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An Artist's Guide to Technique on the Cello (or the violin!) – Part 1: Goals

Hello everyone!

This month, I am really excited to share the wise words of Dr. Stefan Kartman, amazing cellist and professor at the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin. In the first of two contributions to Mind Over Finger, Dr. Kartman discusses musicianship and technique on the cello. I know that some of our readers are cellists, and I hope they truly enjoy this wonderfully interesting and informative text! As for the rest of us, violinists and musicians, the principles expressed are similarly applicable to us all and, therefore, try to apply, them we shall! On to Dr. Kartman! RPG

An Artist's Guide to Technique on the Cello (or the violin!) – Part 1

By Dr. Stefan Kartman, Professor of Cello Peck School of the Arts - University of Wisconsin

Cello Technique - Goals

If audience members are aware of technique at all, the first thing most think of when they hear that a cellist has a fine technique is that he or she can play really fast. Musicians might add big tone, great intonation and rhythm, consistency, beautiful sound, big dynamic range and a few others. Accomplished professional musicians, when they choose to spend time talking about it at all, might add things like awareness of form, use of tone color to achieve effective phrasing, ability to adapt convincingly to the style called for in the music and by the other players in the ensemble, and others.

No matter how firmly we believe as teachers that our way is best, there is certainly more than one technique suitable to artistic goals on the cello. However, there are many more ways that don't work well than there are ways that work well. As teachers, we have a duty to steer students towards the ways that will serve them best as accomplished professional musicians.

That said, let's look at the partial list of goals from audience members, musicians, accomplished professional musicians, and add a few from teachers of accomplished professional musicians.

We'll start with some of the basics mentioned above...

• Play really fast

• Play really loud or soft

• Great intonation and rhythm

• Consistency - no mistakes, flubbed shifts, patchy sound, etc.

• Beautiful sound

Even these few goals are already a tall order when you consider the many subsections that could be added to each of them and that there are examples in each of these areas that can be found in our heroes far surpassing our wildest dreams of success. Even so, when teaching at the college or conservatory level, in our time, there are students who could be said to have mostly fulfilled many if not all of these goals.

Let’s add a few to strive for when we work with students of this level. Please bear with me as some of these are more difficult to describe...

• Subliminal control over use of vibrato speed combined with bow speed, pressure, and proximity to bridge to achieve tone colors which direct phrases.

• Control over the many articulations and decays possible with stringed instruments.

• Command of the many virtuosic bow strokes and articulations.

• Competent use of a variety of shifting techniques.

Finally, lets add some attributes we wish to see in our heroes, those musicians we admire ourselves and would gladly pay for tickets to hear them or for their recordings so that we can enjoy their performances again and again...

• Convincing storytellers.

• Passion and poetry.

• Flawless concentration.

• Knowledge of the form, harmony, and style of compositions.

• The ability to combine such knowledge with artistic performance.

Every student has some natural proclivities that allow them to learn certain of these goals more quickly than others. It is very rare to find a student that is talented in all or none of them. In my experience, all of the above goals can be taught and improved in any student. What varies from student to student, are the rates at which they progress in each of the individual goals.

At any level of teaching, we may be single mindedly pursuing a single one of these goals, several of them, and occasionally all at once. Because the amount of information we share with students is so immense and because each of the goals can be so difficult for students to achieve, it is very easy to leave gaps in their technique.

As teachers of an Artist's Technique, we have a responsibility to fill these gaps as we find them which means we have to have tools to expose them. I have been fascinated to find students that can "Play really fast" but have no control over their spicatto. Similarly, I have found students who have a "Beautiful sound" but don't vibrate on certain notes at all for very simple technical reasons, stopping them from achieving that "Subliminal control" and convincing

Read on next month, when Dr. Kartman expands on daily and vibrato exercises!

Stefan Kartman is currently Associate Professor of Cello and Chamber Music at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. In addition to solo performance, he has performed to critical acclaim as cellist of the Kneisel Trio and the Florestan Duo. He has given performances and masterclasses in conservatories and schools of music worldwide including the Cleveland Institute of Music (USA), the Xiamen Conservatory of Music (China), and the D'Albaco Conservatory of Music (Italy), among many others.

An avid chamber music enthusiast, Dr. Kartman has served on the faculties of the Alfred University Summer Chamber Music Institute, the MidAmerica Chamber Music Festival, the Troy Youth Chamber Music Institute, the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, and was artistic director of the Milwaukee Chamber Music Festival. His early training in chamber music was with his father, Myron Kartman, of the Antioch String Quartet and during his formal training as a chamber musician, he studied with members of the Guarneri and Juilliard String Quartets and the Beaux Arts Trio.

Stefan Kartman received degrees from Northwestern University, The Juilliard School of Music, and his doctorate from Rutgers University. He has been teaching assistant to Harvey Shapiro and Zara Nelsova of the Juilliard School and proudly acknowledges the pedagogical heritage of his teachers Shapiro, Nelsova, Bernard Greenhouse, Alan Harris, and Anthony Cooke.


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