Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

Bow Changes: How to Make Them Smooth

Learn how to improve your bow changes for a smooth cello sound

In this video, Prof. Mendoes teaches you how to tackle bow changes to accomplish the perfect sound, no matter what passage you have to play.

Released on October 7, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello everyone. This is Joseph Mendos with another video for Today, I would like to talk about a subject that I think, sadly, I think gets ignored quite a bit...not just in cello playing, but in string playing in general. I think it gets ignored because it's not a concept that's very well understood. So I'm going to try to clarify this concept a little bit today in this video.

The concept is: 'Bow Changes: How to Make Them Smooth?' Well, the first things is I think that we need to understand is why would we want to make them smooth? And I know this may seem obvious, but I think it's important to explore this question just a little little bit. It's...I think it's important to have smooth bow changes, because it's the easiest way that you can really make sure that you can sustain a melodic line past the length of just one bow. For many of us, our phrase lengths are determined by the length of our bow. You know, our phrases get kind of broken up in that way when we're playing a particular melody.

And so, it's important, I think, to learn how to change the bow, you know, from down to up and up to down as smoothly as possible so that it almost seems like that the bow is endless. Now, I know in a previous video I talked about this, but I'm going to go into a little bit more depth right now. So anyway, we can just kind of use an open string like an open D. Actually, it's the hardest, at least in my experience, it's the hardest...the hardest thing to do a smooth bow change on is an open string. So, we're just going to do a bow change here just to kind of demonstrate, and I do it as smooth as I can.

Now you can hear there's a little bit of sound as I change the bow. I'm trying to do it as smoothly as I can, but I hope you'll notice that right during the bow change there's a little bit of a motion in my hand especially coming from the up to the down bow. And what that does is, is that basically causes the rest of my arm to stop moving and then my fingers finish the bow stroke right at the last minute. Now, why is that important? Well, we just need to consider, really, Newtonian physics. Actually, we need to consider, you know, what it is for an object to be in motion and what that really means.

We have an object in motion, you know, the arm. And if we suddenly need to change direction, then it's much's much easier to suddenly change direction with a smaller amount of mass than with a larger amount of mass. So that's why I just finished the bow change with just my fingers because now I...all I have to do is control the bow change just for my fingers. You see, if I kept everything here stiff, and I tried to do the bow change from my shoulder you'll notice it's like, you know, trying to, you know, make an 18-wheeler, you know, stop on a dime and then throw it into reverse all in a split second. You'll notice the big accent that gets played. There's nothing I can do about that.

It's just the sound gets stopped, but if I allow my fingers to operate in this way with this kind of "paintbrush motion"...this is something that, I think, Leonard Rose taught his students...and an idea, I think, is a very good one. If you just use the fingers, you can already hear there is a big difference in terms of the cleanliness of the bow change. Now, of course, getting just this motion down is not the most...well, it is one of the most important things...but the most important thing is for you to be listening because you have to coordinate all this. And you have to be very sensitive. And the thing that coordinates all these things is the ear.

So, if you just work on this motion in isolation. You can still have a nice big accent on your bow changes, and you can see I'm giving it a lot of motion, but I'm not coordinating the motion. So I have to coordinate the motion with my ears to be able to really shape that bow change to make it really smooth. To make the bow change just seem...or sorry, to make the bow just seem like it just can endless change like that and sustain at a pretty even level. There's one more aspect to this, it's something I've talked about in another bow video is: You really have to try to make sure that you're lifting as you approach the tip. You always want to bow in this kind of...Like the bow is on the bottom of an ellipses.

That really helps as well. It actually helps you engage your fingers a little bit more easily as you bow. So that's just something that, you know, you want to spend some time working on. You know, for example, when you practice your scales, don't just focus on intonation, focus on as many different things as possible. And this is one of those things that you can add to the list...Is whenever you change the bow, try to do so as smoothly as you possibly can, and you'll quickly find that if you're not able to move your fingers, then probably you need to think about what you're doing with your bow hold. You might be gripping too tightly, or something like that.

And you'll be made immediately aware of, I think, a potential deficiency in your technique. So, this is something I work on a lot. In fact when I work on a piece, I don't work on expression much. That's something that kind of naturally comes through, I find at least, if I'm working on all these kinds of nuts and bolts kinds of things. Like making sure that every note is as in tune as I can possibly make it. Making every bow least ones that don't have accents or dots on them or something. Making those as smooth as I possibly can.

Making sure I'm able to vibrate, you know, as many notes as I can, or at least as many notes that I actually intend to or want to. I work on all these things and my musical concept kind of grows naturally out of that technical approach. So, I hope you found this video helpful today. Please do be conscientious about your bow changes. And you can spend days and days just perfecting that and understanding that concept. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section on the website.

Just to reiterate again, if you leave comments on YouTube, I will not see them...Well, I might see them. I occasionally look, but I will not be able to reply to them. I can only reply to the comments on So please, comment there and I'll be happy to answer whatever questions you have about bow changes or just about anything else cello related. So thank you for watching this video, once again, and this has been Joseph Mendos for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

H. Van on December 30, 2017 @4:44 pm PST
Late bloomer here. Thank you for the explanation of bow changes. Gonna spend hours on it. Smiley Face
Mary Mcrae on November 1, 2015 @4:44 pm PST
thank you I have been searching for tips on this subject for some time.
Briana * VSM MEMBER * on October 8, 2015 @7:51 am PST
Terrific video. It's just a small change and something I've done unconsciously, but it's good to bring it to the forefront. Thank you!
Robert on October 7, 2015 @10:27 am PST
great lesson once again.
Please do a video on thumb positions; with all the upper positions; it'd be greatly appreciated.
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