Scales, Arpeggios and Double Stops

A Message from Michael Reynolds:

These PDFs are offered as a free resource for teachers and students. Please feel free to change the fingerings as you see fit; the patterns I use come from the Casals tradition. White-out can be a wonderful thing if you desire a different fingering solution.

I like to utilize a variety of rhythms and bowings to challenge myself and students; some are included in the PDF Rhythmic and bowing variations. There are many more; just use your imagination. You can also use different bowing or rhythmic patterns to apply to a technical challenge in the literature.

The legendary violinist Oscar Shumsky once told me “if you have a technical issue—apply scales to it”.

Scales: Some Explanations and Considerations

Everyone’s hands are different. Some of the fingerings and registers I’ve included are not practical, particularly if you have smaller hands. Don’t practice a pattern if it overstretches your left hand or causes discomfort. There are almost always other alternatives that you can discuss with your teacher. Discomfort is often associated with how one manages extensions. Please check out my Extensions video to learn a few approaches to this issue.

I tend to use the same general fingering pattern for all scales for simplicity. I also try to avoid open strings whenever possible (might as well make it harder, right?). You’ll notice that I stop 4-octave scales after the key of F-sharp; it just starts sounding silly after that. Besides what I list in Rhythmic and bowing variations, it’s good to use a metronome to establish rhythmic control and build facility. Put it somewhere in the low 50’s, then do 1 note per click, then 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 16, 24, etc. until you flame out, utilizing a variety of slur and bowing patterns.


As with scales, choose your arpeggios wisely in terms of comfort. You’ll notice that I stop the 4-octave diminished, augmented and dominant arpeggios after F-sharp for the same silliness factor mentioned above for scales. Fingerings—lots of variation there; feel free to change them to fit your (or your teacher’s) fingering style.


This arena is the one I recommend the most care with in terms of left hand comfort and approach. Please check out my Double-Stops video for some tips on finding (relative) comfort with double-stops. The key for me is being well-balanced on the 4th finger in lower positions (along with, just as or even more importantly, a properly supporting left elbow for each string and a flat wrist), and making your first-finger extension do all the work while keeping your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers behaving as a unit. Preliminary double-stop exercises are a good way to get started or hone your double-stop cellozilla mojo. Another approach to fingering with thirds (and mixed thirds and fourths) is to start using the thumb as soon as you get to the A-string.


Yeah—it’s gotta be in tune—Scales, arpeggios and double-stops are some of the best ways to attack what Casals called “everyone’s worst enemy.” I’m always looking for perfect intervals (unisons, fourths, fifths and octaves relative to open strings or within the hand) to check my intonation whenever possible. Distant fourths are often helpful (an octave plus a fourth or two fourths in line with an open string, or even 2 octaves plus a fourth). My very favorite vehicle for attacking intonation is double-stops in mixed thirds and fourths. Besides lining up with open strings, nicely-tuned fourths inside the hand (for instance first-finger A on the G string and 3rd-finger E on the C string) are critical to intonation success.

Check your left hand’s relationship with your open strings constantly. Good fourths are a key to great intonation—those and octaves are the best (and most unforgiving) teachers. You can do this in all your scale work, etudes, and, my favorite, Bach. I demonstrate a few of these intonation checking methods in my Intonation video.

The Ring

Besides checking fourths, unisons and octaves, you can go for the “ring”—that moment where the cello really resonates. When your intonation lines up with your open strings, all of the overtone series wake up and start to create an overtone “halo” around your tone. If you play with great intonation, your cello will love you—I always say that you can get another $10,000 out of your cello if you feed it good intonation.

I often find that cellists’ worst intonation is in first position (go figure…). A few helpful hints:

Tune your strings so that the fifths are tight—check your D, G and C strings with a piano to note the tendency to get flatter and flatter as you travel down the strings. I just tune the lower string up until it starts to sound a tiny bit sharp, then back it down a touch. This really helps when you start dealing with things like your first-position F on the D string in relation to open A—if the strings are tuned loosely, the A-F double stop sounds horrible (if you’ve lined it up by tuning the F to 4th finger C on the G string, tuned with open C). If you tune tight, that double-stop is tolerable. It also allows the F to be straight across to 2nd finger C on the A string.  If you’re playing chamber music, you’ll notice that tight fifths work better when your open C goes up against a violin open E (we always right, of course, but violinists usually fall back on the usual excuse: better sharp than out of tune!).

Checking Intonation

Always check these intervals in first position: 2nd finger C on A string with fourth finger G on D string and open G. Hint: the C tends to be sharp. Also: first finger E on D string with open A, and first finger A on G string with open D. Hint: first fingers in general tend to be flat. Also (and here’s where distant fourths come in handy): 3rd finger B on G string with 1st finger E on D string with open A. Hint: B tends to be flat. Check the same way with 3rd finger E on the C string (with G-string B and open D).

With arpeggios, always check the fourths in the hand—-there are lots of them—along with any open string relationships of fourths, fifths, and octaves.

With all of these tools, you will have a good chance of defeating Cellozilla!