Last week I called upon my students, my Facebook friends, and my Twitter followers to send me pictures of their thumbs... (Thanks for the photos, guys!) I was just curious, mainly. But I did run across some neat discoveries.
"You don't fit the cello, your cello fits you!"
That's my general theory with the overall cello position. What that means is I don't want someone thinking they're arms are too short/long to play the cello. You don't need to change a thing about yourself to play the cello. Just being yourself is a great place to start. But that does mean you need to be aware of what you have/don't have to work with, so you can plan according for how you're going to play the cello.
This can affect a variety of things...
- Spine posture: Are you leaning to 'get out of the way' of the cello? Or does the cello lean to get out of your way?
- For girls only: Where on your chest does the cello fit? Above the chest? In the middle of the chest? Below the chest?
- Neck stuff: Does the cello neck feel better closer to your own neck? Or does it help to play away and above your shoulder?
- Elbow Hinge: What is a comfortable degree of hinge on your elbow? 10*? 45*? 20*? This affects how far forward the cello neck can/should be for you.
Only you (and your teacher) can answer these questions. Every body is different therefore every cellist is different.
Okay, so what about the thumb?
Last week specifically I made a point to note what my students were doing with their thumbs. I realized that those with "The Hitchhiker Thumb" seemed to have a more unnatural time of playing with their thumbs bent/relaxed. Those that had straighter thumbs (like myself) tended to have an easier time playing with that bent thumb. C'est ça.
But just because you do/don't have a Hitchhiker Thumb doesn't excuse you from having good technique or from playing with a relaxed, tension-free hand. It just might mean you approach the cello a little differently. Keep all the options and variables in the game. Playing with a locked thumb might work with this one particular piece or bowing technique, but will that, as a habit, hinder you from playing your best in the future? Keep the big picture in mind, but take small bites.
Bottom line? Ask yourself (and your private cello teacher) what is the right cello position and cello technique for you, individually.
For those that are curious here are a few links on what I discovered about the thumb and how that might relate to the cello...
- The AllThingsStrings Forum has a great conversation going about thumb position and the cello. I love it when the online cello community rallies together!
- Here's another couple forums on musicians and thumbs that I found: Cello Internet Society & Sax(ophone) on the Web
- There seem to be two sides of the Thumb-Fence. Some people would say that Hitchhikers Thumb is a myth.
- Of course, wikipedia has a wealth to offer on the thumb too.
and here's a great little video from Joel Becktell on the left thumb and the cello for your viewing pleasure!