they felt slow and plodding compared to Myanna's. My teacher gave me just two measures of a Feuillard page and five measures of Sevcik Op. 8 shifting each week. When I asked her for more pages of Feuillard and more lines of Sevcik, she said "Oh sweetie, you don't need those!"
My mother was horrified.
She saw Myanna getting better steadily and at the same time, she saw me struggling technically. So she did what any good mother might: she took me to the sheet music store and (even though money was really tight), she told me to pick out what I needed. I still have the Werner method and some of the other books I bought and devoured back then.
With Mrs. Kerner's teaching an ever-present influence, I began to give myself the best technical foundation that I could paste together from the method and exercise books I bought. All through my teens, with other teachers and harder music, I kept searching for and buying exercises until I hit a wall. There just wasn't a Schradieck for the cello. Klengel, with his Daily Exercises, came the closest. But his book started in half position and got complicated too soon and my students were struggling. I needed more shifting exercises than I could find. I desperately needed more work up and down the A string as I was playing Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations...
So I started writing my own exercises.
It was a heady feeling, realizing that I would never run out of exercises again. The first book I published was Serial Shifting; Exercises for the Cello: a different take on the Sevcik Op. 8 concept of moving through the positions:
And the second book I published was my very own book of Finger Exercises for the Cello so I could have faster fingers at last.
So this blog is written for
everyone out there trying to play their instrument better. For teachers looking for their own version of Schradieck. For everyone who has had a technical weakness and hasn't known where to start to overcome it. For everyone who has had a sister (or a stand partner) with faster fingers.
And this blog is dedicated to three women:
Estelle Kerner, who showed me what teaching could accomplish and how to craft a solid foundation for a student.
Judith Harvey, who herself fell in love with violin exercises and who taught her 9-year-old daughter to go looking for books that might help solve her problems.
and my teacher at the time, who showed me the limits of teaching without enough exercises. And who, by withholding more studies, made me desperate to find and then write them. All three of these women helped a 9-year-old girl fall deeply in love with exercises as a means of learning and teaching a stringed instrument.
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.