Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Recorded a Practice Session

Ugh! I could not believe how bad I sounded in the playback. My intonation was horrible! embarrassing! I can't imagine how my teacher stands to hear it - especially without grimacing.

I recorded several pieces using the Audacity program that I had recently downloaded. It is so simple to use. A microphone is plugged into the mic port on the computer and the record button in the Audacity program is keyed. One playback feature shows the waveform of the recording, over time. The shape of each note's waveform lets me assess the length of that note (compared to the time markings on the top and compared to all the other notes) - good for checking tempos and rhythms - , whether the note starts (or stops) abruptly - good for checking staccato and hooked bowing - , the purity of the note (smooth sides or lots of extraneous peaks) - good for checking the "evenness" of the note, etc. Very useful. Still, I'd also like to be able to tell the note's frequency - to help judge the intonation better, but I don't think that feature is available (as far as I could tell). It will take a lot of playing around to figure out all the features.

I was so appalled at my sound, that I soon stopped recording the pieces. It put me off for the rest of the session.

Now, I'm wondering if I'll ever get better at intonation. On several pieces, I have reached the point where the proper fingers hit all the right notes - generally, at least ;-} and I am getting better with rhythm and tempos - more or less; but the intonation in those recordings was poor. The Audacity waveforms also showed that some notes were rather flabby-looking compared to others.

Sure, some of this could be just due to a bad day - it has been raining again - a lot! Sometimes I'll feel pretty good about the sounds from my cello. Some days even seem magical. But today wasn't even close. A few more issues to talk over with my teacher, I guess.

I got an email from a reader who is involved in the Central Peninsula Orchestra, inviting me to attend their Monday night sessions starting in September. I had been thinking about this for some time, and I intended to talk this over with my teacher at our next lesson. Now, however, after hearing that measly, weak, tinny sound today, I'm not sure I'm really ready to inflict myself on anyone else.

Another brown bear, in our backyard!

Just after lunch, in between rain squalls, I went outside to inspect the lawn - the rain (along with more lime) is helping there, at least. After I came back inside, I glanced out the window and saw a brown bear slowly walking through the yard - less than 3 minutes after I'd been out there. It wandered around for a few moments and then ambled off down the hill towards the creek. It wasn't a "large" bear, but big enough... Of course our camera was in another room and by the time we got it, the bear was gone.

This is only the second time we've seen a bear in our yard (the last time was in the fall of 1994 - when we watched one try to destroy Z's superplastic sandbox - it failed, didn't even leave a mark on it). I'm guessing that this bear is feasting on some of the tired-out king salmon that are trying to work their way up the creek to spawn. Y saw a bear a few weeks ago just half a mile up the road near the state park campground. We think it's the same one, making rounds.

There was a time, way back when, that Z would play in a fort he built on the side of the hill. The dog would usually hang around nearby, but sometimes she would wander back up to the house and doze on the deck, leaving Z down there alone... Even now, years later, it's unnerving to think about him down there by himself, with a juvenile brownie ambling around looking for trouble...

Seems like there have been a lot more bear sightings around here these last few years. Earlier this summer, my brother saw a sow and cub running through the woods next to his house. That's the first one he's seen in 25 years out there. Last fall, a friend who lives nearby, described watching a young bear systematically destroy their apple trees and vandalize the place; like it was on a rampage..

We are clearly conscious of bear attacks on hikers and campers in places like Kodiak Island, and Chugach park; occasional encounters with joggers near the fringes of our local communities - at the interface with the wilderness; and incidents with fishermen at Russian River; as well as one peculiar bear encounter - who could forget the self-annointed "bear whisperer" who got himself and his girlfried killed and eaten by a bunch of bears in Katmai a few years ago? They're making a movie about that idiot, I heard.

"They" say that bears usually try to avoid contact with humans, but these recent incidents suggest that lately some bears haven't been playing by those rules.

Don't be terribly concerned (about the intonation, the bear may be another matter!). I'm at the 3 1/2 year point. It keeps getting better, but it does take a while. You might find your intonation much better in 1st postion than 2nd.

I find more and more that I recognize the tone of a particular note rather than comparing it to another note. I know how G, for example, sounds on my particular cello. Change cellos and intonation takes a minor hit until I get used to its tone for each note.

I read a little post by famed fiddler Mark O'Connor saying that his intonation degraded quite a bit after he played electric violin exclusively over several months. He wasn't getting the feedback of the sympathetic vibration of the strings and fiddle to inform his ear. But he didn't notice it until he recorded himself and compared it to his recordings before.

I have some exercises I used to do that I feel helped my intonation. They're modified versions of the target practice exercises in the Mooney Positions books. Some of it is a bit advanced for you, but I think it wouldn't hurt to play the parts you feel comfortable with. Perhaps you'd like me to convert them to PDF and email them out to you.
Although I understand - intellectually - that my intonation should get better with time (and practice), it was quite a shock to hear how far away I really was.

I've been trying to hit the ringing tones on my cello, which I've been able to find for most of the notes in first position - except the third finger notes and E (d-string) and B (a-string). (I am getting a nice ringing tone for the new higher E on the a-string.)

The Mooney target practice has sure helped me find my way in second position. Thank you for offering to send me your modified versions. I'm looking forward to working on them.
Oh don't let a bad practise session turn you off playing with the orchestra! Really don't. It may be that you don't like playing with other people (but it sounded like when you were rehearsing for your recital with the other students you liked it), but it can be such a magical thing.

Everyone struggles with some techniques, maybe another cellist will have an idea, or can show you something new. Not replacing a consistent teacher of course, but sometimes you just need someone else's opinion.

Besides, in an orchestra you can hide a little bit when you're not getting something, but still make beautiful music as a whole. I find playing with a group carries me along a bit when I've hit a rough patch, or I'm not feeling so motivated, but being in rehearsal is practising whether I like it or not.

I just love performing, playing on my own is not enough for me. It's indescribable having someone come up to you, amazed and excited because of what they heard.

My teacher, who just finished a performance degree at university and has been playing since he was 7 or something, still has bad intonation days. When I said in class 'Arrgh I was getting that before, now I can't seem to make it sound right', he said to me 'Welcome to the world of strings'.

Ha! So don't beat yourself up about it. We'll all get there in the end.
My teacher encourages me to record my practicing and playing every day (I'm a pianist, so intonation isn't an issue, but everything else is the same). It's incredibly helpful. Here's a suggestion she gave me: instead of listening to your practice session immediately after recording, wait a few hours. Read a book, blog, do something other than play, and then come back and listen to the recording. According to my teacher Karen Strid, you will be less likely to focus on the mistakes and more likely to hear the good things as well as the bad. When you hear something you like in your own playing, remember it, and think, "Yes, I want more of that!" instead of focusing on the negative aspects.
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