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Cello Lessons: Long Tones

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So there's a really great song that we can
learn to help us remember
the name of the strings in order,
and it's called the Ants Song,
and it goes like this.
Ants, ants, ants digging in the dirt,
dirt, dirt, going under ground,
ground, ground, all the way to Cleveland,
Cleveland, Cleveland.
The words that I was saying,
obviously, whenever I changed strings,
started with the letter
that the string is called.
So ants [SOUND] is for the A string.
And then dirt [SOUND] is for the D string.
Ground is for the G string [SOUND], and
Cleveland is for the C string [SOUND].
The song's original form actually
used China for the C string,
which totally makes sense with
the text of digging underground.
But China doesn't actually
have the hard C sound.
So we're gonna say Cleveland.
Let's sing it together.
I'm just pizzing each string four times.
Pizzicato is when we use our first or
second finger of our right hand to
pull the string and release it.
And we'll do each string four times.
So without the vocals,
it sounds like this.
And the vocals
are ants digging in the dirt,
going underground.
All the way to Cleveland.
Let's sing it together.
And we'll be singing the pitch
that the string sounds.
So, A is here.
[SOUND] Ants, ants, ants.
Let's go through the whole song.
One, two, three, four.
Ants, ants, ants, digging in the dirt,
dirt, dirt.
Going underground, ground, ground.
All the way to Cleveland,
Cleveland, Cleveland.
Very nice.
You can sing that song to yourself, you
can sing your kids to bed at night, and
learn the names of the cello strings,
all at the same time.
Now we're gonna talk about long tones
which is one of my favorite ways
to start any practice session.
We're gonna take our bow hold that we
worked on in our previous lesson and
we're gonna put it on the A string,
and we're just gonna take as long of
a down bow as we can possibly manage.
So we're going to try to
play with a really slow bow.
And this can actually be easier if the bow
goes down a little closer to the bridge.
Closer to the bridge has more tension.
Than closer to the fingerboard, and it's
gonna allow us to move the bow slower.
So I'm gonna go maybe
an inch from the bridge.
I'm gonna relax my right shoulder,
let all my arm weight bounce in
the tension of the A string, and
I'm gonna take a really slow downbow.
Join me.
[SOUND] I'm gonna go up without stopping.
[SOUND] Trying to go as slow as I can.
[SOUND] And the closer I get to
the bridge, the more weight I
can release into the bridge,
and the louder sound I can get.
[SOUND] Your down and
up bows may not be as long as mine,
but let's do one more.
And we wanna listen for a smooth sound.
[SOUND] The goal of this
exercise is to try and
get a really smooth continuous sound.
That doesn't have a lot of swells or
A crescendo is when you get louder.
We want it to be as smooth and
even as possible, and
that's what's gonna train
our muscles [SOUND] to play
properly and with control.
While you're practicing this, you can
experiment with different bow placements
and see what kind of sounds you get.
If I place the bow up here at
the end of the fingerboard,
I'll have to move my bow quicker and
it'll give me a different sound.
Join me.
If I move the bow sort of the middle area,
between the bridge and
finger board that's kinda
like a good default location.
[SOUND] Let's try once more going
little closer to the bridge and
really letting our arm weight sink in.
So I'm about an inch from the bridge,
relaxing my shoulders,
feeling the weight bounce in and
out of the string.
And I'll
pull a couple
down and
ups [SOUND]
>> If you're making
it all the way to the tip, we're gonna
do something that's called pronating.
Pronating literally just means turning in,
I'm going to turning my right
arm in towards the cello and
as I approach the tip I'm going
to do it a little bit more.
It's kind of subtle, but that allows all
of the arm weight we've been talking about
to be directed all
the way back to the tip.
So there's a little bit,
like at the frog my hand might look
sort of perpendicular to the stick.
But as I pronate towards the tip,
I'll start to angle it in.
Sometimes people end up
supinating with their bow hold.
Supination is when you're turned out.
And you don't want to play cello with
a supinated bow hold because then
that sends all of your arm weight and
all of your energy out towards the wall.
And that does nothing to
help us play the cello.
So you want to keep it
sort of perpendicular.
The fingers perpendicular to the bow, or
pronated to help you get all of the sound
you can out of your arm weight.
Let's do another couple long
tones on the D string now.
[SOUND] As I go to the tip,
I want you to look at my right hand and
look at the subtle
pronation that I'm doing.
And then as I approach the frog,
it kind of straightens out a little bit.
do one more.
[SOUND] At this point,
we really need to talk
about having a straight bow.
If your bow is not straight.
Lets say the tip is angled up.
Then when I pull a down bow,
because the angle of the hair
the bow will actually travel.
That's what we say when the bow
moves its placement on the strings.
I have a pretty extreme angle here.
The tip is really high.
And as I pull the down
bow the bow will move up.
It will travel in its bow placement.
So by the time I get to the tip I've ended
up way up here which is not a place that
actually gives us a very good sound.
If I keep the same angle, though,
on the up bow it'll travel me
right back to where I started.
So if you have a crooked bow oftentimes
people don't notice it if they're
taking really short bows,
like maybe just to the middle,
[NOISE] because it keeps traveling
right back to where you started.
So it kinda feels like you're doing
it right, but if you look at your Bow
during the long term, if the bow
is traveling, it's traveling up.
[SOUND] That means the tip is too high.
And in order to bring the tip down,
you actually need to pull your arm and
your hand back.
And that's what brings
the tip back to an even.
And when the tip Is parallel with
the frog to the sting it won't travel
when I play a down bow.
If my tip is too low
it lets say like this.
Then when I play down bow the bow
will travel towards the bridge.
And eventually you'll actually
just fell off the bridge but
on the upbow it will travel right back.
[SOUND] Again, it's not gonna give
you a very consistent sound, and
you won't really have as much control
over the sound you're making.
So you wanna bring that tip back up so
it's parallel with the frog and
then the bow won't travel on our down and
up bows.
Playing with a straight bow also requires
a little bit of adjustment
with the fingers.
I already mentioned pronation before, but
the core thing to keep in mind is
the angle of your hand at the frog is
not the same angle that your
hand will have at the tip.
And so you want to sort of get used
to observing your hand and seeing if
there's any adjustment that needs to
happen as you go from frog to tip.
[SOUND] The main culprit in
having a slanted angle for
your bow is usually your arm placement.
If your arm is too extended
you'll have a high tip.
And if your arm is too far back,
you'll have a low tip.
So ultimately,
it's really about your arm placement.
You could place the bow on the D string,
and just push your arm forwards and
backwards, and you'll see how much
it affects the angle of the bow.
Pushing it forward, pushing it backward,
pushing it forward.
None of these angles are what we're
gonna want when we play the cello.
We want to always have straight bow.
you can start every practice session,
from now until forever, with long tones,
cuz it's a great way to relax,
to breathe fully, and
sort of get sort of a close relationship
with the cello and work on your sound.
I started practicing long tones when
I was in high school when I got a new
teacher and they completely changed
my whole approach to the instrument,
and I still practice them to this day.
Long tones are one of those
never ending explorations.
Where you can always get deeper and
get to know the sound of
your instrument even better.