For me, the Right Hand Rules.  After all, the sound comes from the bow, not your left hand fingers pressing on a string.   But intonation, which is arguably an important skill, does come from the left hand.

In my lesson yesterday, I was working on 4 measures that are particularly gruesome when played incorrectly and particularly fabulous when played correctly.  Unfortunately, if you’re off on one note, it’s likely to throw everything after that off and you’re now playing in an entirely different key!  Doesn’t work well if you are playing with a piano accompaniment!

My brilliant teacher sums it up with 2 words: Shifting and Spacing.  Everytime you shift, your hand position changes, getting smaller as you move down the cello towards the bridge or larger as you move back toward the neck.  The shift puts you in the correct place and then your hand has to change to the correct spacing for the position you are now in.  When you have a small shift, 1/2 note or one note, the difference isn’t as great as if you’re shifting from first position to fourth, for example.  Even greater when you’re shifting from first position to the “home base” for thumb position.     And it gets progressively smaller as you continue toward the bridge.

This realization was helpful to me in thinking about how to practice.  More than practicing finding notes (and I’m a great believer that there is no guessing in cello!), it’s really about practicing the shift and creating the correct spacing with my hand and fingers.   The notes will be there.

4 thoughts on “Left Hand Thoughts

  1. David B Teague says:

    You said: “Every time you shift, your hand position changes, getting smaller as you move down the cello towards the bridge or larger as you move back toward the neck.”

    Thank you for describing this problem. This is an ongoing battle for me. I so wish that years ago I had internalized this jewel, for this is more strongly a problem for the double bass. (Worse, no two of my basses have the same scale.)

    I’m sure you know that Cassia Harvey’s works can be described similarly with your remark, “… there’s a Feuillard for that”. She has a series of books that treat nearly every problem. These have been valuable for my bass in 5ths:
    Scale Studies for the Third Octave, Books 1, 2, & 3.
    She isolates this problem and provides etudes that helped me (begin to) manage the

  2. David, it’s an ongoing battle for all of us! I was able to perform Faure’s Elegie after using Cassia’s study book. It is her methodology which was inspiring me to “Cassiafy” the tricky parts of my current piece.

  3. Peter Wauters says:

    Intonation, or the noble art of mastering the geometry of the fingerboard… Melodic Etudes (S. Lee or Popper) do the trick for me. That… and endless repetition of course.

    I do not disagree with you that bowing is key, but a correct intonation and a good, controlled vibrato are essential too. From Squire’s Tarantella, I learned about the importance of articulation with the left hand.

    Ps. I followed your tips on digitizing the sheet music and am now the happy owner of a tablet+pedal system. Works just fine. For performances, I still print the score. (Not confident enough with the pedaling etc…)

    • Thanks, Peter. Add Schroeder and Dotzauer etudes to that list. (and who wouldn’t love Squire’s Tarantella!)
      Bravo to you in getting the tablet & foot pedal. I agree it takes some practice to use the foot pedal – and I always add pages when there are repeats. It’s too tricky for me to use left and right sides when performing.

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