Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Lesson 6

I finally got some additional music to play around with, yesterday. My teacher brought some fiddle tunes arranged for cello. Most of the songs seem to be relatively "easy" first-position pieces. We "walked" through a few, and I told her I'd work at three at a time until I got them really good. I think she was impressed that I was immediately able to finger the first tune by sight-reading.

I didn't play very well at all, even though I'd been working two hours a day every day, on the same pieces. She was positive, even though I felt like I was fumbling all the notes. I did have a better intonation - hitting cleaner ringing tones - except for C on the G string. The bigger problem was I felt as if I was too frequently just hitting the wrong notes altogether. We discussed this a bit. She suggested that I was trying to play the pieces too fast; until I get the fingering and bowing down perfectly, I should not be playing at tempo. Even the masters learn new pieces at a slow tempo, breaking them down into small segments, concentrating on the tricky ones.

This isn't the first time she's said this, but I sure have a hard time incorporating that into my playing.

I've put together an organized approach to learning new pieces:
1 Read through the entire piece, fingering the notes one at a time;
2 Tap/count the rhythms - slowly - saying /singing the notes (try playing on the keyboard);
3 Identify and mark new and/or tricy passages - string crossings, unusual bowings, etc.;
4 Divide into work areas for individual concentration;
5 Play pizzicato - repeatedly;
6 Bow open strings, while saying/singing notes;
7 For each segment, carefully combine bowing, fingering, rhythm - slowly - use metronome to help set the pace;
8 Start combining segments, a few at a time;
9 Identify troublesome combinations, and refocus on them;
10Don't increase tempo, until the whole piece is working; then work up gradually...;
11 Come back to each piece frequently to work through it and maintain freshness.

We worked through the pieces for the recital - fortunately, she said that we would not play them at the tempos on the CDs. What a relief! I told her that I'd been struggling trying to get up to speed with the CD. She gave me some suggested tempos (tempi) for the pieces, and I will start practicing them at these rates.

We worked on the Happy Farmer and the Bach Minuet - but I was fumbling so badly that I can't be sure that I had demonstrated any improvement since my last lesson. OK, maybe a bit. We played the tricky parts pizzicato, and with slow bowing - especially the bowing style: On the Minuet, I should set the proper bow angle, set the fingers, draw the note starting hard and finishing softer; STOP; reset the bow then fingers and draw out the next note; STOP again... Slow, slow, slow, slow. Work the triplets and the 4th extension (move thumb, keep first three fingers on string but not pressed.)

My little finger won't stay curled. The second joint locks up. I will try rotating hand downwards to hold the finger above the string. Also, I am playing my left arm too high on the A string, I should try dropping it a bit; adjusting the arm for each string - highest on C (obviously).

Finally, to keep training my sight-reading skills, I should continue the finger exercises - play each one just enough to get it right at the proper tempo, but don't repeat them so often that I end up memorizing it.

There's been a lot of discussion about memorization on the Cello Chat forum, lately. It seems a lot of people have troubles memorizing pieces and have to focus on it. I am quite fortunate, it seems, in that I don't have any trouble with memorization at all (at least something I'm good at!) My bigger problem is keeping an even tempo and rhythms. I find myself wandering all over the map - especially adding in the dotted quarter and half notes and the rests. I'm using the metronome now to help.

The Cello Chat forum has gotten so weird lately; lots of bickering and sniping between the "regulars". Also, way too much politics - the "hate Bush" and "hate America" factions seem to own the board; I was getting more and more p....d off with all the tripe. For a while, I thought about taking them on, but I finally decided it just wasn't worth the grief. Instead, I've stopped reading it more than once a day - skipping the political threads. I'd become obsessed; I had been literally glued to it, checking every hour to see what was new; writing meaningless posts (but fortunately erasing most of them before actually posting them).

I was starting to spend a lot of time in the live chat room, too. That was OK, when there were two or three other people; but when six or seven showed up, I found myself shutting down, hesitating to say anything, not feeling good about what I was saying (in other words, my old intense self-consciousness and subsequent inability to relate to people that has dogged me my whole life). While a part of me did enjoy the dialogue, I decided to back off and get back to my regular life. I will continue to read the forum, because there is so much I can learn; but no more posts, no more chats, no more obsessive checking in.

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