“6 Ways to Improve Your Bow Grip”

Whether you are one of my students and we are currently working on your bow grip, or you are someone who has difficulty controlling the bow and feeling comfortable with your grip, or you are another cello teacher looking for additional exercises to send to your students for bow grip help – this video is for you!! Here are 6 ways to improve your bow grip. So grab your bow, tighten it up and join me in the #CelloZone for this #TechniqueTip#PlayAlong video!

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Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I am unable to perform live, which has significantly hurt my income. In the mean time, I am putting more effort into online lesson content, in hopes to help as many aspiring cellists as I can. If you learned something valuable from these exercises or they helped you with your technique, consider making a one-time donation. Your contribution really helps me to continue producing content and putting energy into this project.

If you don’t take private lessons from me, but consistently come back to my site on a regular basis to learn helpful tips about how to practice, work on healthier technique, and discover music theory on your instrument… please consider making monthly donations! It will help me to continue providing quality online lesson content.

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TIMESTAMPS

@00:00 it begins…
@00:23 intro and helpful tips
@02:07 EXERCISE 1 – Bounce the Ball
@02:48 who dat?!?!
@05:05 EXERCISE 2 – Wave Motion
@07:25 EXERCISE 3 – Placement of Thumb
@08:24 Traditional Flat Thumb Style
@09:15 Modern Hooked or Bent Thumb Style
@12:05 Wrist Tips
@13:41 Waterfall Fingers
@15:05 who dat again?!?!
@16:01 Placement of other Fingers
@19:03 EXERCISE 4 – Bow Circles “Pool Stick”
@19:31 DO NOT USE “pointy from behind” pokey grip
@20:14 Lean In, pouring water from a pitcher
@22:11 EXERCISE 5 – Down Wrist, Up Wrist
@23:28 Wave / Energy Principle
@25:11 Train Wheel Imagery
@25:33 EXERCISE 6 – Open String Whole Bows
@25:59 Ellipse or Oval Bowing
@27:28 REVIEW
@29:53 discussion of multiple bow grips
@32:16 whhhhhaaaatttt???!?!? who dat again, again!?


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#CelloZone #BowGrip #CelloClub #CelloLessons #Cello #Violoncello #PlayAlong #RemoteLessons #Music #MusicLessons #CelloLessons #BrianGrimmCelloZone #TechniqueTips #CelloTechnique #CelloClub

“In the Practice Room” No.1 – New Fingering Exercise!

15 Fingering Variations for A C D E sul D at the Shoulder

🛒 Buy the downloadable PDF Sheet Music! 👉


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


#InthePracticeRoom #cello #violoncello #cellotheory #cellotechnique #cellofingerings #cellolessons #celloclub #cellozone #remotelessons #music #musiclessons

Cello Zone! Pirastro Eudoxa String Review (for 1st time buyers) Part 1

(Part 2 here)
(Part 3 + videos coming out December 2020)

Detail 1: Three different ways to secure your gut string to the ebony tailpiece. C & G strings are looped, like viola da gamba or classical guitar. D-string is laced, with the knot catching underneath the tailpiece. Eudoxa A-stings have a ball end with a thick cushy washer, so I have it saddled in the fine-tuner.

Links to Sets: Eudoxa Medium Set | Oliv Medium Set |

String Gauges for Part 1

the “Isserlis” set up

I recently had a month away from my cello while it was being repaired for some damages caused by United Airlines (more on that in another post). During the interim, I was researching both plain and wound gut strings to outfit my cello(s) with. It became clear that a lot of my heroes – Pau Casals, Pierre Fournier, Jacqueline Du Pré, Daniil Shafran, Steven Isserlis, Pieter Wispelwey – have used wound gut string set ups. It was high time I gave it a try.

Now, I don’t know which gauges British cellist Steven Isserlis uses... but I know that his set up is Pirastro Eudoxa for A, D, G & Pirastro Oliv for C. [ Edit from Steven: “I use 21 ½ gauge A’s , and normal for the others. I use the A strings for c 6 weeks, others till they break!” ]

Isserlis is a benchmark among modern cellists for the tone he draws from the cello. He is famous not only for his wonderful performances of cello repertoire, but also for his decades long use of Eudoxa strings, handmade by Pirastro in Germany. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s certainly good enough for me!


[ 2020 edit (see Part 3 – coming Dec 2020) ]

I suggest starting out with Medium Gauge Eudoxa A, D & G with a Light Gauge Oliv C string.  Then work from there if you need to adjust the gauge of any string individually to balance your instrument’s sound and response.

Here is my Recommended First Time Set-Up!

[ 2020 edit]

This is not an ad – just keep scrolling for the review… Before we get to the review, I want to mention that I can now take donations directly through this website! If you found these string reviews helpful, please consider donating. Thanks!

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If you found this Review helpful, please consider making a donation! I did this review out of the good will of my heart, because there are no reviews out there on these strings (which I found very frustrating as I decided to purchase a set for the first time…) I wanted to share as much info as I could on my experience with these strings for all of you cellists out there who are curious about switching to these gut strings. **I am not sponsored by Pirastro and paid for these strings myself.** Which as you well know, gets very expensive. Your donation will help me offset the cost of all of these strings & gauges that I am reviewing for this series!

Help me to create more helpful content by making a monthly donation!

If you clicked on this tab, you are my hero! If you want to help me sustain quality online lesson content, please consider making a yearly donation! Your donations ensure that I can afford to spend the time producing this online material.

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PART 1 REVIEW

In this Part 1 Review, I used this setup, based on what I knew of Isserlis’ set up at the time and what I thought would make sense on my cello…

Here’s the Set Up for this Review

The new strings have been on for a three weeks now. I love the tone they produce, there is a complex, vocal quality to it. They feel nice under the fingers and allow you to sculpt each note. This is exactly the sort of color and depth I felt was lacking from my steel string set ups. It’s a robust round sound, rich in harmonic content and full of resonance. Quite honestly, they are much louder than I anticipated. I know the stereotype is that gut strings are quieter than steel, and maybe this is more to do with projection or is about steel vs plain/open gut … but I must say that on *my cello, these wound gut strings are actually louder than the steel string set ups. *Loudness results may vary from cello to cello… I’m having the opposite problem, I can’t seem to play quietly enough. So much so that I’ve had complaints from my upstairs neighbors about the volume being too loud when I am practicing. (this will depend greatly on your setup, and string choice)

Initially, the G/C strings seemed too stiff and limited in their range of expression via variation in tone. However, they have since opened up a lot. Now it is easier to bow near the fingerboard and activate the string quietly. At first I felt trapped into pushing towards the bridge for every note, just to get it to speak. There is a limit to how aggressively you crank on these strings, especially on the low end. You can’t bend the string to your will with crushing down bows. It won’t respond the same way, it certainly won’t give you the sound you want. There is a lot more subtlety to be explored in the sound and the technique.

Detail 2:   [**2020 Edit: the Loop on the G & C should sit more flush to the tailpiece, it was my first time trying that set up.  You’ll see what I mean in future photos in these posts]   Here you can see the “ball end” with cushy “washer” on the a-string. My a-string was and friction peg were fighting the tension a bit when I had it threaded underneath (like the d-string). So after a week, I switched to saddling it in the fine-tuner and it hasn’t given me any trouble since. This may have to do with the added downward tension behind the bridge when threading in the tailpiece vs saddling in the fine-tuner – where it sits higher. I looped the low strings, because they held tension better and were more secure on my cello that way. You can keep it simple though, and thread all of the strings like I have the d-string, just let the knot catch on the underside of the tailpiece.  

Pros & Cons

Pros

The tone is incredible (see video above). Many of my adult students (and student parents) being more familiar with what a cello sounds like, immediately remark at the Eudoxa’s beauteous sound. With a nice ebony wood tail piece and the gut string set up, it feels like I turned on a super wet reverb inside the cello!

Gut strings have been the sound of bowed string instruments for centuries! Steel strings only came into prominence in the 20th century during WWII when sheep gut was hard to come by and steel was cheaper to use. Playing on gut puts you in touch with centuries of tradition and helps you understand the repertoire of the past (from 1940’s back to the 1600’s) in a deeper tactile way.

Eudoxas are uniquely flexible all the way up the fingerboard! I feel more relaxed when playing in thumb position. Planting the thumb and fingers down to the fingerboard two octaves up the A&D strings is easier to do than on steel.

The staccato and spiccato bow strokes sound is unreal on these strings. I truly feel I’ve never executed a proper sounding staccato or spicatto stroke until using gut. The bite is there, but it’s still a round note unlike steel where it can sound only like the bite and nothing else.

Pizzacato feels/sounds AMAZING. If you are a jazzer or get into chordal playing, definitely give these strings a try. It makes me feel like I’m playing fretless bass guitar, Jaco style. Pizz has never sounded so lush on my cello!

Shifting is very enjoyable and fun to do on this set up (which I can’t say for most strings).

Eudoxa strings are not as expensive as one might think! A full set of Eudoxa is about $250, whereas an equivalent set of Larsen Magnacore (steel) or Thomasitik Versum (steel) runs about $350-$400. These are professional, high end strings used by such greats as Isseralis and Jacqueline du Pré. While Du Pre was transitioning from plain gut to steel strings, she used Eudoxa C, G and Prim (steel) D, A – as you can see and hear in the video below. Again, if Eudoxa is good enough for THE Jacqueline du Pré, they are good enough for little ole me!


Cons

The obvious one (no getting around it) – gut strings have a longer break in period. New steel Larsen Magnacore strings are said to break in within an hour. It has taken two full weeks for my Eudoxa strings to settle up-to pitch and into tension. I spent hours playing in the strings everyday, tuning constantly throughout each session. My (friction) peg tuning skills have much improved as a result! – Update: For this entire 3rd week I haven’t had to peg tune my strings once, they have held steady at A=440Hz! Wohoo!

More subject to temperature and humidity changes. (This can be a deal-breaker, depending on where you live, or at the very least lead to some major frustrations…)

Animals definitely died in the making of these strings… they are not vegan-cellist friendly.

The Intonation Game

Sometimes it feels like you are chasing intonation around the fingerboard for the first couple of weeks. The strings are all going out of tune at slightly different rates. Because the strings are thicker, rolling your finger from back to front results in a much larger sweep of pitch. There is a bit of retraining for how to place the finger and correct the intonation. Some of these issues are break-in period ones. Now that the strings have settled in and relaxed, it feels mostly back to normal when placing and adjusting the finger to achieve good intonation.

I could foresee a couple of issues for some players/cellos in respects to the low strings: they may feel too chunky; be slow to speak; have overpowering bassy low end; not bright enough lows for your instrument to cut through; vibrate too widely for your string spacing (I can get the C string to vibrate so widely that it hits my G string!); have trouble getting the edgy tone that one can get from a tungsten wound steel string.

My one tonal complaint is with the aluminum winding on the a1 string. It sometimes sounds tooooo much like aluminum. You get a gross sound sometimes when you portamento. The toothy crunching crinkle winding-tone comes out harshly if you don’t get the bow tilt and placement just right, especially without enough rosin on.

The sweet spot on a gut string during the break in period seems to be very specific. If you aren’t listening to the physical feed back loop of the string<>bow interaction, you’ll get a false sounding note, or it may not even speak at all. Certain high register notes are particular to speak; some of the wolf-tone notes of a string can go false or simply disappear on you – if one is not using the proper bow speed, placement, pressure/weight, tightness.

Wound gut strings demand respect from you, the player. With both left hand pitch and point-of-contact for the bow – the feeling is similar to having a feral cat or rescue dog in the house for the first time. You can’t necessarily predict how they will react and behave so you are on your toes, more ready for a slew of possible outcomes. With steel strings, it’s more like having a domesticated dog or cat, you can predict fairly accurately how they will behave in each situation.

On many cellos, the strings may be too wide/thick for your bridge &/or nut – you may need to get those re-cut or altered by a luthier.

Winding Up

The first recording I ever heard of the Bach cello suites was by Pau Casals. These recordings from the late 1930’s were given to me by my Classical teacher Janet Marshall. She was part of the generation of cellists following after Casals in the mid 20th Century. Both Casals and Marshall had an incredibly powerful yet simultaneously beautiful sound. When I play on this Eudoxa gut string set up, I feel that the sound of Casals comes out of my cello. I hear all of those lessons with Janet playing back in my head, how she sang phrases and demonstrated passages with the highest passion and musicality. Playing on these strings feels like being home.

In Part 2 & Part 3 (coming Dec, 2020) I will review a Full Set of Eudoxa Meduim + Full Set of Oliv Medium Gauge strings with more thoughts on combos. Stay tuned and Happy Practicing!

Brian


New! You can now donate directly through this webpage! Your donations will help me continue to review strings and setups & provide online lesson content.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

If you found this Review helpful, please consider making a donation! I did this review out of the good will of my heart, because there are no reviews out there on these strings (which I found very frustrating as I decided to purchase a set for the first time…) I wanted to share as much info as I could on my experience with these strings for all of you cellists out there who are curious about switching to these gut strings. **I am not sponsored by Pirastro and paid for these strings myself.** Which as you well know, gets very expensive. Your donation will help me offset the cost of all of these strings & gauges that I am reviewing for this series!

Help me to create more helpful content by making a monthly donation!

If you clicked on this tab, you are my hero! If you want to help me sustain quality online lesson content, please consider making a yearly donation! Your donations ensure that I can afford to spend the time producing this online material.

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$25.00
$3.00
$5.00
$10.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Thank you so much!!! It really helps a lot and will allow me to do more gear reviews in the future.

You rock, thanks so much!!

Thank you so much for helping me do this! It really goes a long way and your support means a lot. <3 BCG

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Cello Zone! Student String Recommendations

“Which strings should I get for my cello?”

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!!


Want to book a cello lesson?

Live in Sun Prairie?

email Prairie Music & Arts:  info@prairiemusic.org,

cc: bgrimm@prairiemusic.org

Live on the west side of Madison?

email Monroe Street Arts Center:  info@monroestreetarts.org

cc: brian@monroestreetarts.org


 D’Addario Prelude – reliable set on a budget or backup strings

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.

Set Includes:

  • 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.

Combo Set Includes:

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.


Janet Marshall (My Classical Teacher) Jagar-Larsen Combo

aka “The Denmark Combo”

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.


Additional resources on selecting strings:


Find out more about Cello Lessons with Brian Grimm

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).

Click on my beard to book a Cello Zone Lesson!