Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

How to Play Fast on the Cello

Basic tips to master fast passages on the cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes explains how to approach fast passages, in a very easy-to-understand way.

Released on June 3, 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 Mendoes with another video for So I noticed on one of the comments that I received, actually from a little while ago, was in regards to learning how to develop agility, learning how to play fast. Now I'm sorry if I addressed this partly in a different video already, but I'm going to go over this again because it's helpful to understanding the problems with playing fast and with coordination between the hands.

First of all, it's important to understand that playing slow and playing fast are two very, very, very different activities. It's analogous to the difference between running and walking. Certainly, you're both moving your legs but the actual feeling is quite different.

For example, walking is very much similar to slow playing. For example, you go slowly from one finger to another, and you feel the change of balance especially when you're vibrating from finger to finger. You feel as you go back and forth that you really settle into that particular finger and then you settle into the next one and vice versa. That's something that I think I talked about a little bit in The Swan video, the video I did for that piece The Swan by Saint-Saens.

Now fast playing is very different. Fast playing, actually you don't want to settle in as much on each finger. Now this is a point of contention between me and some other string teachers. But it's my understanding that to play fast since it is such a radically different technique it's actually something that needs to be practiced. You actually need to practice playing fast. You see the common way of developing agility, which personally I never found useful, was notching the metronome up.

You start with a low metronome number. Say you have a passage, for example, the Allegro Passionato by the same composer, Saint-Saens. Same composer as The Swan which I think is on this website. There's multiple passages in there that require this kind of agility. It's very difficult to start, for example, this passage that's on the first page kind of at the bottom.

That passage where you go up the fingerboard like that. It's very difficult to start that passage. As you can hear, you can almost hear the pounding of my finger because I'm making sure that the string is getting down and everything on each note. It's very difficult to go from that which is quite obviously slow playing technique. I'm able to take the time to even vibrate a little bit as you can see. I can take the time. When I'm playing fast, I can't take any time to do that kind of thing at all. In fact, I need to stay hovering with my arm.

And in fact, the third finger if you could only see it. It's really hard to see. The string actually isn't getting all the way down. It's only getting partially the way down. This is how you actually play fast. Up to a certain tempo, if it's a little bit slower than this, then it doesn't really affect this too much. But for this passage then you'll say, "Well then how do I practice it? How do I practice it at the fast tempo?" Well, this is what I always recommend to my students.

In order to practice things fast, you have to practice them fast but in small chunks. So of course once you've learned the notes, now you can learn the notes at a much slower tempo, of course. I don't expect you to be able to blaze through it right off the bat. But once you decided, okay I want to learn how to play this thing now fast, you have to actually pick your tempo that you want to play at, play at that tempo, but play in chunks. Play in fast chunks.

So for example ... That kind of thing I would break up into this ... And then maybe dividing it further, not further, but clumping some of those together ... And then try to go ... Kind of like that. And so you divide it up. And I did this quickly. And you'll see that you'll have to actually practice that to get good at it. But this is how you teach your fingers how to move fast. So you have to teach your fingers how to do this. You cannot derive fast playing from slow playing. They are just too different. I can't emphasize that enough.

You will be toiling away for hours and hours and hours trying to get something faster if you practice it a lot slower. Now I know that goes against the grain. That goes against what most people say. But this is just what I found to be true in my own playing, in my own teaching. That's all I can really pass on to you in that way. So that's basically it in terms of fast playing. So anyway, this has been Joseph Mendoes with Hope you've enjoyed this video. Please leave comments down below and I'll see you next time.
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Dur gilbe on September 25, 2018 @6:41 pm PST
I am playing a solo and I have never really learned how to play grace notes well. Do you have videos to help with going out of grace notes into the regular notes without being scratchy?
Joseph - host, on September 26, 2018 @1:19 pm PST

Unfortunately I don't think I ever covered grace notes... You may want to try plucking the string with the left hand finger that you are using to play the grace note when you release it. I am not sure of your specific problem, but that might help.

Cellojuice on July 16, 2017 @5:38 am PST
Yes! Absolutely true!
Danny Wallenberg on July 4, 2016 @12:54 pm PST
Dear Joseph,
I'm a amateur cellist and a friend of mine introduced me to your videos. They are very enlightening. Thank you.
I have been unsuccessfully trying to learn how to play sautillez for years. Do you have a video on that bow stroke?
thank you.
Joseph - host, on August 2, 2016 @4:25 pm PST
Coming soon...
Michael Burridge on November 29, 2015 @9:13 am PST
This makes a lot of sense. Thank you. Another difficulty for me is making a fast full position shift in a fast passage without a break in the continuity.
Joseph - host, on December 11, 2015 @8:19 am PST
Try making sure your thumb is totally limp, a strong thumb is usually the cause of this type of problem.
Steve Fuhrmann * VSM MEMBER * on June 6, 2015 @9:20 pm PST
Well said, Joseph. Good lesson! Yes, I play cello, and I also run. Nobody runs fast by training with slow jogging. We all get that! I use 20-second sprints during runs to teach my body what it feels like to run fast. I get faster by practicing short spurts of fast. I will be more diligent in similarly practicing short burst of fast to fast cello passages until they play fast. Thank you!
Steve Fuhrmann
Monument, CO
Ro on June 3, 2015 @11:32 am PST
Hello Joseph, This is also useful for me. I have to practice fodor sinfonie nr. 4 in C op.19 and from Schubert sinfonie nr. 6 C Major.
Some pieces is so fast. I have wrote you that I played now in a orkest,
And you are right, I learn so much.! You writing is really helping.
Because the most pieces are so fast. .... but I am still learning. thank you for your tips!!!
Linda * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @6:19 am PST
Really useful Joseph.
Im working on the Saint=Saens Cello Concerto and was struggling with finding a way to practice playing the fast bits once ive got the notes into memory. This should really help... Thank you.
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