Playing technique of the violoncello

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The cellist Joshua Roman , image: Gisela Giardino

Preamble: Biomechanical principles

Posture, right and left arm can do their job better if these elementary principles are observed.

  • Know active movements
  • Knowing and allowing passive-reactive movements
  • Know the pivot points and degrees of freedom of the joints
  • Prefer biomechanically neutral positions (those that get by with minimal muscle tension)
  • Use large muscle groups
  • Use gravity
  • Use tension and relaxation
  • Prefer swing movements over movements with muscle power
  • Prefer dynamic over static technology

The posture of the instrument

Today the cello is generally played while sitting. It is stabilized at four points: with the spike on the floor, with the frames on the inside of the knees, with the upper end of the body on the sternum. The neck of the cello is to the left of the player's head. The thighs are horizontal or inclined slightly downwards, the knee angle should be around 90 degrees or more. The balls of the feet and heels are in contact with the ground. If you want to play with more freedom of movement in the baroque tradition, the underside of the instrument does not rest on a spike, but on the inside of the lower legs, in which case the heels are turned inwards. The spine should be elastic and upright, the pelvis should neither tilt back nor provoke a hollow back. The muscles are not solidified, but allow movements of the entire body.

Tonkunst - right arm and bow technique

The physics of sound generation

Related Article: Sound Generation

The string can be made to vibrate by moving it and releasing it with a finger (plucking = pizzicato). The generation of vibrations with the bow is more important. The following factors are decisive here:

  • The pressure of the bow on the string
  • The speed of the bow
  • The line point, i.e. the point of contact of the bow hairs with the string and its distance to the bridge. With the lower, thicker strings it is further away from the bridge, with the higher, thinner strings or higher pitched notes, closer to it. A 90-degree line angle between the bow and the string is ideal for many situations.

The possible combinations of these bow-related variables are artistically fruitful: pressure, speed, proximity to the bridge can be changed depending on each other during the tone generation. They influence the volume and tone color progression and the tone approach, the articulation. Here skill and sound fantasy manifest themselves.

Bow handle

This differs from that of the violin: The hand is more supinated in the elbow joint (turned clockwise): The little finger is not on the bow stick, but is on the outside of the frog above the mother-of-pearl eye. This enables a deeper and more comfortable position of the upper arm. As already described in Steinhausen (1907), the (bent) thumb and middle finger form the (flexible!) Play joint. The point of orientation is that the tip of the middle finger can touch the metal ring of the frog. The baroque as well as the classic bow (but also the modern one) can be grasped further inside, this promotes a more sensitive articulation. The bow technique is essential for artistic design: Even a tone that is improperly grasped with the left hand could be articulated and developed in a very differentiated manner with the bow. The individual tone and sound of a player is largely determined by the bow. A multitude of body parts are biomechanically involved in bowing. They should all work together cooperatively without muscle blocks.


In simple terms, these include:

  • The rotation of the spine around its vertical axis (rotation)
  • The loosely hanging shoulder girdle
  • The shoulder joint , a ball joint with 3 degrees of freedom (planes of movement):
    • Transversal: Anteversion (arm forward) and retroversion (arm backward)
    • Sagittal: abduction (arm up) and adduction (arm down)
    • Vertical axis: internal and external rotation (rotation of the forearm inwards or outwards)
  • The elbow joint with 2 degrees of freedom:
    • Flexion (flexion) and extension (stretching)
    • Rotation function of the ulna around the radius, for the right arm these are: supination = clockwise, pronation = against this
  • The wrist with 2 degrees of freedom:
    • upwards (dorsal) and downwards (palmar)
    • to the right (to the spoke = abduction) and to the left (to the thumb = adduction)
  • The finger joints , hinge joints, only the metacarpophalangeal joint enables spreading
  • The metatarsophalangeal joint. The thumb is relaxed opposite the index finger, but can be placed opposite any other finger.

Bow strokes

Several joints always work together in the bow strokes. Otherwise, only circular, but not straight, movements would be possible. The latter are z. B. needed for the line from the frog to the tip. The following aspects are important, examples:

  • Détaché on the lower half of the arch:
    • Active, main part: shoulder joint. Passive-reactive: rotation of the spine, elbow joint, wrist, finger joints.
  • Détaché on the upper half of the arch:
    • Active, main part: elbow joint. Passive-reactive: shoulder joint, wrist, finger joints.
  • Spiccato:
    • Active, main part: rotation in the shoulder joint, wrist dorsar-volar. Passive-reactive: elbow joint, finger joints.

Line styles

further article: Line styles .

They correspond to those of the violin and viola. However, from the player's point of view, the lower string is on the left, but on the cello, on the right. For this reason, some types of lines with string changes are better to start with an upstroke on the cello, but with a downstroke on the violin and viola (and vice versa). This may be the reason why the cellist in a string quartet seems to play with the "wrong" stroke in a unison. The line types can basically be assigned to two groups:

  • The bow hair is always in contact with the string during the bow movement: in détaché, legato, portato, staccato, martellé, sautillé.
  • The bow hair bounces off the string and back again: in spiccato, ricochet, flying staccato.

Craftsmanship - Left Arm and Handle Technique

Application and grip positions

Cellotechnik uses three grip positions. The number 0 denotes the unhandled "open" string, 1 means the index finger, 2 the middle finger, etc. The thumb is noted as 0, which is on a vertical line. In the following note examples, a "D" is used as an alternative.

  • The 4-finger positions are the basis of the game in the 1st – 4th Position. The thumb feels (does not pinch) the underside of the cello neck, variably opposite the index or middle finger.
    • Tight grip: There is a semitone step from finger to finger (Ionic tetrachord, Doric tetrachord). Note sample bars 1/2, 1st position
    • Wide grip: The 1st finger is stretched out by the 2nd finger (Phrygian tetrachord). There is a whole step between the two. Note sample bar 3, 1st position
Playing technique cello
  • The 3-finger positions start from the small sixth above the open string, i.e. with the 5th position.

Because of the necessary extension of the forearm, it is difficult to use the little finger from here on. Instead, a semitone or a whole step is used between the fingers - supported by the decreasing topographical spacing of the tones. The thumb is still in contact with the throat on the underside of the cello neck.

Cell technology
  • The thumb positions use the thumb as a grip finger. Orientation is only given by the arm position and the second distance between thumb and forefinger. The use of the 4th finger is seldom necessary. Notation: The use of the treble clef often signals the use of the thumb position.
Cell technology

The fingering positions can be set above the open string for any notes. This is known as "layers". They are numbered according to the diatonic steps of the scale. An example using the A string: Above the position name, below the indication of the starting finger, here the index finger. H = "half layer".

Cell technology

Change of position

The change from one position to another, possibly combined with a change between a tight and a wide grip, the 3 finger positions and large "travel paths" of the hand is a particular challenge. Accuracy is achieved through various orientation systems that must interlock:

  • If possible, slide a finger on the fingerboard into the new position. Arm position and movement provide biomechanical feedback.
  • The position of the thumb under the fingerboard (changing thickness of the neck) in the 4-finger positions and the muscle stretching of the thumb in the palm of the 3-finger positions should not be underestimated.
  • The player must also be aware of the topographical travel of the hand. This can be, for example, a pure fourth (1st position, 4th finger after 4th position, 1st finger), although the sounding interval is only one second.


Article with background information: intonation , partial tones , pure tuning , well -tempered tuning

The same questions arise here as on the violin and viola. Pythagorean and syntonic commas need to be taken into account. Not all problems can always be solved without compromise. Christine Heman (1964) refers to three elementary possibilities:

The frequencies of the tones are derived by stratification of fifths (frequency ratio 2: 3) with octave reverse transposition. Practice: All octaves (vibration ratio 1: 2) and fourths (3: 4) are balanced with the open strings without beating. Tones without this matching option are interpreted as Pythagorean (narrow, leading tone) semitone steps (234: 256).

Example G major scale from G to g 0 : Open strings: G, D. Octave: Balance G / g 0 . 4ths: balance A / d 0 and e 0 / a 0 . Tight semitones ("leading tone"): B and f sharp 0

  • (2) Syntonic or harmonic intonation, application: intonation of double stops and chords

All intervals are intoned as free of beating as possible. This corresponds to the frequency relationships in the partial tone series when the interval appears there for the first time. The intonation of octaves, fourths and fifths is identical to (1). An important help - on the cello especially with higher double stops - are the resulting difference tones, which historical violin schools already point to (including Tartini 1714, Leopold Mozart 1756).

Practice: major thirds 4: 5, so narrower than in (1), minor thirds 5: 6, so wider than in (1). small sixths 5: 8 (wider), large sixths 3: 5 (closer). That means z. B. on the pitch e 0 : Pythagorean higher, syntonically lower.

  • (3) Equal intonation , application: playing with equally tuned instruments (piano).

The open strings are tuned in equal fifths (700 instead of 702 cents each), i.e. slightly closer than pure, just before the start of a beat. The intonation of octaves is identical to (1) and (2). The distances between all semitones are identical (100 cents each).

Outlook: The complexity of the subject “intonation” is only sketched out here. The game practice demands a lot of consideration and flexible adaptation:

  • Continuo playing with a mid-tone organ and very different semitone steps
  • Continuo playing with a harpsichord in Kirnberger III or Werckmeister tuning
  • Making music with an equally tuned piano
  • Making music with brass instruments that tend towards harmonious intonation
  • Making music in a string quartet, where a solo melody sounds more expressive in Pythagorean style, but chords are harmoniously smoother and more calm.

Tempering tends to lie between the two extremes (1) and (2). It is often advisable to use fifths that are equally tuned (tuning app, tuner, good hearing). In the string quartet otherwise a C major chord with C in the cello and e2 in the violin ( c2: e2: 64:81 ) would be annoyingly sharp, "heroic".


Controlled putting down to striking "percussing" the fingers ("cat paws" to "piano hammers") and also letting go to pulling up support the articulation and clarity of the game. The finger muscles can be supported by supination when sitting down and by pronation in the elbow joint when pulling away; this is exactly what makes the trill easier. The normal case is that each finger fixes the string with the finger bone as the center on the fingerboard. The general "lying down" of the fingers, which is sometimes required, can generate unwanted muscle tension that paralyzes fluency. It is better to let go, like playing a scale on a keyboard instrument, and to deal with it in a differentiated manner.


The left hand vibrato is an important means of expression. In vibrato, the grip finger periodically rocks around its touchdown point without leaving it. The resulting fluctuations in pitch enliven the tone. Until well into the 19th century, it was regarded as an “ornament” of a tone, as a special, emotional expression. The "permanent vibrato" used in the 20th century to intensify each note should therefore be used with care. A vibrato differentiated in duration, course and speed is often the more musical choice.

The unpleasant side of the cello strings

It is uncomfortable to play keys on the cello without or almost without the notes of the open strings CGda, starting with E major or D flat major. Here scales are no longer possible without changing positions. The cellist has also been worried more than once about broken triads in accompanying figures that are easy to find on the keyboard (Vivaldi, La Folia Variations).

Individual evidence

  1. a b , accessed on October 20, 2015.
  2. Mantel: Cellotechnik p. 107 ff.
  3. Steinhausen, Die Physiologie der Bogenführung , p. 82.
  4. coat: cello technique , pp 145 et seq.
  5. Mantel: Cellotechnik , p. 153 ff.
  6. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , p. 20 ff.
  7. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , p. 126 ff.
  8. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , pp. 105 ff.
  9. ^ Heman, Intonation on String Instruments , pp. 8-17.
  10. Mantel: Cellotechnik , p. 82 ff.
  11. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , p. 33.
  12. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , p. 50.
  13. Mantel: Cellotechnik , p. 92 ff.
  14. Kliegel, With Technology and Fantasy , p. 79.


Web links