Wednesday, April 05, 2006


My cello sounded so nice today

I just seemed to get it right with clean resonating sounds. I found an E tone on the D string that I'd never quite gotten before. Why? How? I have started doing a few things a bit differently.

Yesterday I watched some videos posted on by a guy who I think is named Luke, showing him playing several pieces on his cello. This began with a link on Cello Heaven to a YouTube video. He's clearly just another slob like the rest of us, who is pretty good on the cello - in his 30s, I'd guess. He sure seems to get a lot of enjoyment playing it. Anyway, I was watching his bowing (because that's what I'm struggling with, lately), and I noticed he's holding his bow much further out on his fingers than I'd been. It looks like a lighter hold.

So last night I played an extra hour without following any regimen. I tried holding the bow further out on my fingertips. It did feel lighter but a few times I noticed I was pressing my right thumb pretty hard into the frog. Now it hurts a little. I also have a sore tendon further up in my arm. Was it my new bow hold or something else I was doing? I did a lot of open string bowing with this new hold, using my forefinger to forcefully bite the bow into the strings.

After a while, I was getting a stable, even note off each full bow, all the way from the frog to the tip and back again. It was nice! I worked on the open strings a bit, and then brought in some of the basic G Major and C Major arpeggio/chord sequences I'd recently been tinkering with. I repeated these sequences forwards and backwards for quite a while. My ear started directing my fingers to the exact places on the strings for the best possible sounds. I was really pleased to hear those resonant Es and F#s on the D string! I've still got a bit of work to do to continuously get that perfect C on the G string, but once in a while I think I got close.

The nicer, smoother notes acted as a catalyst for a more satisfying overall workout today. I worked extensively on the six eighth-notes in the first measure of the Bach Minuet. I broke it into two parts - the now familiar C, E, G arpeggio that I've been playing in warmups, and the hiC, D, B sequence. I played each one separately for quite a while at gradually increasing tempi. This new emphasis with those last three notes let me see the whole sequence in a new light. After a while, I added the two together and within a few minutes I was playing these six notes without any slips or mistakes. Then I added the last hiC, C-C quarter-note sequence from the second measure. This nine note segment is repeated nine more times in this piece. I played it over and over and over and over and over and over until I was numb.

But I'm not even close to being satisfied yet. Clearly though, it helps to break those troublesome sections down into their basic parts, work on them extensively, and then add them back together. I briefly tried this out on the hooked bowings from the Farmer piece with some noticeable effect.

Yesterday, after trying to play against the Rodney Yarrow Fat Notes CD - and finally stopping in disgust - I decided I needed to work on the tempos first. I've been sort of lazy about my whole and half notes and rests. For the next week or so, I'm going to play the four recital pieces with my metronome. Then I'll go back to the CDs.

I recently ran across some postings on forums and blogs that made think about my motivations for playing the cello. One person talked about having a full time role in her family, yet needing to find just a little time every day for her cello. Another descibes wanting to play for himself alone; harboring some resentment towards previous teachers who had pushed him in a direction designed for aspiring young musicians - mastering Suzuki pieces, one at a time, with forced recitals every year among kids, and all the while just wanting to play for himself.

That got me to thinking about my upcoming recital. Do I really want to do it, or am I forcing myself to go through it because I think I'm supposed to? I still don't know the answer, yet. On the one hand, these recitals are a confirmation of progress so far, and consequently become a motivator to keep improving. For a fortunate few of the younger students, these recitals get them started on a lifetime of competitions for orchestras and music school, etc.

While I do want to be able to play with other musicians, I really am not seeking public acceptance of my playing. I don't care if anyone else ever hears me play.

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