The task of any teacher who is helping a beginner take his first steps with the cello is to help bring the hands of the student and the instrument together in as natural a way as could possibly be achieved. So what I would like to discuss is the default position of the left hand, the shape from which all other hand movements derive.
The instrument has to be an extension not only of the soul, but more importantly of the physical body of the performer. Unfortunately I notice too many students and sometimes even professionals (especially in Asia) have the tendency to shape their hands to fit the instrument and thereby altering the natural position of the hands.
Children who pick up the cello for the first time tend to place the fingers of the left hand parallel to each other and leaning towards the pinky finger (Pic.1). It is as if the child is afraid that the 3rd and 4th fingers will fail to reach the right place on the string.
This strange habit creates a lack of confidence as to where one should place the fingers on the string. So instead of listening to the quality of the sound and phrasing, the students are constantly looking at the fingerboard and checking that their fingers are landing correctly. This can be easily avoided by learning the right shape of the hand and letting fingers fall into place naturally (Pic. 2).
The correct position of the hand should create flexibly in all of its movements. It is not easy to explain the subtle change in position that makes all the difference. So to put it simply, lets imagine you have a light glass of water and a large and heavy pint full of beer:
As you sit down with the instrument, drop your left arm down and let it hang completely relaxed. Now ask yourself: How you would hold this light glass of water? Will you grab it with all your fingers or hold it gently, without much pressure? With a large pint full of beer however you may be justified to bend your hand unnaturally so as to bear it's large size and weight ( Pic.3). This is exactly what you should avoid!
As you get used to the right position of the left hand, the first thing you will notice is that practicing for hours will feel like a breeze! This new-found freedom in your left hand will add greater lightness and speed to your playing and can dramatically improve your vibrato, which I want to talk about more in the next post.