Friday, August 18, 2006

 

Getting past it


After getting over my dismay on hearing a recording of myself scratching at my poor cello, I remind myself once again that progress is always going to be slow and gradual. Intonation is only one of the many things I'm learning and continually working to improve as I study the cello. I should not be surprised that my intonation isn't perfect (or even any good at all) at this stage after fewer than 9 months of playing. Instead, I should be grateful that I can even play Bach(!) at all on my cello after less than 9 months. Quality will come with time, patience, and practice.

As for recording myself, I guess I'll keep on doing it, but as suggested by one recent commenter: I'll try to wait a while before listening to it, I'll try to be more accepting of what I hear, and I'll try to listen for the good things....

Looking back through my blog entries, I see numerous discussions about these same feelings of inadequacy and discouragement many, many times. I guess it comes with the territory. What has worked, every time, has been to keep on playing every day, without fail. Sometimes, it helps to alter my practice routine - do more and/or different drills, pay more attention to bowing, play the pieces in reverse order, etc. Soon enough, I'll experience another one of those exceptional days where it all seems to come together.

Way back in my teen years, I can still remember thinking how my clarinet sounded so rotten (even without hearing a recording of it). I chalked it up to cheap equipment, even though deep inside, I knew it was lack of skill born out of a failure to practice adequately - or even at all. This time around, though, I practice diligently.

My earlier attempt to describe what I understand about measurement, and an interesting round of comments that followed it, has rattled around in my head quite a bit since then. These past few days, as I have been reflecting on my reaction to hearing my recorded sounds, I've thought a lot more about this issue. I doubt I'll ever be able to adequately convert my jumbled thoughts into words about a topic as complicated as this one, but I'm trying...

Using quantum mechanics, everything to do with playing the cello can be subdivided into minute discrete units (quanta). Each quantum is a skill, such as a small muscle movement or position (for example, the angle of the tip of the pinkie finger while playing A on the d-string in second position), which is directed by a complex mixture of sensory feedbacks (audio, touch, visual). As we play, we continually use this feedback to refine that discrete muscle movement - along with hundreds of thousands of other tiny discrete skills just like it - to improve the result, and make that A sound better and better. Eventually, the muscles memorize that particular action and are able to perform it automatically when needed.

With so many other quantum skills being studied at the same time, we often don't even realize that we have specifically "learned" that particular movement. The difficulty, described by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, is measuring our progression along this path of acquiring skills. Like an astronaut gazing down onto the surface of the earth, we can only see the green of the forests but not their individual trees. So it is with learning to make music. We hear nicer music, but we can't necessarily detect which particular skill has improved. Music teachers are attuned [sorry, couldn't resist] to monitoring the development of the more important skill sets, and can probably tell where a student has successfully attained a skill. We students usually can't tell.

In several previous entries, I've talked about the obstacles of playing with my mangled left forefinger and how I've employed different types of rubber fingercots to allow me to play without pain. A few months ago, I noticed a callous was slowly growing on the pad near the tip (under the fingercot, no less). Several times since then, I tried to play without the fingercot, but it felt as if the string was slicing into my fingertip. A few days ago, I tried once again, and was surprised to realize that I had played for two hours without any discomfort. Without the rubber tip, my forefinger is having to "relearn" its proper locations on the fingerboard. But now, after four days of playing without one, I no longer even think about it! What a relief!

Today, at the Ninilchik fair, Z and I saw a wig lying in the sawdust in the goat and llama barn. None of the goats or llamas were wearing wigs, I don't think... We're still trying to picture someone exiting that barn bald-headed and apparently unaware!

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