The Joy of Feuillard - A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 17 - Feuillard No. 34 – Basic String Crossing Information)

The Joy of Feuillard – A Sequential Approach to Teaching Bow Technique (Part 17 – Feuillard No. 34 – Basic String Crossing Information)

With this blog we will start working on Feuillard No.34, which focuses on the important topic of string crossings. No. 34 deals with string crossings across two strings; No. 35 is about string crossings across three strings; and No. 36 works on string crossings across four strings.  This topic is critical for string players – we work our entire life trying to make string crossings smooth, connected, and ergonomically correct. We try to use the correct parts of the arm, keeping the joints well-oiled and flexible. We try to make the hard bones of our arms look like they are soft and pliable like the “break-dancers” of the 60’s and 70’s. Fluent bow arms are not only beautifully functional, but they are aesthetically pleasing. Think of French cellists such as Navarra, Fournier, or Gendron.

Today’s blog will be rather long because there is a lot of basic information about string crossings that I need to present. This includes some knowledge of the parts of the arm and how they move, as well as an understanding of the four basic bowing figures that we use for all string crossings.

I usually begin working with students on this topic by asking them to play the theme of No. 34 as double stops, making sure that they can identify the intervals. In these videos I will be working with Tristan, who has studied with me for a year and has gone through the earlier pages of the Feuillard (Nos. 32 and 33).

Theme of No. 34:



Next I discuss the four parts of the arm, the joints that connect them, and how the various parts move. I write this information in the student’s notebook to make sure that they can review everything and explain it back to me in the lesson the following week.



There are four parts of the arm, and those parts are connected with different kinds of joints:

  • Upper Arm – connected to the shoulder with a Ball and Socket Joint
  • Lower Arm – connected to the upper arm with a Hinge Joint
  • Wrist – connected to the lower arm with an Articulated Joint
  • Fingers – connected to the wrist

Because of these different joints, the four parts of the arm move in different directions:

  • Upper Arm – all directions
  • Lower Arm – horizontal motions
  • Wrist –   all directions
  • Fingers – vertical motions

The horizontal motions on the cello create all our different strokes: detaché, legato, martelé, staccato, etc. Even in such strokes as spiccato or sautillé, the basic motion is horizontal;  the bow bounces off the string because of the flexibility of the bow and the use of the little finger or the wrist.



Based on the information above, three different parts of the arm can produce these horizontal strokes:

  1. Upper Arm
  2. Lower Arm
  3. Wrist

The vertical motions involved in playing the cello produce the string crossings.



Based on the information above, three different parts of the arm can produce these vertical motions:

  1. Upper Arm
  2. Wrist
  3. Fingers

I am always in awe of the “design” of our arms. The alternating “ball and socket” and “hinge” type joints enable us to be able to move in all directions and reach out in space as far as the arm length allows us. At the same time, the design is such that we can use the arm for strength and/or for finely detailed dexterous movements. If we had a “ball and socket” joint at the elbow we would not be able to use our strength to handle heavy tools or press when needed. And our arms are so different from four-legged animals like horses (which don’t have arm-like appendages or ball-and-socket joints) or even other ape-like animals (which don’t have prehensile thumbs).  Ah, evolution!

Next we will work on what I call Bowing Figures – these are the four basic shapes that are produced when we do string crossings. All the complicated string crossings that are possible on the cello boil down to four basic Bowing Figures. This is the first one:



So the examples above are all various Arcs.  If you reverse bowing direction it creates another arc in a different direction.  Some people can imagine these geometric shapes easily, but for some I need to have them actually draw the shapes on a piece of paper while they are playing.

Here is the next Bowing Figure:




So, that was a circular motion. Whether an ellipse or a circle comes out depends on which strings one plays. If you play the G and D strings it produces more of an ellipse. Playing between the A and C strings produces more of a real circle.

Sorry that I was blocking the camera in the last video, but what I did was to put a pencil in Tristan’s hand between his second and third fingers, and then held the pad so that when he played the motion he could see the circle on the paper.

The next figure is:




That was a Figure Eight, or infinity sign. That is often the most difficult one to see at first.

The next is usually the easiest one to visualize:




Next I ask the students to summarize these motions and see what they have in common. When they were first playing these Bowing Figures, some students think that they were seeing straight lines in shapes such as rectangles or squares instead of the curved lines in circles, arcs, figure eights and waves. It is important for them to realize that all of these string crossings are rounded figures.



So, in summary – there are four basic Bowing Figures which are produced in all string crossings in various combinations.  They are the Arc, Circle, Figure 8 and Wave.

I made the following pictures with a laser light, demonstrating the four basic Bowing Figures for an article on string crossings in the Strad magazine from September, 2016.



In next week’s blog Tristan will take me through all the information from this lesson, giving me the “lecture” about the parts of the arm and all the bowing figures to make sure that he has understood and absorbed all the critical material. Then we will begin to go through the Feuillard variations for No. 34.

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


By |2019-01-07T05:04:25+00:00January 7th, 2019|Categories: In the Practice Room, Teaching, The Joy of Feuillard|Tags: , , , |

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