The Very First Steps to the 'Cello World*
1. The 'Cello Chair
The height of the 'cello chair is very critical, whether you are a beginner or a professional. If the young player is still growing, the chair (as well as the instrument) must obviously be adjusted periodically.
The type of chair and height can be determined in the following way:
- The surface of the chair should be flat and solid, preferably without a soft cushion.
- To test the proper height of the chair, sit on the chair with both feet solidly planted on the floor -- both thighs from your hip to the knee should be flat, in other words, they should be parallel to the surface of the chair.
2. Sitting Posture
- One should sit on the front half of the chair, with a straight back and shoulders relaxed.
- Both feet should plant flat on the floor, pointing slightly outwards. The left foot is positioned slightly forward of the right foot.
- The knees and legs point outward at an angle of approximately 45 degrees.
- The upper right side of the cello should be placed directly under the sternum (or breastbone). Never place the cello on the chest! The cello is turned slightly toward the right. The C-string tuning peg should be below the left earlobe. The endpin must therefore be adjusted to fit these requirements.
- The cello and your body should form a right triangle, with your back and the floor forming the 2 sides of the right angle and the cello forming the hypotenuse.
Do not adjust your body to fit the instrument; rather, adjust the instrument to fit your most comfortable sitting position. One should sit like a King or Queen, or a Chinese Emperor; chin level and shoulders down while playing, that enables one to hear his/her playing.
Never raise the shoulders while playing; both shoulders should remain on the same level. The more sound one wishes to produce, the lower the shoulders should be. When playing in the higher position, give the cello a "bear hug."
3. The Right Hand (Bow arm) = 90% of string playing technique
- While gently holding the middle of the bow with your left hand fingers, place the bow on either the D or G string. First of all, raise your relaxed right arm and hand; form a half circle with all your curved fingers as if holding a glass of water; as you are "pouring" the water to your left, place your fingers onto the bowstick all at once. For this preparation, the thumb should not touch the bow, but should remain relaxed. The elbow should be away from your body, but shoulder relaxed. A straight line should be formed from your elbow to your wrist. Feel the center of the weight in your elbow and NOT in your wrist or fingers. Your arm should feel like a "dead arm." Remove your hand and repeat this gesture numerous times.
- When the above gesture is done naturally and comfortably, place the middle finger where the silver ring meets the bow hair, so that half of your finger touches the hair, half touches the ring. Half of the first joint of the middle finger should extend below the silver ring.
- The index finger should contact the bow between the first and second joints on the silver wiring portion of the bowstick; slightly separated from the middle finger.
- The third finger (ring finger) should rest naturally next to the middle finger, while the pinkie rests on the eye of the frog.
- The thumb and middle finger oppose each other; the thumb should be curved naturally, forming a circle with the middle finger. The right corner of the thumb should contact the edge of the frog and the bowstick.
- Using your whole arm pull the bow to the right (down bow) from frog to middle of the bow. When you have reached the middle of the bow, extend your forearm and continue the pulling motion. For an up bow, start at the tip of the bow and push the bow with your forearm; when your reach the middle of the bow, finish by using your whole arm.
4. The Left Hand
- Raise your relaxed left arm and hand; form a half circle with all your curved fingers as if holding a glass; the middle finger and the thumb should oppose each other.
- Place all the fingers on the G or D string; the thumb should contact the left half of the cello neck with the upper side of the thumb. A straight line should be formed from your fourth finger (pinkie) to your elbow. The center of the weight should be in your elbow, NOT in your wrist or fingers.
- The shape of your curved fingers should look like a bridge, NOT like a piano bench. Knuckles and joints should not be pointed. Use the fleshy part (pad) of your finger to contact the string, not your fingertip. Never place the thumb above the middle finger; lower is better for the extensions.
Make friends with both thumbs; treat them gently; never press or squeeze them.
* Dr. Hekun Wu's name should be cited with any usage of the above materials.