Folk and Beyond is a collection of twelve cello and piano pieces ranging from around Grades 4 – 8. Special effects – such as col legno, snap pizz,tremolo bowing, ponticello, stamping and harmonics – are used to enhance character, and the music has a strong sense of narrative.
Fedora Strings is now selling three new early intermediate cello duets for £6.99. The three duets comprise an arrangement of Over the Hills and Far Away, an arrangement of Basse Dance and a new composition called Sleazy.
The music is around Grades 3 – 5 . It’s the first time our website has sold music at this technical level and it’s an area we’re hoping to expand. And all the duets have character: Basse Dance is lively and energetic…Over the Hills and Far Away is romantic…
As there are so many excellent resources online at the moment I thought this would be a good time to add some free cello exercises to our website. So I am attaching the three short exercises below as pdfs which you can click and print. Although I wrote these for my pupils I have found them useful warm up exercises myself.
The first one is an exercise for finding thumb position. It’s all in bass clef: Relax and Fly
The second exercise is based on The Lark Ascending and is for practising shifting from 1st to 4th position: Flying Fourth
Finally, here is a bowing exercise which is mostly on open strings and so can be used for pupils from fairly early on: String crossing exercise
I hope you enjoy playing these. I’d be happy to have feedback.
During this uncertain period when so many people are spending long periods at home, why not use your time to improvise? Below are four well known string pieces, which could be used as an inspirational starting point:
The Lark Ascending
It’s a good idea to start with a sense of structure. The key here is G major and the time signature 6/8. The mood is gentle, romantic and flowing with a sustained tune and some interspersed faster notes to give the sense of fluttering wings. Try improvising an opening section which alternates long notes followed by some faster notes. Lead this into a long sustained tune. Then end by repeating your opening.
Autumn from The Four Seasons
This is F major and in 3/8. The dotted rhythms create much of the confident character. Try starting and ending with the same dotted rhythm section. In the middle create a slightly different feel with more bouncy rhythms. Keep it all in the major.
Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings
The flowing waltz is the character here. It’s 3/4 and in G major. See how many bars you can keep going by playing a happy, relaxed waltz in G.
Pirates of the Caribbean
A minor is the key here and the time is 12/8. The characteristics of the music are fast bows, strong rhythms, accents and a sense of brutality and suspense. Try some fast bows followed by a fast rhythmic tune with plenty of crescendos and some forte passages.
Is it important to start string lessons with a good teacher? Yes, for many reasons. It will help you enjoy playing and will make the process seem relaxed and fun. It will also help you avoid getting into bad technical habits that can make playing much more difficult than it needs to be. And it should allow you to achieve what you, as an individual, would like to achieve on your instrument.
Making it easy and mixing with others
If you are an absolute beginner it’s sensible to start by having weekly lessons if possible so that you become comfortable with the easiest and most natural way of playing. If you’re an adult you’ll probably be motivated enough to cope with lessons on a more ad hoc basis after the first month, depending on how much time you have. And I recommend finding other people to play chamber music with, or joining an amateur orchestra, as soon as you can. There are lots of enthusiastic amateur string players and playing with them is usually fun and supportive.
Basic scales and improvising
I am also a strong believer in encouraging improvisation from the start. This may be as basic as just playing open strings in your own rhythms. But it definitely enhances confidence and creativity and helps you feel at one with your instrument. Once you have learnt basic scales – which does not take long – playing simple tunes by ear is also an excellent idea and gives you a sense of freedom.
Roger and I are both experienced teachers. If you’d like more information please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07964 232654
Can cello books – or music books in general – change your playing? My own feeling is yes. This doesn’t mean I think that any cello book can compensate for one to one teaching. It’s rather that my own teacher recommended certain books which resonated with me and have been a major influence on my life.
I was lucky enough to experience some excellent string teaching.My cello teacher was the inspiring Christopher Bunting, and he recommended I read Stanislavsky’s Systems and Methods of Creative Acting – much of which relates directly to music. As well as helping me develop a secure technique, Christopher constantly focused on the difference between being an instrumentalist and being an artist and the importance of interpretation. Roger and I generally agree on this approach when we work together in Fedora Strings – and La Cumparsita is an example of the results. Christopher Bunting
I haven’t always been able to be true to these ideas in the past – for various reasons – but I have always known that they are right and they have given me something to steer by. Another major influence for me was the well known violinist Manny Hurwitz, whose down to earth, characterful playing and approach to performance I still remember – and even today it helps my confidence.
What would they think?
If I could sum up the most important thing that I took away from all this, it is that to be an artist you need to find your own voice. And you need to project your ideas with all your heart in performance. Last week an American cellist and scholar who is researching Christopher Bunting’s cello books came to my house for a chat. I found myself wondering what Christopher would think of my playing now. I know for certain he would not interpret things in anything like the same way I do. But I hope he would be glad that at least I am following my own instincts and ideas and projecting them as confidently as I can – something he always, always emphasised and that I regard as his greatest legacy to me.
Remembering the past
Good teachers are almost like family. How much you wish you could see them again and talk to them. And how much you hope that they can see you and know what a positive effect they had on your life. Ultimately good teaching – like good parenting – gives someone the freedom to be fully themselves. It’s beyond price.
To get some idea of Christopher’s superb playing listen below…
This is his cello duet based on the Bourees from Bach’s 3rd cello suite: Bunting Cello Duet
Cello thumb position – like most high playing on the cello – is something few cellists are super confident about.But one way to develop a relaxed approach to thumb position is to play simple tunes in D major that lie within an octave by ear : these involved no stretches and lie relatively easily under the hand.
One octave starter tunes for thumb position You could begin by playing the one octave scale of D major in thumb position and then D major arpeggio. All the notes in the following tunes lie within that scale and they all start on D :Black Sheep, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Kum-ba-ya, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Lavender’s Blue, Blue, Pop Goes the Weasel.
Two things to remember You need to toughen the skin on the side of your thumb, so build the amount of time you spend practising in thumb position gradually. You could also consider rubbing surgical spirit on your thumb to help harden the skin. Secondly – thumb position itself is very natural: if you take your hand away, shake it to relax it and then put it on the cello in the right place
(thumb on harmonics D and A) the position will be roughly correct.
Make up tunes and exercises Something about the spontaneity of getting used to playing without music is generally very good for confidence anyway,so you could move on to improvising simple tunes or exercises involving thumb position. I think it’s a good idea when practising to start with something you find easy and just enjoy and then move to something you find less comfortable. And if you think the cello is challenging on shifting and intonation you may especially enjoy watching the video below – a fine example of beautiful, relaxed thumb position playing on the double bass! https://youtu.be/jA_b-Zemrvg
Here are some more ‘play by ear on the cello’ ideas for tunes in the straightforward keys of C, G or D major.
These tunes start on the third degree of the scale… The following begin on the third degree of the scale: Mary had a Little Lamb, Merrily We Roll Along, Three Blind Mice, The First Nowell, In the Bleak Mid Winter, Let’s Twist Again,Go Tell it on the Mountain, One Man Went to Mow, Ring a Ring of Roses, She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain, Swing Low Sweet Chariot,Deep River.
And these begin on the fifth… Happy Birthday, Hark the Herald Angels Sing,Silent Night, Away in a Manger,O Little Town of Bethlehem,Jingle Bells, We Three Kings, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Jolly Good Fellow Amazing Grace, Auld Lang Syne, the Gay Gordons, London’s Burning, London Bridge,Oranges and Lemons, This Old Man,What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor.
Ten minutes of playing by ear at the beginning of each practice session can be fun and should make the process easier fairly quickly.If you have suggestions or queries please comment on the blog and I will answer as soon as I can.
One way to boost your confidence and sense of relaxation with your instrument is learn to play by ear on the cello. This should seem obvious, but it’s surprising the number of cellists who are unable to do this and it is not part of traditional classical training. The freedom of playing by ear
I became especially aware of this a couple of years ago when I was spending New Year with friends in Ireland. At a small gathering around an open fire people were telling ghost stories and one of the men started playing simple folk tunes on the banjo by heart very evocatively. He had only been learning the banjo for a year and was able to do this in a relaxed way -and it struck me that so many classical musicians who had been learning for maybe decades and perhaps practising for hundreds of hours during that time would not be able to do the same.I don’t mean that the disciplined side of classical music, with its technical and musical demands, is unimportant; just that also being able to play by ear on the cello – any tune you love – can give a wonderful sense of freedom.
How to start The easiest tunes are folk , nursery rhymes, hymns or carols. Many of these lie within one octave and have simple structures with repeats. Choose an easy cello key – C, G or D major – and start trying to work it out by ear and practise until you can remember the finger patterns. Baa Baa Black Sheep, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Frere Jacques, Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Kum-ba-ya, Au Clair de la Lune, Tallis Canon,To Be a Pilgrim, Jerusalem, Scarborough Fair, Morning Has Broken, Lavender’s Blue, Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and the Ivy,O Come All Ye Faithful, Pop Goes the Weasel, Old Macdonald and Lilliburlero all begin on the first note of the scale so are a good place to start.
You can find out more about our cello duet version of Lilliburlero here:
Cellist Robert Brooke and American geophysicist Debby Miles have just come round to my house to show me the cello stone – a new invention of Debby’s.
A new cello invention
The cello stone is a spike holder made of travertine which aims to eliminate wolf notes on cellos and enhance and clarify tone quality by absorbing unwanted vibrations and allowing your instrument to sing more freely. As a non-scientific person it’s hard for me to understand how the process works – but it involves measuring the vibrations of your cello’s wolf note and finding the optimum proportion for your spike – no matter what height you have it at.
Does it work?
I definitely noticed an improvement in tone when using the ‘cello stone’ and my cello felt more open, free and clear. The wolf note was also considerably diminished, almost eliminated. After an afternoon spent experimenting I have now borrowed the ‘cello stone’ to try it more thoroughly.To find out more visit Debby’s website http://www.cellostone.com/ or contact Robert Brooke – who is selling the stones from Cambridgeshire – on 07946 532263.