Cello Bowing Technique Basics

Composers that understand how a player performs the cello can get a greater understanding of how to write music for the cello. Since all string instruments use the same basic technique for playing music, if you learn how one of the string instruments work, you can gain a greater feel for the entire string family. Composers that want to improve their string writing should seek out a string teacher and ask to be taught only technique.

You don't need to gain a great understanding of how to play scales, arpeggios, and repertoire. Instead, focus on learning how the instrument works to improve your writing. Getting a tactile appreciation for the instrument will help you visualize the instrument while composing and reduce the likelihood of composing difficult music. I've provided a basic overview of how to approach a basic bowing technique, but an instructor qualified to teach the cello is your best option for learning to play an instrument.

Apply rosin lightly to the strings on the bow. The rosin creates friction between the hairs of the bow and the strings of the cello. Use a rosin stick available from any music store and run up and down the strings with the stick. A rosin stick looks a bit like a tube of lip balm. When you go to a music store, you can ask if an associate can show you how to apply the rosin most effectively. Additionally, you may find that the music store has a cello instructor that you can take lessons from. When possible, avoid touching the actual bow hairs.

With the cello bow directly in front of you, place your thumb beneath the portion of the bow closest to the frog. The thumb is going to act as a pivot point for you to balance the bow. Your index finger sits directly on the top of the bow and helps to keep the bow in place. Practice holding the bow until you can balance the bow between just your thumb and index fingers. While playing, this is the technique you should use to maintain the balance. After you have learned to balance the bow between these two fingers, wrap the rest of your fingers lightly around the bow for additional stability.

Once you get the correct hand position, place the middle of the bow lightly on one of the strings. With your arm slightly bent, move the bow so that it rests approximately three inches above the bridge. You can identify the bridge because it holds the strings up and away from the instrument. Drop the bow on the strings and allow the bow to bounce slightly. Control the movement very slightly and keep a loose grip on the bow.

Allow the strings to carry the weight of the bow and then position the bow so that the frog the bow rests on the string. Pull the bow across the string to the tip and allow the friction to create the sound. Experiment until you can get a smooth, continuous sound without gaps in intensity and pitch.

Now that you have a very basic understanding of how to play, get a cello fingering guide, or better yet, contact an instructor to teach you how to play with proper form and technique. As a composer, you don't need to become fluent in the instrument. Rather, learn how to play the instrument from a technical standpoint so that you can improve your playing and become a more effective composer.


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