Playing Fast on the Cello
The following tips all stem from the general principle of economizing one's
motions. For a more complete answer, look up an article of mine that was
published in the October 1994 issue of The Strad, called "Cello Technique
Made Simple." The more extraneous motions you use, the harder it is to play
fast. The weakest link in the cello playing chain when playing fast is
wasted motions, since they waste time and energy. I will divide my response
into two parts, the right hand and the left hand.
1. The Right Hand
The bow is usually the culprit when one has trouble playing fast. Naturally,
there are left hand problems too as you will read later, but many perceived
left hand problems can be traced to troubles with the bow instead.
a. Always know what string you are on
The faster you play, the harder it is to keep track of which string you are
supposed to be playing on. Work on the transitions between strings. Try
playing the passage on open strings with your left hand fingers "ghost
fingering" above the strings.
b. Always know which direction you are bowing
The faster you play, the harder it is to keep track of which direction your
bow is supposed to be going.
c. Keep your right elbow in an elevated position as if playing on the upper
If you have a lot of string changes, keep your bow arm elevated to the level
of the upper string. Your string changing motion will then be done more with
wrist and lower arm movement. Don't let your arm flap up and down with
string changes like a wing.
d. The faster the notes, the less bow you need
If you are playing fast notes on separate bows, use very little bow. You may
find that you can use as little as an inch (2.54 cm for you Europeans) or
2. The Left Hand
a. Use Good fingerings
This is a VERY lengthy topic by itself, good fingerings vary depending on the
needs of the particular passage, both technically and musically, and there
are so many exceptions.
But anyway, here are a couple of ideas. Look for scale fragments in the
music so that you can use tried and true quality scale fingerings. Shift
after longer notes and group the fast notes together under your hand if
possible. Find fingers that take advantage of rhythms. For instance, when
you have two sixteenth notes followed by an eighth note, finger it 1-2-4
(under the hand) instead of 1-2-1, ie. don't shift in the middle of this
b. Minimize finger motions
You don't ever need to lift your fingers very high when you play , but it is
especially critical when playing fast. The higher you raise your finger, the
longer it takes to return to the fingerboard when it needs to be used.
Depending on where you're playing on the cello, you can get away with
lifting your finger as little as 1/4" or so (7mm).
3. Don't type on the cello
A common problem is that people will lift their non-playing fingers as they
play. This really slows down the hand. You simply don't have time in the
fast passages to lift a finger and put another down. Keep the unplaying
fingers down on the fingerboard. Then, when you lift a higher finger (ie.
the 4th finger), the lower finger (ie. the 3rd finger) is already in