Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

The Best Posture for Playing the Cello

Learn how to play the cello with the right posture

In this video, Prof. Mendoes shows you what's the best posture for playing the cello, with easy-to-understand visual examples.

Released on January 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. This is Joseph Mendoes for Today, I'd like to talk about posture. Actually posture is something that I know is very important to all of you cellists. It certainly is important to me. There are certain guidelines and rules I think that we should follow when we're even discussing the idea of posture, what it is to sit correctly at the instrument, what it is to hold the instrument correctly, and all those kinds of things.

Now, just to start off with kind of a general philosophical statement here on posture and what I think the whole thing is, I know that it's very common to think that posture is something that results in all sorts of other things. For example, a good posture can lead to good playing, or bad posture can lead to bad playing, and all those kinds of things.

I just feel like there are too many examples of players who play with bad posture but who sound really fantastic, and vice versa, players that play with very good posture but don't sound very good at all. There are too many cases of either or of that to really make that kind of statement, that posture has that kind of influence, to make a statement that posture has the kind of influence that we give it. We think that if we just sit correctly, if we do something like that correctly, then it means we're magically going to be able to play better.

Now, this does not mean that I think that any way to sit or any way to be at the instrument is okay. There are certain things that at least I've seen amongst many other players, some of the really great players, that indicate to me that there are certain basic rules that we should follow.

Also, every person's body is individual, obviously. There are many things in common, obviously, with human beings from one to another, but there are also some minor differences that can change how we all approach the instrument, to a slight degree.

The first thing we can talk about is actually just plain old sitting. It seems strange that anybody should ever have to teach you to sit. That's a pretty basic thing. That's really where my advice to you kind of comes from. I don't think anybody should have to show you how to sit.

You really should sit when you're at the cello . . . You should sit as if there's no cello at all. If you sit like how your parents told you . . . Maybe they yelled at you about this, to have a straight back. Well, we should try to have a straight back and shoulders back as much as we can. This really helps to prevent lower back injuries.

The more we hunch over this way, the cello, or we kind of bend our back . . . I know you can't really see it from that angle, but the more you kind of hunch over the instrument like that, the more problems you can have, not only in your neck and your shoulders, but also in that lower back, which is always a very sensitive spot.

As far as what part of the chair to sit on, I'm a big advocate of sitting on the front edge of the chair. I think that this actually gets your knees in a position where they are below your hips. That's not one of those hard and fast rules, but certainly for me, having the knees below the hips really helps to roll my hips forward instead of having them back.

If you kind of feel, if you roll your hips back this way, automatically your back goes into that curved position. Your shoulders start to hunch over like that. That's why I feel like having the knees below the hips, I know you can't see that in the video, but they're definitely below the hips.

Another thing to promote that feeling of the knees being below the hips is where you place your feet. I know you can't see my feet, and I can't really show you because I'm only one guy doing this here. But the feet . . . I actually advocate kind of more of a position that Starker, I know, used, which is actually having the feet more underneath you.

I know there are some people that teach the tripod. I'm setting my feet out here. You can't really see it. They teach the tripod, where you have your rear end in the chair, and then you have your two feet out kind of in front of you like this, flat on the ground. I think this is a problematic position.

I think it actually throws more of your center of gravity forward, and when you throw more of that center of gravity forward, in order to balance out, you want to kind of lean back with your body that way, to kind of make sure that you're balanced out.

That's why I like to keep my feet in a position to where I could almost stand straight up. I know I disappeared there, but you could almost stand straight up right from where you're at, and you wouldn't have to shift your body forward at all.

When we start to put the cello into this whole scenario, all we want to really do is make sure that we don't have to twist the body at all in order to place the cello there. You see? With the cello here, it's the same as if the cello is not there. I have not changed anything essential. Maybe there are some slight little differences in how my body is tilted, but I assure you those are very slight.

Developing this kind of very comfortable position at the cello, I think, is really important. Again, like I said in the beginning, for everybody, that's going to be slightly different. You're going to have some that maybe like the endpin a little bit higher. So maybe they're going to sit a little bit more like Rostropovich did. He didn't sit on the edge of the chair, but he didn't put himself all the way back in the chair, either.

He did something kind of like this with his bent endpin. He still was kind of feeling this way, more forward. You can see him do it. You can never see him just kind of sloping, not sloping, but I don't know what the word is. Well, just relaxing in the back of the chair with the cello up here like this. He still is here, and you can see that. He's still kind of going forward. You can see this in videos of the great cellists, Casals, Emanuel Feuermann, Leonard Rose. Leonard Rose, in fact, actually used quite a short endpin. So his body was very forward when he was playing.

There are some variations, but basically that's the basic idea. You want the cello to be able to not really change how you're sitting. However you learned how to sit when you were a kid, that's how you should sit when you're sitting at the cello. Nothing different. You just should be able to take it in and out like that.

One small detail here. As far as the legs are concerned, really I think it's important to make sure you're not gripping the cello with your legs. The effects of this are negligible, but they're enough that you want to be aware of it.

You can just experiment with this. If you squeeze the cello, and then play an open A . . . You probably won't be able to tell this on the video. If you squeeze the cello with your knees like I'm doing right now, and play an open A, then you leave your knee all the way out here, when you play an open A, you can see immediately that there's much more ring. Mainly it's in the overtones and other things. Try this at home and see if this doesn't help you to kind of get a more ringing sound. Also, it's overall kind of less tightness in the body, which is a good thing.

Now, let's talk about the shoulders because very often, as we're getting into the higher positions, in the thumb position, when we're up here, we end up doing this kind of thing with our shoulder because we get kind of nervous and worried. Oh, am I going to play something in tune or something out of tune? Really this has more to do with your kind of overall attitude towards those upper positions than it does anything else.

There, I would kind of refer you probably to one of my other videos. I'm not sure if I talked about this or not, but really the hand position should really stay the same, no matter where you're at. You really shouldn't change. For example, if your elbow is too low, then as soon as you go into those upper positions, you're going to start to feel a little bit strange with the left hand. Things are going to feel radically different than they did before.

Whereas if your elbow stays up the whole time, and this is something I advocate with all of my students, to find one position for the elbow for all the notes like that, you'll be able to run up and down the instrument like crazy. Also, big shifts, going from the C to C here or wherever from wherever will become really easy, because this part of the cello here won't be involved. I think I talked about that in a shifting video. Anyway, that's part of the posture.

The other part of the posture is, of course, the bow hold. Posture has to include everything, not just how we're sitting at the cello, but how we're holding all the things. You can look at any one of my videos about the bow hold to kind of get some clues about that.

I think I covered everything I wanted to cover. I covered this left elbow, making sure this elbow stays up, and making sure that we're not scrunching our shoulders when we're in the upper positions, but that the shoulders are in kind of a nice position. Of course, this elbow is still in a good position as well.

We talked about making sure that your feet are a little bit underneath you and not so far out this way, to make sure that those hips are rolled forward to protect that lower back, to not hunch over the cello in any sort of way, and to just really remember that the basic rule for sitting is that you have to be able to take the cello in and out like that and not change anything about how you're sitting.

I hope you enjoyed this video. I can't wait to see some of your comments. If any of you have been taught differently or anything like that, I'd love to hear it. I love taking as much information as I can from what other teachers do and sorting through it. Maybe some of it I like, some of it I don't, and that's okay.

I love a good healthy discussion about these things. So please leave your comments down below there, and I'll answer them as quickly as I possibly can. Once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Allesandra on August 11, 2017 @5:06 pm PST
I thrive on your magic videos !! They are all clear and the information so well thought out- encourages us to ask our own questions and experiment too, with confidence.
You take the struggle out of these topics so a massive thank you Joseph .
Mark LaPolla on April 10, 2016 @1:00 pm PST
Do you tilt the cello slightly. In the video, it looked straight on. Thanks. Good video.
Joseph - host, on April 12, 2016 @8:59 pm PST
I do tilt. The camera angle makes it tricky to tell. I don't think this is necessary, do what feels right!

Diez Jean-Claude on March 11, 2015 @1:11 am PST
thank you very much,
this video precise practicals details very usefull for me.
Congretulations !
Kathryn Arriola * VSM MEMBER * on January 15, 2015 @1:37 pm PST
Awesome tips for keeping your body from tensing up and allowing your cello to ring as much as possible. One of the problems all of us have had to deal with in the past is adjusting everything depending on what chair is being used. About a year ago I purchased a drummers throne that I take with me wherever I go with my cello. It is adjustable and I love the consistency of height as well as the ability to swivel all so slightly to move with the music as I am playing. They are also very "cushie" which is a huge blessing when you are playing for a long time lol!
Joseph - host, on January 27, 2015 @8:42 am PST
Hi Kathryn,

Chair height is a problem! The best is going into a Kindergarten classroom to do a cello demonstration, and all the chairs are a foot tall!
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