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Benjamin Whitcomb's Celebrated Pedagogy for Strings

The Advancing Violinist’s, Violist's, Cellist's & Bassist's Handbooks are the most thorough guide to practicing the string instruments available. They cover everything that you would expect to find in such a book, plus many things that other books do not address, such as the psychology of practicing and how to practice without your instrument. It also includes a walk-through of a hypothetical practice session along with specific descriptions of how to practice several common works from the literature. If you sincerely want to improve as a string instrumentalist, or if you want to get the most out of your practice time but don’t know how, then these are the books for you.

Reviews of The Advancing Cellist's Handbook

Whitcomb, cellist and music theorist, has earned a national reputation as a highly-skilled performer, recording artist, chamber musician, and pedagogue. Phyllis Young introduced this Handbook as a “great time saver with excellent results.” The market offers many pedagogical publications, but this one exceeds most of its counterparts in its comprehensiveness and thorough coverage of each aspect of and tool for practice. It also integrates intellectual, psychological, musical and stylistic points necessary for the ultimate professional performance. The complex material is explained and structured well.

Major topics include information about psychology of practicing; the content of practicing, i.e. explaining practice techniques and tools; daily warm-up routines, while developing a thorough focus on short and long-term goals and objectives; and focus on fingerings, bowing styles, musical and stylistic aspects of interpretation. The concluding chapter, Practical Application, includes examples from the standard repertoire applying the practice techniques explained in earlier chapters, providing detailed strategies to prepare the repertoire efficiently in terms of musical considerations. Especially helpful for a young teacher or pedagogy class are repertoire suggestions organized by different levels of difficulty and ideas for troubleshooting the most common technical problems.

Whitcomb’s comprehensive bibliography adds an outstanding resource! In a world where students and professionals seemed to have too little time and too many distractions, these strategies for spending practice time more effectively are especially valuable. I encourage any cellist to invest in this extraordinary book, adding Whitcomb’s message, “Let’s get to work.” T.R.S.

– from the journal American String Teacher, fall 2011, p. 95.

No less a person than Phyllis Young says in her Foreword to Dr. Whitcomb’s book, “How I wish I could have read this book years ago! It would have saved many hours of practicing which often have had disappointing results for the time invested”.

Brilliant cellist and scholar Benjamin Whitcomb justifies Young’s praise in every aspect of his book.

Here is a marvelous resource for intermediate cellists. Its purpose is to improve their ability to practice well, whether they are 6 or 80 years of age.

Whitcomb examines the what, when, how and why of practice and stresses the importance of becoming your own skilled self-teacher. Sections on the psychological aspects of playing, a structured and detailed approach to practice time, technical and musical matters are all clearly addressed. Chapter 14 asks the question, “What does it mean to play musically”? How to practice pieces from the standard Cello repertoire are laid out with great clarity and logic in Chapter 15. Works by Bréval, Bach (Prelude from Suite no 1), Schumann Fantasy Pieces, The Swan, and Elgar Concerto are included.

Finally there is a Trobleshooting chapter of frequently asked questions together with helpful answers. For example, “How do I make my fortes louder without sounding forced?”

If your aim is to improve as a player, you cannot be without Benjamin Whitcomb’s complete treatise.

This is a ‘must-have’ for every cellist’s studio.

– from the journal Stringendo, spring 2011, p. 60.

While indicated for intermediate students, adult beginners can make quick use of The Advancing Cellist’s Handbook. Rich in highly specific technical directions, suggested practice routines, and real-world advice for common problems, this text can bolster private lessons and prior experience.

Unique features include an in-depth treatment of such musical fundamentals as dynamics, expressive markings, and appropriate stylistic colloquialisms. While there are reams of texts that discuss these elements at similar length, it is the sympathetic voice with which Whitcomb—associate professor of Cello and music theory at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater—writes that makes his book a gem. Perpetual motifs of persistence, self-motivation, and insight on the process accompany extensive excerpts of the oft-encountered repertoire. Approaching a new piece can be daunting, especially as one moves from an intermediate to early-advanced level. What fingerings to use? Where should you be in the bow? How might you go about practicing a difficult passage? These potential problems are addressed with autonomy in mind, offering multiple ways to work a problem and enabling the student to form his or her own conclusions and move forward with confidence.

With humor, specificity, and depth, this ambitious handbook fits nicely alongside études from David Popper, Louis Feuillard, and Alfredo Piatti, as well as the bulk of the student repertoire. The narrative offered in Whitcomb’s book is what makes it so useful: more manual than Cliffs Notes, with a tone that’s more benevolent mentor than distant scholar, The Advancing Cellist’s Handbook should be well-worn and within arms’ reach of every cello student who is not quite done improving on his or her instrument.

*This article appeared in Strings, January 2012

– by Emily Wright posted January 2012 

Also By Benjamin Whitcomb

Cello Fingerings & Bass Fingerings

Cello Fingerings: Improve Your Left-Hand Game & Bass Fingerings: Improve Your Left-Hand Game, are concise but thorough treatises and workbooks on the many facets of devising fingerings for the Cello and Bass. The books, primarily designed for intermediate musicians, systematically discuss all of the many factors and priorities that affect fingering decisions. Then, readers get to test their knowledge and understanding by trying their hand at numerous short quizzes, each of which is followed by Whitcomb’s suggested fingerings. These are a one-of-a-kind books that are sure to significantly improve your ability to devise excellent fingerings quickly.

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