Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

Pull vs Push on the Cello

Learn an important basic bow technique on your cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes teaches you how to improve your tone and sound by applying the right bow-drawing technique.

Released on May 4, 2016

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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 talk about a...well, something that I talked about a little bit all ready in a previous video on how to make a wonderful, beautiful tone or something like that. I can't remember what the title is. Anyway, so this is just another little video about sound production and going into detail about another aspect of how to produce a really wonderful sound.

Now there's some...well, I don't know if there's some misconceptions, but there's occasionally some lack of clarity on actually what's going on when we are producing a sound. So the bow, as most of you know, unless you're using synthetic hair, which some bows have, the bow uses horse hair. It has horse hair on it. Horse hair has little tiny ridges and then those ridges - these are microscopic - and those ridges, that's where the rosin collects.

Now when you draw your bow across the strings and make a sound, what's happening is those ridges are catching the string. They keep catching and releasing, catching and releasing. Almost as if you're plucking a lot of times in a row. Those little ridges are continuously plucking that string. That's why we hear continuous sound. With that in mind, we have to think, "Okay, is the best way to make a sound by pressing or by more of a pulling feeling?"

Now all you have to do is think about pizzicato. Go back to pizzicato and think, "Okay." When I pluck a string, what I'm normally doing is I'm pulling it to the side and maybe slightly up, depending on your pizzicato technique, but I pluck more to the side like that. So if that's how I'm going to make a sound with pizzicato, that's actually how I want to make a sound with the bow as well. I want to have a clear sensation with the bow that I am pulling the sound. And then on the up-bow, I'm doing the same.

One little exercise that I like to do with some of my students, well, with all of my students, is to kind of get this feeling. If you actually hold onto your bow at some point and kind of pull in the opposite direction and see what your fingers do, see how your fingers respond. If your fingers are able to respond, first of all, you have a good bow hold. That means that you're pronated and you're doing all the things we talked about in the bow hold video there. It also means that...well it helps you to get this feeling of pulling.

So you want to have this feeling of resistance at all times when you're playing. If you don't have that feeling, it actually makes playing the cello quite difficult. You want to try to develop and cultivate that feeling of resistance. So that's what I mean by pulling. You can think of yourself in a little game of tug-of-war against the string. You know, you always want to feel that feeling of pulling.

Now this will have lots of beneficial effects on your playing. It'll even have a beneficial effect on your right hand, in terms of how well-organized your right hand is and your feeling of contact with the string and everything. It will help that tremendously.

Another aspect of this pulling...Sorry. Something I forgot to say. This pulling this way, you can also do it this way. If you hold onto the back of the bow here, you can kind of pull and see what that up-bow feeling is going to feel like because the up-bow has a kind of a pulling feeling, too.

So you can imagine that if we press the sound too much, of course we get a scratch. But with modern string technology, it actually allows you to press a certain amount without the string buckling on you. You know, like that. This is largely on the cello because on the cello we're using a lot of metal-core strings these days which are fine and make some beautiful sounds. But they allow you to get away with a certain amount that's not immediately obvious.

For example, playing on a gut-string, or some lower-tension string, it will be immediately obvious when you press too hard because that sound will crack on you quite easily. It's partially what makes those strings more difficult to play on. However the benefit of those lower-tension strings is that they really prevent you from doing any sort of pressing at all. So, not only does that aid in the general beauty of your sound, but it also, I think, is an aid in phrasing.

Actually, I have a theory about this that a significant amount of pressing actually changes how much you're pressing here with your left hand and it actually causes you to press way, way, way more. When you're pressing way, way more here as well as here, in order to get a sound, the result of that is that the phrasing usually gets a little bit lumpy. I'm not quite sure why this is, yet but this is just something I've observed with students and with, also, some really fine players as well.

It's more about pulling than it is pressing and that's something that's really important to understand. To always have that pulling feeling, it'll make you feel like you can do anything at the cello if you're able to get that feeling and get that right. Your shifting and, like I said, left-hand aspect, aspects of certain things, really are much easier.

So, anyway, I hope this video was helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them down below in the comments section on and not on YouTube. And, yeah, I think that's it.

Oh, also, if you have all ready subscribed to my new blog at, then I thank you and if not, please do so. There's actually a little bit more information about the video that I made today in a blog that should be up by the time this video goes up. So, anyway, this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Brian Jones on September 2, 2016 @2:22 am PST
Dear Professor Mendoes
I find your video clips very helpful indeed and they have assisted me greatly in advancing my technique. Especially this clip on 'pushing and pulling'. For a long time, I have wrestled to achieve an ideal tone quality with both down and up bows. When you explained about horsehair consisting of tiny serrated edges in order to 'pull'' at the string, a light suddenly went on in my head! I carried this image through to my playing and, consequently, I am much more aware now of bow pressure, and how sound is produced when you draw the bow across the strings. My ups bows particularly have improved immensely. And your explanation of how the left hand fingers and pressure on the bow interact has been especially illuminating. It has enabled me to correct years of bad finger pressure of the left hand and to play in a much more relaxed way.

Thank you very much !

Brian Jones
The Netherlands
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