Thursday, April 27, 2006


Suzuki Volume 2 !!

Today, I began working on the first piece in Suzuki Volume 2!

It's like a promotion or graduation day!

I started playing exactly five months ago today. Honestly, it's hard to believe that my teacher suggested starting Volume 2, after my lousy performance in rehearsal and then in class today (Lesson 7).


Was I bad!

I couldn't find the notes, I couldn't get the rhythm, I couldn't keep the timing; not in any piece we played. All I could do was fumble through it as quietly as possible.

I sat on a very low chair (I'm going to buy a portable stool at WalMart this weekend), and no matter what length endpin I tried, it didn't feel right, and I couldn't seem to find my place on the strings. Before we started playing, I tuned with my electronic meter; but then again the teacher went around and retuned all the cellos, sharpening mine quite a bit. The room was pretty cold, which probably also affected my tuning.

Whatever the cause, it made it hard for me to find my fourth finger location on any of the strings; that caused all my notes to be off; which put my timing off; which made me lose my place. It happened on every song. Normally, when I sit down to play on my stool at home, my left hand "knows" exactly where to go to find those ringing octave tones with my fourth finger. Because I couldn't hear myself, I couldn't even figure out if I was sharp or flat! The only thing I knew is that I wasn't where I was supposed to be.

I even had trouble playing the "G-A-B-C-slide" eighth note combination on the D and A strings in the MariZuki piece. I'd practiced this one slowly for quite some time the other day.

The lousier I played, the worse I got.

In my opinion the group as a whole didn't sound as good as the time before. One of the stronger players from last time wasn't there today either; surely that affected our sound. The missing student from last time was here today, a 15'er working in Volume 3, who also comes from Kenai; with a nice cello.

Afterwards, I mentioned to my teacher that I had played poorly; she diplomatically expressed surprise. I told her I hid out by playing quietly. Then in class, I didn't play much better. I kept missing notes. No matter how good I play it at home, I can't even get close in class. She pointed out that she's not that worried if I miss a note or two. At home I can at least play the correct notes, although occasionally sloppily and not always the best rhythm.

In spite of all that she did say I had made good progress in the past few weeks - I explained I had been playing all the pieces slowly, working diligently on the tougher parts.

Eventually I relaxed somewhat and by the end I was doing better. We played Rigadoon, Happy Farmer, and the Minuet. As we worked through them, we went over a lot of technique improvement suggestions - some I think I'll be able to do easily; others look more challenging.

I'm holding my left hand too flat; I should hold the hand perpendicular to the side of the fingerboard, bringing my left elbow forward and to a slightly higher elevation. That will straighten out my twisted wrist (making it a more relaxed position). Then, while keeping my thumb relaxed, I need to curl my hand closer to and above the fingerboard so all four of my fingers drop straight down onto the proper locations on the strings. This should let me unlock my fourth finger, which will give me better control over it. This isn't easy, but I think I'll eventually be able to get it. I just have to work at it...

She suggested I lengthen my endpin quite a bit, with the top of the cello quite a bit higher on my chest, and the C key somewhat higher above my ear. This will help, too, in holding my hand square to the fingerboard.

She suggested I lower my right wrist and loosen my right fingers' grip on the bow. Particularly the little finger. One idea to try was to hold my little finger - tip down - against the top of the bow. Let the strings take most of the weight of the bow. She gave me a few simple bowing exercises to try out.

Finally, the biggest challenge was trying to control my bow at the elbow. I had a lot of trouble with that one. I couldn't seem to pivot my elbow without moving my shoulder. She said she would talk to her husband to see if he had any ideas that would help. On the way home, I realized that I could pivot at the elbow if I held it on a table or against a wall. As I sit here now I can pivot my elbow as much as I want.

I can't figure out why I was such as spazz today...

She showed me a good string crossing exercise to work on: play the note, stop, move the bow, then start the next note. Do it slowly, over and over again; and do it on open strings. It's important to work on one thing at a time. Then apply it to some of the more complicated string crossing segments, still playing stepwise and slowly.

A few other minor notes: my trills on the Minuet need to have equal emphasis on each note, I drift off on the third one; don't lift the bow off the strings on string crossings.

At the end, we played some of the fiddle tunes. I asked her to play the first four of them through so I could hear what they were supposed to sound like. I didn't do too badly on very slow version of "Hunting the Hare".

Finally, she said I was ready to begin Volume 2! The first piece is "Long, Long, Ago" in the key of C major (Volume 1 had it in G major). After getting the new key sorted out, the variation involves turning the first quarter note into two eighth notes slurring down to G (sometimes up to the higher G) and playing the second pair of eighth notes stacatto on the same bowing. It doesn't look too difficult.

The next rehearsal is Monday. I am really going to focus on these few pieces...

When we finished up today, my teacher told me that I had quickly come quite a ways already and that I was obviously going to continue to improve. It was just going to take time...

Yeah, it feels good.

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