Thumb Position On The Cello: Repertoire Compilations

On this page you will find compilations of passages from the standard cello repertoire for which we could, should or must, make use of thumbposition.

These compilations are grouped by composer and are presented in chronological order. The inclusion of Bach and Telemann in this list (and the exclusion of Vivaldi) merits a little explication. Thumbposition was only really “discovered” around the middle of the 18th century (Sonatas Op 1 by Lanzetti from 1736, and Sonatas Op 1 by Berteau from 1748), and quite probably neither Vivaldi (1678-1741), Bach (1685-1750), nor Telemann (1681-1767) ever saw cellists using the thumbposition (see History of Thumbposition). All of the “high register” passages in their music for which we nowadays use the thumb (Bach’s Sixth Suite and various cantatas, several of Vivaldi’s cello concertos etc) were actually written either for five-string cellos or, (in Telemann’s case), for the viola da gamba. Music that was obviously intended for 5-string cellos or gambas is not included in these compilations of thumbposition passages because a lot of this music is not only ridiculously difficult played up high on a 4-string cello but also doesn’t make sense without the open E-string (notably Bach’s Sixth Suite). The preferred solution here, is either to transpose these pieces down by a fifth or to play them on a 5-string cello.

What has been included in these compilations, are passages from the music of Bach and Telemann that are either transcribed from the violin-and-viola repertoire (Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas, Telemann Fantasias and Viola Concerto) or that were written for cello but intended to be played with violin fingerings (Bach Cello Suites). Violin fingerings (with a perfect fourth handframe) don’t work on a modern-size cello and we are quite often obliged to use the thumb. Very often, these thumbposition passages are in the lower fingerboard regions.

Bach    Telemann

Lanzetti        Berteau         Danzi       Stamitz     Boccherini     Breval

Haydn       Mozart      Beethoven       Schubert

     Brahms       Dvorak       Franck       Lalo       Elgar

Saint-Saens      Schumann    Tchaikovsky

Shostakovitch     Prokofiev     Stravinsky


The use of the thumb in these excerpts is often optional and there are usually many different fingering possibilities for any passage. Many passages are included in which the use of the thumb may be controversial. Don’t panic and don’t complain!!! If you disagree with the fingerings, get out the Tippex and change them. The sole objective of these compilations is to find “real” musical examples to use as practice material for the thumb and the high positions in general. Both the fingerings and the bowings are just suggestions. Even if we don’t know the correct tempo, it doesn’t matter – every speed brings its own benefits.