I have been considering the topic “sounding point” (contact point in German) for a long time now. Where bow hair and string meet everything we have to offer regarding material, technique, power and ease is channeled. This is the origin of the sound! This is where the action is!
Isn´ t the sounding point therefore the most erogenous region of the cello?
But at first a little anecdote:
After the Christmas mass the priest stood at the exit, shaking hands of the parishioners and wishing them a merry Christmas. What a nice gesture! So I took his hand in return. But for me it felt like a rubber glove filled with jelly. By intuition I tried to get a grip. (“There must be bones somewhere in this hand…”)
So this is how our little encounter turned into an embarrassing moment.
Contact needs resistance.
Resistance is the force an object puts up against the attempt to be set into motion. And we need this counterforce to get into contact. Although the hand of the Monsignore approached me it didn´ t put up any resistance against mine. So mine missed its mark.
No contact without resistance. No sound without contact. What a pity.
This is why we use rosin – instead of oil – as a “friction agent”. We need the resistance, the substance. We need something that answers “No” before it consents to getting into friction and vibration. In Tango the dance becomes exciting when the Follower reacts with a minimum of delay. If this positive ductile elasticity succeeds it can become a “high voltage dance”.
Resistance does not equal conflict or fight.
It is just a force opposing mine and giving me resonance to my actions. Isn´t a successful handshake in which two persons meet a terrific thing? When two people truly meet each other – not flinching – not squeezing? Amazing intimacy and closeness is possible in these moments. What if we would appreciate resistance and friction, possibly wishing for them instead of judging them as negative?
Anyway: Friction at the right spot is a blissful thing, isn´ t it?
What does this have to do with sound production?
Well – casually said: You´ re “pleasing yourself” when you play the cello. You are responsible for both sides of the contact point.
You are responsible for both sides of the sounding point.
We are bothering about our bow technique in great detail – but how about the opposite side? Your bowing skills can only unfold their true magic only if the strings offer a decent counter contact. And this counter contact is created by your whole body (especially legs and torso). This part is equally important and should be considered with the same accuracy and attention as the bowing skills.
Why? More than 80 % of the cellist I have worked with (more than 300 by now) are flinching their cello away from the bow in the critical moment. Why? Because the combination of a backwards dropping pelvis with an extended bow arm preparing for the great attack leads to a slumping of the ribcage area. Unfortunately that´ s where the cello is supported. And similar to what I did when I wanted to shake the hand of the Monsignore the bow arm grips tighter in order to achieve the contact.
Missing the mark leads to excess tension
The consequences: Back pain (because intuitively we try to regain the stability) and a tiered bow arm (searching for contact but missing the mark).
Vice versa the majority of these cellists created a better, juicier, more controlled sound after achieving more stability from the perspective of the strings.
You aim for a sound that is red hot, exciting and interesting? Take care of the other side!
Search resistance – enjoy friction!
- Observe! Video yourself as you practice from a side perspective and observe the movement of your body with the cello. Especially when you play high notes or want to be loud. Celebrate everything that you notice.
- Explore! Play some long notes on open strings. As you do this let your pelvis slowly rock backwards and forwards WITHOUT adjusting the bow. What happens to the sound? If you don´ t notice a change make a video. ATTENTION: This is not an advice to do weird things with your pelvis! It is an exercise to increase your awareness of how you can influence the quality of the sounding point through body movement.
- Focus on “counter contact”! Put hands on yourself! E.g. put your hand on your leg and sense the leg with your hand. Now change the perspective and sense the hand with your leg. Which one is easier? What happens if you intent to sense both sides equally at the same time?Find infinite opportunities to play with this principle.
- Change your perspective! Notice how your cello contacts the bow. As if the cello would play the bow – not vice versa. What is your intention for this “love affair”. Do you want a nice hand shake, a gentle teasing or hot sex? Remember: “It takes two to tango.” Whatever you’re aiming for: As with a successful handshake suddenly an intense intimacy can occur when two partners really surrender to their touch. Enter into the most erogenous region of your cello playing.
We often wish for contact but if it´s there we flinch. Renewing contact ever again and staying with it sometimes needs more courage than we thought. That is my experience. And what is yours?
I´ m too looking forward to resonance – e.g. by receiving your comment, a share or a message via my contact form! Friction and resistance is also welcome – but not obligatory!
And now: Have fun with your sensual practicing!