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Bluegrass Cello: The Shuffle and the Push

In this sample lesson from the Online Cello curriculum at ArtistWorks, Mike Block goes over an important bowing pattern for playing bluegrass cello: the Shuffle and the Push. You may recognize it since it is a common bowing pattern used in bluegrass music to create a certain kind of backbeat. This is a fundamental technique for bluegrass cello which will help you get into the groove of things.

The best way to understand the Shuffle rhythm is to hear it. Listen to the lesson as Mike demonstrates what it sounds like. He uses the phrase "run, Jimmy, run" as a way to help remember where to place the accent when you play it. For this bowing pattern, the accent falls on the "Jim" syllable - so it sounds like, "run, JIM-my, run, JIM-my, run...JIM-my, etc."

Listen to Mike play the pattern on open strings and compare it to how it sounds over a D Major Scale. Listen for the accents, you should hear a strong down-bow on the "Jim" syllable in "Jimmy" and then the Push on the word "Run."

Mike also shows you an extra special technique which he learned from old time fiddle music called "the Push" - which allows you to accent a note without changing the bow direction. To do this, practice accelerating the bow and then dipping a little bit more weight into it to give it a second attack. As you try it out you should hear a second note being created there on with the Push. Try it both ways, going up and down the strings with the bow.

The important thing here is to get the Push motion sharp enough so it's clear rhythmically and results in that extra note. At the same time, it shouldn't so noticeable that it dominates the groove. As an example, Mike demonstrates how it would sound when pushing the bow too hard, and as you can see - it's too much that it sounds abrasive and takes away from the groove.

Practice finding the right balance. The Push should be stronger than the bow change, and in doing so will result in that nice familiar bluegrass backbeat.

Mike also shows you how to use the Push in a variation on the "Run, Jimmy, Run" rhythm, using the words "up" and "down" to indicate which direction to the bow goes. Notice where the accent falls:"up, DOWN, a-up, DOWN, a-up, DOWN, a-up, etc." Watch as Mike demonstrates this bowing pattern over a scale, try to recognize where he's putting the Push into the bowing rhythm.

As Mike explains, the key playing bluegrass grooves is all about the backbeats. The idea here with your bowing is to fill in the subdivisions and have fun with the accents. Once you get the hang of it, this fundamental groove will underpin everything. Now go get a cello and have fun with the Shuffle and the Push!

Bluegrass cello with Mike Block - Bowing

Learn cello online with Mike Block at

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