Finding your voice: Cello Teaching tips and Resources


Notes from a Cello master class and workshop by Pedagogue Richard Aaron


 “The longer I teach the more I realize you need more patience….and the more I realize I need to think of long-term solutions more than short-term fixes.”

-Richard Aaron


Teaching is the greatest legacy of a musician.  Their artistry, wisdom, character, and knowledge are given immortality through all the lives they have touched.  Richard Aaron is one of our country’s greatest pedagogues. His passion for teaching and his care for each of his students lasts long after they leave his studio.  


Through a generous grant by the Sphinx Organization I was able to bring Richard Aaron to Boston to give a teaching workshop and master Class to teachers who are giving their lives away to young musicians from under-served communities.   I wanted to share with you my notes before they slipped from my memory.


Below you will hear tidbits of his class in areas regarding shifting, bow arm, left-hand technique, practice, and the art of teaching among many others gems.



-David France


Bow Arm

The French school uses the back of the hand practice with the pinkey on top of the bow

Strengthen the back of the hand / the reason kids squeeze with the thumb is they are not using the back of the hand…

Start with the pinkey on top of the bow

Work on see-saw with the pinkey (colle)

If you watch TV you have to do your pinkey strengthening for a long period of time then it gets better

Work on the bow hold and start from below then roll bow up/ then place the thumb/ pink on the top

Keep the pronation so elbow stays the same

When you hold the bow, you want to be super sensitive feeling the weight of the bow

If you can feel the weight at the different parts of the bow…there is less squeezing

When you play the cello the hand doesn’t move the bow….the back moves the bow…If you move from the back you will be more relaxed and get a better tone

Make sure the weight of the bow isn’t too heavy….

Keep the shoulder the same height

“If you take the bow off the string you’re going straight to hell”


Left Hand technique

Pizz with left hand / keep thumb neutral / thumb soft

If the thumb is tight, the wrist is tight // but if the thumb is soft then it takes care of everything else

Put the cheerio behind the neck behind the thumb (so they are not squeezing the thumb)

In the beginning it has a lot to do with strength /

Get a Grip master (medium tension) work on it when watching tv (just lightly triggering the fingers: really builds strength in the left hand. Get the Yellow one that looks like trumpet keys on Amazon)



Practice off beats and 2 against 3

Work on rhythm away from the cello

If they know and understand the feeling of 2 against 3 that you will understand all rhythm and  know how to subdivide

There is a difference in feeling the subdivision between counting it and saying it (with rhythmic words) When you count it you feel it differently

Each hand uses a different part of the brain..when you put them together it’s a totally DIFFERENT part of the brain. 

Every lesson I work on Eurhythmic exercises away from the cello with my students..then you can play any piece

The metronome is the best friend you got

If you don’t practice with the metronome you waste time

I practice with the metronome 85% of the time


Coordination/How to Practice

The left hand always goes before the right hand

Practicing slowly takes more discipline

Practice everything rhythmically….lift the finger rhythmically

You have to be very militaristic when you practice: YES SIR!  “Playing the cello is like joining the military”

When you’re determined it’s always better

Everything you do on the cello is about being organized

What’s on the page is not what you practice: Turn music into exercise

Anytime you have an interval in your hand you want to know what it is

Put the metronome on so every bow speed is felt in half tempo

Practice the entire piece with up and down bow staccato using multiple notes per bow and focusing just on the bow

Ask the student questions: What’s hardest thing about the piece / Which hand do you think about the most?

On teaching

The longer I teach the more I realize you need more patience….and the more I realize I need to think long-term more than short -term fixes.

You don’t have to get it all right in the beginning…have a  good relationship with the student but don’t be worried if they’re not getting what you’re saying…….

It’s a long process and you have to make it interesting to the students along that journey

With little kids you have to be more creative and involved in their lives.

Etudes and building technique on the cello…most kids don’t know their scales and very few kids really know etudes

Music study isn’t geared toward getting work after you graduate

With little kids it’s important to build their technique: a beautiful tone is technique

I used to see my younger students 3 times a week (10 kids in a group) everyone also had individual lessons and 2 group classes a week and Performance seminars were held for older students

I try to make the students as independent as possible

I Explain how to practice and then expect them to do it.

Assign fewer pieces and more etudes



"Lift shift “sink”   “Lift, Shift, Sink”

Thumb moves with the hand; everything moves together

When shifting (release to a harmonic for practice)

Replacements/substitution:  teaches how far you have to move the hand

Playing the same note but changing fingers: “when I move I move my whole hand”

Practice replacements every day: do a scale with replacements

Practicing substitution  gets your shifting to relax



You’ve got to be more patient to really play in tune


On Artistry

It takes time to find your own voice… you have to know your stuff and you have to know the technique on the cello. 

Bow speed.  Your musical ideas ARE bow speed. Musical ideas aren’t abstract concepts they’re bow speed

The guys who played classical music were baroque cellists


Mimi Zweig workshop is great even for cellists; you can learn the protocol and a step by step process)that one takes to teaching well.

Susan Moses is the cello equivalent to Mimi Zweig

Hans Jorgen Jensen and Richard Aaron will do a teaching workshop at the end of February in 2019 (4 days)


Book Recommendations

Etudes by Sebastian Lee

Schroeder Etudes

Piatti book for Duets

Louis Feuillard: Daily Exercises for Cello


Piatti beginning books

Utilize IMSLP for free resources