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Introduction Orchestration Orchestration Resources Historical Andrew Hugill


Section: Strings
Transposing? No

Left Hand
Player's Tips and Tricks



mute(s) on
a damper is attached to the bridge to mute the sound
con sord
(Germ. mit Dämpfer)

con sord
mute on/off speeds

marked piano
marked forte

There are two types of mute: the wooden mute, which is placed on the bridge, and the sliding plastic mute, which is permanently attached to the strings. Be sure to allow sufficient time for the player tp put on or take off a mute! Mute on can make unwanted noise on the cello.
mute(s) off
the mute is removed
senza sord
  No need to specify this unless a muted passage has preceded
natural harmonics
the string is lightly fingered at a nodal point to produce a "fluted" sound

The notation of natural harmonics is often inconsistent. Frequently it is either just a circle over the note, thus:

or the word harm, or indeed a diamond notehead to indicate finger position, or some combination of the above! To be completely accurate, a harmonic would be notated thus:

Here, the large round notehead indicates the fundamental (open G-string in this case), the diamond notehead indicates the finger position and the small note in brackets is the resulting sound. (However, cellists would probably regard this as over-fussy for a straightforward natural harmonic).

natural harmonics

Natural harmonics are strong on the cello. The extra length and thickness of the strings means that they are more reliable than on violin or viola.

The main nodal points on a string are as follows:
1/2 (gives 8ve above open string)
1/3 (gives 8ve+5th above open string)
1/4 (gives 2x8ves above open string)
1/5 (gives 2x8ves+maj3rd above open string)

Further nodes exists over the end of the fingerboard, of which the strongest gives 2x8ves+perfect 5th above open string.

There are intermediate nodes, which produce unstable harmonics.

artificial harmonics
the string is stopped normally, and then fingered (with the little finger) at a point a 4th or a 5th above the stopped note

The same notational practices apply for artificial harmonics. Note that in this case:
the first will produce a note 2x8ves above the stopped note, the second an 8ve+5th above the stopped note. Often a small notehead in brackets is used to indicate the sounding result, as in the example above. Where the word flag (= "flageolet") is written over the note, a whispered bowing might help the 'whistling' sound, but this instruction can also mean, quite simply, 'harmonic'.

artificial harmonics


It is possible to add vibrato and to play melodic lines in artificial harmonics, but both techniques should be used with care.