I now realize what a friend at IU was talking about. Sitting on the floor in one of the hallways he described a fingernail/cello quandary he was having. At the time I was still an avid biter, so I couldn’t see how normal length nails would undermine his playing. Now that I actually use clippers instead of teeth, I am running into the same difficulty. Don’t the left hands’ nails get in the way? I never limited my biting exuberance particularly in the days when I bit, but now I find a maximum shortness for comfort during clipping.
What seems to be the case is that there must be an tenuous alliance between the nail and the string. It primarily involves the first and second fingers. I haven’t worked out exactly which positions are affected. There does appear to be a further issue of extensions, which changes the angle of the finger and thereby the placement of the fingertip and nail.
Does vibrato work with the nail? Is there a limited dynamic range? Am I degrading the string with frequent scratchings back and forth when shifting? Is the scratching audible to anyone but me?
This issue came up at IU in particular because Starker tends to make adjustments to the angle of his students’ left arms and hands. He is looking for consistency all along the fingerboard which should aid in consistency of intonation. He is brilliant at finding overarching structural and musical truths which apply anywhere on the cello and within any piece of music. Personally I felt a lot less lost after my work with him, making practicing a much more efficient and productive proposition. I think now I am discovering that I will naturally replace some of the encyclopedic rulebook which colleagues and I imagined he kept somewhere (besides his brain), with a few short chapters that are more deeply me. But I could never have come to this place of trust in myself without his anchoring to spring from.
originally published on 10/27/07