100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 11: Flexibility and Coordination – Part One

100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 11: Flexibility and Coordination Part 1 — by Robert Jesselson

health-benefits-of-yoga-1Today’s blog will deal with the twin issues of flexibility and coordination, which are closely related for string players. Flexibility is the range of motion of your joints and the ability to move freely. Flexibility can be improved by stretching, which we discussed in an earlier blog. Coordination refers to the relationship between different parts of the body during movement.

As with any physical activity, we can improve our flexibility and coordination through practice. Since the physical aspect of playing the cello is an athletic event involving the small muscles of the body, we can improve our ability by working on our flexibility and coordination both with and without the cello. When we exercise the arms, hands and fingers away from the cello, we are exploring the underlying motions which are required in playing.

Bow Hand Flexibility

When I start to work with students on string crossings, I like to break down the motions that are involved, especially with the wrist and the fingers. Some of these movements are not things that we do regularly in our daily lives, but they are important for the fine motor control needed in playing the cello. Just telling someone that we use the wrist and fingers is not enough – for most people the motions need to be analyzed, taught, and then absorbed by the body and brain through repetition. At that point the movements begin to feel “natural”.

Wrist Exercises

Once again, the order of the wrist exercises:

  • Make a box with the wrist; both directions; make a circle
  • Do the same holding a pencil
  • Do the same holding the bow, with the little finger on top, using the left hand to help stabilize it
  • Do the same thing without using the left hand, with the little finger on the top for balance

These exercises might take a few days or weeks to master, but I have never found anyone who couldn’t find the flexibility and coordination to do this. Finger Exercises Now let’s do some exercises for finger flexibility on the bow, which we use for string crossings and collé strokes.

The order of the finger exercises is:

  1. move fingers straight down and up so the hand is flat; then attach thumb to first finger
  2. hold pencil and move fingers up and down
  3. hold bow with little finger on top, and support with left hand – move fingers up and down
  4. without left hand, balancing with little finger on the top, move fingers up and down

Another right hand finger flexibility exercise is doing bow rotations, in which we are changing the amount of hair on the string. I demonstrated this in the blog on open strings.

Next week’s blog will continue the flexibility and coordination exercises, including left hand/right hand coordination exercises, some bow speed exercises, and some cadence exercises.


About the Author:

Robert Jesselson

Robert Jesselson is a Carolina Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina, where he teaches cello and plays in the American Arts Trio and the Jesselson/Fugo Duo. In 2013 he was named as the Governor’s Professor of the Year by Governor Haley and the SC Commission on Higher Education.

Dr. Jesselson has performed in recital and with orchestras in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States, and has participated in the Music Festivals at Nice (France), Granada (Spain), Santiago (Spain), Aspen (CO), Spoleto (SC), the Grand Tetons (WY), and the Festival Inverno (Brazil). His performance degrees are from the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Freiburg, West Germany, from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Paul Katz, and the DMA from Rutgers where he studied with cellist Bernard Greenhouse. He has been principal cello of the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orquesta-Sinfonica de Las Palmas, Spain. In 1983 Dr. Jesselson was in China for a six-month residency, one of the first Western cellists to visit that country. During that time he performed as soloist, gave master classes, and taught at several conservatories (including Beijing, Shanghai, and Canton). In December, 2001 he led a delegation of string players and teachers to Cuba to begin professional contact with Cuban musicians. He has also taught at Sookmyung University in Korea, Sun Yat Sen University in Taiwan, University of Auckland in New Zealand, at the Royal College of Music in London and recently in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. His recent CD of new music for cello and piano is called “Carolina Cellobration” and is available on CD Baby and Cellos2Go.

Dr. Jesselson was the national President of ASTA, the American String Teachers Association, from 2000-2002. During his tenure as president he initiated the National Studio Teachers Forums (2000 and 2002), started the National String Project Consortium (with sites now at 44 universities and grants of $3.1 million), and began the planning for the first stand-alone ASTA national convention in 2003. He was the founding Executive Director of the National String Project Consortium, and is currently on the NSPC Board.

Dr. Jesselson is former conductor of the USC University Orchestra and the Columbia Youth Orchestra, and he was the cello teacher at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts for 17 years. For 15 years he was the director of the USC String Project, building the program into one of the largest and most prominent string education programs in the country. His pioneering work on this program was recognized in an article in the New York Times in December, 2003. ASTA awarded him the “Marvin Rabin Community Service” Award in 2009 for his work with the NSPC and teacher training. He is the recipient of the 2015 USC Trustees Professorship and the 2010 Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year, the highest teaching awards given by USC. He has also been awarded the 2002 Cantey Award for Outstanding Faculty, the 1992 Verner Award, the 1989 S.C. Arts Commission Artist Fellowship, the 1995 Mungo Teaching Award, and the first SC ASTA Studio Teacher Award in 2005. Next summer Dr. Jesselson will be teaching cello at the Green Mountain Music Festival in Vermont and at the Cellospeak Festival. He plays a 1716 Jacques Boquay cello.

Robert Jesselson website: http://in.music.sc.edu/fs/jesselson/index.html
Articles by Jesselson: http://in.music.sc.edu/fs/jesselson/articles.html