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!