Choosing the right teacher for YOU

February 22, 2015

Heidi

by Heidi Ames

There are so many music teachers out there! How do you even begin the process of choosing the right one for you or your child?  If you don’t have any experience in music this part may seem fairly simple. Just call up your local music studio and have them choose one for you or choose one from their online list. Done. Unfortunately many new students don’t know the importance of taking the time to find the right teacher. Here are some helpful DO’s and DONT’s when selecting a teacher:

DO…interview your teacher. Don’t hesitate to ask about a teacher’s background and experience. It is very important to get a solid foundation from someone who can spot and fix tension issues immediately, otherwise bad habits may become ingrained which are then difficult to correct later on. Also, when you progress on your instrument you won’t need to find another teacher later on or be “passed up” to a teacher with more experience.

DO… sit in on a lesson. In many cases teachers are okay with potential students sitting in to observe their teaching style. Don’t be afraid ask!

DO… a trial lesson or two. This way you can get an idea of how you without making a commitment to weekly lessons. Music teachers are used to doing one-time lessons and there are no hard feelings if you decide it’s not the right fit. Good teachers want what is best for you anyway.

DO…ask yourself what you would like to get out of lessons and express them to your teacher. Having realistic goals in mind before getting started is essential to your success. Music lessons are one of the best investments you can make so spend some time getting clear on what you would like to get out of them. If a teacher doesn’t feel they can get you where you want to be they will tell you, but only if you ask!

DON’T… stay with a teacher with whom you do not feel comfortable. You should feel that you can communicate freely with him/her and not afraid or embarrassed to make mistakes for fear of how they will react. Your teacher should be able to make you laugh at least once during your lesson!

DON’T….study with a teacher who does not have training in the musical style you are interested in studying. If you want to be a jazz pianist and your teacher only knows how to play Beethoven you might run into some problems. There are specialized methods for jazz/rock training that many classical musicians have never studied. However, many of the best teachers in any musical style do have a foundation in classical training.

DON’T….stay with a teacher if you are not learning from them. You should be able to see some results in your playing within a couple of months and feel inspired to practice. Your teacher should be genuinely interested in your success and it will be reflected in your playing.

I hope you found this list helpful! Of course there are many factors involved in selecting a teacher and this list is only a starting point. If you have any more ideas, please comment below.

Heidi Ames teaches piano and voice at The Lesson Studio.

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Handing Mistakes

February 15, 2015
Michael Sebulsky

Michael Sebulsky

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Michael Sebulsky

Whether it be playing a memorized, classical piece in a concert hall, playing a jazz solo at a local jam, or simply sitting and learning with friends around the campfire mistakes are likely to happen. A mistake is defined as an unintentional musical moment, contrary to musical expectation. Some mistakes seem more critical than others. Whether it is a broken guitar string, a wrong note played on the piano or a vocalist’s voice not reaching the expected high point a mistake does not have to end or ruin a performance. Most good performances contain a mistake, if not more than one. Chances are that if you have seen a live music performance that you have seen many mistakes, whether you noticed or not.

Instead of being afraid of making a mistake, a practicing musician can follow the following tips to learn how to make mistakes and other “unintentional musical events” a part of a good, smooth musical performance.

1. Practice performing

One of the most important aspects of a good performance is to practice the attitude and experience of the performance. This can be done in many ways. Ask your close friends (whom you feel comfortable around) if you can perform your music for them. This is a great way to experience the sensation and nerves of performing for a group of people, albeit people who you know to be your “musical allies.” Allow the performance to go on, no matter what! This is where most of your mistakes will come to light. Allow your friends to give you honest and constructive feedback and feel free to ask them questions about the performance. Remember that your experience of your performance is not always (or ever) the same as the experience your audience has!
Practice performing can happen while learning a piece of music, even before the entire piece is ready. A musician can be well benefitted by working section by section through a piece for performing. When a certain section seems ready (even when the whole piece isn’t) the musician can enter into “practice performing” by not allowing themselves to stop while playing this section. Making notes of what went well, what felt shaky and what went not according to plan at this stage in the learning process can help to better shape the remainder of the piece.

2. Do not memorize the mistake.

So many times we let a mistake stop us in our tracks. (There will be more about not stopping in the next section.) By stopping, we are actually setting ourselves up to repeat the same activity. Muscle memory plays a huge part in this activity. One great way to remove the muscle memory is to take a break, and begin the learning process of the mistake section again. Good, successful practice sessions allow the musician to not only practice the notes and chords of a tune but also the mental strength and focus necessary for executing the performance with excellence. Mental fatigue can cause mistakes. So get up, grab a glass of water or a piece of fruit, talk to someone for a moment and distance yourself from the learning momentarily. When you return you will see what parts of the piece are memorized both mentally and muscularly. Sometimes slowing down and starting from scratch causes a musician to focus more on the music, and not the expectation of an error.

3. Don’t stop and focus.

Stopping is the most commonly repeated mistake. We stop because we are not expecting what has just happened. Stopping during the performance of a bad note negates the correct rhythm and placement of the note. Do not allow a note to be both bad melodically and rhythmically by stopping! Instead, allow yourself the opportunity to play the unexpected, incorrect note and allow it to be apart of the performance. In most cases, one wrong or bad note is not something your audience will remember or even notice. By not stopping, the performer draws less attention to the unexpected error and more attention to the overall performance.

4. Practice fixing the mistake.

The activity of fixing a mistake is not one that any musician should endeavor to work on during a performance. In fact, while practicing performing, the idea of stopping is completely frowned upon. Instead, continue playing and practice the activity of not stopping when a mistake occurs. What you will learn is akin to an entirely new skill, that of thinking on your feet as a musician. This is where mental focus on the piece is crucial. Knowing your piece can allow you to patch a mistake during a performance without stopping and smoothly guide you to the next section of your work.

5. Make the mistake a part of your playing.

The great Chet Atkins once quipped that, “The first time I do it, it is a mistake. The second time it is my own arrangement.” A performer can benefit from the idea of knowing that some errors actually help the performance to sound unique! Essentially, not all mistakes are bad or contrary to a good, solid performance. There is no such thing as the mythical “perfect performance.” Therefore, allow mistakes to be a part of the overall sound of the performance and do not let them distract from the larger picture, which is a musical, smooth performance.

Using these tips should help your practice time, your performances, and your understanding of how to handle mistakes. Taking each one of these tips and applying them to your daily study will show results quickly and benefit your overall performing, making your instrument much more enjoyable to study.

“Understanding Tempo and Rhythm”

November 9, 2014

Casey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

by Casey Cormier

 

No matter what instrument you choose to study, there is no doubt that at some point you will struggle with the proper timing of a piece.  Of course this is the main focus of any drummer, keeping a steady beat while delivering a solid rhythmic pattern.  But singers need to have a good sense of time too; often in my career I’ve worked with incredible vocalists who would come in at the wrong place in a song, causing us backing musicians to quickly alter our position in the piece and follow our wayward leader.  The importance of understanding tempo and rhythm, and the methods of practicing to improve these skills, cannot be overstated.

 

Tempo is the pace of a piece of music.  In pop songs, most often, the tempo stays the same through out the piece.  In art songs, or classical music, the tempo can change as the music proceeds, in which case a conductor comes in very handy.  Tempos are determined in BPMs, or Beats Per Minute.  The easiest tempo to ascertain is 60 BPMs.  60 beats per minute…60 seconds per minute.  Think “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”, or refer to any analog clock, and you’ll here 60 bpm ticking away.  Tempo ranges can be determined from this source, such as:

 

Largo ~ This is the slowest tempo setting, 60 beats per minute or slower.  Think of a slow, sad ballad.  “Something” by the Beatles is 69 bpm, so even slower than that!

Andante ~ Faster than 60 beats per minute, but not twice as fast.  Think of a walking pace, a straight ahead rock song.  “Down on the Corner” by CCR is 108 bpm, on the edge of andante and…

Allegro ~ Full steam ahead!  120 bmp or higher, heard often in up-tempo dance numbers and punk rock. “Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones clocks in at 168 bpm, more than twice as fast as “Something”!

 

If a guitarist were to count off “Rockaway Beach” at 69 beats per minute, you can bet his or her band mates would be raising some eyebrows.  Of course that doesn’t mean that we all need to bring metronomes to every rehearsal, but it does mean that we should consider the tempo of a piece of music before we jump in.  Practicing scales or exercises with a metronome is a great way of helping to improve innate tempo precision, and using one with a piece of music that you are trying to polish for a performance or recording is guaranteed to make you stronger with it.  In fact, most of what you hear on the radio today was recorded with a click track keeping tempo in the musicians’ ears, to guarantee a steady beat throughout.

 

Once you understand tempo, it’s important to grasp the concept of rhythm, or playing notes in a metric pattern.  What?  Let’s break it down this way.  Most of popular music is played in 4/4 time, or four beats in a measure.  Count “1,2,3,4”, in an even fashion and you’ve got it.  What if we wanted to have those same beats but add a beat in between each.  We’d be creating what are called 8th notes, and count “1&2&3&4&” in the same amount of time.  We could mix and match these to create different patterns, such as “1 2& 3 4&” or “1 2&3& 4”.  Songs often have a signature rhythm attached either to their melody or to the supporting instruments.  For example, “1,2,3(rest)1,2&(rest)(rest)” is the rhythm to the beginning riff of Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing”.  If you were to take out those rests and play the same notes, it would cease to be the same song.  Rhythm is the skeletal system of melody, and tempo is its heart beat.

 

So when and how should you practice rhythmic concepts?  I have students break out the metronome to practice a scale they have already conquered melodically; in other words, if they aren’t able to play the pattern properly, then it’s too soon for the metronome.  But once they’re able to maneuver that scale without correction, then we start at 60 bpm, and move up from there.  Any exercise you can do at 60 bpm you’ll eventually be able to do at 120 (twice as fast); I recommend moving up in intervals of 20.  For a song, once the student can read through it accurately, then the metronome is a great polishing tool, but it’s important to take the most difficult part of the piece and determine the playable tempo from there.  If we’re playing “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin, we’ll determine the tempo to practice from the guitar solo, the most difficult part of the song, and apply that to the whole thing.  The results for a student of any instrument will be a stronger rhythmic foundation and thus a better all-around musician in the making!

Multi-tasking — Good or Bad?

November 2, 2014

Elizabeth LaManna, Cello Instructor at the Lesson Studio

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 
   

 

By Elizabeth Avery LaManna

Is the mind able to be ‘present’ and focused on more than one thing at a time?
What does it take to play an instrument and make music?
Where is the focus and where is one ‘present’?

It seems to me, Music Making is an extreme multi-tasking activity. Yet to be a part of the music magic you have to stay focused in a zone separate from the multi-tasking demands.

That means your practice has to really be productive. All the little parts of playing the instrument need to become natural, accurate, automatic and reliable – ie – the means of making your music are second nature. And all those little individual parts need your complete attention in practice, one at a time. Practice becomes so much fun when attention and intention are clear and defined. Repetition is only valuable when the task is being well defined and executed.

So make your practice a time of clarity when you seek and drill carefully. Take the challenges in such tiny bits and slowly practice so that you can master the tasks you set before yourself. You will find success and things will stick with you and become your foundation.

Remember, in practice you are always an artist at work.

Accented notes versus unaccented notes

October 25, 2014

By Ryan Sapp – Drum Set Instructor at The Lesson Studio.

Ryan Sapp

Ryan Sapp, Percussion Instructor at the Lesson Studio

In drumming, there should be a major difference in volume between accented notes and unaccented notes. Unaccented notes can be thought of as “the normal notes at the normal volume” or “just cruising along”. Accented notes are much louder and should really stick out and be discernable by even the casual music listener. Accented notes are frequently used as the backbeat (2 and 4) in rock music. They are also used to highlight accents in songs and other instruments. Accented notes are frequently used in fills and can also create a counter rhythm within a flow of notes.

Creating solid accents within the flow of the music and in a stream of notes is a worthwhile pursuit. It requires consistent practice over the course of time. The rewards of this practice are numerous and include superior hand and muscular control, increased dynamic awareness, and a musical sophistication that is noticeable amongst musicians and listeners alike. A qualified instructor will help you use the correct technique and guide you in your pursuit of musical excellence.

To begin with unaccented notes, you must place the sticks just above the drum in the “neutral position”. The tips of the drumsticks must be very near each other and be approximately 1/2 inch over the drumhead. Both sticks must be at the same height. This position allows you to drop each tip onto the drumhead at a lower volume. After either hand strikes the drum, remember to return it to the “neutral position” of 1/2 inch above the drumhead. Using a metronome and playing a steady stream of either 8th or 16th notes is highly recommended to help achieve evenness.

To play an accented note, you must also begin at the “neutral position”. This position allows for the easy use of playing either an unaccented note (which you just drop the stick to the head) or an accented note (which you simply lift the stick approximately 6 – 12 inches above the drumhead). Lift the stick with the wrist using a good pivot. When playing an accented note, do not lift the stick past a 90-degree angle or the straight up and down position. Using your wrist with a good pivot, bring the stick back toward the drumhead. After bringing the stick down and striking the drumhead, return your hand and the tip of the stick to the neutral position.

When bringing the stick down from the high, accented position, you only have to use enough power to bring the stick in motion while letting gravity take care of the rest. Think of it like dribbling a basketball: Once the ball is in motion, you just have to lightly flick it with your wrist to keep it going. The ball is doing the work for you. Thus, you do not have to be heavy handed while doing accents.

Stick height controls volume. Thus, the softer unaccented notes are only a 1/2 inch above the drumhead while the louder accented notes are approximately 6 – 12 inches above the drumhead. This significant difference in height between unaccented notes and accented notes should be at noticeably different volumes. In written dynamics, the unaccented notes should sound piano (soft) and the accented notes should sound fortissimo (very loud).

There are several drum method books that feature exercises and usable patterns to practice. There are also hundreds of songs that feature excellent use of accented versus unaccented notes. Notable famous beats within songs include The Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under The Bridge”, Tower Of Power’s “Soul Vaccination”, Toto’s “Rosanna”, and “Funky Drummer” by James Brown.

Singing More than Just the Words

October 12, 2014

By, Catherine Behrens. Voice instructor at The Lesson Studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music can bring about strong emotions, bring back old memories, and soothe our tired bodies at the end of a long day. As musicians, it is one of our chief goals to move people with what we do. We want to give a message to our audience that will leave them changed after they have heard us play or sing. There are many things that go into creating an impacting performance, but there is one tool that I want to focus on that is specific to singers. We have words. Composers and songwriters choose their lyrics very carefully. Whether they have taken inspiration from a great poet such as Shakespeare, Dickinson or Goethe, or if they have written their own, these words have been crafted to evoke emotion. When we sing, we sometimes get so focused on all the technique (which is super important!) we forget about the words. So here are some ideas on how to get the most meaning out of your song.

First, write out your words on a separate piece of paper and read them out loud. If there is a part that doesn’t make sense to you, really focus in on it. Try and figure out if it is symbolic or literal. Maybe it’s a metaphor or a description. If you still don’t know, talk to other people about it. Your teacher, family members, classmates, anyone who you think might be helpful in understanding what the writer meant. Keep reading it to yourself until the message of the words, and what you want to get across when you sing it, becomes ingrained in you. This is also a fantastic way to help memorize your songs!

Next, go into each individual sentence and determine which words are the most important in that sentence. For example, if you have something like “Never mind I’ll find someone like you” I would pick “mind” and “someone” as my two big words (although next time I sing that phrase I might pick “find” and “you”). This is probably going to be a little different for everybody, which is great because that’s going to make your interpretation unique. Once you have your words for each sentence or phrase, go through your music and underline them to remind you that those are the words you want to highlight. When you sing them, give them just a little more love than the other words. Making them pop like this will give your listeners a road-map of what is important in the music.

Finally, invest in what those words actually mean. It isn’t enough to have a head knowledge of what you are singing about, you should be feeling it too. So if you are singing a love song, and you’ve never been in love, maybe try to think about a friend that means a lot to you, or a family member. Make the lyrics your own. If you can’t relate to it, neither will anyone else. The thing that makes your favorite artists so good is that they move you. Maybe it moves you to dance, or cry, or to change the world, but you are feeling those emotions because the artist felt them first. Now it’s your job to feel those same things and pass it on the the next person.

So, at the end of the day, be sure you know what your song is about, and that it means something to you. Whether it’s Mozart or Rihanna, look at what the words behind the music mean. They cared a lot about how those words fit into music, and you should too. So dig deep and make the world listen to your song!

The Warm Up!

November 11, 2013

Carrie Blosser, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

The warm-up in brass performance is the most important part of the daily practice. It is in this time that you as a musician have the opportunity to address the fundamentals of brass performance in a critical and thoughtful way! As much as any other part of the practice session, the warm-up also contains the opportunity for each and every brass performer to grow and learn on a daily basis.

Warm-up thoughts:

First and foremost, the warm-up should be musical and of the highest quality possible. Every note that you play on your instrument should be the most musical and best sounding quality that you are able to play. Play everything musically no matter what!! The physical functions in brass playing should always be guided by musical goals.

Many brass players (and much of our literature) are focused on the mechanical aspects of playing and lose sight of the fact that the physical aspect of playing is most effectively produced as a product of musical goals.

The warm-up should be done daily, and as early in the day as possible. Before school or work is the best time to do a long or short warm-up, even if that is the only playing you do in your day. By putting in your time daily, you are reinforcing great fundamental habits on your instrument. What is done in the warm-up sets the tone for the day, the week, the month, etc.

The warm-up should not be done if the musician is not thinking about what they’re doing. Mental focus on your warm is an essentially element, not your math test, work presentation, or other daily things. Focus on the quality of sound you are about to product and the musical goals for your day.

The warm-up should be comprehensive without being excessively tiring. Schedule your practice time, whatever the amount of available time, make it your goal to hit every part of the warm-up. Condense or expand your warm-up as time allows, this way you are touching on every essential of your instrument everyday!

The most important facet of the warm-up is the direct relationship of musical goals with the most efficient physical means available. Efficiency and musicality go hand in hand, focusing on a musical product allows you to forget about the physical nature of playing.

Warm-up format:

Mental Focus: Focusing attention on the musical task at hand

Breathing – Free Flowing Breath of Air – Use OH-HO as a model

Mouthpiece playing – single notes – Sing then Buzz

Signs You Might Be Cut Out for a Career as a Musician – or signs your child might be cut out for a career as a musician

November 4, 2013

By Hugh Lobel, piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel , The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel, Piano

1.     You enjoy practicing. This first one might seem obvious, but it’s critical to pursuing a career as a musician. Regardless of whether you want to be a folk singer, a rock drummer, or a classical pianist, you’ll need the chops when you hit the stage and there’s only one way to get there. Professionals spend hours a day practicing their instrument, maybe even seven days a week, and if you don’t honestly enjoy the act of sitting in a practice room working out the finer points of your technique and your music, trying to be a world-class musician can feel like a real slog. That doesn’t mean that you will enjoy every moment you spend in a practice room; to the contrary you’ll often find yourself practicing out of necessity more than desire. But if you don’t enjoy it at any point, the constant effort might not be worth it.

2.      You’re a night person. By this I don’t mean the kind of person that sits up until 2 a.m. playing Farmville on the weekend. No, a musician is someone who doesn’t mind WORKING late into the night. Remember that gigs (see also concerts) almost always occur in the evening, and may start as late as midnight or even later! Don’t forget that the concert might be late, but your job doesn’t end when the gig ends.  There are people to meet, there’s equipment and stage material to strike, and after-parties to attend. If you’re a classical musician these after parties are often formal, and might be necessary to help inspire those donors to keep on giving! If you like the idea of making late nights a regular thing, the world of music might just be right for you.

3.      You’re patient. Very VERY patient. Astronomically patient. If you want to be a world-class musician you have to think long-term. No one becomes a success over night, and for that matter, no one masters a difficult piece of music in a day! There will be goals that can be achieved in a day, such as getting a certain scale a little bit faster, but some goals will take a week, a month… possibly even years! Making it to fame could take decades, and often does! But for the true musicians amongst us, these things don’t matter as much. We can keep working away in those practice rooms, taking those gigs, enjoying our successes where we get them and keep pushing forward. There’s always something bigger to achieve, but the day-to-day achievements are important steps. Keep your eyes out for those, and that patience won’t be so hard to find.

4.      You’re a perfectionist.  Remember how I mentioned that you’d be in a practice room a lot, and that patience is important? Here’s where those two things come together. A musician greatly benefits from perfectionist tendencies. You’ll be in that practice room a lot, working out some incredibly difficult techniques and figures, and it helps to really want each moment of a piece to be exquisite. After all, what’s the point of running through the first three beats of that one measure two hundred and thirty six times if you don’t really care whether you hit each of those notes at just the right time with just the right amount of volume and just the right intonation? Perfectionists have to deal with extra stress: we worry that everyone hears every microscopic imperfection that comes out when we play in public and judges us for it. We bite our nails, grind our teeth, and pull our hair out over what other people think of a three minute song (and no this is not healthy,) but we also find nobility in striving for something outstandingly good, and nothing satisfies an audience quite like a performance that blows them away.

There are more signs I could go over… possibly in a future post, but these are all requirements for a career as a musician. If you don’t find that you fit all of these requirements, DON’T SWEAT IT! You can still learn an instrument beautifully, and play to your heart’s content for family and friends. You can carry your skills with you through your entire life and share your love of music with everyone around you. But if you are thinking of making a career out of being a musician, think about these necessities, and talk to your teacher more about what it takes. You just might be cut out for it after all!

A Guide to Picking & Buying Your First Drum Set

October 28, 2013

 

By Will Smith Drum and Percussion Instructor at The Lesson Studio,

            Congratulations! You are just beginning the great adventure of learning to play the drums. It is my hope that after you’ve finished reading this you will feel more comfortable making a purchase of an instrument that fits you and your budget. If you have any questions please notify us so we can help you with any additional needs.

            Let’s start with how to read the following pages. You’ll be looking for a few important key words. The term hardware refers specifically to any part of the drum set that holds the drums, cymbals and hi-hats. When buying your first drum set you should aim to find a package that includes the hardware, this will be cheaper and easier. Keep in mind many higher end drum sets will not be sold with hardware.Drum sets are another one of those investments where you “get what you pay for”. If you choose to find a set that costs more or less than you’ve budgeted, make sure you investigate the reasoning behind the change in price and what you may be gaining or loosing as a result.

            Now let’s discuss the eternal battle of electronic vs. acoustic drum sets. Each has its strengths. Pick the option that suits you as an individual, if you struggle with turning a computer on/off you should probably not go the electronic route. I have an affinity for acoustic drum sets because the instrument makes the sound that I hear…not a computer. There’s just something about the good ol’ fashioned way that makes sitting behind an acoustic set more comfortable. The electronic set will save room and takes up much less surface area, it can also keep parents from having to wear ear plugs or talk down crazy neighbors. Choose wisely!

            On the note of noise, many products exist to muffle or eliminate the majority of sound coming from both electronic and acoustic drum sets. For electronic drum set simply plug in a pair of headphones, for acoustic drum sets you can purchase “SoundOff” mutes to completely eliminate the majority of sounds or “Moongel” damper gels to prevent excessive resonance.

            Remember the process of learning the drums is half muscle memory & half muscle memory…that is, your arms/feet & your brain as a muscle. Often times having a drum set in front of you helps to remind you that practicing the proper motions and techniques can be rewarding. Think of your practice time as time at the gym and your playing as lifting weights…the more you lift, the stronger you’ll be. They make heavier sticks if you plan to take that statement literally 😉

            After working closely with Billy from The Drum Shop (303-402-0122) in Boulder, CO we were able to put together a few packages that will make this process even easier. But don’t take my word for it, DO YOUR RESEARCH! It will only help you feel more at ease after making a purchase. The packages that follow this guide vary with what they offer please ask questions to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Musical Misnomers: Playing with Gravity

October 14, 2013

Ethan Fallis – Cello instructor at The Lesson Studio

 

Sometimes the names of every day things in our lives don’t make sense. For
example, pencil lead isn’t really lead at all. It is graphite, which was originally believed to
be lead ore. Similarly, an English Horn is neither English, nor a horn. These are what
you called misnomers or “an incorrect or unsuitable name or term for a person or thing.”

The Bow “Hold”:
After teaching for many years, I have evolved the ways I introduce the bow hold.
If we take a step back and look at a cello player, what do you notice about the bow and
bow “hold”?
Here is another question: If you were to place a fork on top of a table, would you need
to hold on to the fork to keep it from falling off of the table? Absolutely not. The table
does all the work for you.
This idea can and should be applied to the bow and the strings. The bow will stay on the
string without your help. As the cello player, you simply guide the bow. A bow hold is a
light grip that doesn’t have any squeezing tension in the thumb, fingers, hand, or wrist.
The thumb must be curved and the fingers must drape or hang over the stick to create
this light feeling. To test your bow hold at home, and to find if you have a relaxed and
tension free hand, follow these steps:
1. Be sure to have great cello posture sitting on your sit bones, with flat feet, and a
centered spine.
2. Pick-up the bow and place the bow on the D string at the balance point like you are
about to play (the spot about 5-8 inches beyond the frog).
3. Without moving the bow, find your bent thumb and hanging fingers.
4. Now, while letting the bow sit on the string, slowly release all tension from your hand,
fingers, palm, arm, and shoulders.
By now, you should feel like you will almost drop your bow. Ideally, the bow hand should
merely keep the bow from sliding down the strings as you play. A teacher of mine once
said, “ If you don’t drop your bow while playing at least twice a day, your bow hold is not
relaxed enough.”
Getting the best sound: Gravity is your friend.
Cello players have a distinct advantage when playing our instrument. We have a
great sense of foundation and posture because of the nature of how we sit and play.
With this comes another misnomer. I have studied with many teachers and played in
many orchestras where a common term is used to get more sound from your
instrument. This term is, “bow pressure.”
Pressure, implies an act of tension in a specific direction. When speaking of the
bow and cello, pressure would suggest pushing down on the hand and bow to produce
and increase a bigger sound.

Through many lesson experiences both as a student and the teacher, I have
replaced the word pressure with weight. Take a look at this second cello player’s bow
arm. What do you notice?
This player’s bow arm has a great bow hold and a very relaxed arm. If a student
wants to pull the best and biggest sound from their cello, he must let gravity pull his
relaxed arm into the string. Think about some of these things: how big and thick are
each of the cello strings? How much energy do you need to pull sound from any string?
How heavy is your arm? How much weight is actually needed from the arm to get sound
from the string?
It takes very little weight vibrate the string, and with increased weight comes
more sound. A cello player only needs to allow gravity to pull their arm into the string to
attain the best possible sound. To find the best arm for gravity to be a friend, follow
these steps:
1. Be sure to have great cello posture sitting on your sit bones, with flat feet, and a
centered spine.
2. Take your bow and place it at the Frog as if you were to draw a down bow.
3. Now, with your excellent bow hold, relax your shoulders and drop your elbow below
your wrist.
4. Your entire arm should feel relaxed and all of the weight from your arm flowing to your
fingers and further into the frog.
5. Be sure to have a small tilt of the stick towards the fingerboard before you draw the
string.
6. As you draw a down bow, focus on keeping your weight into the string with a relaxed
arm and flexible fingers.
7. As you reach the tip of the bow, notice the where the weight moves in your hand.
As you draw the down bow, the weight of your arm in your fingers should move
from the back of your hand (ring finger and pinky finger), to the front of the hand (thumb
and index finger). If you do not feel this transfer of weight, gravity is not being used to its
full potential.
Be Friends with Gravity:
To sum it up, cello playing is a relaxed endeavor and gravity lets us play the
instrument with very little effort. The combination of bow “hold” and “gravity lead arm
weight” not only allows us to pull the best sound from our instrument but also play for
much longer periods of time. As you continue your adventure as a musician, consider
forming a relationship with gravity.