CelloZone Exercises: “The Sad Clown…” French Folk Song in D minor

Practice and learn “The Sad Clown” with me in this Music con Brio Play Along Video!
You can purchase and download the custom made sheet music by clicking the “add to cart” button below! 👇

Today we will transform our well know piece “French Folk Song” (aka The Clown) into “The Sad Clown” by playing the song in D Minor instead of D Major. For many of you, it will be your first time playing in D minor; your first time sight-reading notes on the low strings; and the first time you work on a backwards extended first finger (aka “low 1”). So there is a lot to gain from transforming French Folk Song into the parallel minor key. That also means there is a lot to cover in this play along video (embedded above)! Be sure to pause when you need to in order to try each exercise and technique tip.

[1] Natural Minor Scale on G & C
First, review the Natural Minor Scale in the Key of D Minor on the G & C strings from our previous lesson (here). Remember to use 3rd finger on the C string and 2nd finger on the G string! I have notated the scale in more detail in this pdf (which you can download above) with fingerings, arrows to indicate lowered notes, flat and natural signs next to fingerings (when a finger is changing back and forth or in a new position, and X for extensions all marked in. Spend some time really studying the markings I put in, memorize how it looks and how it sounds. Make sure you’ve got a nice deep sound and all of your notes are tuned up and confident before you start to move on the [2].

[2] Version 1 of The Sad Clown, on G & C
Now let’s play French Folk Song on our low strings, using this new D Minor fingering system which we have just learned. It should sound extra sad down here in the low register! This may be the most challenging part of the whole exercise, so take your time with it. Don’t be in a rush. If you consistently hit wrong notes, go back the [1] and just spend some more time working on the pure notes of the scale. Go back and forth between [1] and [2] as much as needed!

[3] Natural Minor Scale on A & D
Now let’s learn a new fingering system for D minor on our high strings. Notice how we need a regular 1st finger on the D string, but a backwards-extended 1st finger on the A string. You’ll see I’ve marked in a downwards arrow next to the fingering that is lowered and put a flat sign next to the 1st fingering. I’ve also inserted an X between 1st and 2nd finger. You will see this X a lot in cello music! So pay attention to that marking. An X between 1 and 2 (it looks like this: 1 X 2) means that you have an extension between those two fingers. Whether you are doing a forwards extension (for sharps) or a backwards extension (for flats), the extra space/stretch will always happen between 1st and 2nd finger. When you are in extended position, you have a whole step between 1 & 2, instead of a half-step. Note that you will keep a half-step between 2-3-4, those fingers will stay “chromatic” whether you are in “closed” or “extended” position.

This is very important and the thing that you’ll have to work on the most before you can move on to playing the melody in Version 2.

This photo of master cellist and teacher Hugo Becker from 1900 shows the general shape of the hand for Extended position (left) and Closed position (right). Both hand positions are technically “chromatic” and they are the main two techniques we use in the Neck Positions (open through 4th position). ** Note that when you are doing a backwards extension on the A string to play Bb, your 1st-finger-tip will need to be on the A string – not as pictured here.

[4] Version 2 of The Sad Clown, on A & D
Some of you may find this version to be more familiar and easier, because it is closer to the way we originally learned it. When we first explored French Folk Song, it was in D Major on the A & D strings. Now we are playing it on the same strings and with the same Root note (D), but in the Minor Key. When you switch back and forth between the Major and Minor Key on the Same Root note, this is call “the parallel minor”. Please be sure to keep an eye and ear on your 1st finger! It needs to be in normal, closed (natural 1) position the the D string and backwards extended position on the A string. So the first finger will get a lot of practice opening and closing during this piece. If you are having trouble getting first finger right, take a break from the melody and go back to [3] to practice just the pure scale notes of D minor on the top two strings.

This is a table from one of my all time favorite cello manuals, “The Theory and Practice of Fingering the Violoncello” by John Gunn from 1789. Here we see regular “chromatic” closed position in Figure 16. Backwards extended position in Figure 17. Figure 18 shows the “Old” (violin angle) style of playing violoncello and bass violin.

By now your whole family is probably weeping from all of this sad minor melody making, depicting the tragic clown… I hope you enjoyed transforming French Folk Song into a Minor Key. This is a fun thing to do from time to time with any song you like! Stay healthy and Happy Practicing! ~ Brian

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