Starting to play in positions on the cello can be daunting!
However, after you have played in first position for awhile, the other notes on the cello are begging to be learned! So many great cello repertoire pieces use positions and learning shifting can help you reach more notes, make playing across strings easier, and even avoid open strings if you want to.
1. Learn Cello Fourth Position
This method was written for adult learners and includes pictures and diagrams that help explain where fourth position is. Exercises and short pieces on each page work together to teach a skill. This book is available as a PDF ebook on www.learnstrings.com and as a print book on www.amazon.com.
Are your shifting books too hard?
These books have very easy studies that can make shifting an easier, more gradual process. Each study focuses on a single shift and the exercises progress slowly to allow you to get comfortable with shifting.
3. Free Preparatory Exercises for Pattern Shifting and Serial Shifting for the Cello
Half and Whole Steps
4. Study the Position Exercise Books
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have fun playing!
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.