Blog 27: Feuillard No. 35 – Variations #26 -#41

The Variations in today’s Blog all deal with staccato and legato strokes across three strings in various combinations. The string crossings should all be executed with the upper arm. Because they are to be played in the middle of the bow the staccato strokes should be played with the lower arm. We should pay attention to the “catch and float” on all these staccato strokes: “catch” the string at the beginning of each note, and then “float” to release the sound for resonance. Each note should have a nice starting “k” sound.

Variations #26 – #31:

    

After he played Variation #26 fully (with four beats per measure) I asked Zach to only play two beats for each chord in order to save a bit of time in the lesson. By now his ability to concentrate and maintain focus has improved greatly, and I know that he is practicing with all the repetitions at home. So I am comfortable with him playing one or two variations with the full value, and then halving them to save time.

What you don’t see in these videos is that we spent a good bit of time in this lesson trying to improve the quality of his staccato sound – especially listening for the “ring”, and finding the “catch and float”. We also worked a bit on the intonation of his “D’s” on the A string, which were often flat. I asked him to listen for the “ring” on the D’s, and to be careful that his contact point was in the right place for that note. Since the string length is shorter when playing the D it could be that his pitch was suffering from “bow intonation”, in which the incorrect contact point is too high and the bow actually bends the string with the weight being applied.  If the contact point is in the wrong place it will change the pitch and we might think that the intonation problem was caused by the left hand.

Variation #31 is the only one that has no dots on the notes. I think it might be an editorial mistake (similar to No. 32, Variation #14 which is clearly a misprint). Zach asked me about this – having noticed that the dots were missing. I asked him to play it with the dots, and then also without the dots, since he had practiced it that way. I was pleased to see that he had observed the editorial discrepancy – that is a sign that he is paying more attention to details.

Variations #32 and #33:

#32     #33

These variations involve legato string crossings with the upper arm. We have to be careful to use a high contact point for the lower strings, and a low contact point for the higher strings in order to get the same sound and volume. Notice that Zach is using left/right motion, and the twist motion, especially in #33 (after I reminded him! But the good news is that he is able to do the choreography now).

Variations #34-#36:

#34   #35     #36

These variations all have one staccato note together with two legato slurred notes in various combinations. I worked with Zach on getting the bow angle to be correct on the upbows.

As we know, getting the correct bow angle (parallel to the bridge) is a big problem for cellists, and it involves a lot of moving parts in the arm. At first the issue for most people is bowing “out” to the tip – we must counteract the natural swing of the arm around the shoulder joint which makes the bow angle back too far. It takes quite a lot of perseverance on the part of the student – and the teacher! – to get that right. Likewise, at the frog it is difficult to get the angle so that the tip of the bow is not pointing back. This requires adjustments with the wrist and fingers. After a while students get it “somewhat” right, but maybe not in all situations. The string crossings add a new element to the bow angle problem, since each string requires a slightly different path for the arm and hand. So, we need to address the same issues again. I find that many students are better at either the frog or the tip – but we must work to make both ends of the bow correct. With Zach, the issue was at the frog, and I needed to remind him to use the wrist and fingers to make the adjustment.

Zach played Variation #36 on a different day a little slower because he was trying to avoid accenting the single bows. During the lesson he figured out that he needed less weight on the staccato note.

Variations #37 and #38:

#37     #38

Continuing with the staccato strokes, Zach noticed that  Variation #37 is missing a dot over one of the notes. This is obviously an editorial mistake – there are several minor ones in the Schott edition, as we have seen before. I was pleased that once again Zach caught the mistake – it means that he was looking more carefully at the details and noticing the discrepancies. That often translates into noticing details about one’s own playing, and listening better to what is actually coming out in the playing.

Variation #38 should be done two ways: up-bow staccato and flying spiccato. I was pleased to see that Zach remembered to do it both ways, and that he knew the technical differences in executing the two different strokes.

Variations #39 – #41:

#39    #40    #41

These are the last three variations in this group of triplets involving string crossings with alternating legato and staccato strokes. In Variation #40 I again asked Zach to do both the up-bow staccato and flying spiccato strokes.

Next week’s Blog will explore various combinations of the upper arm and the wrist/fingers for a variety of complicated string crossings.

Blog 29: Feuillard No. 35 – Variations #52 – #59

Today’s Blog will deal with the last variations on this page of Feuillard’s theme No. 35. Although Feuillard indicates these to be played in the middle of the bow, I prefer to use Variations #52 – #57 to work on a heavy spiccato stroke at the frog. This involves using an active upper arm and a “passive” wrist to create a brushy off-the-string stroke with a very ringy sound. A light version of this stroke might be used in Mozart symphonies or quartets, while the heavier version might be in Wagner or many contemporary works.

Variation #53:

The model for these variations is #53 with its two arm levels, and I like to have the students play this before going sequentially through the other variations (see below). #53

This stroke is obviously still a “work-in-progress” for Zach – trying to find the relationship between the upper arm and the wrist, and finding the evenness of the stroke.

Variation #52 – #57:

#52   #54#55    #56   #57

The basic stroke for these variations is the same as for #53. The main technical issues for this stroke are:

  • active upper arm, passive (“floppy”) wrist
  • close to frog
  • “brushy off-the-string” stroke (a heavy spiccato)
  • a very ringy sound
  • attention to the bow angle (most students will have the tip of the bow pointed too far up at first)
  • start above the string, but make sure the bow is on the string before the bow moves
  • finding the right height of the stroke so that it is even. If the height varies then the stroke will be un-even because it will take a different amount of time to come down from the air onto the string.
  • Variations #52 and #57 require 3 arm levels (upper arm), while the others require only 2 arm levels.

Variations #58 and #59:

#58    #59

These are the final two variations in No. 35. They are three-note chords. Variation #58 is played with all down-bows as two double-stops, or they can be arpeggiated more slowly. However the top note(s) should be on the beat.  The bottom notes are played as almost grace-notes before the beat. In other words, if one were playing with a piano, the pianist would play on the downbeat with the top notes of the chord. For example, the opening chords of the Elgar concerto are played this way.

If the chords are played quickly then there isn’t much time to change the contact point (higher c.p. for the lower strings; lower c.p. for the higher strings), but the bow angle should be quite acute so that the contact point is lower on the upper strings. Otherwise the sound will not be good on the A-string.

Variation #59, the last variation on this page, can be executed in two ways:

1) starting both the down-bows and the up-bows from above the string – which means lifting slightly and re-articulating the up-bows so that the articulation is identical with the down-bow. In this case the bow must still be “on” the string a split-second before moving – otherwise it won’t catch the string.

2) starting both up- and down- bows from the string. Both versions require a “figure-eight” in the arm.

Zach demonstrated both versions in the video.

With this Blog we conclude the Theme and Variations No. 35. I would like to thank Zach for having agreed to be featured in these videos as he worked on these variations.

Next week’s offering  will feature a blog on teaching collé, before starting the last page of Feuillard exercises. I often wait with teaching collé because students are sometimes confused between using the fingers for the vertical motion of string crossings as opposed to using them for the horizontal motion of collé.  Feuillard No. 36 will be dealing with string crossings over four strings. My pre-college student George will be working on collé and then on Feuillard No. 36 with the associated variations.

Blog 28: Feuillard No. 35 – Variations #42 – #51

Today’s Blog will deal with Feuillard No. 35, Variations #42 – #51, which all deal with legato string crossings using the upper arm and the wrist/fingers. As we started working on these variations I first reminded Zach about the Seven Arm Levels that we had discussed earlier (the four open strings and the three double stops), and we reviewed the “Seven Arm Level Exercise”. Then I explained how these variations will involve a combination of the various arm levels and the use of the wrist/fingers to go between the double-stop levels.

So, the model for these next variations is #45 – using the upper arm on the double stop level, and the wrist moving between the two strings. I often have the students play Variation #45 before the others because it is somewhat more straightforward in figuring out how to use the arm versus the wrist/fingers.

Variation #45:

#45

Needless to say, all of these string crossings are works-in-progress for evenness, consistency, ease of playing, etc. This is something that we string players work on for our entire lives!

Variation #42:

#42

There are several ways to think about the combination of arm levels vs. wrist/fingers on each of these variations, but I feel that the best one for #42 is to think of the arm going to the G-string level, the D-string level, and then the D-A string double-stop level, with the wrist moving between the two upper strings.

I had to work with Zach on using the wrist to go upwards towards the A-string. Students often find it easier to go down to the lower string, and more difficult at first to go up to the higher string. But with some practice that becomes easier. I also had to remind Zach to watch his bow angle on the upbows (that was the motion I made while he was playing).

Variations #43 and #44:

#43   #44

So by the next lesson his string crossings were starting to become a little smoother and the wrist motion was becoming more wave-like. For several of these variations I asked Zach to play the open strings first in order to make sure that he was using the arm correctly for some of the string crossings versus using the wrist/fingers for others.

Variation #46 – #51:

#46  #47  #48#49#50  #51

For these variations I will only show a few measures, since they are all so similar. However, each variation calls for a slightly different choreography of the upper arm versus the wrist/fingers. For example, #46 would use two double-stop arm levels, with the wrist going between the G-D string arm level and the D-A string arm level. #49 would use the G-D double-stop string arm level for the 16th notes (with the wrist going between the two strings), and then the A-string arm level followed by the D-string arm-level. It is always useful to play the open strings to work out the arm levels and the evenness of the string crossings before adding in the left hand.

Next week’s Blog will present the final variations of Feuillard No. 35, dealing with a heavy, brushy off-the-string stroke and three-note chords.

Blog 30: Collé

I am “interrupting” my blog series on Feuillard with today’s post dealing with collé. I usually wait with working on collé in the private lessons until other technical aspects of the bow are internalized and solid. Part of the reason I do this is that I have found that students sometimes get confused by the use of the fingers for the vertical motion in string crossings as opposed to the use of the fingers in the horizontal collé motion.  I find that it is better to solidify the string crossing motion before explaining the collé motion, since they are so similar and yet completely different. I do sometimes teach collé to all the students in my Saturday Pre-college classes. However, that is in a large group situation and I can only address the concept in generalities and am not able to focus on specific students and address their specific problems.

My pre-college student in today’s blog, and in the rest of the videos in this series, is George.

Collé is the French word for “glue”. It is used for marcato and martelé strokes, for the clear beginnings of notes, and also for bow changes. The motions of the fingers are the same as the ones used in string crossings (see Blog #20 with the Five Step process), except that now we pronate the arm slightly so that instead of moving the bow up and down for string crossing, the fingers move the bow to the left and right. Using the fingers alone will move the bow about 1-2 inches; by adding the wrist the bow will move about 4 inches.

At first it is difficult for some students to move the fingers to create the collé motion. They are so used to having a “square” position for the bow-hold, and to use the fingers for the vertical motion of string crossings,  that it is hard for them to pronate the arm and to use the fingers to move the bow horizontally. Collé comes from the violin world, where the fingers on the bow are more slanted anyway. As a result it is a more “natural” movement for violinists to make.

In the next lesson we spent some more time with the basic motions. I reminded George to have the little finger close to the third finger. We also worked on keeping the palm of the hand flat when the fingers are in the “up” position, and we explored the importance of the flexibility of the thumb in this stroke. It usually takes a few lessons to get collé to start to feel comfortable and natural. These videos are clips of  “real-time” portions of lessons on collé.

Learning collé is a “process”, and it usually takes several weeks of exercises and study to absorb the motions.  By the third lesson George was starting to internalize the collé motions, and it was beginning to look more relaxed and natural. We started this session with some physical exercises for the finger motions and a focus on the thumb.

Next we applied the collé stroke to the Duport Etude #7. I use this etude with students after they have gone through Feuillard No. 35 (variations on three strings). We do a variety of bowings, including two and four note slurs, and sextuplets starting up-bow and down-bow, etc. I ask the students to memorize it so that they can focus on their bow hand instead of staring at the music. First we do chords all through the etude, so that they are comfortable with the left hand. With George I am using this etude to explore collé on different strings, with down- and up-bows. We also attached the arm to the cello in order to isolate the wrist and finger motions. Then when we free up the arm the motions seem easier. In this first lesson on the Duport I just demonstrated the “issues” and the ways to practice it using collé.

In the next lesson George was already doing the motions much better. But we still needed to review some of the elements and do some refinement of the strokes. He also had some good questions about how to do the pronation.

In editing the videos in today’s blog I preserved more of the teaching/learning process than in some of my past blogs. This is in order to show the pedagogical steps that are a necessary part of the process.  Collé is a complicated and sophisticated element of our bow technique, and it takes some time to learn. By the end of this lesson, George was able to play the Duport using collé. Now he will need to continue focusing on this aspect of his bow technique in order to make it “part and parcel” of his playing.

Finally, I showed George how to use the collé motion in bow changes, combined with playing on the different sides of the strings, and culminating in “bow vibrato”. I discussed this in more depth in an earlier blog.

In the next blog we will return to the Feuillard “Daily Exercises” with theme No. 36, dealing with string crossings over four strings.