Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

What's the Relationship between Technique and Musicality?

Technique and musicality, together, on the cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes talks about an important topic that is often overlooked or misinterpreted. What is the best way to balance musicality and technique?

Released on March 4, 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 with another video for

Well, first, before we get into today's topic, I wanted to just briefly mention a new service that I'm offering. I'm offering Skype lessons, so lessons over Skype, and also what I'm calling at least, a video diagnostic, where you can send me a video via uploading it to Dropbox, and then, I'll look at the video, and then for a fee I'll make a video basically addressing what I see as problems or tell you, "There are no problems," or something like that.

So both of those, both the Skype lessons and the video diagnostic I'm offering through me and my wife's website, It's the website that should be up at the corner of the page that you're watching this video on, unless you're watching on YouTube, and then you'll just have to go to That's J, and then Concert and then Artists - with an 's' at the end, the plural. If you go there and fill out the contact form, that'll send me an email, and I'll be able to share with you more information about fees and rates and things like that. And as far as the Skype lessons go, all you really would need is a computer and a webcam, which you probably have both if you're looking at this, and also a USB microphone is very helpful as well, for the audio quality. I think there are some USB microphones that go as low as $30 or $25 they're in that range that are very good quality. So you can try those.

Anyway, now I'm getting into the topic of today's video. Today, I'd like to address a couple of different things in a couple of different ways. The first thing is the relationship between technique and musicality and really what that is. Basically, it's my view that technique is something that should always feed your musicality. Technique should be something that allows you to express yourself. It shouldn't be just something that simply allows you to be able to play reasonably well in tune and to shift accurately and all those things. Of course, those things go with it, but for me technique is much more than that.

Technique is the ability to shape a phrase or shape a musical subject in a way that really makes you feel satisfied about what you're doing musically and really reflects what's going on inside of your brain when you're just looking at a score and imagining how things should sound. So basically, what technique is, then, for me technique is evenness, being able to play everything evenly. So for example, you can take a scale, and you can say okay, well the scale, of course, has to be in tune, but that's not the only musical value at work. Right? You have to also make sure that the string crossings are as smooth as possible, that if you're doing a certain bowing that the bow changes themselves are as smooth as possible. Or, if you're doing accented bows, if you're doing more of a martel√ stroke, then the accents on the down bow and the up bow are totally equal.

So this idea of evenness in technique is very important, because then your musicality, then what that is it really becomes choosing how to break that evenness. See for many of us, our musicality has some default characteristics, where if we're technically deficient in something, for example if we have a weak finger or we have something like that, we tend to play around those things. And this may actually affect how we want something to sound, or our own individual unique musicality.

So for example, the beginning of the C major Bach suite, the prelude, it's just the very simple scale. Right?


So, if we take that and let's say maybe your bow changes aren't very smooth and that's something that you need help on, then basically the way you're stuck playing this is . . .


. . . kind of in a stiff way. Because you can't really get the bow changes to be smooth. Or, if you have a little problem with string crossings, it's a little less noticeable in this opening, but . . .


. . . basically, every single time you do a string crossing there's going to be some type of unintended accent.

So technique then becomes the removal of all of those unintended things. So then, you have something that's perfectly even. Then, your musicality is going to be breaking that evenness.

I'll play this totally evenly once.


Well, that wasn't totally even, but it was pretty close. Now we can take that, and we can change elements of it to make it sound a certain way. For example, if we lengthen the first note and then maybe put a little bit of an accent on each bow change, we can get it to sound grand and regal.


And almost spoken and enunciated. Or, we can keep it completely smooth.


And play it very elegant, not in really a grand manner, but in a very elegant kind of way.

So then, as soon as you have that evenness, and there are all sorts of options that you have at your disposal. So that's why attaining that evenness is really important and not just focusing on, "Oh, is it in tune?" Of course, it has to be in tune. But, I don't think that that musical value is any more important than any of the others. That's why I think evenness is the thing that encapsulates everything - good intonation, good string crossings, good bow changes, good shifting, making sure all the shifts can be well hidden so that then you can choose which ones are going to be expressive and which ones are going to be hidden. Whereas if every shift you do . . .


. . . is kind of sounding like that, then you can never hide a shift and then you're basically stuck in a default musicality.

So anyway, I think that's really important to understand, even before you start practicing seriously on the instrument, because you have to be listening for those things. You have to be listening for that evenness. And then, once you have that, you really know that you can start to play with things and you can really do whatever you want, because you have total control over what you're doing.

So that's basically technique and musicality. In terms of the musicality end, really the best way to figure out how you want something to sound is to just do a lot of score study with an instrument. I'm not telling you not to practice. You still have to practice. But, you also have to do mental practice, which basically is work away from the instrument. And that work can be of immense benefit, because without the instrument in front of you it really helps you to discover how exactly you want something to sound.

So that's it for that topic. I just wanted to remind you again of my new service. And if you are interested in Skype lessons or you're interested in sending me a video and having me do the video diagnostic, then please contact me via my website, Again, that's an 's' at the end of Artists. And we can talk about fees and scheduling and all that kind of thing.

Once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes for Please, please, leave comments. If you're on YouTube, go to the site to leave your comments. Don't leave them on YouTube, I will not see them, I will not reply to them. I love replying to comments, so please leave them at the website. Once again, this is Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ginavon on November 3, 2015 @10:48 pm PST
Thank you for the Best description ever... I really understand this now!
Ro on March 11, 2015 @8:30 am PST
Thank You,for you explain about technique and musicality.
Steve Fuhrmann * VSM MEMBER * on March 4, 2015 @9:31 am PST
Joseph, thank you for this excellent articulation of something I've gradually become more aware of--defects in technique force musical outcomes whether or not that is the expression I want. I now have a mental framework to clarify attention in the practice room. Thank you once again.
seamas rhind on March 4, 2015 @8:08 am PST
Joseph : thankyou for your clarity in discussing technique and musicality : as a recorder player practising Bach I found your video most illuminating and am most keen to re-approach playing his music with your concepts in mind. ¿Do you know any recorder players with whom I could form a digital learning relationship? Kind regards seamas.
Joseph - host, on March 4, 2015 @10:11 am PST
Dear Seamas,

I am honored by your comment, thank you! I don't think there is a more important topic that needs to be discussed in music performance today. The relationship between technique and musicality is largely ignored in contemporary string teaching, and I think many students would benefit from this knowledge. Unfortunately, I do not know any recorder teachers, but I would be happy to help you with some musical coaching. I have coached players of many instruments, including my wife who is a flute player. In the mean time I will keep a look out for a fabulous recorder teacher for you!

seamas rhind on March 5, 2015 @2:01 am PST
Excellent Joseph, this is most kind of you; and not a little perceptive : when I have some playing on video I will let you know : seamas
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