No. 1: Sizing and Placing the Cello / Positioning the Left Hand / Thumb Position

Category: Videos für den Cellounterricht von Susan Moses

No. 1: Sizing and Placing the Cello / Positioning the Left Hand / Thumb Position

Sizing the Cello, Rock Stops and Chairs
It is important to size the cello in relationship to each individual student. With the student standing, the scroll meets the student between the mouth and nose. It is essential to test the correct cello size in relationship to the student’s hand in first position. The endpin can be adjusted to facilitate the correct balancing of the cello.
Rock stops are important because they keep the cello from slipping. The best rock stops are the strap version allowing for stability. Chairs need to have flat bottoms. Check that the height of the chair is correct by observing that the student’s hip bone to the knee is a straight line, and that the length of the leg from the knee to the floor allows the foot to rest comfortably (and flat) on the floor. Younger students use stools of varying heights.

Placing the Cello
Place the feet together, move the feet slightly apart keeping them below the shoulders. Feet remain pointing straight ahead. Sit on the chair keeping an extended upward feeling with the upper body, shoulders relaxed and down, and place the cello endpin on the rock stop.
(Just a word of safety: Please don’t walk around with an open endpin.) Begin with the left leg on the ground and then let the bout of the cello touch the left leg slightly above the knee on the inside of the leg. Add the right leg to the side of the cello and balance the cello with both legs. It is important to control the cello with the legs to free the arms.

Positioning the Left Hand
To teach the freedom of the left arm from the beginning lesson, slide the left hand on the fingerboard from the nut (first position) through to the higher positions.
Place the thumb on top of the fingerboard, and make a “C” between the thumb and first finger. Feel the energy inside the hand (not the top of hand) as though you are holding a tennis ball or toilet paper roll. To find a comfortable left elbow position, begin by sliding the hand from the highest positions to first position. When coming down to first position, the thumb slides behind the middle finger. Do not place the thumb opposite the first finger because this causes tension.

There are two major positions for the left hand: closed position and open position.
The thumb rests opposite the middle finger.
In the closed first position, the first finger is a whole step from the open string. Each subsequent finger is placed in half steps. The forward extended position is created between the first finger and by sliding the second finger forward a whole step from the first finger. This is done by swinging the elbow forward, releasing the thumb and placing the 2nd finger and thumb down together. It is important to note that fingers 2, 3 and 4 remain half steps apart and in a uniform (straight line) position.

In the backward extended position, fingers 2, 3 and 4 remain together, the thumb is behind the second finger, and the first finger is extended back as though you were going to scratch your ear.

Thumb Position
Beware of the thumb that bends backward (like a banana) or a stiff straight thumb. To find the best position for the thumb, make the “C” with your fingers keeping the thumb opposite the longest finger. Feel power inside the hand, and slightly bend the first joint of the thumb. (The hand always remains flexible.) For the first excursion into thumb position, begin on the middle harmonic.


Susan Moses is Co-Director of the String Academy and has been leading the cello department of the Indiana University String Academy since 1996. Ms. Moses earned her degrees with the highest honors at Indiana and Yale Universities before completing her studies at the Jascha Heifetz-Gregor Piatigorsky Master Classes at the University of Southern California. She was awarded a Ford Foundation Prize and has performed throughout the world in recital, with orchestra and as the solo violoncellist of the celebrated I SOLISTI VENETI. She has taught for Boston University and the Conservatoires Regionales de France and founded the Chicago String Trio, which was awarded a special Prize by the University of Milan for outstanding contributions in chamber music. In addition, she has been on the Oberlin College faculty. She records for ERATO and CONCERTO and was nominated for a Grand Prix du Disque. Ms. Moses was recognized by the University of Padua for her outstanding research on the school of Giuseppe Tartini in the 1700s. She also created a special music program for Trinity College’s Italian Elderhostel, where she is principal lecturer and performer. Her students are performing and teaching throughout the world. In January 2015, Susan Moses was awarded the Outstanding String Teacher of the Year Award by the Indiana American String Teachers Association.

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