FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Upsidedown String Crossings

As we go up the fingerboard on a lower string, we eventually will start to play notes that sound higher than the next open string. Many composers use this peculiarity to create special string crossing effects with the higher open string that are impossible to obtain on non-string instruments. The fact that the open string rings on (continues resonating) even while we are playing higher notes (on the lower string) creates a very unique acoustic phenomenon, taking us into a very strange and beautiful sound world. Playing these passages requires a certain amount of mental gymnastics to avoid getting confused about which string we are on (bow level control). This is a little like doing handwriting backwards or looking at the world upside-down (or through a distorting mirror). This is why we call these passages “upside down” string crossings.

upsidedownBachVIprelude

Compare now the difference between how these passages sound when we play exactly the same notes, but now without any special “upside-down” string crossing effects.  The sequence of notes is identical but “the music” now sounds very different. Suddenly, those exact same notes sound quite boring!!

upsidedownBachVIpreludeNORM

And now, to discover just how much of the bowing difficulty of these passages is mental rather than physical, try playing the original passages, with the correct string crossing effect, but now without the left hand (we will use only the open strings). In the 9 bars of our first original example, the same bowing string crossing pattern is repeated identically on each and every beat  which is why it is shown below as only 2 bars with repeats:

upsidedownopenstringsBachVIPrelude

We can see here that without the left hand (i.e. just with the open strings), these passages are incomparably easier, sometimes even incredibly simple. The difficulties we have with upside-down crossing passages are thus obviously not derived from a lack of bowing skill, but rather come from our brain, which just can’t believe that the higher note is sounding on the lower string and automatically wants to “fix” it!

For more study material for working on these “warped” crossings click on the following links:

Upside Down String Crossings: REPERTOIRE EXCERPTS

Upside Down String Crossings: CHORD CHARTS

  Any passages that make use of this special effect can be practiced initially using the two methods shown above, namely:

  • playing the notes in the most simple manner possible with no crossing effects
  • playing only the open strings with no left hand at all

UPSIDEDOWN DOUBLESTOPS

Sometimes, our higher note on the lower string combined with the neighbouring (higher) open string will occur on simple doublestops or chords rather than in a string-crossing passage. In these cases, the bow doesn’t do a string crossing so we don’t have an “upsidedown crossing” but rather simply an “upsidedown doublestop”. Even though the bow doesn’t need to change strings we can still feel a little lost because having the higher note on the lower string goes against all our acquired bow-level control reflexes: trying to make the higher note of the doublestop louder actually requires us now to use more bow pressure on the lower string !

brahms II and chaconne upsidedown dbles new

The following link opens a page of repertoire examples featuring these “upsidedown” fingerings in doublestops and chords:

Upsidedown Doublestops: REPERTOIRE EXCERPTS

This subject is dealt with in more detail on the following page:

Doublestops and Chords