Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

How to Sustain your Sound

Learn how to sustain your sound on the cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes teaches you an easy way to improve your "sostenuto" on the cello.

Released on January 3, 2018

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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 Mendoes with another video for Today, I'd like to just briefly talk about a little exercise that maybe I haven't shown all of you yet, that will help you to sustain a lot better.

So this is a common problem in cello playing, where we play a note and it kind of dies away unintentionally at the tip as we approach the tip. And then what we do is, to kind of try to fight this, we end up squeezing and pressing and doing all this stuff that really causes the sound to choke and sound even weaker, which turns into kind of a vicious circle. So we want to prevent that from happening. And I've talked about this many times in other videos, this kind of motion where you lift your bow hand as you approach the tip, and that's what helps to sustain. So to any of you who are familiar with my videos, you're going to know that already. This is another trick that I don't think I've shared in any other video, to kind of learn this position. Now all you're going to do, it's very simple, you can's easiest to do this on just an open A string. You're going to divide the bow into four equal parts, and you're going to memorize where those parts are. So it'll be here, here, here, and, well, that's the tip. So those are our four parts. So just three spots really on the bow to divide into four parts.

We're going to first play a down bow, and we're going to stop at that spot. Now we're going to place our hand at that spot right there, and we're going to play another down bow. Now, that down bow now should feel like that you're at the frog even though the frog's all the way back there. So we're going to play another bow, and I guess I went a little past halfway, a little past where I want, but pretty close. And then we're going to move our hand again and play another down bow. And this one should be as equally powerful without you having to really do much. And then the very last one, which is normally the weakest part of the bow, this now should sound pretty full.

Now, when you get to the tip, I want you to freeze and you'll see what I do here. Okay, so I've frozen and now I'm going to take my hand and I'm going to hold the tip. Now, I'm going to make sure that I maintain the exact angle and the exact everything that I have set up here, exactly where that bow is. And now I'm going to put my arm all the way out there. And now, that's what's going to teach me how high up off the D string I actually need to be, and for example, how much bend in my elbow there should be and all this kind of stuff to get this nice amount of power at the A string. It's just a little trick to teach you how high you have to get. And then so the next time when you play a down bow, say at the beginning of the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and you really want to sustain, then you know and you've memorized that that's exactly the spot that you have to get make sure that you're able to really sustain. Right? And to get that that lifting motion. Because really, it's just about leverage.

I know we hear, you know, as cellists, we hear a lot more said about things like arm weight and things like that. And if that's a useful picture for you, then you can use that picture as well. But personally I've never found that picture helpful in downplaying or in my own teaching, that just thinking a little bit more practically about leverage and about, you know, how much power are we actually transferring into the string, and then how are we doing it.

And this is another thing that sometimes comes up, too. Not to sound defensive, but this is another thing that comes up. Sometimes I have students ask me when I first share that with them, they say, "Well, how am I supposed to keep my shoulder down?" Because, you know, we're all told that we have to keep our shoulders down. Well, yeah, I mean, the shoulder down is a good idea. Sometimes a shoulder can look up depending on your bone structure up here. But for most of us it's not a problem, because really, this motion, all we're doing really is just kind of this turning motion this way. And you can do this completely isolating the shoulder muscles. It's not even shoulder muscles, its back muscles that raise the shoulder up like that. So it's a completely different thing. So you can kind of do this and you can watch my shoulder. My shoulder's not coming up at all, it's just kind of staying pretty even. It might be coming up just slightly, but nothing that's really going to cause any sort of tenseness in my shoulder. And of course, if my shoulder did come up when I did that, you'd hear it in the sound immediately. The same thing would happen as the sound would get choked.

So, I hope that was helpful. And please leave your comments down below, not on YouTube, but on the website. Another reminder that I do teach online lessons, and so contact me if you're interested in that. And once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Marleen * VSM MEMBER * on May 27, 2018 @1:11 pm PST
Thanks for all the great tips in your videos. Can you also say how high the strings should be above the fingerboard, both at the beginning and at the end of the fingerboard for easy play. Thanks in advance.
Joseph - host, on May 29, 2018 @11:38 am PST
Hi Marleen,

That is not an easy answer! It depends on how much resistance you want to feel. For me, I can play on a cello where the strings are a little high and it doesn't seem to bother me too much. But others feel differently. It would be best to go to a good luthier and have them set the proper height for your strings.

Leong * VSM MEMBER * on February 14, 2018 @6:53 am PST
Hi Joe,
Thanks for the tip. You demonstrated on the A string. But, how about the C string, how is the angle of the bow? Also, we usually put on more arm weight on the C compared to the A string. For me it’s more challenging to sustain the sound when I reach the tip of the bow on the C string.
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