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"Square" Left Hand?

I'm an adult beginner on the cello. I studied for two months with one teacher and have recently switched to another. Both teachers are professional cellists in world-class orchestras with good reputations as teachers. My current teacher insists that the "square" left hand position with the wrist bent in and the elbow out is the correct position to learn. This contradicts what my first teacher taught me, which was to have the fingers at more of a 45 degree angle to the strings and to "walk" the fingers from note to note. I found this first way very successful and made fast progress in only two months. I find this square position very awkward and difficult and unnatural, but my teacher insists that it's the position of choice and that my other teacher was absolutely wrong in teaching me to "walk" from note to note. How can I find out which is the right way? And how can two professionals have opposite opinions on what should be a very basic skill to teach a beginner?


Bob replies:Sounds like you've moved to the wrong teacher. Hard to believe he could play at a high level himself if he truly plays exactly as you describe, unless he has huge hands like Lynn Harrell. But even then, to describe the square hand-set as the position "of choice" amongst cellists of today is ludicrous.

Ryan Selberg replies:My hand, as most cellists hands are, is set more parallel to the ground, closer to a 45 degree angle to the fingerboard, which itself is on a slant of 45 degrees, more or less, to the ground. As to the hand itself, most people's, mine included, don't have the same flexibility when spreading the fingers side to side that they have when lifting the fingers up and down. Just try doing both, holding your hand in front of you, and spreading your fingers side to side. Feel the tension. Now spread your fingers apart up and down, and see how much more natural and tension free it is.

As I love analogies, try this one. If you are walking down a steep incline, (i.e. you are hiking and coming down a steep hillside) you normally would not walk down perpendicular to the hillside, as gravity alone would make that impossible. You flex your legs and step down, extending one leg and bending the other. Often you might even turn more sideways and do it with the same motion. This is more akin to what most cellists hands do. Playing a large instrument is hard enough. Playing without regard to the natural function of the body and hands is begging for trouble. (Just read some of the posts regarding musician's injuries). I would strongly agree with Bob and consider another teacher change. Your current one seems very rigid in his approach and not with the mainstream thought of cello playing. Go to some symphony or chamber music concerts and observe the cellists' hands to see what we are describing.

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