March 20, 2012
One of the études I am currently working on is Schröder Op. 48 No. 3, which is the 27th in the 170 Foundational Studies for Violoncello book. The étude has some interesting slur patterns and is written in G Major. G: has a single sharp, F#. On the C string F# is played either by shifting (to at least low second position) or by using a forward extension. As it is the only note above 1st position in the piece, and since it is sometimes connected via a slur to other notes, I've been playing it via an extension.
The note is frustrating as it often is accompanied by a muddy sound. For the longest time I've thought that I was somehow not getting my bow away from the G string while playing the low F#, resulting in the muddy sound. Tonight after several unsuccessful attempts to play it with a clean, clear intonation I asked Sibylle to come and watch me to see what she could see. To my surprise she didn't see any issues with my bow touching the neighboring string. Rather she saw that I was (a) touching the G string with my 4th (little) finger as I stretched for the F# and (b) that I wasn't putting my 2nd and 3rd fingers down to support the weaker 4th finger. Having my 4th finger unsupported by its neighbors makes it considerably weaker and I tend to mash the pad of my finger on the string rather then push with just the tip of my finger. The "mashed" position, while better perhaps for vibrato, brings it into contact with the G string.
The troublesome measure (m. 12) goes like this: C-slur-E, C, A, F#, A-slur-F#, D, with the first C played on the G string. The muddy sound starts with the first A, and is much worse on the second A and the slur to F#. After Sibylle's observations about my hand position I now realize what's happening. In anticipation of the low F#, I stretch my hand into extended position while starting to play the A. When I try to put my 4th finger down on the F# I make enough contact with the G string to muddy the A. Leaving my hand in that position in order to play the A-slur-F# repeats the muddy sound.
The solution, found after a couple of minutes of experimentation, is to raise my left elbow and move my left thumb toward the left edge of the neck. I tend to play with the pad of my left thumb in contact with the neck of my cello. Instead of keeping that contact point on the left side of the neck it sometimes slips more toward the middle of the neck. While my first three fingers are long enough to reach the C string with a nice curve, my 4th finger isn't and therefore tends to be straighter -- resulting in G string contact. By raising my left elbow and moving my left thumb toward the left edge of the neck my whole hand is higher over the fingerboard and strings, allowing all of my fingers to have a nice curved shape -- including my 4th finger.
The real trick will be to relearn my arm and hand position to alway have that nice curved shape while playing notes, particularly those on the C string.