Cello Technique,
Siemons vs Sazer


Explanation: Victor Sazer's approach to playing the cello is new, interesting, and has drawn some comments. Here follows a discussion, starting off with Tim Finholt's response to Roland Siemons, who is critical of some of Sazer's ideas.

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ROLAND SIEMONS' INITIAL MESSAGE


TIM FINHOLT REPLIES:

I would like to thank Roland Siemons for his very thoughtful and detailed analysis of Victor Sazer's approach to cello playing. Mr. Siemons demonstrates an enviable grasp of physics and its relationship to cello playing, as can also be seen in his article on the physics of bowing.

I would like to caution the readers against rejecting Mr. Sazer's work so quickly. Though some of his thoughts may not withstand the test of scientific rigor, they are very important notions to be familiar with. If nothing else, his approach of listening to his body is an invaluable lesson. His ideas are new and clearly challenge the entrenched traditions of cello technique. This in itself is an important contribution to cello thought, since it forces us to take a fresh look at why we play the way we do.

The simple fact is that pain is a huge problem in the music world. Many musicians, whether beginners or world class soloists, complain of pain. Before Mr. Sazer's book, there was little information available on these issues. It is wonderful to have such a resource to consult.

Mr. Sazer's pioneering work is not the last word on pain problems. As with any new approach, there will be those who build upon Mr. Sazer's thoughts, either by refining them, or by reacting to them and creating their own approach, which may be more in line with traditional technique, or may be something even more revolutionary. Mr. Sazer has come up with his own solutions, but there may be other solutions to the same problems.

Now I would like to address Mr. Siemons' specific points:

1. The Notion of Opposites

Mr. Siemons is of course correct that we cannot defy the laws of physics. Mr. Sazer quotes Newton's Third Law of motion in his argument, about equal and opposite reactions being unavoidable. Mr. Sazer could be more specific in his physical law citation, that of the laws of conservation of linear and angular momentum, but I won't get into this.

A key concept in Mr. Sazer's book is that a major cause of unhealthy tension is a lack of mobility. We cannot stop our body's TENDENCY to create counter-balancing motions, but we often fight the actual counterbalancing motions by playing in such a manner that our body is not free to move as it wants to. In more "physics" terms, we apply unnecessary forces that counteract our body's natural counterbalancing effort, hence unhealthy tension.

Mr. Siemons indicates that there only "two forces needed to produce a sound from string." In his very valid approach, the downward force produced by gravity (controlled arm weight) and the horizontal force produced by friction, are necessary to create a sound. I would guess that Mr. Siemons may place a higher "importance" on arm weight than on friction, in that the force of gravity is larger than the force of friction. One might say that he has more of a vertical approach to bowing. In Mr. Siemons approach to bowing, he is absolutely correct. His approach agrees with many excellent cellists. This is one solution to avoiding tension when bowing.

But there are other approaches to bowing, some healthy and some not so healthy. There are excellent cellists who don't emphasize arm weight in their playing, such as Victor Sazer and Irene Sharp. And it seems that Mr. Sazer ranks the horizontal force of friction above, or at least closer to, the gravitational force of arm weight, which would explain his emphasis upon pulling. In other words, he has more of a horizontal than vertical approach to bowing. This pulling is not just horizontal, though, there is a vertical component to the motion, pulling the string down is lieu of pressing it down. And Mr. Sazer is reacting to yet another approach to bowing, though unhealthy -- those who press with the bow, resulting in a tight shoulder and hence unnecessary tension.

2. Sitting Upright vs. Leaning Over

One must look at Mr. Sazer's overall approach cello playing to see why sitting upright is more beneficial when one plays in his way. It is difficult to pick and choose isolated pieces from his technique. You need to practice a significant portion of his way for any part of it to make sense. His approach is more "holistic," so you must look at the big picture, not just isolated points.

Mr. Sazer came to his sitting approach by listening to his body. When one applies the Breath Test, leaning forward clearly inhibits one's breathing, which seems undesirable, especially if one must play up high for a significant period of time. And one must expend more energy keeping the body from falling over further if one is leaning over, which must be counteracted either by holding yourself up with your left hand as it presses on the fingerboard, or by using your back and stomach muscles. Again, wasted energy.

His diagram on page 93 makes sense if your approach to bowing is about pulling (pulling to the side and down, remember). If your approach is more vertical (gravity), then his diagram will not help you at all. And sitting upright makes more sense with his approach since leaning over gains you nothing, whereas leaning forward may seem more helpful if you have more of a vertical approach (ignoring the restricted breathing for the moment).

His sitting upright also makes sense with his fingering technique, which is to pull the string to the side. Leaning over does you no good unless you push the string down on the fingerboard when you play, the traditional technique. I have found his concept of pulling the string to the side to be more helpful in the higher positions, where it is most difficult to press the string to the fingerboard.

3. Angle of the Bow

I must confess that I am not totally comfortable with his crooked bow policy, though I think he has an interesting argument. It is clear that our bodies prefer to move in arcs and not in straight lines, which is what I think he means by "natural," calling this "following our body's natural impulses." Straight bows run contrary to this notion. Therefore, having a bow-hand motion that doesn't move straight makes sense anatomically.

I would guess that additional friction may be produced because one is not going with the grain of the bow hairs. Is it a significant increase in friction? I too wonder about sound quality, but I would say that a small angle will not affect the sound noticably. I don't know.

4. Conclusion

Don't discount Victor Sazer so quickly. Are all of his ideas correct? I don't know, but they are worth reading over and over. He has very important ideas on many aspects of cello playing, not just the ones mentioned above. I find that I go back to his book and keep trying different points. Sometimes they stick and sometimes they don't. But I keep trying them. His solutions to pain problems are not the only ones, which he will readily admit, but they are the result of a new approach, listening to his body instead of just accepting the status quo. For this we owe Victor Sazer much gratitude.

Tim Finholt, Sparling

206-667-0503, fax 206-667-0554

ROLAND SIEMONS' REPLY TO TIM FINHOLT:

Thank you Tim for your reaction.

Just a few replies:

1. The Notion of Opposites

A key concept in Mr. Sazer's book is that a major cause of unhealthy tension is a lack of mobility. We cannot stop our body's TENDENCY to create counter-balancing motions, but we often fight the actual counterbalancing motions by playing in such a manner that our body is not free to move as it wants to. In more "physics" terms, we apply unnecessary forces that counteract our body's natural counterbalancing effort, hence unhealthy tension.

Yes I fully agree to this. So the question is not whether we are in balance or not, but whether we use the right muscles/movements/ to maintain our balance. Using less efficient muscles, or even antagonist muscles at the same time should be avoided.

Mr. Siemons indicates that there only "two forces needed to produce a sound from string." In his very valid approach, the downward force produced by gravity (controlled arm weight) and the horizontal force produced by friction, are necessary to create a sound. I would guess that Mr. Siemons may place a higher "importance" on arm weight than on friction, in that the force of gravity is larger than the force of friction. One might say that he has more of a vertical approach to bowing. In Mr. Siemons approach to bowing, he is absolutely correct. His approach agrees with many excellent cellists. This is one solution to avoiding tension when bowing.

To some extent I do not quite agree. Until now we have omitted to discuss bow speed. A complete analysis should take this into account as well. Tim, it is not so that I would hold gravity more important than horizontal forces. Horizontal and vertical forces are always present in the same ratio (= the law of friction). One force cannot go without the other. Your remark shows me that I should have been more precise and complete. See, playing crescendo can be achieved in two ways: more pressure at same bow speed, or increasing bow speed at same pressure. Experimenting with these two manners gives us a large spectrum of sound qualities (= expression).

2. Sitting Upright vs. Leaning Over

Mr. Sazer came to his sitting approach by listening to his body. When one applies the Breath Test, leaning forward clearing inhibits one's breathing, which seems like an undesirable thing, especially if one must play up high for a significant period of time. And one must expend more energy keeping the body from falling over further if one is leaning over, which must be counteracted either by holding yourself up with your left hand as it presses on the fingerboard, or by using your back and stomach muscles. Again, wasted energy.

That seems good reasoning to me

His sitting upright also makes sense with his fingering technique, which is to pull the string to the side. Leaning over does you no good unless you push the string down on the fingerboard when you play, the traditional technique. I have found his concept of pulling the string to the side to be more helpful in the higher positions, where it is most difficult to press the string to fingerboard.

This may be true for you. Pulling the strings to the side does not work with my cello at all. I am also quite happy with pressing the strings down.

3. Angle of the Bow

I would guess that additional friction may be produced because one is not going with the grain of the bow hairs. Is it a significant increase in friction? I too wonder about sound quality, but I would say that a small angle will not affect the sound noticably. I don't know.

No, the sideways pulling to the bow hair will not at all create moer friction. (I did not measure, but that's my sense of technology)

Finally, though I disagree to most of Mr. Sazer's bowing concepts, I would like to add that Sazer's recommendations on contraction and extension of the left hand seem quite alright to me.

SASHA ADDS SOMETHING:

Thank you, tim, for your excellent reply. i, too, have found very much good in sazers theories, and am grateful to him for both my better playing posture, and easier technique in high register.

For the "crooked" bowing, it was interesting to notice, that ivan Galamian in his violin method first uses several pages to remind student of the importance of straight bowing, and then... he tells that everyone who has good ears can notice that the violin soud has better resonance if the bow is pulled not straight, but just a little bit diagonally (or crooked, or whatever word is best). in his method he does not advise to change the angle, but keep it same both up- and downbows.

A question about sazers left-hand technique: how much does the type of strings effect to playing on the side of the string? i have tried cellos that respond well for this kind of playing, and others that do not. i wonder if it it a matter of strings or the cello itself.

ERIK FRIEDLANDER ADDS SOMETHING:

I recently discovered Sazer's book and have found it enlightening. Many of the elements of the book are not new. The "figure-8" bowing was taught by L. Rose's assisstant at Julliard (his name slips my mind) Playing with your fingers placed more on the side of the string was taught by Harvey Shapiro also at Julliard. I think the great thing about the book is the clarity with which all the info is laid out. Sazer's emphasis on the "natural" is of course not for everyone but I have found it helpful and interesting. Only time will tell how much I will incorporate into my daily playing.

I've found the cello placement stuff has some benefits but that I still haven't figured out my left hand alignment. I find myself subtley rocking the cello on shifts and to me that means my left hand is not moving on the same plane as the fingerboard but rather a little off causing a slight pull on the instrument...still I like the feeling in the right side of my body.

Re: placing the fingers on the side of the string. This one I can't get with. Ever since Zara Nelsova told me to press directly down on the string with bent knuckles my intonation and general acuracy has improved. Hard for me to change this one! Anyway, it's interesting to see how lightly one can press on the strings.

I've found that if you do angle the bow the way Sazer indicates but don't let it ride up or down there is a friction there. I was taught this by Bob Gardner in NYC and he used "arcs" as his terminology. When you get this working it feels really great and indeed 'natural' Also the sound is great, very in-the-string and even.

I recommend the book highly for a different perspective.


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