Originally posted 26 June 2007. It’s wild that this is all words and no images, although I suppose there is some utility in having to visualize the movements independently. It reminds me of the Eddie Izzard skit where he talks about why there are no car chases in books.

When a student is first learning extensions, I teach it as a multi-step movement that goes something like this, if we’re doing 1, 2, 4: 1st finger goes down like nothing’s different. (a lot of people prepare, pre-prepare, go insane pronating or other left hand freak out)

Then, take 2nd, and stretch it to where 3rd would normally be, and as soon as you have that stretch, move 1 up into the new position. This is when you actually play the note…after all of that movement.

4th is as/is, still a whole step away from 2. Thumb is slightly mobile, and generally behind 2, even though it is SO tempting to jam it behind 1. Remember, the thumb (when it’s behind the neck) serves the needs of the hand. It does not exist in some static position in relation to the fingers. It should not be rigid, but rather ever nimble, as the requirements vary. Leonard Rose talked about “tripod”-ing the fingers with the thumb, and I tend to agree with that characterization. It’s a bit like the way your hands guide the steering wheel when the car is moving in a straight line. They’re generally placid, but making tiny balancing moves as conditions dictate.

This technique is good for slow scales and passages, and it makes the very important distinction between a shift and a stretch, while also etching in the mind of the student the absolutes of the cello: no matter what finger you use, the notes stay in the same place.

The next technique is one where we use 2 as a pivot, and maintain the “extended” shape of the hand. (so 1 never comes up next to 2) This is useful for faster passages like those found in Brandenburgs and Mozart symphonies, and also for non-linear gestures where you might be moving between 1 and 4.

If it’s 1, 2, 4, the technique goes like this: 1 goes down, and 2nd is relaxed, and stretches to hit extended 2, where it remains throughout, or until you have to return to 1. As you go for 4, 2 stays planted, and the hand pivots forward. This motion comes from the top of the forearm, so the sanctity of the wrist/hand relationship remains. Some people leave 1 down, others allow it to come off the fingerboard. (NB: is is never pulled or held off of the fingerboard. This indicates additional tension and is never a part of good technique. If 1 sleepily drifts less than a centimeter above the string and the intonation is right on, I allow for that variation) Then if you return to 2, the pivot comes neutral, and for 1, the pivot swivels back only slightly. It is a stretched shape, and the thumb has to be taken care of to make sure it remains behind 2nd, and also that it is not jammed into the neck.

If it’s 1, 4, then I tend to straighten and release my 2nd and 3rd fingers (as opposed to holding them in the usual curved posture) to allow for a lot of distance without tension across the top of my hand [insert record scratch/upset partygoers sound here] I can’t believe this was the technical advice given as the standard form to follow! While I absolutely do this sometimes, it takes 2 and 3 out of commission unless you’re doing something like extending on an upper string and then using 2 or 3 on a lower one. y i k e s] If a student comes to me with an unsuccessful extension technique or pain, I modify small elements of the practice until we have success. The only thing that I insist on is that the general shape of the hand remains the same: no huge pronations, no big bend in the wrist, and lastly no “sailing east to go west”, where the student pulls the hand backward to accomplish the stretch forward! Only move in the direction you intend to go! I try to instill this in my students from day 1: simple, singular movements that have no preamble. Are you extended or not extended? Are you on the D or the A? Be one or the other, and then the liaisons between the two become swift and confident.

These are my thoughts, and although they just scratch the surface of possibility, I figure it’s better to post this now and open up conversation than try to be ultimate and exhaustive. Words fail after a point!

I went through a bunch of the pictures featured in the book and I think I should go ahead and take some new photos—or maybe even make a video—in the next week or two and add them to this post. There’s still so much I want to do: update the first book, publish a second, start a retreat center for adult students…but the day-to-day slog has made these things elusive. I’m starting to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and even the false starts of the last few years have been excellent opportunities to troubleshoot. Good grief, I hope none of you extend according to the exact prescribed technique I had down here originally.

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6 thoughts on “extend-o-matic”

  1. “… the student pulls the hand backward to accomplish the stretch forward!”

    I don’t think I’ve done it or seen it, which, of course, may mean I do it and don’t realize it.

    Why would a student do that?

    Reply
  2. It’s something that I would say 80% of students do at some point. It’s something I did as an early student! I think it has something to do with the idea of a big stretch. In an effort to accomplish this, lot of people try to straighten their 2nd finger, and to do that, the 1st has to get out of the way, so it curls up and tends to pronate. So the 2nd finger moves forward, but the whole axis of the hand moves backward! I am sure you practice with a mirror, so next time look at this: imagine that there is an audience in front of you. They should not be able to see any of the underside of your left arm or the heel of your hand. (There are few circumstances when this is not the case.) The audience should see the flat of the top of your arm and both wrist bones, though the upper one may be a little less visible. If you have any tendency to “sail east”, you’ll know, because you won’t be able to see those surfaces. Oh, and your elbow won’t swing more than a few degrees in any direction, either. That’s popular among east-sailers. I bet you don’t do it, though. But now you will be able to spy on those who do. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Hi; just found your blog via Cellobloggers, and I’m enjoying it immensely! You write so clearly and your words are so easy to understand that it’s the next best thing to having a real live person talking you through an example with a cello in their hands. Thank you for making me think differently about what I’m doing when I play!

    Reply
  4. Interesting… I struggled with forward extensions until I figured out the pivot thing, but I always stretch the second finger to third finger spot, once my hand got used to it it all felt normal.

    My cello technique tutor in orchestra only suggests moving our first finger down when we’re coming to a forward extension after playing an open string. He’s been quite firm about keeping the first finger down.

    I often only use my fourth finger to hit the extension in a passage of quavers where I’m just touching that extension for a second or so. I probably pivot a bit anyway, but I don’t keep my first finger down, or any of the others. My orchestra tutor berated me for it, but my actual cello teacher didn’t seemed fussed.

    I’ve learned first position first, then extensions in that position, we moved onto fourth position and we’re starting to negotiate extensions in that position. I’m pretty good about not clutching the neck with my left hand, but I think that comes from playing flute for 20 years, that thumb plays a key so it can’t be clamping anything. I think it would have driven me insane to have to wait months and months just to play much of anything in the key of F (say) because I didn’t know extensions… but again, maybe a woodwind player disease?

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  5. Hi Emily,

    I just discovered your interesting and informative blog and am looking forward to reading more. As an adult beginner I’m also looking forward to purchasing your book when it’s ready.

    A really helpful book about extensions is “Cello Extensions for the Student.” I can’t make the link work here, so here’s the very long URL at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Cello-Extensions-Student-Dennis-Leogrande/dp/0971738904/ref=sr_1_3/002-8342360-6589621?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1183207701&sr=8-3

    Reply
  6. And what of that other extension – whole tone-to-whole tone on fingers 1,2,3 in positions 5 and above? Nobody writes about that. I think it’s considerably more problematic than neck position extensions.

    Reply

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