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How to use the right arm in cello playing

Nov. 12, 2012
Posted in: Cello
To use your right arm in the cello, you'll need to train your balance, core strength, and breathing.


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Very often in your cello lessons, much time will be spent on the only aspect of cello playing that allows you to create sound: the right arm. While the central principals of developing a healthy right arm in cello playing may initially seem complex to you, there are some aspects that can be clarified and applied to your daily practice routine.

The right arm in cello playing

First, in all of my lessons I try to emphasize the awareness of a full-body connection to the instrument. From the outside, cello playing can appear as though it only involves the hands, arms, and ears, and is limited to the training of those three mechanisms exclusively. However, the greatest cellists in history (some of whom I have trained and studied with, such as Marcy Rosen and Fred Sherry) consistently note the importance of one’s balance, core strength, and breathing, among other things. Therefore, when trying to produce a big healthy sound, try to become aware of your connection with the ground through your feet (which should remain flat) and how this affects your overall sense of balance and control. When pulling the bow on an open string for example, try to imagine that your power and strength come from the ground-up: starting at your feet, moving through your core and eventually into your right arm. Remember: bigger muscles are easier to control and tire less quickly than smaller muscles.

Second, much of cello playing, and string playing for that matter, tends to overlook the importance of breathing and its affect on sound production. Similar to weight lifting and other athletics, the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling greatly affects your endurance and strength, as well as the release of unwanted tension. When applied to the right arm in cello playing, try to become aware of the changes in your breathing between when you’re playing and when you are doing any other day-to-day activity. I often have students who hold their breath while playing without even realizing it! To fix this, try practicing long, focused exhales on down-bow open strings, releasing all the tension your body may be holding. Once this becomes natural, go even further by coordinating your breathing with slightly more involved playing, like scales or arpeggios. Keep moving forward until your breathing helps you, instead of hindering you.

Developing a strong right arm in cello playing is one of the very first steps on the road to producing a big beautiful sound on the instrument. Remember: listen to your body!

See my next article on how to use the left hand in cello playing.

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