der bogen
l’arco
de buiging
大提琴弓

(that last one is my personal favorite)

To me, the left hand is academic, and the right hand is, though rigorously technical, laced with the perfume of mystery and tacit knowledge of finesse. Oh yes, when Emily starts busting out the wordcraft, you know she’s got something brewing.

There is much talk of the independence of the hands. I understand the genesis of this, (don’t shoot through a mile of bow when you shift, fast notes do not equal fast bow) but in the end, I think that a better way to approach it is to make them as interconnected as possible. The right hand should contribute to the efforts of the left hand. It colors, emboldens and, at root, voices the left hand’s otherwise silent input.

This topic warrants more than a multi paragraph blog, but we have to start somewhere. I had a little back and forth with another cello blogger who was duking it out with a triplet passage in a concerto. One thing I mentioned was the idea of a digital bow motion. By digital, I mean 1 or 0. On or off. Moving, or not moving. I find that many of my advanced students (and this guy is definitely advanced) struggle with this issue. They get “garbage” creeping into their sound: little pops and pings during string crossings, maybe a little bit of lag on the uptake between the left and right hand, lumpy rhythmic execution, and tension, of course, that stems from habit and frustration. When your bow moves in a less than deliberate way, this is just what you get. Fixing it is, luckily, a matter of discipline. Here’s the checklist to run down each time you work on this:

1) When you begin a bow stroke, don’t get fussy or try to prepare. That’s where you get garbage. Just plant your bow, pick a speed and move. Consistent speed and location are so huge in building confidence.

2) Play IN the string. The native environment of the bow is resting deeply in the string. Too many people do small lifts between bows, or even over the course of the bow stroke. Let each bow be an investment in your left hand. Implicit in this is that your left hand knows where the notes are and that your shifts are clean, and that you move with a compact, singular confidence. Any flailing from your left hand, and there is nothing your right hand can do to cover it up. So, for your right hand to invest, it means that it moves with the left, with phrasing coming from equal parts bow and fingering. It stops being about two hands and becomes about the player. The interpretation. Your right hand leans into the string, with no fear or hesitation. This does not mean no mistakes. What it means is that when you make a mistake, the tone is solid, and you can easily quantify what it was that went wrong. And if no mistake was made? Then you have a fabulous note that speaks with integrity and ease.

3) Try to pivot when changing strings. Don’t make the motion of crossing strings the same motion that starts the new bow. That’s a recipe for garbage in your sound. Get to the new string, and then take the new bow, following rules 1 and 2 above.

This is not exhaustive, but still a good start for any of you wanting to excavate the issues in your bow technique. Always be open to exploration. I liken it to a cavity at the dentist. If you have decay, you want the dentist to get all of it right? No sense in calling it finished and putting a filling over even a small part of rot. (gross, I know!) So get to the bottom of it. Look forward to finding things that hold you back. Developing an awareness for your weaknesses is halfway to destroying them. And that’s enough to make any cellist smile.