The Joy of Feuillard - A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 13 - Feuillard No. 33 – Variations #4-9)

The Joy of Feuillard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 13 – Feuillard No. 33 – Variations #4-9)

In today’s blog we will continue Feuillard No. 33 with the Variations #4-9, dealing with legato playing, staccato strokes, and bow distribution.

Variation #4 and #5:

Notice in the video that Iestyn knows the tempo of these variations when I asked him, because he has written in the tempos that he thinks are good as he works on them at home:


It is important for the students to be able to imagine their tempos before playing them in the lesson. Having practiced them well at home, they should be able to predict the tempos pretty closely. If they can’t then it is a sign that they are not using the metronome in their practicing. Although rhythm is one of the most basic music elements, teachers often forget to stress the importance of developing good rhythmical skills. These concepts are often ignored or forgotten while focusing on other elements of playing: intonation, tone color, technique, etc.  Developing good skills of rhythm, pulse, tempo, meter, timing, as well as related concepts such as keeping a steady tempo, ritardando, accelerando or rubato are fundamental for a good musician.


In Variation #5 Iestyn showed that he had made good progress in using the full bow, compared to the difficulty he had with that in a similar variation (#3) earlier. By terracing the various technical issues in Feuillard, students can conquer a particular problem in one variation and then move on to deal with the next issue in another variation.

Another issue that I like to address in Feuillard No.33 is the height of the left elbow. Even though we are working on right hand problems in these variations, it is also a great way to address the left hand issues (intonation, vibrato, arm height, etc) since the students are repeating the same notes so many times. In this case I worked with Iestyn on the left arm height:


Many students get in the habit of playing across the strings without using the support of the arm. That means they often create “kinks” in the wrist, which causes tension in the hand and prevents people from moving the fingers fast. I will address the “twist” motion mentioned here in much more detail when we get to Feuillard No. 35 and No. 36. But my goal here is to get Iestyn to be aware of the basic height of the arm on the different strings.

Variations #6 and #7:


These variations continue with legato playing and bow distribution. Legato playing requires maintaining the weight on the bow, without re-articulating or pulsing, and with no portatos in the stroke. This is particularly difficult with string crossings, where we need to think like pianists. Because the piano is a percussive instrument, with a hammer striking the strings, it is impossible to truly play legato. However pianists give the illusion of legato by slightly overlapping the notes. Like a magic trick, it gives the impression of a true legato. When cellists play string crossings in legato, we need to similarly overlap the two notes to give the illusion of the legato that we can play more easily on one string.

I had to remind Iestyn about what we had worked on earlier with the left arm. Learning and absorbing new technical information takes several repetitions. As a teacher I have to be like a dog with a bone: not letting go! I have to constantly remind the students about whatever I am trying to get them to make as habits, until just a visual cue might be enough. Eventually, if I am “stubborn” enough, they will be doing what they need to do without reminders. I guess teachers have to have a bit of a “control freak” personality – otherwise the students tend not to do what we are trying to get them to do.

Variations #8 and #9:

These variations are similar to the earlier pairs (#4 & 5, and #6 & 7). But now I needed to talk with Iestyn again about his bow angle in Variation #9. Here I worked with him on the concept of “proprioception” (awareness of where the arm is in space), which seemed to click with him this time:

As I mentioned before, in these blogs I am rarely showing the full “performance” of each variation. However, in the lessons the students do play the variations in their entirety. This is important because they are not only working on the specific details of each variation. They are also working on endurance, the ability to concentrate, and getting used to “performing” without stopping. Yes, I hear these variations all day in lessons from lots of different students. Maybe I am nuts,  but I actually enjoy hearing them, and don’t get bored. Every student has a different sound, a different personality, and different problems or issues to solve in their playing – so it is always interesting!

Next Monday’s blog will continue work with staccato bowings and bow distribution.

*If you have questions or comments about The Joy of Feuillard, Dr. Robert Jesselson can be reached directly at rjesselson@mozart.sc.edu.


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