Articulating the cello bow
PART 1 – Welcome to this first video of Advanced Cellotips. In this video I will shed some light on two fundamental but often neglected motions of the forearm, used to articulate the bow.
Pronation and supination are two rolling actions executed by the forearm to respectively close and open a lock with a key. The pronation motion, rolling the hand clockwise combined with the twisting action between thumb and index finger at the frog, lead to a firmer contact between hair and string. Rolling the hand back in supination action, will release the pressure o the string. Keep the wrist slightly curved and, this is an important detail, fixate your first finger. A relaxed index finger will bring the hand down.
PART 2 – I will now use a staccato exercise to demonstrate these rolling actions and putting down actions. I divide the bow in 3 parts, frog, middle and upper part. As the arm weight falls naturally at the frog, we just need a small stop to articulate the bow. When moving to the middle and the tip, I gradually increase both the pronation action and the amount of bow and I use the Pendulum for a smooth bow change at the tip. I will give a full explanation about the pendulum in my next video. It is essential to always roll back to the so called “neutral” position in supination direction, to prepare the next rolling impulse.
I will now play the exercise and will start with playing two notes on each part of he bow.
In a fast staccato, there is no time to perform the rolling motions, I therefore just apply a small stop and use the resilience of the string to articulate the bow. A small trick is to lift the little finger or even grip the bow just between thumb and index finger, this will make the hand lighter and enables us to play even more notes on one single bow.
PART 3 – Take notice to use a tiny whole arm movement to cross the string and not a fast flip over gesture with the hand, as a regularly observe with y students.
Take care to articulate the bow only AFTER you have ‘landed’ on the next string. I call that ‘Golden Principle’. So, string crossing always comes first! I will give a full explanation about this golden principle in my video called Bow Strategies.
Working on articulation is one of the most enjoyable things while practicing as it gives clarity to the phrasing and makes everything we play more rhythmical. Articulating the bow is perfectly comparable with pronouncing consonants and vowels with our lips, tongue and teeth.
We can use a similar range of letters, sounds, from a soft ‘m’ or ‘d’ to a middle sharp ‘p’ or soft ‘t’ to a sharp ‘t’ and even a ‘k’ attack. To connect two consonants I generally use a long ”j” letter.
In the following excerpt, from the 2nd movement of the Brahms e minor Sonata, in the first bars, as you can see on the screen, I have written the letters above the notes. I use a soft but clear “p” sound for the dotted notes and a long p-àà vowel for the long note and than I connect the next note by a “j” sound. You can even think of the vowel soundwhich comes after the attack, for instance in the following excerpt from the second Beethoven Sonata, I use a wave- like but vertical motion to bring out the pesante characterof the quavers and sound wise it is like a “t” with a long sounding “ààà: tàà tàà tàà.
Finally in the last excerpt, from the 1st Sjostakowitch concerto, I use heavy martellato attacks, producing a sharp ‘k’ sound, to bring out the vehement character of the passage.
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