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 that would be impossible to obtain on non-string instruments. Playing these passages is a bit  like like doing handwriting backwards or looking at the world upside-down (or through a distorting mirror). It requires a certain amount of mental gymnastics in order not to get confused about which string we are on (bow level control). This is why we call these passages “upside down” string crossings. Perhaps an even better word to describe these special effects would be “warped”. They take us into a very strange and beautiful sound world.

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” is now completely different. Suddenly, those exact same notes sound positively 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 Crossings: Repertoire Excerpts

Upside Down Crossings: Chord Charts

  Any passage that causes difficulty can be practiced initially using the two methods shown above:

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