Rules I Break (Part 2 of 2) – Right Hand

          Cello Life Blog Jonathan Simmons

            In last week’s blog, we addressed a few ground rules often taught to beginning cellists along with some instances in which those rules should be broken. The right hand similarly has some rules that need to be broken in certain instances. Today we will address two of those.

Right Hand Rule #1: Straight Bow

            Playing with a straight bow is crucial for a clear, consistent tone free of scratch in the sound, but if you watch great cellists, you will notice that they do not play with a straight bow 100% of the time. Why is this? As helpful as a straight bow can be for producing a homogeneous tone throughout the whole bow stroke, a straight bow is not necessarily the best way to produce a broad range of tone colors. Watch this video in which Thomas Mesa demonstrates the 10 bow lanes on the cello and when he plays with a crooked bow on purpose.

            In addition to the excellent advice Mr. Mesa gives, angling the bow helps move the bow across the bow lanes. This exercise that I learned from Natasha Brofsky entitled “The Snake” is helpful in exaggerating the usefulness of the slanted bow. You can use this exercise to work on either keeping a consistent tone with a slanted bow or allow the change in your bow’s contact point to vary the tone.

Rule #2: Bent Right Thumb

            Many string players liken the fingers on the bow to shock absorbers, a very accurate and relatable analogy. Shock absorbers must be free to move in order to be effective. Similarly our fingers must be free to adjust and not be fixed in one rigid position. In other words, there is no one correct position for the thumb.

Like many others, I was first taught that a bent thumb was more relaxed and that a straight thumb was more tense. After all, just feel the thumb muscle with the thumb bent versus straight and notice how the muscle feels more supple and soft when the thumb is bent. 

However, music does not require a constant state of release but rather a fluid balance between tension and release. As a broad over-generalization, the thumb should be more bent at the frog than at the tip. Many of us need all the help we can get to reach all the way to the tip, and straightening the thumb moves us that much closer to the end of the bow. 

See this previous blog post for more suggestions on reaching the tip. The role of the thumb is too detailed to cover in one blog post, but suffice it to say that a flexible thumb is more desirable than a thumb conforming to a single position. 

What have your discovered about the right hand that is different than what you were first taught? Leave your ideas in the comments below.



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