Monday, 8/23/2021 was my last day teaching cello lessons! I’ve kept this pretty quiet, but I’m stepping away from all of my teaching posts at Monroe Street Arts Center, Prairie Music & Arts, and Music con Brio. It was a hard decision to make, but ’twas something that had been on my mind for a few years (even before the pandemic hit). Though I’m sad to say goodbye to all of my cello students and supportive families, I’m glad for all of the time we got to spend together making music! That time means a lot to me and I hope that I was able to make a positive impact on your lives.
It’s been pretty surreal to say ‘good-bye’ virtually to all of my students and employers, as opposed to in-person… I’ve taught at Monroe Street Arts Center and Prairie Music & Arts for 7 years and Music con Brio for 3 years, time just flies! I became close with many of my bosses and fellow teachers, and was really lucky to teach along side some very good friends and even some bandmates (how cool is that)! Though I’ll no longer be teaching for Music con Brio, I’ll still be on board as the Music Engraver for their Black Composer Project!! Can’t wait to see how this program blossoms!
An enormous Thank You to all of the administrative staff who helped schedule lessons, handle payments, and recruit students who fit my teaching style. Big Love and Respect to my bosses for believing in me as a teacher, and for giving me critical feedback alongside educational training to better my interactions with students. I learned A LOT.
I’ll be posting up more video lessons on my Brian Grimm’s Cello Zone YouTube & Instagram pages once the dust settles on the next few projects. So folks can continue to learn from me in that capacity, if you find my videos helpful.
I’m stepping away from teaching to focus my energies on Composition and Recording. Now that lessons are finished, I’ll be diving straight into doing sound design and theater score for 2 different Plays under the direction of my dear friend Mikael Burke!! Super excited to jump into the deep end on these productions, including a return to my alma mater Butler University!
PS. If you or your ensemble would like to commission a piece from me, or your band is going on tour and could use my mult-instrumental services… hit me up!!!
On Monday morning I woke up feeling exhausted and groggy, a hangover due to all of the emotion and tension surrounding the Presidential Election. I knew that I needed to get a good practice session in before I started teaching lessons in order to get my brain and body recalibrated. Practicing musical instruments is my meditation. Music is my Religion. It’s my mental health practice and how I perform works of good and service to my community. Normally when I sit down in the Practice Room, I start creating. It’s an improvisation that stems from a simple idea – usually some concept/technique that I need to work on – and then it grows organically from there into an exercise or system which I can play around in. I’ve been doing this since I can remember practicing. Starting in grade school, I’d always sit down, improvise and just explore the instrument and technique. It makes the Practice Room fun, creative, and exploratory – I highly encourage you to try it!
The resulting meditation on Monday is this new fingering exercise for to work on the evenness of tone and intonation no matter which fingering you may choose for a series of notes in a given passage. In this example I chose a few notes on the D string, which transition from the neck of the instrument to just over the shoulder [ A C D E ]. It’s a transition of technique that cellists are required to do often and something that I have been focusing on in the past few years. I want as many tools in my technique arsenal as I can collect to help me conquer the geography of this tricky section of the cello. There are immense possibilities of fingerings due to the overlap of neck position chromatic hand shapes and diatonic thumb position (& shoulder position) style hand shapes combined with the physical barrier of the instrument’s shoulder force us to choose when and how to transition between fingering styles. It’s an exercise in possibility.
Each line in the sheet music is progression through a system of fingering for the same notes A C D E. There are 15 fingerings here for you to try.
It’s hard for any Classical musician to show imperfection to the outside world, when the genre is so incredibly strict about presenting your highest level of playing possible. But social media to me is an opportunity to share our Process and Practice with each other. I love the sound of other people practicing. One of my favorite things to do in college was just walk by the practice rooms to hear people working on spots. Sometimes I’d politely pop my head in to ask about what they were working on. Everyone develops their own unique methods and techniques of practice, which I find fascinating. I’d love to see more people sharing how they Practice on social media, instead of only showing their most polished clips!
So in that spirit, here’s an Instagram post that is was my first full, continuous run through of this new exercise. It’s by no means perfect and it’s certainly not meant to be! It’s my starting point with a new exercise that I’ve just created. In this clip, I’m Meditating as much as possible, not thinking or trying, just observing. I do this to get out of my own way and simply notice what my natural tendencies are for these shifts. Which fingerings come easy? Which shifts am I missing? Is it just one finger in particular that is the problem? Or is it one position as a whole that isn’t locked in? I just want to collect the data, without judgement. Then from this initial run, I know exactly what to work on for the rest of the week as I practice this exercise. I can really target specific positions and fingerings based on what I have observed about my natural tendencies.
This meditation/practice concept should be used often as a way to separate your emotion and potential frustration from your playing. We need to be able to fail over and over and over and over again in the Practice Room. It needs to be a safe space for errors and “mistakes”. It’s precisely the mistakes that arise which become of value, because the mistakes let you know what you really need to work on. It takes the guess work out of the equation.
So fail, observe, and make small incremental changes in order to improve your playing (and mindset!). Once you nail it, keep on repeating it for consistency, accuracy, expression and muscle/spatial memory.
I’ll be updating with a couple of different versions of this exercise. For example, alternate bowings, different expression prompts, doing it in the same position but on the A string, etc.
Try out this new exercise and let me know what you think! Which fingering was the most helpful for you? Which was the most natural for you? Which did you struggle with the most? Have you noticed any tendencies about certain fingers or positions and the accuracy of your intonation?
Hopefully you will learn a little bit about your own playing this way! Happy Practicing! ~ Brian
…. is actually a question I am rarely asked! This overlooked cake of hardened tree-goop not only allows us to bow the string*, but also plays a large part in our tone production. Without rosin the bow hairs can’t grip the string, no matter how hard you bow… it makes no sound, except for a “fffffttt” noise.
I suggest that students apply a few coats of rosin (3 to 10 strokes, ΠV) before each practice session, rehearsal, & performance. Partly for consistency, but also to avoid injury. Without enough rosin on your bow, the hairs won’t properly grip the strings. To compensate for the ensuing bow-slip, you will tense up and over-work your right arm; resulting in an injury similar to tennis elbow. However, there is such a thing as over-rosining your bow. If it’s too thickly coated, your hairs will get stuck in the string. This results in a bow-tripping sensation much like stumbling from catching your toe on the sidewalk. We’re looking for that Goldilocks principle: not too much, not too little – a few coats of rosin is just right.
With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose? Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share the rosins I use via student wish lists! Here are some recommended cello rosins for: (I) Students (II) Professionals and (III) …surprise! Percussionists. [2020 edit: I am updating all of my product & gear purchase links across the whole website this year]
Pros: Generally used in Spring/Summer (humid seasons); for light, fast playing. Cuts well, can add an edge to your bow tone. There are a lot of Pirastro rosins to choose from (almost too many…), surely one among their variety should be ample to cover the tone and grip needed for your particular strings: see here.
Cons: Heavy powdering, can irritate sinuses. Sometimes tone is too bright and thin for classic cello repertoire. Doesn’t grip as deeply as I need for power playing.
Pros: *Rosin of choice for two of my go-to luthiers! Use as a final polishing layer in combination with other rosins; fine smooth feel with medium tone; not over-grippy.
Cons: For a professional cellist, this rosin doesn’t grip strongly enough to stand on it’s own. However, for students on smaller sized cellos (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc) it should do splendidly.
Hill Dark Rosin (green),the ultimate rosins, used by professionals worldwide. The Hill Brand rosins are wrapped in their own padded velveteen shell. This is the rosin that others strive to emulate. Used for violin, viola and cello, the amber (light) is slightly hard and has moderate powder. The dark (green) is slightly softer and grips better than the amber.
Pros: For the last decade this has been my favorite rosin! Generally used in Fall/Winter (drier seasons); for heavy, rich playing. More and more, I’ve been using it all year round. The tone is complex, gorgeous. Very grippy, results in a powerful deep sound.
Cons: This rosin may be too sticky and coarse for some sets of lighter gauge strings.
Kolstein & Sons, Ltd. produces an outstanding rosin using their Ultra Formulation Supreme recipe. Very minimal powdering and excellent grip equate to quick response and consistent sustain for both the veteran and beginning cellist. A good rosin for players with respiratory difficulties.
Pros: Wow, I love this Baroque cello/viol rosin. Though it’s made for traditional sheep gut strings, it still plays wonderfully on modern metal-core/wound strings. Incredible glide, with even grip from fingerboard to bridge on all strings. Lighter tone than Kolstein; plays smooth; a finer grade. It feels as if the bow hairs are melting into your string, like a hot knife through butter. No harsh squeaking sounds on the A string.
Cons: Have yet to find any, this stuff is near perfect in my book.
Melos Baroque Cello Bass Viol Rosin is superb for use with period instruments using gut strings. This Baroque version rosin is stickier than rosin for their modern counterparts. Melos founder Christos Sykiotis, himself a cellist, explains it this way: “The gut string sounds not easy as a metallic string. We shouldn’t press the bow in order to play so we need a stickier rosin to play easy.” Melos rosins are made in small batches from Greek pine resin and other natural ingredients.
Try a combination of their two modern cello rosins: Melos Dark (fall/winter) & Melos Light (spring/summer) Cello Rosin
Rosin for Percussionists
Kolstein All Weather Bass Rosin – I originally heard about Kolstein rosin a decade ago from a professional double bassist (and have loved it ever since). This past weekend, I premiered a composition by percussionist Garrett Mendelow. This duo piece included three sections: (i) guqin zither + pedal board, tape, singing bowls and crotales (ii) tabla and Indian cello (iii) bowed vibraphone. We tried my Kolstein rosin on the bass bows + my Tatsuya Nakatani beach wood cello bow on the vibes. The tone was delicious. The vibraphone bars played smooth and spoke well. OK percussionists, the secret is out! Get that Kolstein bass rosin, it’s even stickier than the cello version – you won’t need much.
Speaking of percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani… I had the immense pleasure of performing in his Nakatani Gong Orchestra this September. It was hands down, one of the most unforgettable performances of my life. What a tremendous honor to learn directly from the bowed gong master himself (thanks Scott Gordon of Tone Madison for curating)! I’ve been using one of Tatsuya’s hand made Nakatani-Kobobows for about 3 years. I love it. The tone, the bite, the feel, the articulation…. his bows are incredible. They are designed for gongs and cymbals, so I tried it on the vibraphone. The Nakatani-Kobo bow spoke much quicker and with less pressure than a (often over tightened) double bass bow. Percussionists, these bows are made for bowing metal, check them out. I asked Tatsuya which rosin he prefers to use, his answer was: Pops Bass Rosin.
Alright Cello Zone studio, that’s all for today’s post. I hope you find this helpful when selecting your next cake of rosin! Follow the blog, like us on facebook and share with other cello friends. Leave your comments below, what’s your favorite brand of rosin and why?
It’s a common question to receive as a cello teacher and quite honestly, a difficult one to answer. The gauge, tension, materials, and action of our strings make a significant difference in the tone and sound production of the cello. Each instrument has a different voice, which requires experimentation in what type of string is best to use. The same brand of strings on two different cellos will ultimately yield unique results. “String-Brand-A” may sound excellent on my cello, but be a totally wrong for yours…. With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose? Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share cello string combinations via student wish lists! Here are three sets/combos of strings to get you started, in order of low to high price. [ 2020 edit: I am updating all of the product and gear purchase links across my website this year ]
** All string sizes listed below are 4/4 Full Size. If you need to order 1/2 or 3/4 size cello strings, be sure to select that option when ordering!!
Pros: Affordable, yet still sounds good and plays well! I use them on my homemade electric cello (#frankencello) and I find them to be flexible and reliable. They have stood up to some extreme playing conditions encountered during gigs. The nickel winding helps the low strings pop out of your cello. If you need more brightness in your low end, try these strings (rather than the more dull silver winding of the Helicore).
Cons: Not as pitch stable as Kaplans or Helicores. The “center of pitch” feels slightly mushy… this is hard to describe and may be due to the nickel winding, which is on all strings.
Prelude 4/4 Cello Set A, D, G & C – nickel wound / steel core: Medium
Prelude (D’Addario) set – solid steel core string that is durable and not affected by temperature and humidity changes. Prelude strings have a clear, bright sound without the shrill sound of traditional steel strings, and have a quick bow response.
Brian Grimm D’Addario Kaplan-Helicore Combo
Pros: Great for multi-style playing. Holds tuning very well. Quick response. Fairly loud sound production. This has been the string combo on my concert cello from 2013 to 2017. They have proven to be suitable across many genres… however, I’m now moving on to some other brands of strings in search of a richer, mellower sound.
Cons: As the Kaplan A & D strings age, they get a bit metallic and scratchy sounding (especially in the high end). Not as subtle as Jargar, Larsen, Pirastro strings.
Kaplan (D’Addario) set – strings offer a beautiful, rich tonal palette and superb bowing response. They provide clarity and warmth across the registers and throughout the dynamic range.
Helicore (D’Addario) set –multi-strand, twisted steel core strings have a small string diameter, providing a quick bow response. Thanks to special manufacturing techniques, Helicore strings have a warm, clear sound with excellent pitch stability and longevity.
Pros: Powerful low end sound. Beautiful rich tone. I very much enjoyed this combo when playing Brahms and other Romantic era pieces. Jargar has since come out with two new lines of string that I haven’t tried: Thin/dolce & Thick/forte. There isn’t a huge price jump on those and are worth trying, depending on your #soundgoals.
Cons: Larsen strings are costly, you pay for that good sound; the C string itself is $100. Sometimes my Jargar A & D strings would be a bit unstable & drop pitch over the course of a piece.
Combo Set Includes:
Jargar Cello A & D – chrome wound / steel core: Medium
Larsen Cello G & C – tungsten wound / steel core: Medium
Jargar – Bright, full sound, quick response. Made in Denmark, these steel core strings are favored by many solosits. Jargar strings are known for their powerful, well-balanced tone.
Larsen– Made in Denmark, Larsen strings are aimed at soloists in need of a string with projection.
Cellist Brian Grimm is a composer, performer and teacher based out Madison, WI. Though Classically trained and studied in Jazz, Brian also grew up surrounded by Chinese instruments. This has pulled him into a life passion for learning music from all around the world. Brian’s teachers include members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the WuJi Ensemble (Hong Kong), the Buselli–Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, & Sitar virtuoso Pt. Sugato Nag (India).