Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

Spiccato on the Cello

Learn the basic techinque of spiccato on the cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes talks about spiccato and how to approach it the right way.

Released on October 5, 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, the idea for this video was prompted by the last video that I made, the differences between Sautille and Spiccato and then how to get that sautille. But I didn't really spend a lot of time I think in that video on how to get a spiccato. So, I think we are going to focus on that today. First, defining what spiccato is and clarifying again the difference between it and sautille, and then talking about some different methods to try to get a spiccato. sautille is one of those strokes that I found that a lot of students don't struggle with too much. The main issue with sautille is not getting the stroke to happen, but getting the stroke to happen in such a way so that you can do it for a long time like it's usually asked for. For example, in the Popper Hungarian Rhapsody, there's a whole section that just kind of goes on like that for a while. And, if you are not, if you're not really using the wrist and the fingers more in that stroke and you're using too much arm, you're going to wear yourself out big time. So that's the main factor.

However, with spiccato things are a little bit different. Things get a little bit funny. Because really the big problem is actually getting the spiccato in the first place. Now, I've never found a student or a player, for that matter, who is doing a spiccato incorrectly. There's almost no such thing. Or doing a spiccato inefficiently or something like that. I've never really found that because in order to get the bow to really bounce effectively, you need to actually be doing pretty much exactly the right thing. I think this is why learning the spiccato for some people is a little bit more difficult, a little bit more of a challenge. So, the first thing I have to say is this, is in order to get a spiccato you need to understand three things. You need to understand the springiness of the string, you need to understand the springiness of the hair on the bow and the springiness of the wood.

You basically have three trampolines here working all at the same time. And, you have to be controlling that springiness in your stroke. Now, there's two ways to control it. There's the downward motion, which if you force it too much then you get to much bounce back or not enough bounce back because you're not allowing it to bounce back. Or if you throw it to softly on the spiccato, if you're too soft with it, then you won't get a high enough bounce with which you can then catch the bow again and then send it back down for another bounce. So, I'll just demonstrate really quickly that a spiccato basically will look like that.

Now, you notice that there is some motion in my fingers and in my...these knuckles and in the wrist here. There is some motion there, but you also notice that there's quite a bit of motion coming from the shoulder as well. With a good spiccato, you need that actually. You need a little bit more coordination between all the parts of the arm than you do say in the sautille which again is more of that. But as you can see, is a lot less of the shoulder. In fact, the shoulder is not really moving much. It's only the elbow and then primarily the fingers and the wrist. So, you will notice in the spiccato again, that not only is it a slower stroke but in order to get the bounce, I need to have a little bit more of this sideways motion. That's the first part.

The second part that you have to understand is again going back to this trampoline idea. You really need to be able to throw the bow down, but when I say throw I don't mean any sort of aggressive throw. Because, if you throw it aggressively the bow... you won't be able to get the bow to bounce back like that. So, there's that perfect amount of drop or throw that allows the bow to bounce back up. Now, once it gets to the top or the apex of where it's going to go, like a bouncing ball has an apex, it has that highest point that it's going to reach before it falls back down again. You bow has the same thing. As soon as it reaches that apex, that's when you want to have a little bit more gently pressure coming from back, from the index finger again to send it back down. Now, when I say gentle pressure I mean literally that. It's very, very, very little to do this well. Now all you have to do then is combine that basic feeling with this sideways motion from the shoulder. The reasons why you need more shoulder in this stroke and less of the hand is so that the hand stays free and passive to always monitor those bounces. That's really critical.

Another little useful tip for a spiccato is that I found that using slightly flatter hair helps this as well. I think there's two reasons why. First of all, getting the slightly flatter hair actually immobilizes your hand and your wrist a little bit more. So, I think because of that it allows you to kind of stabilize things here a little bit so that you can use a little bit more. If I'm down here, I tend to get a little bit too overactive with my hand and the spiccato starts to get a little slappy instead of resonant and clear when it's combined with that shoulder motion. And then it's really easy once you've learned it, It's really easy just to always kind of have it, it's like riding a bike. Once you have it, it is just always going to be there and then if you want to get a little bit louder, of course, there is a limit with spiccato and how loud it can go. Then all you have to do is just the same rules. You move the bow a little closer to the bridge and you might have to increase the amount of force that you're using on the drop, really not much. And then if you want a really soft spiccato, all you need to do is actually make the jump just a little bit lower and of course, move it up towards the fingered wire. Then you can get a nice soft spiccato like that. And then get it too loud or too low.

So, I think that's about it about spiccato. Please, if you have any questions, leave them. I'll do my best to get to them as soon as I can. I apologize to those of you who I have delayed, in some cases, I think even a month long. I apologize for that. Sometimes, in this, my site there and so you have my apologies. I'll do my best to get to those as soon as possible. And, if you're watching on YouTube don't leave your comments on YouTube. Well, feel free to leave you comments on YouTube, but I won't see them, I won't reply to them. Just leave them on the website. So, thank you. Once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

David on July 9, 2018 @8:14 pm PST
Hi, I am trying to play the Mendelssohn Scherzo Excerpt from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for an audition. I am having trouble incorporating the spiccato and specifically getting the spiccato faster and doing string crossings with the spiccato. Do you have any tips to help with this? Thanks in advance.
Joseph - host, on August 5, 2018 @6:57 pm PST
Hi David,

Sorry for the long wait, I guess I missed this one!

This excerpt is usually played at a tempo that falls some where between a spiccato and a sautille stroke, so getting the stroke right is very tricky. You actually don't want to play this as a true spiccato try playing it at a spot on the bow between the balance point and the middle and it should start to come alive for you. A true spiccato is usually a little further out, but in the spot I am recommending you can still get the bow to bounce a little, but at a faster speed and with greater control. Keep experimenting with where in the bow you are playing and you will eventually find that magic spot where the bow slightly bounces and the articulation is clear at a fast tempo, but remember that it is probably somewhere between the balance point and the middle.

Hope that helps!

David on August 8, 2018 @10:45 am PST
Thanks for your response. What would you recommend for the measure with the scale that leads up to tenor clef (B C D E F G). I’m having a hard time getting my fingers to fall in place fast and making the shifts smooth.

Joseph - host, on August 21, 2018 @12:39 pm PST
Hi David,

Typically the problem here is that the elbow is a little too low to allow the arm to clear the upper bout of the cello. Having a higher elbow will also help the left hand fingers to feel lighter.

Hope that helps!

Allesandra on January 14, 2017 @8:36 pm PST
Wonderful video, you make things extremely easy to follow and make you want to experiment lots because of your approach to the subject.
My only suggestion in that it would be helpful to just hear a small section / passage of a piece which uses this technique , but I realise you only have a small amount of time so maybe this isn't possible. Maybe link a suggestion of a piece which incorporates the particular technique ?
Anyway , many many thanks for all your great advice and tips for better playing. Bless you.,
Joseph - host, on August 13, 2018 @1:20 pm PST
Hi Allesandra,

I should have done that, my apologies! A good piece to work on your spiccato is, well, a scale! I think that studying the fundamentals is best done while keeping all of your other tasks as simple as possible.

Bas on October 10, 2016 @8:50 am PST
Hey Joseph. I've been playing the Cello for about 3 months now. I really enjoy your video's. You go into small details, but also don't make the stories too long and boring. Also you don't try any shortcuts. Try it the right way the first time even though it takes more practice. In short: keep up the good work, I'll be viewing more of your videos the more I progress.
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