Benjamin Whitcomb’s Recordings and Publications

The Advancing Cellist's Handbook: A Guide to Practicing and Playing the Cello

The Advancing Cellist's Handbook: A Guide to Practicing and Playing the Cello

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Review from American String Teacher, fall 2011, p. 95.

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.


Review from Stringendo, spring 2011, p. 60.

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.


Review from Strings, January 2012

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.