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Grow An Inch: Place your hand just above a student's head and ask him to "grow an inch".

Promotes a lengthened and relaxed sitting posture.

Snap: Have the students quickly stand up without moving their feet whenever you snap your fingers. Students with a correctly balanced posture will be able to easily stand up.

Encourages a balanced posture, keeping attention and feet flat on the floor.

Like A Feather: From a standing position, the students "float" down into their chairs without any abrupt falls.

Helps form a relaxed, proper posture.

The Puppet: Pretend to pull a student's head up with an imaginary string.

Lengthens sitting posture.

Ten Bounces: From a standing position, the students bounce, gradually lowering themselves into their chairs.

Promotes the proper playing posture with a slight forward tilt of the torso.

My Bonnie: Have the students sing "My Bonnie lies over the ocean" and whenever a word starts with a "B" the class must either stand up or sit down.

Encourages proper feet placement, a ready posture and alertness.


Cello Song: While hugging their instruments and swaying back and forth, the students sing "I love my cello very much. I play it every day. I love to watch the spinning strings, as my hands fly away." At this point the students extend their arms away plucking the strings. (for younger students)

Ensures a comfortable playing position and includes some positive propaganda.

Bear Hug: Have the students wrap their arms around their instruments and both passively and actively hug their instruments. Try hugging at the neck, at the end of the fingerboard.

Improves the playing position by bringing the instrument closer to the body and demonstrates the natural strength of the student that will be used to play the instrument.

Spread Eagle: From a hugging position have students extend their arms out to either side.

Establishes distance needed between students to ensure freedom of movement and encourages an open body position.


Knuckle Knock: Knock with a fist up and down the length of the fingerboard. Try the other hand.

Demonstrates the power of the arm with a relaxed and flexible wrist and allows the student to get used to the range of the fingerboard.

Fling Pizzicato (Ski Jump): Hook the left hand fingers to the right of a string, slide down the entire length of the fingerboard and then pluck the string by flinging the arm away. To refine the exercise, upon reaching the end of the neck, remove the fourth finger and place the thumb on the string (straight across).

Introduces the different positions of the instrument. Distinguishes the three types of left hand positions.

Rainbow: Have the students follow you as your hand draws an arc in the air between two positions on the fingerboard--Coke Can shape for neck positions and a cup shape for thumb positions.

Teaches the proper ballistic motion used shifting. Practices the shapes of the hand in different positions.

Slap Bass: With the palm of the hand, slap back and forth the two extremes of the fingerboard in a simple rhythm. Try switching hands or add a snap. While the class repeats the rhythm, have someone improvise. Anything goes--open strings, pizzicato, thumb position.

Again shows the power of a relaxed and flexible wrist, students get more comfortable with the range of the fingerboard and introduces improvisation.

Siren Blob: Cup the left hand in a natural blob shape. Hooked to the right of the string, slide the hand up and down the string while playing tremolo or pizzicato. Advanced players, try with octaves, thirds, and sixths.

Forms the basic shape and feel of the hand in all the positions. Develops coordination.

Charlie Brown's Teacher: By sliding the hand up and down the fingerboard, have the students carry on a conversation with each other.

Practices different positions and stimulates creativity.


Coke Can: Reach out and grab for an imaginary can. All joints of the fingers and thumb are curved with the thumb opposite the second finger. Bending from the elbow bring the hand to the fingerboard and tap the fingerboard with all four fingers.

Establishes the position of the left arm, wrist, and hand at the neck. Helps students memorize the correct placement of the hand.

Paper Wad: Place a spherical object (or just imagine one) in the left palm and play.

Develops the necessary arch shape of the hand.

Tap 4 3 2 1: Place the fourth finger on the correct tape, then the third, second and first fingers. Be sure that all joints are curved.

Sets the correct hand position, ensuring equity amongst playing fingers.

Cello/Bass OK Sign: At any moment, pluck away the left hand and check if the thumb is indeed correctly opposite the middle finger. --Heightens awareness of thumb placement.


Baby Clutch: Hold index finger with a stiff grip and try to pull it free, and then try with a flexible, supple hold. The left hand doesn't need to grip the fingerboard like a vice. In fact, the flexible clutch is stronger. Now try clutching the "living fingerboard" (your right forearm).

Encourage a natural, relaxed approach to fingering.

Blob Pizzicato: Shake out the hand and relax to get the blob shape. Hook the fingers of the blob to the right of the string. Tug the string to the left and down and pull the string towards the center of your body (your gut), keeping the elbow from falling too far back. Pluck the string and see how long it vibrates. The more supple pull of the arm, the longer the ring. Observe the power of the shoulder and arm in pulling the string and with what ease this is done. The thumb should be free and finger joints, flexible. (A natural extension of the Bear Hug exercise.) --Shows the proper approach to fingering.

Opening the Blob: Gradually widen the space between the fingers of the blob. Open the hand first with 4-3 & 4-1 fingerings. Keep hand in a blob as much as possible.

Building the left hand position from the most relaxed state, the blob.

Climber's Hook: Hold the student's cello high, horizontally in the air. Have the student throw her hand up to the fingerboard and hook her fingers on a string. Let the student hang the weight of her arm on the string. Try with the cello successively lower and then in regular playing position. Note that the elbow can still be suspended in the air.

Demonstrates the power of the natural weight of the arm to bring the string down to the fingerboard.

Finger Lifts (Do As I Do): Starting with all fingers curved on the string, have the students follow you in tapping one or a combination of fingers. Pick a student to lead.

Develops agility, independence, flexibility and coordination of fingers.

Finger Race: Using a particular fingering pattern or a short passage of a piece, have the students see how many times they can properly execute the pattern in an allotted time.

Improves speed and accuracy of fingering.


The Bunny: Place the right side of the tip of the bent thumb between the first and second crease of the second and third finger. Curve the second and third fingers over the thumb to make the buck teeth. Keep all fingers relaxed and curved. Try wiggling its ears.

Teaches the proper hand hold without the bow.

Bow Doctor: A designated student checks other students' bow holds and points out any apparent ailments to a free, relaxed hold, otherwise known as "bow diseases".

Helps students identify flaws and know how to correct them.

Finger Duties: Pointing out the specialties of each finger. The first finger applies most of the weight of the arm to the bow. Try to play with just the first finger and thumb; help guide the bow with the left hand. The second finger is responsible to guide the bow straight across the strings. Try just two fingers. The sensitive third finger feels the vibration of the string through the frog. Try on C-string. The fourth finger lifts the bow but otherwise is completely relaxed and enjoys the ride. Try.

Heightens students' awareness of the feeling and function of each particular finger.

Hand Molding: A non-verbal approach to teach the bow hold in a sequence of quick steps.

1. Facing the student gently shake out his right hand.

2. Cup his hand in your left hand.

3. Slide the bow over the second crease of the fingers from the tip to the frog.

4. Stop when the front of the frog is between the second and third fingers.

5. Hold the ferrule with left thumb while still supporting the student's hand.

6. With your free right hand, create tweezers with your first and second fingers and thumb.

7. Use tweezers to place student's bent thumb at joint where the frog meets the stick.

8. Place the student's hand and bow in a vertical position, still supporting the hand.

9. Mold the hand for proper curvature.

10. Place the hand with the finished bow grip out in front of the student, and have him memorize the look and feel for ten seconds.

The Crane: Starting with the right arm dangling to the side, lift up the upper arm to playing level. Lift the forearm and wrist to the same plane as the upper arm. Pronate the hand till the thumb is below the second finger. Slide the bow into the hand.

Provides a simple summary of the correct bow hold.


Balanced Bow: At the balance point, balance the side of the bow on your right thumb. Wiggle the thumb and fingers. Then still at the balance point, drop the bow into regular position.

Helps in controlling the bow with sensitive, flexible fingers.

Bunny Chew: Have the students make the "bunny" chew an imaginary carrot by bending and unbending the thumb. Try with a pencil and then at the balance point of the bow. Finally, while supporting the bow with the left hand slide the bunny down until it hits where the stick meets the frog. Again chew.

Gradually works towards a flexible bow hold.

Spider Push-Up: With the hand and arm parallel to the floor, point fingers and thumb straight down so that the fingers and palm are at right angles. Then flex second finger joints and thumb into a "cat claw" position so that the knuckles disappear. Repeat, trying to keep the thumb opposite the second finger.

Develops flexibility and coordination of the bow hand.

Bow Rocket: With the proper bow hold, move the bow up, down, sideways and around in circles while singing these lyrics: "Up like a rocket, down like the rain, back and forth like a choo-choo train, round and round like a great, big sun, round and round like a great, big drum." Try keeping the bow perfectly vertical. Focus on the bent thumb.

Practices maintaining the same flexible bow hold. Teaches control of bow weight.

Tap And Curve: In a proper bow hold, lift each finger and tap the bow checking to see that each is relaxed and curved.

Promotes a supple, tension-free bow hold.

Bow To String With Eyes Closed: With their eyes closed and bows up, direct the students to place the bow on a particular string and/or at a particular point of the bow and/or at a specific proximity to the bridge. Then have them open their eyes and check how accurate they were. For example: Place the tip of the bow on the C-string near the bridge.

Encourages them to use their kinesthetic sense in playing, not just visually or aurally. Also practices spatial relationships and control of the bow and strings.

Wet Glue: Shake out hand and dip in imaginary can of glue. Stick the thumb on the proper spot on the bow and drape the gooey fingers over the stick. Because the glue never dries stiff, the fingers and thumb are stuck but always flexible.

Promotes a supple but not floppy bow hold.

The Oil Can: A student checks for stiffness in other students' bow holds. To free up the bow hand, have the student apply a good dose of oil to any stiff joints.

Trains students to identify stiffness in other bow holds.


TRADITIONAL: Students are taught to play with full, legato bow strokes. This approach develops control and coordination of the bow stroke but is very demanding.

SUZUKI: Students are first taught to play with short, staccato strokes. Dr. Suzuki believes that it is important to learn how to end the note as well as attack and sustain. Bow strokes are introduced in the lower half of the bow.


Circle: Holding the bow at balance point, trace a vertical circle in the air with the bow so that at the bottom of the circle, the bow tries to continue the circle through the string (scooping). Observe the tug of the bow on the string, the spinning string under the contact point and relaxed shoulder muscles.

Relaxes the arm and utilizes the weight of the arm to pull out a healthy, solid sound.

Scooping/Pouring: Pretend to dig some ice-cream out of the strings with the bow. This motion is a combination of pronation of the arm, relaxed arm weight, and pulling out the sound. Pour a pitcher of water to pronate fingers (like fallen dominos) and produce more sound.

   Describes a complex motion of the bow stroke in a straight-forward way. Develops the needed pronation in the hand to effectively transfer arm weight to the bow.


Toilet Paper Roll: Hold a cardboard tube on a string and exactly perpendicular to it. Pass the bow through it without touching the sides. Try again with the bow relaxed in the tube.

Aids in developing straight bowing, perpendicular to the string.

The Sound Tripod: A quality sound is supported by three main elements -- the speed of the bow, the amount of weight applied to the string, and the placement of the bow. For different strings, dynamics, tone colors and articulations, the proportion of these elements is in constant flux. Juggling these three elements successfully is a major part of playing.

The String Highway: Divide the distance between the bridge and fingerboard into three bow contact lanes: The slow lane nearest to the bridge is for "big trucks". Use a lot of weight and slow bow speed to produce the best tone. The middle lane is for family wagons. Use medium amounts of weight and speed. The fast lane is for the sports cars. Use little weight with quick bows. Practice staying in one lane while maintaining a solid tone. To fix a "gravelly" tone you can speed up the bow, move to a slower lane, or lighten up the bow pressure. A combination of the three gives the best results. To fix a "icy" tone, adjust the above elements accordingly.

Improves the sound quality and control of three elements of bowing.

The Weighing Scale: On a scale from one to ten, assign the weight of the bow alone on the string as "One". "Ten" is all the arm weight that can be applied to the string; at the middle of the bow, the stick should barely touch the hair. "Five" would be exactly half of the total arm weight possible. For "Zero", lift the bow off the string.

Helps quantify the amount of bow pressure into specific gradations.

Petting The Dog: Pretend to stroke a dog from left to right in a circular, smooth motion (Be sure the wrist stays slightly pronated). Then hold the tip of the bow on the string with the left hand, and stroke the bow.

Nurtures a fluid, natural bow stroke. Increases flexibility of the fingers and wrist.

Down-Two-Up-Two: Starting at the frog, pull up the fingers as in the spider push-up exercise. Then on "Two", bow to the tip and stop. On "Up" -- all fingers straight down like the long spider legs. Then on "Two" back to the frog. Repeat slowly with all steps and stops. Try faster, and then without the stopping at the bow changes.

Develops the active use of the fingers and wrist in bowing and demonstrates the motion of a fluid, natural bow stoke.


Phone Number: A chosen phone number is played between the tip and the frog for the duration of each digit. Starting from the frog, play to the tip of the bow counting the number of beats in the first phone number digit. Then return to the frog counting the second digit, and so on and so forth. Try keeping the same dynamic throughout the phone number by compensating with the speed, weight and placement of the bow.

Teaches bow proportion by using different speeds of bow as well as varying the weight and placement of the bow.


Stop-Hear-Shift-Play: Stop the bow on the string at the end of the note before the shift (the transport note). Hear the next note in your head or sing it out loud. Shift the arm smoothly and slowly to the next note (the target note). After the arm is set on the target note, play the note and check for accuracy. Repeat and compensate for any error.

Practices the correct motion, coordination and sequence of the basic shift.

The Glissando: Starting on the transport note slowly and lightly slide the arm and finger to the target note. Try slurring the two notes in one down bow or up bow. Try starting on the target note and going backwards.

Teaches this expressive musical technique and practices the kinesthetic and aural "feel" of a proper shift.


Shaking Coke Can: Pretend to shake up the Coke Can with the left hand till it gets foamy. Try now on the fingerboard.

Simulates the proper forearm motion in a proper vibrato.

Polish The Wristwatch: Run your left wrist up and down the fingerboard

Reinforces the proper arm motion.

Finger Push-up: Place a finger on the Living Fingerboard or between two strings. With the arm, rock and roll the finger with flexible finger joints parallel to the base knuckles.

Develops the flexibility of the finger joints for vibrato.

Vibrato Bump: In fourth position bump the side of your palm against the rib of the cello by vibrating widely. The hand should flex from being slightly concave to convex.

Helps to feel the bouncing motion of the vibrato and flexibility of the hand.

Jelly Finger: Pretend your fingers are filled with jelly. Wiggling the pad of a finger on belly of the instrument, observe that the skin doesn't move but the finger does because of the flesh between the skin and bone.

Enhances awareness of the natural, supple quality of skin and flesh.

Living Fingerboard: Pretend to punch yourself in the jaw with your right fist and use the back of your right forearm as a practice fingerboard.

Allows vibrato practice away from the instrument.

Blob Vibrato: With the hand in a blob, cling to a string and slowly move below the note and them back up to the pitch. Relax thumb and pull the hand towards the body to ensure a proper clinging quality.

Practices the cling of the hand and the flexible motion of the vibrato.

Vibrato Assistant: Bow for the student while the student vibrates. Or let the students in turn place their left hands on your vibrating hand to learn what it should feel like.

Allows students to focus on just the vibrato motion.


United Nations: Whisper into each student's ear a particular pitch. Have the students play their notes and stroll around the room finding other students that are playing the same note. Start simply, with only two or three different pitches.

Requires that students listen to others and match pitches.

Hide In A Pitch: Play a pitch and have students match the pitch exactly by adjusting the placement of their fingers. If the pitches are exactly in tune, it will appear that there is only one instrument playing.

Develops ability to adjust and match pitches.

Mystery Person: Have the students close their eyes and tap the shoulders of a few students who will play out of tune. After everyone plays a scale or piece while listening to each other, the students guess who were tapped.

Requires students to listen to others while playing.


Count and Clap #1: First clap four free beats and then leave a few beats silent before clapping again. The students then guess how many beats have gone by.

Develop the student's ability to internalize the beat.

Count and Clap #2: Clap four free beats then on the fourth clap, shout out a number of beats for the students to count silently and clap on the last beat together.

Pepperoni Pizza Torture Machine: Each student is asked to play a particular rhythm with the proper articulation, bowing, and bow placement. If not successful, the student is subject to a human assembly line that teaches the rhythm, step by step. First the student watches a correct version, then lies his hand on yours to feel the motion, then is guided through the rhythm with your hand and finally gets a second try.

Demonstrates multiple practice techniques to solve a problem.


You're In The Army Now: Have the students line-up single file. The sergeant who is standing in front and to the side plays a rhythm with a particular bowing. The students imitate the sergeant one by one or together checking to see that they are in step (with the correct bowing) with the others. Other drills can include changing from rest to playing position, checking bow placement, using a certain amount of bow. One hundred push-ups (spider) for anyone stepping out of line.

Encourages students to compare and change their bowings with each other.


Hide The Keys: A student is asked to leave the room while another student hides a set of keys. When the first student returns, the class plays a piece, playing louder as the student nears the hidden keys.

Teaches students to listen to and play with different dynamics.


Freeze!: At any moment, ask the class to freeze in whatever position they are in. Check and correct positions.

Eyes closed: Have students close their eyes to focus on the feel or sound of playing. Or try playing with the lights off.

Chat/ Read: Hold a conversation with the students while everyone is playing. Or for more advanced players have the students try to play while reading.

Prevents 'overconcentration' by practicing doing two things at the same time.

Compiled by: John Michel Professor of Cello & Bass at Central Washington University The above materials draws from the pedagogical work of Meredith Arksey, Robert Culver, Margaret Rowell, Irene Sharp Syllabus, Phyllis Young Syllabus, Jeffrey Solow, Bernard Greenhouse, Sinichi Suzuki, Jean Dexter, myself and others.
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