a. Use the entire body to pull the bow on string, not just the arm. Make sure the body is rotated appropriately for each string. Don't allow body to remain in a fixed position.
b. The bow fingers should not flex too much at bow changes. Have flexible fingers, but don't have overt finger motion.
c. The bow stroke is just a small piece (or sector) of an overall arc motion in which the bow arm travels. The theoretical arc extends beyond the bow extents.
d. With quick short bows, don't just use the wrist, use the entire arm.
e. With quick short bows, practice bowing on open strings so that you are sure which string you are supposed to be playing.
f. Don't hold the bow at the ready when starting. Approach the string when it's time, in rhythm with the music, like a conductor's upbeat.
g. Upbow staccato - Release pinky finger, dangle wrist, lower elbow, and rotate wrist clockwise for each note.

Left Hand

a. Be sure to bring the left arm over when playing on the C-string. Don't just try to reach over with the fingers.
b. For a relaxed vibrato, make sure your hand is loose.
c. Don't use as much vibrato on pizzicato notes as you use on bowed notes.
d. When leaping to the fourth finger, really swing hand towards the fourth finger so that the note is articulated.
e. Be conscious of which finger is the connecting finger when shifting.
f. The arm should follow the hand, especially in thumb position. If it doesn't, you lose your solid foundation, since the hand is rotated.
g. For a dry pizzicato, pluck more vertically and stop string with left hand.
h. For fast notes, don't just practice blocks of notes, practice the transitions between blocks.


a. Always vary repeated pitches musically. They are always going somewhere.


a. Dvorak Concerto - Being heard is difficult since the cello is in the mid-range of the orchestra.
b. Dvorak Concerto - One doesn't need to worry about style issues, like in Bach. Just think about the message of the music.
c. Dvorak Concerto - When studying this piece, the key concept is "sound."
d. Haydn D Major Concerto (First Movement) - The first and third beats are the most important. Feel the music in four or even two beats per measure, not eight.
e. Haydn D Major Concerto (First Movement) - This piece is a huge test of a musician's creativity and sensitivity, since it is somewhat repetitive and very exposed.
f. Haydn C Major Concerto - When studying this piece, the key thing to work on is left hand technique.
g. Crescendos - Per Pablo Casals, it is more natural to crescendo on an upbow, so try to arrange your bowings so that this happens.
h. Sequences - They must go somewhere, either crescendo or diminuendo.
i. Generally speaking, crescendo when the notes go up and vise versa.


a. Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 (First Movement) - Don't play everything with a crunchy forte character. A variety in color is needed since the piece keeps going in the same direction.
b. Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 (First Movement) - Be sure to articulate the small notes.
c. In difficult spots, be sure to give yourself time to get the hand and finger there first.
d. Bring the hand and arm over when playing on the lower strings.
e. Be sure to articulate all notes, not neglecting the ones before and after a down shift.
f. When doing vibrato in thumb position, release the thumb. Play with
g. Something must happen when five notes are the same. Play with variety.
h. Don't prepare the hands way ahead of time when not playing.
i. Bach 6th Suite Sarabande - Use more bow expression and less vibrato.
j. Bach 6th Suite Sarabande - Try to minimize left arm motion, so it doesn't sound so panicked.
k. Bach 6th Suite Gigue - Don't crunch the chords.
l. Bach 6th Suite Gigue - Use less bow, playing mostly in the lower half.


a. Debussy Sonata - Don't immediately get soft when you see a diminuendo. The diminuendo just starts there.
b. Debussy Sonata - Near the end of the second movement, there are two pizzicato open C strings. Pluck the second one at the half-string position so that you don't stop the ringing of the string after the first pizz.


a. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - Don't slide on the opening fifth (A to E). Play as simply as possible, giving this motive more dignity, matching the articulation of the piano, which comes in with the same theme a little later.
b. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - Play the opening as one long line, keeping the pulse going (in two).
c. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - Avoid slides when shifting up a fourth (i.e. E to A)
d. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - The two grace notes, as in places like measure 27, should be before the beat so that you land right on the beat with the main note.
e. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - The triplets in places like measure 36 should be played in two, in order to keep the pulse going.
f. Beethoven A Major (First Movement) - Many years ago, when Ralph Kirshbaum played in a master class and he altered the rhythm significantly, the master cellist just said, "It's a pity."
g. Rococo Variations - Play a little more Tchaikovsky and a little less rococo.
h. Don't make every note special, otherwise none will be.
i. When shifting, move the hand and arm as a block.


a. Don't get stuck in your chair. You need freedom to move.
b. Always have variety in your vibrato. Don't lapse into auto-pilot with it.
c. Keep bow on the sound point, not letting it slide up and down.
d. In order to have an even sound, always approach the strings with your left hand fingers at the same angle. Don't change your angle of approach as you move around the fingerboard.
e. Beethoven C Major Sonata - Starker plays the entire first phrase on the D string.
f. Keep the upper arm suspended in both arms.
g. Pre-determine your bow speed for each bow.
h. Shifts - Pre-determine which kind of shift you will use, whether anticipated or delayed. An "anticipated shift" is when the slide in on the previous bow. A "delayed shift" is when the slide is on the next bow.
i. Extensions are an unnatural act. Do them only when necessary.
j. If a note is too loud, strengthen the note before or after.
k. A tense thumb is an international problem, in both hands.
l. Release the thumb during trills.
m. To learn to breathe naturally, study singers.
n. A powerful sound does not necessarily have to be scratchy and aggressive.
o. Don't attack the string vertically with the bow, attack it horizontally.
p. The arm motion of shifts should be in tempo with the music. Don't jerk the arm around.
q. Don't let the index finger curl under the bow stick. This has the effect of lifting the bow off the string, which is the opposite of what you want to happen.
r. Fast bows - Use whole arm, not just the wrist.
s. Only the playing finger should be in tension when playing, not the entire hand.
t. Play three-part chords in Bach with more of a rolled motion.
u. Don't raise the body on downbeats, this diminishes the desired downbeat emphasis. Your body should come down on downbeats.


1. Fingerings

a. Siegfried Palm has learned many fingerings from his students.
b. Starker - Giving students fingerings saves time. Besides, most new students are incapable of coming up with their own fingerings.

2. How to encourage students to be curious

a. Starker - This is hard to teach. This can only be brought out in a student if it is already there.
b. Nelsova - If the student senses patience, love, and concern in a teacher, the student will feel safe to explore and be curious.

3. Practicing

a. Nelsova - Best results occur if one works just below the final tempo. Don't arrive at the final tempo too soon, or you will have to start back at the beginning to unlearn your practiced mistakes.

4. Master Classes

a. Starker - Master classes are more for the public than for the cello student.

5. Teaching

a. Nelsova - Wishes more students came with a solid foundation of scales and other fundamentals. b. Starker - Teaching is about providing information. The student takes it from there.
c. Palm - Students need to learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy breathing.

6. Commercialism in Music

a. Starker - Commercialism is nothing new in music.


Beethoven A Major (First Movement)

a. Less bow can produce more character. Don't always use whole bows.
b. The music is like a novel, so think of various characters for each part of the piece.
c. Don't do vibrato mindlessly. It should mean something. d. The second theme is minor, so play more intensely.
e. Dynamic contrast is a key in Beethoven. Bring out the pianos and fortes, with much contrast.
f. The opening theme ends on the dominant, like a question.
g. Opening theme - Imagine the sun is shining.
h. Opening theme - Think towards the main notes: F# to A to E.
i. Use more bow in main notes.
j. Cadenza at measure 24 - This ends on the dominant, so it is a question.
k. There is something sacred about this movement being in two. Don't interfere with this.
l. Jane Cowan once said, "Piano is forte without the accents." m. Every phrase has a main note, know which one it is. Every note must either be going somewhere or is a point of arrival.
n. Don't do too many ritards since Beethoven already wrote them out with longer note values.
o. Don't let the bow get stuck on the string with the same bow speed.
p. Never play a phrase in which every note is equal.
q. Automatic vibrato brings all colors together when you actually want to pull them apart.
r. We don't want to hear "ideas" in performance. We want to hear the piece. One should not do things to the music. Music should do things to you.
s. Practice phrases on open strings to get bow distribution for phrasing. When learning the pieces when he was younger, Isserlis used to mark every note with its direction of motion.

Schubert Arpeggione Sonata

a. The accompaniment gives you your rubato. Don't impose rubato on the accompaniment.
b. Don't suffer from "whole bow syndrome."
c. When there are pedal point passages, like at measure 26 (A-E-B-E-C-E-B-E), play legato as if the pedal wasn't there. Don't let it get beat-y. Keep it smooth.
d. The Barenreiter Urtext version of this piece is not as faithful to the manuscript as it claims.
e. Schubert per Jane Cowan - "The tragedy of Schubert is that the melody goes on when the dance rhythm has stopped."
f. Know the key harmonies. They tell a story.

Brahms F Major Sonata

a. There are three different main subjects, bring the contrast out: The opening theme, the theme at measure 39, and the tremolo section.
b. Opening theme - Don't diminuendo between notes. Keep a long phrase.
c. The purpose of a slide is to show the expressivity of an interval. Don't do a slide unless you mean it.
d. Robert Hausman, who played this with Brahms, didn't alternate between strings at the "tremolo" section, he did more of a stuttered double-stop bowing, where you play a long double stop bow and rapidly "pull" and release the weight of the bow on the strings with a rapid wrist motion. Isserlis does the stuttered bowing version.
e. The worst thing you can say is "He's a very intelligent musician." Don't just try to be different.


Bach D Major Suite

a. The Suites originate from a basso continuo concept. Also keep track of the bass line, whether written or implied.
b. Feel the arpeggio in the first four bars: (D-F#-A-D).
c. Bring out the different characters: a resolute forte and a piano that is not inaudible, but piano in character.
d. Don't always accent the first beat.
e. Find places to sing.

Brahms E Minor Sonata

a. Find a tempo and stick with it.
b. Your concentration should start right at the beginning of the piece. Don't work up to it.
c. Don't start intense and stay there all the time.
d. Don't always use so much bow.
e. Always know where the main voice is, whether the piano or the cello. Don't just play the cello part.

Dvorak Concerto

a. This is one concerto in which everybody says something very different.
b. Note how the themes are played in the opening orchestral tutti to help you determine the tempos and articulations of the solo cello part.
c The beginning says "improvisando." This means free but not without rhythm. The orchestra will appreciate a rhythmic beginning as well.
d. The opening is forte, not fortissimo.
e. There are no accents written.
f. B on the A string is a weaker part of the cello, so you need much more vibrato.
g. Keep a beautiful sound. Don't overpress.
h. On the low F#, don't attack vertically with the bow. Attack with a more horizontal bow.
i. The second subject is indicated as "a tempo," not slower.

Schumann Concerto

a. There are appoggiaturas in abundance in this piece. Bring them out.
b. Schumann has many faces in this piece. Bring them out.
c. The first theme is about yearning, the second theme is harmonically unsure, and so it may be about being confused or insecure.


a. Breathe with the bow. Don't just play through phrases.


a. He hates glissandi when not planned.
b. "I try to get one to play great melodies in contemporary music." Find the music.

Direct correspondence to the appropriate ICS Staff
Webmaster: webmaster
Director: John Michel
Copyright © 1995- Internet Cello Society