J.S. Bach

300 J.S. BachD.C. Dounis described several key points about performing the Bach cello suites or solo violin partitas. To understand his ideas let's us look at the following observations.

1) Most cellists and violinists underestimate the technical difficulty of playing solo Bach.

2) Bach conveys religious emotion, not romanticism.

Cold hands

288 Cold HandsThe wonderful cellist of 30+ years with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Joshua Koestenbaum reveals a trick he learned from a bio feedback expert while at Yale University. He claims it has been effective for him in combating "cold hands" syndrome, which is the result of performance anxiety or "stage fright."

Vibrato Fingers

287 “The Sizzle”

Dounis referred to the impulse which starts the vibrato as the “sizzle.” He gave the example of touching a hot surface, like a frying pan. He also said “the sizzle” was the spark plug that ignited the vibrato. This is a single impulse similar to a guitarist who plucks his string in to emulate a legato. He must give the impulse enough force or pluck it hard enough to carry the sound to the next note. The vibrato is the same. The initial “shake” has to be enough to carry it through the note. 

Therefore, if a player learns how to isolate this initial shake, then he or she can begin to understand how the vibrato and the left hand technique works altogether. 

Vibrato Fingers

Secrets of the Vibrato part one - Byron Duckwall

 285 For years, the vibrato has long been thought of primarily as a means of adding expression to melodic passages.  An “add on.” Teachers have emphasized this point which has resulted in a primary misconception. 

Vibrato is more than a way to add expression to particular notes. 

Vibrato is the basis of left hand technique. Therefore it affects all of your playing and expression. To have a correctly functioning vibrato means not only are your lyrical passages happening, but also your fast passages.

Dounis discusses vibrato, shifting, bowing technique and more.

The following interview was published in the book "With The Artists" in 1955. To my knowledge it is the only documented interview with Dounis ever made and probably occurred in the early 1950s in New York City.

281 Dounis apartment NYC

Interview with D.C. Dounis

Dr. Dounis divides his teaching time between his studio in New York City and classes at various universities, as well as conducting master classes in Europe.

He very much enjoys discussion of technical problems. As he talks, he walks back and forth erectly, one hand in his jacket pocket , the other freely in motion to express his point with emphasis. His keen eyes sparkle behind their glasses. Short and rather stocky, with soldierly bearing, he exudes dynamism. He dresses distinctively well.

Is warming up the best way to avoid injury on the cello?

These days the assumption warming up prevents injury seems to be a commonly accepted truth.


So why would Dounis, a master teacher, a medical doctor, a man with a reputation for successfully fixing physical problems recommend playing first thing in the morning without warming up?

Jascha Heifetz was a master of his musical impulses.

What are "Displaced Impulses?"

These are impulses that end up in the wrong part of body when a player is struggling with a passage technically and work contrary to the natural movements of the body. A classic example is someone bobbing their head when playing a difficult passage. Of course it can be any part of the body, but always prevents the natural motion needed to play a passage.

The Cure...

It often is easy to fix and can make things easier immediately. Follow these points and it should do the trick.

1/ You must first notice that you are displacing an impulse. So sit in front of mirror and play a challenging passage and try to notice if you are unconsciously moving or tensing in the head, arms, shoulders, hands, face, jaw, legs, back and so on.  

284 Jascha Heifetz was a master of his musical impulses.

Playing a 1/2 inch above string.

Dounis always told his students to always imagine they were playing on a string 1/2 an inch above the real string.

To understand what he meant, do this exercise.


While holding the bow, put your arm at your side. Then close your eyes and bring the bow to a 1/2 an inch above the string. Now, without moving your arm, reach down with the hand and play a note. When you finish the hand should spring back to its original position.

The size and shape of the Arc of the Bow in String Playing.

Dounis said that most string players 'don't realize that the technique of Up Bow is very different than the Down Bow.'

So... What's the difference?

Here's a breakdown...

1. On the Down Bow the direction of the pressure and the line of the pull are different.

It may be obvious to many that you are pulling the bow horizontially to the right but your pressure is vertical.

2. On the Up Bow the direction of the pressure and the line of the pull are the same.

The Up Bow is surprising because you're pulling the bow horizontally to the left and your pressure is horizonal to the left. 

J S Bach

It is debatable whether knowing about Bach's use of numbers and musical affections teaches us better how to play Bach cello suites, but it can't hurt. Bach is known to have used Numerology and the Doctrine of Affectations as a way to personalize his music and express his devotion to God.

So I wondered if he had done the same with the cello suites.

I did a bit of analysis and found a plethora of numerological and musical references.

So to answer the question...

Did Bach use Secret Symbols in the Cello Suites? 

YES...without a doubt.

A simple example is the number of notes in the Sarabande of the 5th Suite. It contains 108 notes and is by far the most contemplative. The number 108 has spiritual significance in many cultures. In Christianity it relates to the pentagram (the 5 pointed star) in which each angle is 108˚. The pentagram represents the 5 wounds of Christ and the 5 joys. (read further)229

In the same suite there are references to the Holy Trinity and the "Complete Bach" (i.e. Bach + Holy Trinity) which is represented by the number 41  (i.e. BACH=14 + Trinity=27 (3x3x3).

Besides this name reference, there is a musical version of his name (Bb, A, C, B natural, which is H in German). These are just a few that I found after looking at it for a short time.

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Dounis 101

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