FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Right Hand Warmup

Normally, our warmup routines are oriented principally towards our left hand. Because this hand needs to be really supple, limber and warm in order for us to play well (vibrato, shifting, tactile fingertip sensitivity, articulation etc), we tend to neglect the warmup needs of our right hand and arm, as though their function was just the primitive, simple, mechanical, pumping out of the sound.

Whereas the left hand really does need to be warm (especially the fingertips), for the right hand and arm the word “warm-up” could be substituted by the terms “loosen-up, activate, and mobilise” because rather than warmth, the objective of a righthand “warmup” is to get all the joints (fingers, knuckles, wrist, elbow and shoulder), loose, mobile, active, and reactive.

Playing long legato bow strokes on one string is not the best way to achieve this. We wouldn’t expect long sustained notes to be very efficient at warming up the left hand so why should we expect long bowstrokes to warm up the right hand !? The smooth, sustained muscular effort of long legato bow strokes does allow us to explore/rediscover our bow’s tactile contact with the string, find our sound, calm our mind, and is ideal for warming up our lefthand because it can play many notes freely (without lefthand/righthand coordination problems). But there are other, more active components, of a good right-hand warm-up that are missing in this typical long-lines legato routine. It is the mobility associated with string crossings, bow changes, and spiccato, that really gets the joints of the right arm moving and active, especially those of the wrist, hand and fingers. Therefore, in order to get the right arm’s wrist and hand ready for their gymnastics session, it is also useful to add busy string-crossing and separate-bow passages, played both legato (for the wrist’s horizontal movements) and spiccato (for the wrist’s vertical movements) into our warmup routines.

String crossings require the up-down (vertical) wrist motion, while bow changes use more the horizontal, left-right movements. Spiccato passages, even on only one string, combine these horizontal and vertical movements into the circular wrist movements which are such an important component not only of spiccato but also of a smooth fluid relaxed bowing technique in general (see Spiccato, Stringcrossings and Bow Physics). It is these wrist and hand movements (horizontal, vertical and circular) that we especially want to encourage in our right-hand warm-up. Material that combines lots of string crossings, bow changes and spiccato is thus ideal righthand warmup material because it really encourages our wrist and hand to move.

There are two ways by which we can maximise the utility of these warmup exercises for mobilizing our right wrist and hand:

  1. playing all these short notes (busy passages) close to the frog and legato automatically requires more wrist and finger movement than if we were to play them detaché (shorter) in the middle or upper-half of the bow.
  2. alternatively, playing these passages spiccato also requires great wrist and finger involvement (although in a slightly different way).

These two practice techniques complement each other and both help to activate the hand and wrist to a maximum.

Warm-up is a time for encouraging movement, looseness and ease rather than careful fine-tuned precision, therefore it can be a good idea to choose passages that are easy, for both hands. For this reason also, in order to make the bow-level control aspect easier, we can favour the double-stopped versions of string crossing passages, as in the following examples. The direction in which the wrist makes its circles (loops) will change according to the bow direction at the crossing. In the “easy” direction, all of our wrist circles will be clockwise. In the “hard” direction those circles will be uniformly anticlockwise, while in the “mixed” direction it’s probably better not to think about the circles as they come in both directions so it can get very confusing. Here are some possible patterns: They are shown here with open strings but any chord sequences can be used (see at bottom of page):

warmup dblestop leaps

We can also mix our spiccatos with slurs to activate even more all the components of the righthand and arm:

right hand warmup

On the open strings, these bowing exercises are deadly boring and unpleasantly dissonant, so we will add some left hand to make the warmup more interesting. The  3-string and 4-string chord charts, along with the Leaps Across Strings exercises pages provide a lot of suitable material for this. We can start with the simplest left-hand progressions such as scales on the top string only, and then, to slightly increase the interest level, scales in sixths on the top two strings. All these can also be done in the minor keys. We will change the chord only as often as we are comfortable.

warmup 4 str excs1warmup chords new

Here below is a link to a page of warmup exercises designed especially for the right hand:

Right Hand Warmup: EXERCISES