cello

Sequence for Teaching Beginning Cello

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One of the most difficult challenges facing the public school orchestra teacher is to get beginning string players started on the right track. With each student having different strengths and weaknesses, and with only limited ability to provide individual help, it is absolutely essential to have a well thought out sequence.

The idea of this sequence is to break down technique into smaller more manageable segments and gradually reassemble them. This enables the beginning cellist to concentrate on one technique at a time as opposed to teaching the left hand and right hand simultaneously.

Most public school programs are not homogeneous but heterogeneous, so a public school teacher will need to make modifications to this sequence. Although, I think that the basic sequence can also work for the other stringed instruments as well.

Basic Principles

Always prepare: I first recommend reading It's All About the Joints. If at all possible, I believe in teaching the motions used on the cello off the instrument first. You can do this via Action Studies. This enables the student to better understand how to use the body and even helps build up the proper muscles for the motion. Many Action Studies can be introduced long before the actually technique is attempted on the instrument. The Action Studies make great warm ups.

Separate yet simultaneous: I strongly suggest teaching the left and right hands separately in the beginning. You can begin with either the left hand or right hand technique. Soon after beginning one hand, begin teaching the other so you are teaching them separate yet simultaneous. I also recommend teaching the lower half of the bow separately from upper half of the bow. The upper half and the lower half demand different technique. A whole bow must transition gradually between the lower half technique and upper half technique. You cannot connect the two if you cannot first do them separately. So whole bows are the most difficult and therefore are taught last.

So let's get started...

INSTRUCTION

I. First thing to teach; ACTION STUDIES OFF THE INSTRUMENT

This is the "Prepare" Stage. You should also do the action studies to prepare the student off the instrument before they even pick up the bow.

Suggested Action Studies before they even pick up a bow:

Remember: Work on using momentum with the Action Studies.

Do the Action Studies every day as a warm up. Use them as reminders during class time. They really do help!

II. Practice bow hold with pencil

This is still the Prepare stage.

Do this before having the students hold the bow. That way the student doesn't have to fight with gravity pulling down the tip of the bow.

Things to look for:

III. Now try A-F Action Studies above with the pencil in the student's hand

Remember: Momentum!

  1. Add to the Action Studies "Thumb Aerobics": While holding the pencil, bend and straighten the thumb. This promotes a loose and bent thumb while holding the bow.

IV. Holding the Bow

Have the student "choke up" some on the bow before holding it at the frog. I am not crazy about having the students put their thumbs under the frog.

Chocking up on the bow prevents the tip from falling to the ground.

I use my "patented" Star Trek Docking Method of holding bow.

Make Sure:

  1. Make sure thumb and 2nd finger are across from each other (telescope)
  2. Make sure the thumb is bent
  3. Make sure 1st finger wraps around the bow stick a little. (Pencil rests on 1st finger)
  4. Let the finger hang down
  5. Thumb nails points towards the tip
  6. Base of the Thumb is at the height of the pencil
  7. Fingers Curved

V. Make Some Sound!

Play open D string quarters at the lower half. Move from shoulder like the "Swing" Action Study.

Continue to watch technique.

  1. See under IV. Holding the bow
  2. Pivot joint is from shoulder
  3. Movement is whole arm
  4. Elbow is down
  5. Wrist is slightly bent

VI. Open String Duets at the Lower Half of the Bow

For musical interest, use open string duets. The open string duets are designed to provide musical interest to the students while still being able to concentrate on one part of the bow. They are all on the open strings and use rhythmic ostinatos. At this point it is important that the student be able to concentrate on one concept at a time so I highly recommend using note names instead of the staff for the duets.

Concentrate on Grandfather Clock and Swing mentioned above.

Review all Action Studies mentioned under I above for warm ups and during class.

Add Bow Pivot action study to prepare for more advanced technique.

VII. Left Hand with Pizzicato

While teaching the right hand duets, you can begin the left hand without the bow, using pizzicato. Separate yet simultaneous!

A. Begin with Action Studies. This is the Prepare Stage.

  1. Soda (Pop) Can (This exercise is to teach the proper hand position for the 1st finger)
  2. Robot Wave (This exercise is to prepare for vibrato, pivot joint is shoulder)
  3. Robot Goes for a Drive (This exercise is to teach vibrato)
  4. Spock Sign (This is to acquire more flexibility between the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the left hand)

B. Remember: Fingers curved, wrist straight, elbow up!
Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

C. Tape or not to tape? If you are teaching beginners in a classroom setting, I highly suggest using tape on the fingerboard.

VIII. 1st finger on D string

  1. Soda (Pop) Can Action Study
  2. 1st finger on tape
  3. Call and response: Have students repeat sequence on notes of open D string and E first finger. Start with just 3 or 4 beats for each call
  4. If students are comfortable, go around the room and have students do their own call with the class responding

Watch technique:

Action Studies

  1. Robot Wave (This exercise is to prepare for vibrato, pivot joint is shoulder)
  2. Robot Goes for a Drive (This exercise is to teach vibrato)
  3. Spock Sign (This is to acquire more flexibility between the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the left hand)

Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

IX. 1st Finger Duets

These allow the student to focus on correct hand position only on the first finger. The duets gives the student musical interest. I highly suggest using note names only without reading the staff to allow the student to fully concentrate on left hand position.

Action Studies:

  1. Soda (Pop) Can (This exercise is to teach the proper hand position for the 1st finger)
  2. Robot Wave (this exercise is to prepare for vibrato, pivot joint is shoulder)
  3. Robot Goes for a Drive (This exercise is to teach vibrato)
  4. Spock Sign (This is to acquire more flexibility between the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the left hand)

Remember: Fingers curved, wrist straight, elbow up!
Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

Don't forget right hand duets!

X. 2nd Finger

A. Action Study: Spock Sign (This is to acquire more flexibility between the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the left hand.)

B. I highly recommend teaching the 2nd finger (F natural) before the third finger, contra to most string method books. The tendency is for the 2nd finger to be two far from the first finger and two close to the 3rd finger. If you teach the 3rd finger immediately after the first finger you run the risk of teaching a bad habit, namely, improper spacing between the 1st and 2nd fingers.

Action Studies:

Remember: Fingers curved, wrist straight, elbow up!
Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

Don't forget right hand duets! You can teach the Upper Half of the Bow while the students are learning the left hand.

Separate yet simultaneous!

XI. D-E-F Songs

1. Do songs in minor (Mary Lost Her Little Lamb, Burnt Cross Buns)
2. Use note names instead of staff for notes. Few concepts at a time!

Action Studies:

Remember: Fingers curved, wrist straight, elbow up!
Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

XII. Follow same pattern for 3rd and 4th fingers

1. Introduce finger
2. Call and response
3. Teach new songs with new finger
4. 3rd finger, thumb between 1st and second finger
5. 4th finger, thumb across from 2nd finger

Remember: Explain that the 2nd finger is slightly slanted like the first (pronated) and that the 3rd finger is almost square (supinated) like the 4th.
Remember: 2nd finger down with 3rd.
Remember: 3rd finger down with 4th. If needed, 2nd and 3rd fingers down with 4th.

Avoid complicated terms like pronated and supinated. Instead, say "slanted" and "square".

Action Studies:

Remember: Fingers curved, wrist straight, elbow up!
Remember: Don't squeeze with the thumb!
Remember: Thumb to the side of the neck, not behind!

XIII. Upper Half of Bow

After beginning the lower half duets, introduce the students to the upper half of the bow. At this point we are still simultaneous yet separate!

Also, after introducing the lower half duets, introduce the left hand. So we are also simultaneous yet separate with the left and right hands.

Do not do whole bows until the majority of students are comfortable with the lower half and upper half technique.

Practice "Door on a Hinge" with and without pencil. Remember, Momentum!

It can be helpful to compare the upper half to the lower half.

Differences from lower half:

It is common, due to gravity, for the tip to fall towards the ground while playing at the tip.

Action Study: Place bows on string and practice "Windshield Wiper". Ask, "What finger controls the tip?" Answer: "First Finger!"

Action Studies:

Remember: Work on using momentum with the Action Studies.

XIV. Make Some Sound!

1. Have students try playing at the upper half with just the forearm.

2. As they practice, go around the room and put your left hand under their elbow, and help them to only move the forearm.

Look for:

Action Studies:

Remember: Work on using momentum with the Action Studies.

Also, Action Study: Place bows on string and practice "Windshield Wiper". Ask, "What finger controls the tip?" Answer: "First Finger!"

XV. Open String Duets for Upper Half of Bow

For musical interest, use open string duets. The open string duets are designed to provide musical interest to the students while still being able to concentrate on one part of the bow. They are all on the open strings and use rhythmic ostinatos. At this point it is important that the student be able to concentrate on one concept at a time so I highly recommend using note names instead of the staff for the duets.

Concentrate on Door on a Hinge and Windshield Wiper Action Studies as necessary.

Add Bow Pivot action study to prepare for more advanced technique.

Action Studies:

Remember: Work on using momentum with the Action Studies.

Also, Action Study: Place bows on string and practice Windshield Wiper. Ask, "What finger controls the tip?" Answer: "First Finger!"

XVI. Whole Bows

1. When the UH position (pronated) and LH position (supinated) are comfortable, move onto whole bows, where you gradually transition between the lower half and upper half positions.

2. Before doing this, review Action Studies without and with pencil.

3. Practice whole bows on open strings

4. Whole bow duets

Continue to teach upper half and lower half duets or exercises for review in addition to whole bow duets.

Always practice Action Studies

XVII. Combining Hands

Combine hands first without whole bows and only when students are feeling comfortable with the left hand and bow arm separately

Begin preparing students for vibrato, shifting and thumb position through action studies.




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