Wednesday, June 29, 2022

stepping up the scales

Slow progress in the Plague Year Bach project, as I am still stuck half-way into the Courante from the fourth suite. But the movement has already served the purpose for which I chose it, namely making me lose the fear of keys with more than two flats.

Essentially, the keys with up to two flats or sharps are easy on the cello as you can play the scales using only elementary technique, ie first position and open strings for orientation. Losing the guidance of open strings (and harmonics) is what makes me panic whenever I see more than two flats or sharps in a key signature, like eg. this very lovely repertoire piece:

After learning the Eb major scale which I needed for the Courante, I realised I can recycle this fingering for other flat scales, and stumbled upon a consistent method that in principle works for all scales in remote keys (and is different from the fingerings I find in books). So here goes (sorry the formatting doesn't quite align across the strings, in my original it is a word file with courier font, where it does):

scales with flats

3xb: Eb (loses open A)

A ¦---1-34
D ¦01-3-12-4
G ¦01x24
C ¦---2-4

that one was fairly obvious, but I’m now taking the upper octave of that and shifting it down the strings to make it the lower octave for the next scales, and I get:

4xb: Ab (loses open D)

A ¦-1-34-1-3-12
D ¦---1-34
G ¦-1-3-12-4

5xb: Db (loses open G)

A ¦---12
D ¦-1-34-1-3
G ¦---1-34
C ¦-1-3-12-4

scales with sharps

3x#: A is trivial (upper oct: 01-34-13-12)

4x#: E (loses open D) finger sequence like Ab, Db works here too, doesn’t need open A.

A ¦---1-3-12
D ¦----1-34
G ¦-12-4-1-34
C ¦----1-3

5x#: B (loses open A) finger sequence like E, Ab, Db.

A ¦----1-34-1-3-12
D ¦-12-4-1-34
G ¦----1-3

i.e. for the lower octave, or if the upper octave starts near an open string (eg Eb on D string), use 13 124 134 For an upper octave that starts on 4th finger, carry on: 4 134 13 12

The combined sequence 13 124 134 134 13 12 works for four scales: Ab, Db, E and B. (although with the E major scale it unnecessarily avoids the open A string).

NB books seem to prefer the sequence 1x24 1x24 124 124 134, which has only four shifts instead of five, but the extensions add difficulty where I’m already in unfamiliar terrain, so I prefer mine.

PS the example shown above is the beginning of the Élégie by Gabriel Fauré, Op 24. Watch a very lovely performance from Nadège Rochat here.

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