The craft of playing the Cello

Common Technical Problems

If you already play the cello and feel you would like to make some improvements to your technique, below are some of the most common technical problems I can help you with. 


Bow Hold

The bow hold determines how we connect with the string, and it is this connection that creates the point of sound. You will only ever play as comfortably as your bow hold allows, so it is worth continuing to focus on this important part of your technique. If we hold the bow like we hold any other everyday object and can relieve different fingers of the responsibility of carrying out particular jobs which cause the fingers to stretch or isolate, we can remove unnecessary tension and strain in the bow hand. I work with my students to discover what is the most comfortable bow hold to allow them more overall freedom while playing.


To play with a beautiful tone you need to understand how to get the string to vibrate the way it is designed to move. The cello string will not vibrate correctly if you press down with raw, uncontrolled force, and if there is not enough connection the tone will be thin and you will hear harmonics. The key to playing with a great tone is knowing how to use arm weight on the string at the frog, and how to create resistance through minimal effort with your bow hand at the tip of the bow. I give my students exercises to help them identify what arm weight actually is, how to get it onto the string and then how to use it in combination with their bow speed, bow direction and contact point to create a variety of beautiful tones and dynamics. 


A tight vibrato is usually a sign that even before you attempt to make the arm movement required for vibrato, there is an unnecessary amount of muscular tension in the left arm. I give my students exercises to help them understand how the arm needs to feel before the vibrato movement is attempted and then how the arm actually needs to move to produce a proper arm vibrato movement. We also work on producing a vibrato that can vary in speed and will sound continuous between note and position changes.


String players need to play with a variety of intonations depending on the musical context. To create drama in their solo, lyrical playing they use expressive intonation. However when playing double stops or fingered passages with open strings they use the intonation a piano uses. Developing the inner ear to have a great sense of relative pitch is the key to good intonation and this allows the student to play with the appropriate intonation given the musical context. I give my students exercises that help them to understand how the basic closed hand fingering patterns need to be adjusted to produce the appropriate intonation, as the natural spacing of the fingers as they fall will not necessarily produce good overall intonation.