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Cello problem: setup or technique?


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I'm a beginner/intermediate and have recently upgraded from my beginner cello. The new one sounds much better, but when new had a slight tendency for the bow to skate across the string instead of pulling it, which I (rightly or wrongly) just assumed was a feature of a slightly more advanced cello needing better technique to get the best out of it. The problem is this tendency has gradually got ever so slightly worse and more frequent. I know the new cello had been with the shop for a year, and probably been trialled a few times, so wondered if it was the strings. So I changed to a new set of strings, the exact same brand (going by colour, at least). The new strings have made an enormous difference to the brightness of the sound and the resonance - my wolf note has got much stronger, which I guess is a sign of this greater resonance. That tendency for the bow to skate across the strings though has got markedly worse. It mainly affects the G string, and when it does play notes properly they sound lovely. The wolf note is around an F on the G string, but that metallic throbbing seems to extend beyond this pitch to most of the notes, and even the open string, though bowing technique (weight, speed & position) does make a difference. Switching back to my beginner cello with the same bow and same rosin amount and no problem at all. Is this a setup problem? Do I need a wolf note eliminator? My teacher doesn't teach in the summer holidays and then I'm away, so it'll be 6 weeks before I can ask her. Many thanks.

Edited by Roblington
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Hmm.  My first thought would be stings, rosin and bow pressure.  But if you've addressed all those all I can think of is that the string is vibrating 'too much' and causing your bow to slide.

How much pressure do you need to apply for it NOT to skate?

As to wolf notes.  I'd try an eliminator first since it's an 'easy fix' and see what happens.

...or?  Is it the combo of your bow and the new cello?  Probably not...but...

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Thank you for your reply. I've just been experimenting and bow pressure doesn't seem to stop it skating, or at least in the five minutes I played with it. I also tried squeezing the cello between my knees, which didn't seem to have much effect.

The wolf tone is super wide and very harsh: it starts on the D string at about the C#, peaks at F (4th finger 4th position), and runs right up to around a B. I wonder if my problems are just a very significant wolf tone? With the old strings the wolf tone was only about a quarter tone, perhaps a semi-tone, each side of that F, and not that intrusive, so I never bothered with a weighted device to curb it.

The shop/luthier I bought it from have a good reputation and sell some quite high value instruments. I suppose it's possible that the cello was set up well when new and perhaps has slipped somewhat when the cello's been trialled or moved around the shop in the past. The old strings perhaps hid the impact of that by resonating less?

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My advice would be to contact the store, where you purchased the cello, and explain it to them. After this, take it in for them to have a look at.

Although you say you have bought the same strings by colour, as you didn’t know what the old strings were, the possibility exists that you might have different strings now. Some are offered in different tensions, solo versions etc.

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On 8/3/2022 at 10:17 AM, Roblington said:

Thank you for your reply. I've just been experimenting and bow pressure doesn't seem to stop it skating, or at least in the five minutes I played with it. I also tried squeezing the cello between my knees, which didn't seem to have much effect.

The wolf tone is super wide and very harsh: it starts on the D string at about the C#, peaks at F (4th finger 4th position), and runs right up to around a B. I wonder if my problems are just a very significant wolf tone? With the old strings the wolf tone was only about a quarter tone, perhaps a semi-tone, each side of that F, and not that intrusive, so I never bothered with a weighted device to curb it.

The shop/luthier I bought it from have a good reputation and sell some quite high value instruments. I suppose it's possible that the cello was set up well when new and perhaps has slipped somewhat when the cello's been trialled or moved around the shop in the past. The old strings perhaps hid the impact of that by resonating less?

Congratulations on the upgrade. Upgrades can be a difficult thing.

Not having guidance is also a difficulty. So timing, over a rest or a pick up note to a down beat can be expanded to life. As much as a dealer is happy to sell an instrument, one might consider the need for guidance - the teacher. And yes, like many of my student's parents who mention that they will be vacationing in the Azores, or Chile, or Tibet, spreading Covid viruses around the world, at the lesson before their departures, it can be difficult to time a purchase.

My thoughts are that your desire is to make the instrument sound good. You might be over compensating for the instrument. In theory, before AI overtakes us, the tools work for us.

If one sits with their new instrument in position, it helps to be totally relaxed. Again theory, as it is impossible to be relaxed when playing. But it's the thought that counts.

FInd a gripping point ( contact point ) on the C- string with the inside edge of the the hair. Let it bunch, as it will with the weight of the arm. Sit up, a la Alexander technique, and then relax the neck ( it's not how it works but for but I am not there ) and re-set the bow on the c- string. Gently utter, let the c- string groan under the weight of the arm. Once the bow starts moving there should be a sound resembling a pitch. Let the bow settle bow mid way when the arm stops moving.

This is the sensations one thinks/ feels of when playing a new instrument. Without rosin, it is a strange skate on ice, of oil in a cold pan. The relaxation of the neck should apply weight of the arm, rather than force. That allows a gentle slippage of the bow hair. Doing a dozen down bows, creates a sound then a pitch.

Once the "relaxed" pitch is created. A counterint up bow will start. The bias is towards the up bows.

The perception of arm weight is not the same as the actual arm weight. Once some of the best students realize that it is 2+kg mass of bone and flesh, some of which are optimized for life, the respect builds.

From the c-, we move to the g- string, which is the most problematic on most less expensive instruments. Now the movement is much more horizontal. We can cheat by developing activation closer to the frog. The influence of the ( static ) arm weight far more significant.

Compared to the c-, the a- and d- are far more easier to activate.

Wood Butcher and Rue's advice ( advices, ) are good. Instruments settle. But the player must almost settle, that is to develop a comfortable starting point to help evaluate where to develop. That point of "relaxation" is one.

You know, it's not truly relaxation, but how are brains allow us to "relax." I have been to hundreds? of masterclasses where the artists in a calming manner suggests to the player to "relax." I have been there as the students. It's a miracle that no fluids were released in the middle of the 2nd mvmt of a Mozart concerto. I have heard plenty of farts, but that is expected.

One should create a reference point. One that evolves, to better understand where one wants to start playing, or checking out an a- or c- string or the room. That will allow you to better compensate later when under real stresses.  

 

The situation is that it may not be your ( current ) technique or the instrument, but that the synergy of both need to come together. Your ability to compensate is much greater than that of the instrument. Slow changes, ones that you can feel and hear, might be required.

At my point of life, and given expertise, I am shown very nice instruments. I was shown an old 18th Cremonese instrument yesterday. The restoration expert and I have known each other about 20 years. Yet, there is a dance. When asked to play, i find a spot in the room for both of us. Open strings. Gentle. Bow accelerations. He can see how much arm weight and complex motion develops as the bow nears the tip.

Finally scales. More dynamics. I can not afford the instrument but must complete that task of a quick through and perhaps a run through of the clearest Mozart concerto mvmts possible. With better instruments, one can land on " colour tones" and far more complex pitches and know that the instrument can be expressive and exciting.

I am your instrument is generally quite good. Getting to know/ understand it will take time. But activation of strings is complex in that there are many elements. Develop the knowledge/ experience, then visit your store. Share the experience. Learn.

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From your description and the perspective this violin maker/repair person, the instrument is very likely in need of adjustment in order to get it to work better with your bow.  Whether or not the place you purchased if from is capable of that work is another question.

Good Luck!

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I think you likely are used to a Cello with thick plates and a thick bridge made out of bad wood, likely with a heavy tail piece with screwed on fine tuners. Such cellos don't really respond  at all, therefore you can't really do anything  wrong, because you can't do anything right either. Violin players don't know what I'm  talking  about, because the equivalent doesn't really exist. What your new Cello needs of you, is that you let it show you what it needs in order to sound good. Your bow has one central point that is important  for producing the sound (whee hair and string meet), and everything  else needs to be adjusted so that that point is optimally served. If everything in your bow arm is optimally adjusted,  you will be rewarded with good sound. From 17 years of experience  in teaching  the cello professionally I know from a distance exactly what you are doing wrong, but also know it will be very hard for you to grasp, especially  without someone there helping you. I'll make an attempt as soon as I have a keyboard at my disposal. Right now I'm  typing  on a smartphone....

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Update: My strings are now 9 days old, which for me is about 10-15 hours of playing, and the problems have reduced markedly. The gliding over the strings issue has pretty much gone, although I still have a pretty bad wolf note, and I didn't have much success with a New Harmony eliminator that I bought (probably my lack of experience in adjusting it). I'm planning to get the shop to set the cello up soon (I'll give them the cello and the NH eliminator)

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4 hours ago, Roblington said:

Update: My strings are now 9 days old, which for me is about 10-15 hours of playing, and the problems have reduced markedly. The gliding over the strings issue has pretty much gone, although I still have a pretty bad wolf note, and I didn't have much success with a New Harmony eliminator that I bought (probably my lack of experience in adjusting it). I'm planning to get the shop to set the cello up soon (I'll give them the cello and the NH eliminator)

If the shop is willing, please have them show you how the eliminator works or might work. If the discussion develops, they can also help in explaining the difficulties of the activation of the strings. Thank you for the update.  

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