Release Tension before the shift
Take time on the note before the shift
Plant the bow in the string - almost stopping it
Maintain the position of the hand and curvature of the fingers while keeping other fingers down
Release tension in wrist and thumb, initiate movement with the elbow and follow through with the hand
Feel the elbow at a slightly higher angle from the knuckle base
I concentrate on balancing the other fingers before the shift-this seems to help
Remember to keep breathing!
- Elbow too low
- Shifting too fast
- Too much pressure in the fingers
- Rushing the note before the shift
- Leading with the fingers instead of the arm
When you shift on the "old" finger, shift on the "old" bow and "old" beat
When you shift on the "new" finger, shift on the "new" beat and "new" beat
It is easy for cellists to "force" the sound due to the disadvantage we have in projection. Setting the string in motion and allowing it to ring actually increases the volume of your sound. It is important to initiate sound with the larger muscle groups.
I like to compare the sounding point to that of a root Beer float or some type of fountain drink with a lot of foam on top. The "sweet spot" is located in the dense portion of the drink (closer to the bridge), where the sound is the richest in relation to the bridge. The fizzy part is similar to playing over the fingerboard where it seems easy to play but produces a rather insipid or bland sound and the extremely thick and unpleasant part is like playing too close to the bridge.
Different colors can be obtained by varying bow speed, weight and sounding point but often students gravitate towards the fingerboard regardless of the sound they are attempting to produce. Try lowering the sounding point so that there are more overtones in your sound and you can use the tension of the string to help support your arm.
It is easy to forget that the different strings require different amounts of weight and speed due to the varying thickness. I have noticed that sometimes students treat all of the strings the same and therefore scratch on some and produce a superficial sound on others.
I feel that balance is the key to reducing tension while playing. The Alexander technique helps one find the balance and I also recommend taking breaks in your practice after 25 minutes and have also found that exercise, yoga or Tai Chi are, if not cure-alls, are beneficial.
You can reduce tension by balancing the body and gradually reducing excess energy (tension is simply an over abundance of energy). I use the word gradually because over a period of time one can work to release tension, it doesn't have to be an overnight 100 percent change.
Imagine your muscles softening and avoid quick jerky motions. Strive for circular and flowing motions while initiating motion from the larger muscle groups. Use gravity instead of muscle to produce sound-it actually doesn't take an inordinate amount of weight and energy to produce sound. Balance the elbows and the hands-allow the shoulders to release but also avoid forcing them to drop.
Many cellists tend to pull their heads forward when they play, especially in the upper positions. This tends to make the weaker muscles do the work and creates more tension especially in the shoulders. Try keeping your head up and resist the temptation to "micro manage" by pushing your head closer to the fingerboard. Play both ways and ask a friend to comment on the difference in the sound.
I really believe strongly in what Yo-Yo Ma says about keeping some energy in reserve while you play. We have been convinced over the years that we have to produce an enormous sound on the cello. This tends to cause cellists to force the sound by pressing too hard. The great irony here is that this does not create a bigger sound and it leads to tension problems. I like to compare creating sound to pushing a large object on wheels such as a piano or automobile (of course, with much, much less energy on the cello). In order to push the object, you initially need more energy. Once you have the object in motion, you need much less. The same is true of the string of the bow to keep the sound even.
Vary your practice routine and always include some time for some fun. It is wonderful to improvise as part of your warm up. Also take some time to play through a piece that has special meaning to you. I often find myself playing the prelude to the Bach G major Suite and the Mendelsshon "song without words" amongst others. I believe in a steady balance of etudes, scales and repertoire but it helps to put them into perspective by approaching them as a means to a musical end.
I find myself talking about balance frequently when discussing vibrato. Once you have found the balance point of your left hand then you are free to vibrate. Be sure that you vibrate from the arm instead of the wrist. Imagine moving your arm and fingers as if you were throwing a ball against a wall and letting it bounce back. Sense the connection of the flesh of the fingers against the fingerboard.
In the upper positions, vibrato is slightly different. One should use more forearm.
This is an important subject, for I feel that rhythm is the most important element in music and many technical problems actually originate from a deficiency in this area (shifting, sound production, playing rapid technical passages). Janos Starker has a wonderful devise to improve rhythm and free the body: simply march with your feet (not tap) while you play. This is more helpful than a metronome in causing you to internalize the beat so that you are feeling the pulse rather than reacting to it.
As you near the performance, make sure that you practice playing the recital through without stopping. At first, do this alone and then play for friends and then for colleagues that make you a little uneasy or are from a completely different musical discipline. Set up performances at rest homes or at some venues in which there is less pressure and also find a place to play that is a little more formal and closer to the atmosphere of the recital. Performing does get easier the more often one appears on stage!