Separating The Hands For String Players

While the coordination of the movements of our left and right hands/arms is one of the greatest and most constant challenges of string playing, there are many benefits to be had – as a practice technique – from making a total separation of the work of each hand. To isolate the righthand we will play everything exclusively on the corresponding open strings, while to isolate the lefthand we will put the bow down and sound the notes only with lefthand (and perhaps the occasional righthand) pizzicatos. This allows us to concentrate exclusively on one hand at a time, which is a luxury so rare in normal music-making that we can only really create these conditions artificially in our practice room.

Pianists use this practice technique often, but string players use it rarely. This is perfectly understandable, for at least two major reasons:

“Playing” a piece of music using only the open strings is perhaps even more musically unsatisfying than playing the same piece with only the lefthand, but while both are musically/emotionally barren they are very rich in intellectual/technical stimulation. This practice technique also gives our nervous system a rest from the constant emoting that tends to happen automatically as soon as we start playing the cello with both hands !