Practice Smarter During The Holidays

Practice Smarter During The Holidays

Summer practice program for cellists.

Joesphine Vains
Melbourne, Australia

Practice Smarter During The Holidays

Summer practice program for cellists.


Dear Josephine,

I want to spend the holidays tuning up my technical capabilities, so to speak, and I was wondering if you could recommend some technical work that I could get stuck into? Also, is there a safe way of boosting my practice time? I want to be able to play for longer while I have time off, but I don’t want to get an injury or anything. Thank you!


Dear cellist,

Firstly, bravo for the question! There are many things you CAN do to give your technique a holiday boost. I often find the holidays are the best time to clear the cobwebs and bad habits and renew the physical relationship with the instrument without distractions of work/other studies.

I guess the first thing is to decide exactly WHAT you want to hone. These things take time of course, and I’d suggest a good tact is to isolate the arms and their different functions before putting them back together.

Open string exercises for the bow arm can work wonders – but you have to have patience and not attempt too much at once. If you have 20 minutes per day to do open strings/string crossings/double and triple stops without the left hand that can really set up your sound and help focus on releasing unnecessary tension. (Feuillard Daily Exercises, which are available for free on IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library can be a good basis here – play open string versions of Ex. 32-36 with metronome.)

In fact, the Feuillard Daily Exercises are perfect for building stamina for left hand too: just start at the beginning and do a few lines a day, starting at Ex.1 – or else one line per day of each exercise from Ex. 1-9 really focusing on intonation (tuner can help here as well as checking constantly with open strings for maximised overtones). Build up your stamina from 20 up to 60 minutes per day depending on your level of expertise and time.

Of course, most people think “scales” when they think technique. While these are incredibly useful, I find even more powerful as technique/stamina boosters are the practice of double stops, arpeggios and chromatic scales. I use Whitehouse & Tabb (available to buy online) plus a mixture of Flesch Arpeggio system (over 3 octaves) and 4-octave arpeggios. If you need Flesch let me know! I can email the cello version.

Short etudes such as Feuillard 60 Etudes for the Young Cellist are very useful for targeted techniques, as are Popper/Duport Etudes.

Finally, play as musically as possible and create a sound you can be proud of with plenty of breaks. I’d recommend no more than 25 minutes then have a break. Practise well!