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how to get modern cello strings to articulate?

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I studied baroque Cello for 7 years, but never studied modern Cello at conservatory at all, even if I did reach a relatively advanced Level of playing on the modern cello. Now that I've been teaching modern Cello to Amateurs for 14 years, and I am playing the modern Cello more and more, I Keep Looking for ways to get my Cello to work in a way I like, and there is one Thing that remains a source of frustration: the lack of articulation.

What I mean with articulation in the Sound at the start of a note, that can be subtly changed. For lack of a better way of describing it, I usually compare it to consonants. On a Dream Cello they would vary from "hm" through "gh" and "t" to "k". As a standard, I like my strokes to start with a "t". This articulated Sound Comes with a clear sense, a Sensation even, of when the note starts, from the bow. You can feel the articulation through the fingers on the bow, as if the strings are tacky. I can get this to work on my baroque Cello strung with bare gut and authentic, round wire wound gut very well. On my modern Cello however, made by the same maker, I cannot get this from steel strings. Currently strung with Larsen Magnacore Arioso, the Sound is good, it Projects, is brilliant and still warm enough. But the start of the note, unless ofcourse if I force it, is Always "hm", "m" or at best a mutet "t".

Now, one Thing I never understood is why many cellists complain About the Response of gut strings, compared to metal. I have Always thought Response and willingness to articulate are the same Thing, but apparently this is not viewed as such by the wider Cellist community. To me, the Response of authentic gut strings (not modern gut strings like Eudoxa) is immediate and clear and precise, whereas Response in steel is usually muffled and unclear and imprecise. I believe my percieved lack of Response has a psycho-acoustic effect on my playing, making me feel dissatisfied About what results I produce, trying to achieve something that simply isn't there. I also think I am sensitive to this to a much greater extent than my colleagues, possibly over-sensitive, and I've tried ignoring this, but it keeps giving me such a sense of dissatisfaction, that at times I cannot Play anything anymore. Perhaps I've been spoiled by my many years of intensive, almost exclusive, use of the baroque Cello.  

Sometimes I find Cellos of colleagues that articulate better, and a few weeks ago I had a modern Cello here that articulated very well and from that Point of view, to me, was a Dream to play. However, the Sound of that Cello was not good at all. It was a Cello with a rather meaty Bridge. I recently played a steel strung Testore that I quite liked. Recently I tried Warchal Brilliant strings, synthetic Cello strings. I only like the Sound of the a string, but the a and d strings both give me this great articulation that I am Looking for. The d, g and c strings sounded from dull to awful though, g and c didn't articulate at all either. Prim strings, for instance, give a better articulation, but do not Sound good and do not have enough pitch stability when playing loudly. Eva Pirazzi Gold seems to articulate a Little better too, but still not excellently.

So, I have the following Questions:

What factors influence the possible varieties of articulation at the start of a note? Is it mainly a Thing dependant on string choice, or are other factors in Setup crucial? Could it be that there is an Exchange taking place: better articulation means less full Sound and vice versa? (It seems to be what I Observe in most Instruments and with the different strings I tried) Is the ability to articulate somethig inherent to the Instrument or the Setup? Are there any strings I could still try in my search for a better articulation? (how About a heavy set of dominants? Or Warchal amber?)

So actually, all in all, this post is a cry for help.

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I'm not qualified in any way to answer your question but from what I see many cellist I know prefer Spirocore C and G with Larsen D and A.

If you were talking about violins, I would, in the first instance, experiment with set-up rather than focussing on the strings. You could for instance try and move the soundpost a wee bit closer to the bridge (or as quick and dirty test move the bridge back a little bit) and compare what's happening.

Some of the nature of the beast will be based on the instrument though. For instance, the thickness of the back will affect response and volume (thin speaks easily, thick needs a bit of energy to set in motion but will be louder). None of that will be a firm rule though.

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2 hours ago, baroquecello said:

 Is the ability to articulate somethig inherent to the Instrument or the Setup?


It could be. Hard to say from here. Even though both of your cellos are from the same maker, they could inherently have very different properties.

In the meantime, try a slower bow speed, with a little more pressure, a little closer to the bridge. You can experiment with the extreme...  producing a strong crunching noise with each bow change until you can do that reliably, and then mellow it out from there.

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For my violins and violas I'm finding that the string tension is an important variable.  A light tension allows you to play closer to the bridge.  You might try "light", "medium", "high" tension strings of the same make.  

I've never seen literature discussions about it but I also suspect that the rosin plays a role.  I had viola player mention that his orchestra section did an informal test of rosin brands.  They discovered (no surprise) that different players preferred different rosins.  So this might be a player/instrument combination that is sensitive to the rosin brand.

I wouldn't be surprise either if the bow and even the bow hair were important too because some players seem like different bows for different instruments or music passages.  So I'd try a bunch of different weight and stiffness bows too.

These are all reversible changes and I'd do all of this stuff before I made any physical changes to the cello.


Your consonant phonetics sound is a good way of describing the beginning of the note.  This the beginning transient portion of getting the string to vibrate to its eventual steady state harmonics vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u)

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Maybe you should try gut strings on your modern cello too? Having changed from what-was-on-it to Kurschner gut strings on. bass gamba, I understand very well what you mean by articulation and consonants. 

Cellos were played with gut strings well into «modern» times, so there is nothinh inherently wrong with using gut strings with modern setup.

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Maestro Burgess beat me to the punch, try that for sure. Marty also makes an excellent point, that your choice of rosin and how much you apply (too much of any is bad) is going to be a more important factor than you might expect. I'd also encouraged you to consider a modern synthetic set of cello strings. These are not commonly favored - steel core reigns supreme among classical cellists even while being shunned by most violinists and violists of the same genre. Warchal Amber synthetic cello strings are truly excellent and will behave more like what you're used to.

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A good, high quality string that has fast articulation is Helicore, and they do not cost that much.  But they do not have the volume of the strings you are presently using or the Spirocores/Larsen that is the current standard.

A heavier string with tungsten windings will be slower to get started, and that is the construction of Magnicores or the Spirocores.

If Helicores'  don't do it, you will have to look elsewhere  

Mike D

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