In my previous blog, How to use the right arm in cello playing, I talked about a few aspects of the right arm that can help you create a big, resonant sound in a healthy and comfortable way for your body. Here I will talk about how to use the left hand in cello playing from a similar perspective, allowing you to play in tune with ease, shift freely, and play with less tension.
How to use the Left Hand in Cello Playing
Similar to the right arm, the left hand works best when thought of in terms of weight, release, and balance. Very often we think of the left hand as having to “squeeze” in order to bring the string close enough to the fingerboard. If this is the case, then we put an unnecessary amount of tension on the muscles in the forearm, causing discomfort and possibly even injury if prolonged over time. The best way to avoid this is to feel as if the natural weight of the left elbow is enough to bring the string into contact with the fingerboard, and this weight is countered and balanced around the position of the thumb. Ideally, the left hand should feel as though it could “hang” from the neck of the cello, releasing all unwanted tension from the hand itself. Also, try to find a comfortable place for the thumb, either behind the first or second finger or between the two, and allow the fingers to sink towards the thumb naturally, as it would if your hand were numb or paralyzed.
The angle of the left hand is a topic that will be left for the next blog, as it is somewhat complex and controversial in nature, but what I will say about it here is that the degree to which you can feel a released elbow that is balanced around your thumb should override how angled or square your fingers are to the fingerboard. This released feeling will allow you to vibrate freely, shift effortlessly, and will allow you to be more in tune with what you hear going on around you, since you will not be hindered by a tense left forearm. Also, try to feel a connection between the level of both left and right elbows. Remember, how to use the left hand in cello playing is greatly dependent on your overall connection with your body; the more balanced and centered your body is, the less your hands will be hindered by unwanted tension.