Other Extensions: 3-4 Tone and 2-4 Minor Third

In Thumb Position we have a whole world of extension possibilities, both to and from the thumb, and then – in the highest fingerboard regions – between all the different fingers. These extensions are however very often not strained, and are only considered extensions in the sense that the intervals between each finger are more than a semitone or tone. They are dealt with on the page “Advantages of Thumb Position“.

In the Intermediate Region we will tend to avoid 1-3 double extensions (perfect fourths) by using the thumb. The typical 1-3 major thirds and 2-3 tones in this fingerboard region are looked at in the Intermediate Region section.

So on this page, we will be looking at the “bizarre” (but occasionally necessary) 2-4 minor third and 3-4 tone in the Neck Region. These are both basically the same extension, in the sense that both are achieved by the one tone stretch between the third and fourth fingers. The one-tone-extension between second and third fingers is much more difficult than the 3-4 tone and requires the turning of the hand into a very pronounced “Violin Position” (see Different Extended Hand Postures). For this reason most cellists almost never use the 2-3 tone in the Neck Region.

It is however surprising how often we might want to use the 3-4 tone extensions (and its corresponding 2-4 minor third). Sometimes no other good fingering options exist, and at other times we will choose it deliberately, especially in legato passages in which we very much want to stay on the same string or avoid an ugly slurred glissando shift. The following  excerpts, all taken from the Bach Cello Suites, illustrate these situations:

bach excerpts

It is also surprising how little tension this extension creates in the hand. This lack of tension does however have its drawback: while the hand as a whole remains relaxed, all the strain and effort is carried by the fourth finger, completely alone and unsupported.  That little “pinky” (4th finger) is our weakest finger, so we have to be very careful not to abuse and overexploit the ease with which it can be stretched out to a tone distance from the third finger.

USING 123 X 4 INSTEAD OF 1 X 234

Very often we do this extension without realising that we are doing it. When we play major thirds between the first and fourth fingers in which we don’t need to play any other notes in between, the hand may be more comfortable if we use the 123 X 4 posture rather than the “normal, traditional” 1 X 234 one.

1-4 trem M3

When we are playing in 4th-position-extended-up, we also often use this extension without actually realising it. In fourth position, if we want to place the 4th finger a major third above the first, we are unable to use the “Double-Bass Hand Posture” (extended backwards) because the cello’s body blocks the hand (and arm) from continuing up the fingerboard to where it needs to go. We are thus obliged either to extend upwards using the “Violin Hand Posture” (extended up from a curled first finger) or to maintain the Double Bass Posture  in normal (unextended) 4th position and just reach up with the fourth finger while all the others stay behind. Amongst cellists there is such a huge variety of hand sizes shapes and flexibilities that there can be no “rule” stating which postures and fingerings are the easiest for everybody. But try the following exercises with the two different fingering choices (either second or third fingers on the F’s) and see which is most comfortable for your hand.

fourth pos ext up and down2

As can be seen in the second part of the above example (in which we are using fourth position extended backwards), this ergonomic principle does not only apply uniquely to fourth position extended upwards. In fact it applies all over the Neck Region. So in fact, there are configurations of notes for which, even in the lower neck positions, it may be less strain for the hand to use the 123 X 4 hand position rather than the standard 1 X 234 position. This occurs especially in rapid passages in which the fourth finger is used so rarely that the cumulative hand strain is much reduced by playing the passage in non-extended position and simply reaching up for the fourth finger occasionally, rather than maintaining the extended position permanently throughout the passage as in at the following examples:

alberti figuresbach VI prelude arpeggios

Using the 123X4 hand position allows the small-handed cellist to avoid the hand posture changes that would be necessary in alternating between normal (1234) and traditional extended position fingering (1 X 234 see Basic Extensions). This can have definite advantages , especially in faster passages. For this reason, it may be more comfortable in the following example to do the 1-4 major third with the 123 X 4 finger configuration rather than the traditional extended position fingering (1 X 234).


The following links will open downloadable (and printable) practice material – both exercises and repertoire excerpts – for working on these extensions:

3-4 Tones (and 2-4 Minor Thirds) in the Neck Region: EXERCISES

3-4 Tones (and 2-4 Minor Thirds) in the Neck Region: REPERTOIRE EXCERPTS