FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Technical Fingerings

In this section we will look at different ways in which we can use fingerings to make difficult technical passages physically easier to play.

1. FINGERINGS TO REDUCE THE USE OF EXTENSIONS:

This is such a large and important subject that is has its own dedicated page here. This extensive article concerning how to reduce the use of extensions can be summarised into the following two main fingering tactics:

  • use the thumb more (especially in the Thumb Region and Intermediate Region)
  • shift more often

2. FINGERINGS TO AVOID (OR TO SEPARATE) SHIFTS:

If the shifting in a passage is causing us technical problems (insecure intonation etc), we have two possibilities to eliminate this difficulty: either we work on our shifting and our positional security, or we change our fingering to either avoid the shifts or to at least space them out in time. There are several ways to use fingerings in order to avoid shifting problems:

  1. Stay in position up high (fingering across the strings in the same position). This situation occurs frequently in the higher regions of the fingerboard. Whereas a very skilled cellist may be comfortable fingering very difficult passages using shifts up and down one string, others of us may prefer to opt for security and stay “in position”. This usually means starting up high on a lower string, so that we can find our high position tranquilly and securely in the silence before the phrase starts. Click here for more repertoire examples of these types of fingering.fingeringstaythumbpos2fingeringsstaythumbpos
  2. Divide the shifts across several different strings in order to have more time between the shifts. What this normally means is that, instead of doing all our ascent into the high regions uniquely on the A string, we can do some of our ascent also on the lower strings.
  3. Use the thumb more
  4. Use more “snake movements

3. FINGERINGS TO AVOID SHIFTS TO AN EXTENDED FINGER

An extended finger is more strained and more unstable than an unextended finger. This, especially for cellists with a small hand, can lead to insecure intonation when shifting to an extended finger.

4. FINGERINGS TO GIVE US A MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF TIME

Here, we choose our fingerings according to the rhythm of  a passage in such a way as to have the most time possible for the difficult movements (shifts, jumps across strings, extensions etc).

What this means essentially is that it is usually a good idea, especially in faster passages, to do our shifts and string crossings before the short notes (= after the long notes), because that is when we have the most time. Immediately after the short note is when we have the least time, so any movement done after the short note will have to be done quickly (see Fast Playing). For this reason, dotted rhythm passages often benefit considerably from a little more thought as to which fingerings to use. Using “standard” fingerings, and/or shifting only when we need to (at the last minute) can cause us to get tangled up.

In the following scale passages, even though the sequence of notes is identical in the three examples, we need to do a different fingering for each one if we want to avoid unnecessary “panic” shifting. Of course in sight reading we may not have time to work out the most ergonomic fingering, which is why sight reading difficult music can be quite unrewarding.

shiftaftershortnoteexcs

The repertoire is full of examples where we can put this principle to good use. It doesn’t only concern dotted rhythms: we simply want to shift where we have the most time. In the repertoire example below, by shifting on the rests (as indicated) we are giving ourselves much more time to to do the shifts than if we were to shift after the short notes.

shiftonsilence

5:  SHIFTING UP ON THE FIRST FINGER AND DOWN ON THE TOP FINGER

Because of the angle of the hand and fingers to the fingerboard it is almost always more ergonomic to shift up on the lowest finger and down on the highest finger. This principle applies in every fingerboard region.

up on 1 down on top

The following link opens up two pages of exercises for working on this skill: Shifting Up On First Finger and Down On Top Finger: Exercises