FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Basic Simple Extension Exercises

The hand is most stable, and the fingers are strongest, when the fingers are bunched up close together. When, on the contrary,  we extend the fingers away from this stable centre, this requires new strength and flexibility in the hand that no other movements from ordinary life have prepared it for. We need to build this flexibility and strength both progressively and regularly at the instrument in order to avoid injuries (most of which are caused by sudden unprepared forcing or prolonged cumulative strain). The smaller the hand, the more training it will need to be able to do the normal cello extensions easily and without risk of injury.

Slow double-stopping exercises are like lifting heavy weights: they develop strength, control and perfect intonation. Fast, light, flowing exercises on the other hand are a completely different kind of training: here we are working on speed, economy of effort, endurance and flexibility. These two types of exercises are complementary: both are necessary.

Yes, these exercises are boring, mindless and almost purely mechanical – just like an athlete’s basic warmup and endurance training. Swimmers swim up and down the pool, runners go out and run in circles ……………. and this is the cellist’s equivalent. So we can put on the metronome – and even maybe the TV – and do them half-asleep as a wakeup/warmup. But we musn’t be totally asleep when doing them: we need to pay attention to our thumb choreography and to our intonation, and we also need to know at all times what notes we are playing (to reinforce our sense of fingerboard geography). It is useful to use the lower open string every now and again to check our intonation and thus make sure we don’t get inadvertently lost on the fingerboard.

These exercises are like medicine: not at all delicious and to be taken in small doses. Under no circumstances should we take the whole bottle all at once. They are like medicine, but they are preventive medicine, especially necessary for cellists with small hands. To make the medicine easier to swallow, we will start with the easiest extension  (1-2 tone), then we add the 1-3 minor third, and finally we add the major third.

Long slurred bowings avoid coordination problems between left hand and bow. They also allow us to concentrate on the smooth left hand movements. But we can also be more imaginative with our choice of bowings – nobody says that we can’t practice our spiccato with these monotonous exercises ……..

The exercises are divided into two different hand posture zones – the Neck Region, the Intermediate Region. We don’t look here at the 1-2 tone extension in Thumb Position because it is so unstrained that it can barely be considered as an “extension”. In the Thumb Position it is the 2-3 tone extension that causes us more problems. Apart from this 2-3 tone, the most common extensions in Thumb Position are to and from the thumb. These are so radically different to the normal Neck and Intermediate Region extensions that they will be looked at separately in the Thumb Position section. We can however use the exercises on this page to work on our 2-3 tone and 1-3 major third extensions in the Thumb Region. To do this, we can simply continue up higher with the Intermediate Region extension exercises.

Let’s start with the light, fast, flowing exercises, as these are a good warmup. As our hand gets stronger, more flexible and fitter, we can gradually change the balance between extended and normal positions in these exercises, reducing the repetitions of the unextended positions and increasing them for the extended positions. We can choose a different finger pattern (finger order) each time – it’s less boring that way.

BASIC SIMPLE SINGLE-EXTENSION EXERCISES:

1: FAST AND FLOWING:

1. 1 IN THE NECK REGION:

Only First And Second Fingers      Only First, Second  And Third Fingers    All Fingers (but no thumb)

1. 2 IN THE INTERMEDIATE REGION:

First And Second Fingers Only (let’s not be pedantic by writing this out: just transpose these ultra-simple Neck Region 1-2 exercise into the Int. Region)

All Fingers With Simple Extension (Minor Third)

All Fingers With Double Extension (Major Third)

2: SLOWER DOUBLE STOPPED EXTENSION EXERCISES

2.1 IN THE NECK REGION

In One Position

Chromatic Snaking: First And Second Fingers Only   Chromatic Snaking: First, Second And Third Fingers

Chromatic Snaking: All Fingers           Chromatic Shifting: All Fingers

Tonal Stepwise Shifting: All Fingers Stepwise

2.2 IN THE INTERMEDIATE REGION

First And Second Fingers Only

All Fingers With Simple Extension (Minor Third)

All Fingers With Double Extension (Major Third)