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.”
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.
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?
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
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)
Etudes by Sebastian Lee
Piatti book for Duets
Louis Feuillard: Daily Exercises for Cello
Piatti beginning books
Utilize IMSLP for free resources