Fourth finger extensions on a cello involve the use of any notes in a scale that require the stretching of the fourth finger, such as F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp and D-sharp when using first position. The fourth finger must extend beyond its normal comfortable reach to play these notes. The techniques of finger extensions must be used when the cellist must play a whole step in the music.
Standard Playing Position
The standard playing position for a cellist involves placing the index, middle, ring and pinky finger on the strings one half step apart. This makes it easy to play chromatic notes on the scale quickly, using one pitch per finger. When the music requires playing a half step higher than the natural equally spaced finger position allows, it becomes necessary to play a finger extension. The most difficult finger extensions require the use of the weakest fourth finger, the pinky.
Fourth Finger Positions
Music consists of whole steps and half steps, which means that a cellist must sometimes extend his finger higher on the string, out of his regular range. For instance, in first position on the D string, the cellist places his index finger on D, the ring finger on D-sharp, the middle finger on E and the fourth finger on F. To play F-sharp, the fourth finger must stretch up the string a half step. Simply moving to second position doesn't work, since second position starts on E. If the piece requires the note D, you must use first position since alternating between first and second position causes complications due to the shifting hand positions on the string.
Extending the Finger
To complete a fourth finger extension requires significant practice and strengthening of the pinky finger. Practice alternating between F and F-sharp in first position. To play F-sharp, extend your finger upward as if you were skipping over one half step on the string. Use the fourth finger to play both F and F-sharp to get used to playing the extension. Play this until you become comfortable. Then add the rest of the fingers, playing D, D-sharp, E, F and F-sharp. Continue to play this sequence repeatedly until it becomes comfortable. Practice is the key to learning to play this extension correctly.
Practice additional first position extensions by playing the C-sharp, G-sharp and D-sharp extensions. The C-sharp extension occurs next in the chromatic series on the D string. Practice playing C and C-sharp using just your fourth finger. Then play an entire chromatic scale from D to C-sharp. Once that is mastered, add the G-sharp with the fourth finger and then the D-sharp with the fourth finger. Practice a two octave chromatic scale daily, starting with the low D on the D string and ending with D just above middle C.
The fourth finger may be used to play any extension that makes sense. As you improve your playing, find ways to use extensions to avoid having to move your entire hand up or down the string. Jumping from one position to the next creates added tension and disrupts the flow of the musical line. A good cellist will find ways to use fingerings and positions creatively to make the easiest transition between notes.
- Cello: Playing in Positions
- "Cello Extensions for the Student"; Dennis Leogrande; 1993
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