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Monarcheon

Masterclass: ORCH 101 - Basic Cello Writing

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Instructor: @Monarcheon
Students Allowing: 7
Initial Writing Requirement: 32 - 48 bars, cello + piano
Initial Writing Requirement Deadline: March 15th

Please do not sign up for the masterclass if you know how to write the basics for cello.

Here's masterclass No. 1! Monarcheon is a string player herself and can provide lots of good basic instruction for string writing. This masterclass will focus on bowings, pizzicato and left hand position. Please reply in the comments if you'd like to receive catered feedback on these two things. She'll take up to 7 students for this lesson. Once you reply, begin writing under the proposed guidelines and instrumentation and before the prescribed date. Try to follow or include some or all of the guidelines when composing! Also, try to stay within those guidelines and don't try to overextend the purpose of the lesson.

Basic Rules:

0. A position on the cello simply means where the left hand is on the fingerboard at any given time. Higher positions are closer to the bridge (the "bottom") and lower positions are closer to the scroll (the "top"). In general, try to stay in the low to middle range.

1. Long crescendos are typically played up bow, in a slur, since gravity plays the peak of the crescendo much better as a down bow.

2a. In standard 2 or 4 bar phrases or rhythmic systems, the beginning of the measure is down bow, and the return at the half bar is up bow. 

2b. Down bow is considered the more powerful of the two bows. You can use this to your advantage and have passages with only down bows to really accent a passage. Keep in mind that a lot of down bows in a row in a fast tempo is hard for the performer.

3a. Cellos have the open strings (from lowest to highest), C G D A. This means they are a fifth apart and double stops can be written in a variety of distances from each other with that in mind. Double stops must keep this in mind, and you cannot skip over a string to play a double stop.

3b. Try not to write fifths though, as they are hard to tune.

3c. Thirds are also not always welcome unless they are in a lower position. 

3d. Fourths are fine, but remember they will sound awkward due to traditional voice leading rules. 

3e. In the lower positions of the cello (closer to the "top") the maximum interval for a double stop is a minor seventh, nearer the high positions, octaves are more acceptable. 

3f. Despite being inversions of each other, avoid seconds if possible. Not only are they are to tune, 

4. Slurs are NOT expressive or phrase markings. They are bowings. Dynamic markings are your best bet for marking a phrase.

5a. When writing fast passages, try to avoid using a lot of double stops, except when there are a lot of notes in the same position in a row. 

5b. When writing fast passages, keep in mind that the positions the player have to traverse should be relatively close or static as you transition. Basically, avoid too much jumping, unless an open string is involved.

6a. Tone becomes a lot less clear the higher you go up on the cello, especially double stops, but also can be strident if you want to have a dramatic peak.

6b. This is especially true for pizzicatos.

7a. Pizzicatos (marked pizz.) follow the same guidelines as double stops in terms of fingering, but are not bound by the curse of having to cross a string.

7b. Fast pizzicatos could not be considered highly.

8. Do not include too many double stops in a row, unless the passage is extremely virtuosic, but we will not really consider that for this lesson.

POST COMPOSITIONS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW WHEN FINISHED. DO NOT ADD AN AUDIO FILE.

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Hi Monarcheon,

I would like to sign up for this masterclass, since I am not familiar with the Cello. 
Is there still room for me to join?

Maarten

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Hi

I would love to participate, too, if possible. And learn... The cello is great and for my cameristic style is esential. I'll stay tonal¡¡

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SONG 4_.pdf

Hi, I have reworked a piece that I wrote for other instrument.

I've tried to stay in the lower-middle range.... Some doubts thoght with the triple stop (not necessary but just to see if it's possible).

Ok, thanks Monarcheon for your time and dedication.

PDF

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Hi Luis,
In terms of your notes, it's generally very good! A lot of things stay within a general position (with some extensions, but that's also fine). Here's some things to thing about:

  • In general, the cello play can reach about a minor to major third in one position before shifting on one string. At measure 13, the first two beats would most likely played on the D string, since it would sound stilted on the G string, but then how to you play the A in the next couple beats without playing open A? You would have to shift twice in a row. Think about where your player will have to reach to to avoid open strings (since you can't vibrato on them, and sound a lot more harsh, especially open A).
  • The triple stop in measure 28 would be hard. Remember I said that writing thirds for the cello is generally tough, and this is another example of that. The stretch a player would have to do would be quite large on the hand, and would surpass that "minor/major third" rule I mentioned.
  • You might want to notate if you want strings to be open or not. You can do this by marking a 0 on the note. This will give notes a brighter, more ancient sound, and can be used for effect over a very melodic covered note on the same pitch.

The thing that was more the problem here was the bowings:

  • I think you grossly underuse slurs. In the first phrase, you have the player play those eighth notes separate, but it would sound a lot more fluid slurred. You don't have to worry about the down "bow starts a phrase" rule when it's soft like this, since the measure after the first part of the phrase is parallel and will return the bow to its normal state.
  • Using slurs will also help accentuate the piano's notes by providing a bit of contrast to the envelope.
  • In general, faster rhythms will want to use some slurs to keep everything in check. In measure 15, the sixteenth notes would be better slurred, as they would match the length of the 8th note before it. You can slur two notes of the triplet to keep things in line.
  • An up bow at the top of measure 33 will be changed by the performer. At the peak of the melodic tension, to start on the weaker bow, on a decrescendo peak is not ideal. The flipped caret is the up bow marking,  and the hat is the down bow marking, if that's where the confusion was.
  • There are a couple of places where you have awkward phrase markings for your bows. Measure 43, for example, you have an up bow on a diminuendo, which is a bit counterintuitive to the player. You can fix this by luring one of the notes from the previous measure.
  • Marking bows that you want in more places would really help. They are also implicit articulation markings if you think about it. Both symbols have their own connotations and when used properly mean things to the performer. If you have down down or up up markings in your music, or even normal down up markings, it can give the player an idea of where you want your music to go.

Overall, good job staying within a good, yet varied tessitura. Focus on making your bowings a little more smooth to fit the occasion.
Cheers!

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Thanks a lot! there were some issues I didn't know, or wasn't sure:

  • "avoid open strings (since you can't vibrato on them, and sound a lot more harsh, especially open A)."..... this is quite important.
  • the bowings: I supposed (wrongly) that slurs should be avoided... Now I understand that they're necessary to indicate the bowings.

I'll study your comments in detail, and also the works of others here. Very, very interesting! 

 

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Is there still room to sign up for the masterclass, and is there a level of expertise that I need to get or are beginners welcome too? I only have knowledge over violin music so writing cello would be a fun learning experience for me.

Thanks

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Well, anyway, I will submit what I have even though it is short and basically didn't follow any of the rules you suggested. 

When I attempt writing music it only makes me feel inferior because it seems so amateur to me. What I don't like is my ideas/melodies/phrases seem so boxy and sing-songy and the idea doesn't develop subtly and organically like everyone else's do (and all the greats of classical music). I don't know how to get out of that. Whatever, here goes nothing. 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vbxhy10c1dktwlu/Cello_Piano_Masterclass.pdf?dl=0

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Just now, Ravels Radical Rivalry said:

Well, anyway, I will submit what I have even though it is short and basically didn't follow any of the rules you suggested. 

When I attempt writing music it only makes me feel inferior because it seems so amateur to me. What I don't like is my ideas/melodies/phrases seem so boxy and sing-songy and the idea doesn't develop subtly and organically like everyone else's do (and all the greats of classical music). I don't know how to get out of that. Whatever, here goes nothing. 

Hey, I'm happy you posted it anyways! But I can't open the file.

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@Ravels Radical Rivalry Hey! Here are some things for you to think about:

  • You might want to have all of your grace notes to be slurred into the main note at this tempo. It would be hard to get enough of the notes when trying to fit it in such a short span of time.
  • For your long notes, try to add a courtesy bowing in there, that is, to mark that you are allowed to change the bow again in the held note as a sort of breath so the player doesn't run out, especially if it's on an awkward bowing.
  • You're going to want to switch clefs with all the high stuff at the end. It's all playable since you give you plenty of time for the performer to prepare a shift, but the ledger lines are killer. I know you're just getting used to MuseScore, but I'm sure there's a way to do that.
  • You're going to want to be a little standard with your bowings. Imagine yourself played a down bow (moving your arm right), with a lot more power than the up bow (moving your arm left). Some things just line up awkwardly to match the phrase, and this happens basically everywhere in the piece. Slurs are your friend! They're basically a free bow extension. As long as you're not crossing strings to often and the slurs aren't too long, they should always be considered in good string writing.
  • Specifics: Like, look at measure one. Is it an up bow with a crescendo lead into a powerful beginning of the piece on a down bow? Or is it a powerful down bow leading a softer opening? Dynamic markings can really guide your thinking on bowings, depending on your phrase!
  • I think your notes are mostly fine. It's not too fast a melodic part and it's all reachable in the span of those note changes. Articulation markings would really help so a performer can look at the piece and instantly know what kind of piece it is. The bowings would also help them sight read peaks and valleys!

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Thank you Monarcheon! This is stuff I don't usually do or think about when I do write. It is interesting to bring to my attention. It was a useful activity in the end just to bring those things up.

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On 3/12/2017 at 1:14 PM, Luis Hernández said:

avoid open strings (since you can't vibrato on them, and sound a lot more harsh, especially open A

I want to clarify that using C G D and A in their respective registers as notes is not a bad thing, since the player normally can cover it with a finger (except for C, but it's fine). In faster or more awkward passages, the player might have to resort to using open and that's not always ideal, but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with those notes to begin with. Open strings are great for chords by the way!

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Cello_Exercise.pdf

Hi Monarcheon,

Here is my composition for Cello and Piano as an exercise. Because I wanted to try both tonal and atonal techniques, I included both in the composition. The Piano has the more accompanying role and the Cello a more melodic role.

Hopefully you can give me some useful feedback, so that I can improve my cello writing!

Kind regards,

Maarten

PDF

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Hi Maarten,
Overall, a very good job! Some comments:

  • mm. 1-2, the bowings at the beginning end up being backwards the way you have it written. I would mark the first note up bow. That makes it fit the crescendo and work out the rest of the bowings.
  • m. 1, no need to mark the low C open, since you can't go lower than it, thus, it must be open.
  • mm. 3-4, same as the first comments. 
  • m. 6, mark that start as a down bow, just to help the player out. It is intuitive, but think of it like a courtesy accidental.
  • mm. 14-15, this screws up your bowings. I would split the slur so each measure is slurred, so measure 18 can be down bow.
  • mm. 19-22, your accents on the second beat should be on a down bow, even if it is getting quieter. I would start the passage here on an up bow, then a down on the accent, then two more up bows on the non accented notes before the next accent.
  • m. 24, find a way to get back to down bow here.
  • m. 28-29, just an engraving thing; no need to put the tie in for a 16th note subdivision, since it's technically going to keep going like that anyway.
  • m. 30-31, same comments as point No. 5.
  • m. 35-36, it's not impossible, but would take practice to jump up the fast. The player will think that measure 35 will be in first position, and that they will jump to 4th position for the last note. It doesn't have to be done this way, but it's the most intuitive. Maybe put a staccato on the last note of 35 so that it makes the player feel a bit more justified.

A comment about your notes: generally very good. Something for you to think about is jumping by intervals of a fifth within the same position. A player will most likely bar those two notes down with their first, second, or third fingers, before going to the next note. When writing, make sure you think about where the player will have to go from a barred note (like a guitar, almost).

Good job!

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1 hour ago, Monarcheon said:

Hi Maarten,
Overall, a very good job! Some comments:

  • mm. 1-2, the bowings at the beginning end up being backwards the way you have it written. I would mark the first note up bow. That makes it fit the crescendo and work out the rest of the bowings.
  • m. 1, no need to mark the low C open, since you can't go lower than it, thus, it must be open.
  • mm. 3-4, same as the first comments. 
  • m. 6, mark that start as a down bow, just to help the player out. It is intuitive, but think of it like a courtesy accidental.
  • mm. 14-15, this screws up your bowings. I would split the slur so each measure is slurred, so measure 18 can be down bow.
  • mm. 19-22, your accents on the second beat should be on a down bow, even if it is getting quieter. I would start the passage here on an up bow, then a down on the accent, then two more up bows on the non accented notes before the next accent.
  • m. 24, find a way to get back to down bow here.
  • m. 28-29, just an engraving thing; no need to put the tie in for a 16th note subdivision, since it's technically going to keep going like that anyway.
  • m. 30-31, same comments as point No. 5.
  • m. 35-36, it's not impossible, but would take practice to jump up the fast. The player will think that measure 35 will be in first position, and that they will jump to 4th position for the last note. It doesn't have to be done this way, but it's the most intuitive. Maybe put a staccato on the last note of 35 so that it makes the player feel a bit more justified.

A comment about your notes: generally very good. Something for you to think about is jumping by intervals of a fifth within the same position. A player will most likely bar those two notes down with their first, second, or third fingers, before going to the next note. When writing, make sure you think about where the player will have to go from a barred note (like a guitar, almost).

Good job!

 

Thank you for your valuable feedback! I am very relieved that the Cello writing was overall good.

I have updated the score as you recommended. Can you take a look at it again to check if I have comprehended all your points?

I have a few questions about your feedback:

  • Could you please tell me more about the bowings? This namely seems the most important aspect I have to work on. Some sub-questions:
    • What is the relationship between slurs and bowings?
    • What are the characteristics of the two different bowings?
  • What do you mean with the first, second, third and fourth position?
  • I heard somebody once telling that every string has its own characteristics in tone. If this is true, which string has which characteristics?

About this Masterclass: In Fux' Gradus ad Parnassum, there is a student, called Josephus, who is very excited about Counterpoint, but also afraid to make mistakes. I really feel like Josephus, but the Counterpoint for him is the Cello for me. :)

PDF

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14 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

What is the relationship between slurs and bowings?

Slurs are bowings. They are never expressive markings.

14 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

What are the characteristics of the two different bowings?

Mentioned in the initial guidelines.

14 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

What do you mean with the first, second, third and fourth position?

It's where the left hand is at any given time. The higher the position, the closer to the bridge.

15 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

I heard somebody once telling that every string has its own characteristics in tone. If this is true, which string has which characteristics?

The strings get brighter as you get higher.

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Bowings... never expressive markings? Tell that to Schubert!

Focusing too much on writing for how the instrument should or could be played is a mistake.

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Cello Song.pdf

Well, here is my submission for cello and piano. Any feedback would be highly appreciated. I hope after this, I can go from not really knowing what I'm doing to having a somewhat good understanding of how to write music for cello, and improving my music composition skills in general.

Thanks

PDF

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