Monday, October 30, 2006


Tough Rehearsal

Nothing went right. Only six people showed up tonight, so there was nowhere for me to hide. None. Last week there were two cellos and the viola, and we played pretty good together. Tonight there was no viola and just one lonely cello.

It started off wrong and never got better. On the first piece I tried to use the new third position fingering for the opening measures, but I couldn't find the right places on the strings. In fact I had trouble finding any notes. I sounded so lousy, I'd stop, and then I'd lose my place altogether. The thing is, I had worked on these pieces, and I have been able to play them through using my metronome without trouble - at home. I checked my tuning and found my a-string had gone flat - really flat. That explained a lot. Once I fixed that I could at least feel like I was hitting the right notes.

But by then my confidence was gone and everything else started to go wrong too. At the end we worked on "Palladio", which for the cello, is mostly rhythm(!); I'm supposed to open the first two measures by myself(!), very slowly(!). What a combination of challenges for this a-tempic, a-rhythmic person! After a few tries I got the opening part steadied out. Then at Measure 7 I'm supposed to change to an eighth-note rhythm, but every time, I would speed up... The more we tried it, the worse I played it, which only made it worse still.

I was so relieved when we finally stopped for the night.

I'd like to be able to blame tonight's fiasco on the shortage of players, or on my being the only cello, or on the bad tuning, or on...? But the fact is, I just let my nerves get the better of me. I've been worrying about letting everyone else down, and I guess tonight it all came apart. I started to wonder if I just wasn't ready for orchestra. The fact is, though, I had sort of slacked off this last week or so - paying too much attention to the new pieces in my Suzuki lessons at the expense of the orchestra pieces. A few days I didn't even get to the orchestra pieces. Serves me right... you get what you play for.

Next week, it's going to be better.

Oh dear, sounds like a pre-Halloween horror. I don't have much useful advice but I feel for you G.
That explains it!
And here I was thinking it was me.

Wouldn't you know that I'd have a good clean practice for all these pieces this morning?

Next week, I suppose I'll be able to blame pre-election jitters...

Oh I wouldn't worry about it too much. It just happens, like crappy practise sessions. The more often you rehearse with them, the less it will bother you and nerves won't be a thing anymore.

You said recently that you're now playing for your teacher the way you do at home, but that wasn't always the case. I figure it's the same.

If it makes you feel any better I had a crap rehearsal last week, the conductor even singled me out and said, "Erin, I *know* you have a better sense of rhythm than that".

Hahahahaha. Wasn't a great feeling, but he only said it because he knows I'm a better musician than I was demonstrating at that moment! So I tried to take it that way...
Since the lone cello is supposed to maintain the rhythm for that particular piece where it all fell apart for me, "Palladio", it was impossible for the conductor not to single me out.

At least she was kind about it. And I did sense a degree of sympathy (or maybe it was pity) from the other players.

My teacher might be a little disappointed but I've decided to focus on these orchestra pieces at the expense of my Suzuki pieces, at least until I'm more comfortable with them.
Reading this makes me appreciate even more that there are 8 or 9 other cellos to hide behind in my orchestra.
Heehee, I am lucky to be one of 15 cellos in one of my orchestra groups. So I admit I hide.
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Saturday, October 28, 2006


Time marks it ceaseless course...

To everyone who offered a comment on my question about metronomes, thank you!

There are relatively few tangible things cellists need to make music. First and foremost of course is a reasonably good cello that is properly setup with good quality strings. Then a good usable bow with adequate hair and some rosin. Add to that you ought to have music and lesson books (and a teacher!); some sort of music stand; a stool or chair; and of course a place to play. I am fortunate to have all of that. Then there's a metronome. I bought my little mechanical metronome almost without thinking - the cheapest grab off the shelf in the violin store in Anchorage. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a metronome is an integral tool in making music. After all, I spend up to 2-hours a day listening to that thing tick-tocking away right beside me. Like it or not, unless I'm performing in orchestra, the metronome is a part of the music I'm making.

A couple factors helped me decide on a replacement metronome. My lousy electronic Boss tuner/metronome (the tuner is OK) puts out a barely audible tinny tap-tap sound, which I'd need an earphone to hear while playing. This seems to be a common problem with the digital electronic units. I also don't like their method for adjusting the BPM. Still, I decided I'd like some bells and whistles (assuming I have the patience to figure them out and actually remember how to use them when I need them); notably, the downbeat accents. Also, to satisfy my obsession with accuracy; if I set it to 102 bpms, then it darn well ought to be exactly 102 bpms - with every beat on time.

With all that considered, I've reluctantly turned away from the Wittner mechanical metronomes and decided to try a dial-type quartz metronome. The Seiko SQ70 Quartz metronome is available for as low as $55 (online), and it has a dial adjuster and a large speaker with a volume adjustment. Supposedly it is one of the loudest metronomes available. I'm going to try to order one tonight.

I think I've finished tinkering with the wolf eliminator, and the wolf now seems to be under control (currently, I have the 7-gram weight on the g-string). I'm so much more satisfied with my sound - especially the d-string - that I find myself spending an extra half-hour playing each day. What is really making me happy is that I'm finally working out the Bach Minuet #2 that I've struggled with since March(!) For whatever reason, I just couldn't quite make my fingers and bow arm come together with those five string crossings in the first nine notes (this passage comes up 12 times in the piece, so it's critical). But recently, I tried playing the piece with the metronome set at 96 bpm, and something clicked - those 9 notes just flowed off the strings! I tried slowing down again, and it all fell apart. When I tried playing a little faster, it also didn't work. But at or around that speed, it still works...

My progress on the new pieces in Suzuki 2 is slow but steady. I'm focusing on learning just a few measures at a time on each piece, slowly picking out the notes, then bowing them, and then adding segments together. For the position shifts, I'm playing them over and over and over - just the shifts and the related notes immediately before and after. The tonalization piece, "The Moon Over the Ruined Castle" has gone surprisingly well, even though it involves a lot of extensions and dynamic changes.

I'm still struggling with several of the orchestra pieces, but with some progress. For whatever reason, I don't seem to be able to memorize them like I can with my lessons, but I am becoming more comfortable with the timing and all the rests.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I'm looking for a new metronome

My little Boss electronic tuner includes an electronic metronome, but I just can't get used to it. There are way too many features, with tiny buttons and incomprehensible icons on small screens. Besides, those electronic tick-tocks just don't sound right. Mainly though, I find it hard to change settings in the midst of playing (especially in the early morning semi-darkness) without having to put down my bow and trying to figure out which of those dang buttons to mash without messing up all the other settings. (I'm working on a rant about those incomprehensible icons, tiny buttons, and confusing menus on consumer electronics - stay tuned.)

A while ago I picked up a "pocket" version of a windup metronome called a "Pacemaker". I have been using this one when I play, but it's pretty lame. It's really hard to see the settings behind the pendulum, which I frequently need to change. When I adjust it, I have to use so much pressure to move the weight that it usually slips several notches. But at least it "sounds" like a metronome.

So, now I'm looking for a full-size windup metronome one with a large easy-to-read scale. There seem to be three major brands - Wittner offers by far the largest selection, Seiko has a few, then there's one by Cherub. Many of these have a bell that can ring on the downbeat to help you keep your place in the score. I think I would like this feature. What I'd really like is a battery-operated mechanical metronome - how's that for messed up?

Any recommendations? What metronome do you use? If you could buy a new one, what would you choose?

I can't cope with the electronic ones either. Here's mine. It's not quite a full-size. My only gripe is that it has sort of a one-two beat, so it's confusing on 3/4 time. It's also not quite loud enough. Maybe a full-size would be a tad bit louder.

I understand your desire for a battery-powered mechanical one. And why not? They make battery-powered mechanical clocks.
Yours looks like a Wittner... Which model? I sure need one that I can hear over my cello... I'm guessing that yours doesn't have one of those downbeat bells? It seems that would help with the 3/4 time.
It's the Taktell Piccolo in mahogany (i.e. brown plastic). Now that I looked up the models I'm disappointed to find it's 20 bucks cheaper on the web, and comes in RED, which my music store didn't have :-(
Not in pink?
A long time ago I had a cheap mechanical metronome, but its beat was a little uneven - not a good thing. Plus it was annoying having to keep winding it up. I like the sound of my current metronome, but it's too hard to change the BPM - I have to press up and down buttons to change. A dial would be much faster and easier. An advantage of electronic metronomes is that if you're playing chamber music and it's hard to hear, you can plug it into some speakers and make it as loud as you want!
I think there are some with dials, that might be an acceptable compromise...

Maybe Perfect Fifths could do a review of metronomes - features and flaws, etc.?
I love my Boss Dr. Beat DB-88. (See for example.) It looks complicated, but the little wheel changes the tempo quickly, and you can set emphasis at the beginning of the bar or anyplace in the rhythm. And there is a voice option that will count out loud for you. (I call her the Dominatrix.) Unfortunately, this model is recently discontinued, and I'm not thrilled with the looks of the new DB-90, though I haven't tried it yet. You might be able to come up with one at a local music store, or check eBay ( today, for instance.)
I hate my electronic metronome. I bought the cheap Koss one you can get everywhere, because I know I knock it off my stand constantly (only by mistake OF COURSE) and I can't be arsed to pay loads for another one when I break this one.

My old electronic one was much less irritating I could have sworn. I have no idea what it was though.

I can't play with a downbeat bell, it confuses me entirely.

And like Jennifer, I like dials better than up and down buttons, which my crappy current one has.

So I'm no help with suggestions, just really weighing in on what I don't like!
I'm using the Intelli IMT-301 Metro-tuner.
I know you don't like the electronic ones, but give this one a chance.

It has the temperature and humidity. Then you can choose your rhythm and also the beat.
You can also get it to pulse red on the first beat of each bar.
It only has 2 buttons!
And best of all you can use it as a tuner, it shows if you're in tune, too low or too high.
I love it and so do the kids.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


And three more new pieces.

Today's lesson (#18) was the best I've had yet. Everything seemed to work right; I played almost as good as I've been able to at home - that's a welcome first.

We talked at length about our wolves, she tried one from the set of Bice eliminators (she'd given her wolf suppressor to someone a while ago), and really liked it. I told her I'd pay Ellen for it and she could reimburse me. Then I asked her to critique my practice routine. I've been wondering if it is appropriately "directed" (thanks for the link, Jessica). I explained my normal morning routine, lasting 2 to 2-1/2 hours:

Tuneup and warmup (30 minutes) - I start with open bowing; then I play the scales (starting slowly and increasing speed and varying rhythms); then I drill second position on each string (shifting up and down using all the variations). The second position drills sometimes include the Suzuki second position "etudes".

Old pieces (30 minutes) - I play through the Suzuki 1 pieces (odds or evens depending on the date). I'm increasing the metronome rate - up to about 100 now. I try to pay a lot of attention to bowing - using the whole bow, appropriate bow pressure, etc. Since all these are memorized, and I've gotten past the tempo/rhythm issues on most of these, I am able to start watching dynamics and sound quality.

Recent pieces (30 minutes) - These are the ones that I don't have fully sorted out yet. I start by playing the "tricky" segments several times - slowly then faster. Then I play the pieces through several times. The metronome helps a lot, I vary the settings from piece to piece.

New pieces (30 minutes) - These are the most recent 4 or 5 pieces. I haven't yet memorized them completely, and I do slow detailed work on several passages - playing small parts over and over, slowly, building some muscle memories. I still use the metronome, but a lot slower, sometimes using 1 beat per eighth note.

Additional work (?) - Orchestra pieces, some of the fiddle tunes, Mooney's position pieces, etc. I try to work on all the orchestra pieces every day, but sometimes I don't get to them.

I explained that I often don't have enough time to get to everything, and I wanted to make sure that I was properly focusing my time and attention for the best gain. She commented that it appears that I do have a good practice structure, and that she thought it was well focused. As for the warmup, while the more repetitions the better - especially for drilling second position shifts, etc. - I might reduce my warmup time and incorporate the old Suzuki pieces into it - they can be considered technique drills. She said she first warms up with long slow bowing on open strings, then a few scales, and then intervals - fifths, fourths, thirds, sixths, octaves, etc. - listening to the sounds. On the new pieces, especially, I shouldn't try to play through the entire piece until I've identified and learned all the tricky passages. Then I can start adding measures. Don't expect to get everything right the first time. Don't try to go past 10 or 15 repeats on these newer parts. Each day, come back to these parts, and start them over slowly picking up the tempos a little more each time.

We talked about the orchestra pieces and went over the questions I had set aside for her. On one piece she recommended I use third position (first finger on the "target" note), to play the first two or three measures. Another new technique to work on!

Then we played through the three most recent pieces, and did some focused work on the difficult passages. She offered lots of tips and practice techniques to use while playing these. She commented that I was doing quite well on these. Then we walked through the next three pieces in the Suzuki Vol 2: #9 "Theme from Witches's Dance" by Paganini, "The Moon over the Ruined Castle" by R.Taki, and #10 "The Two Grenadiers" by Schumann. These last two pieces introduce the G-minor scale (as well as the B-flat scale) and some first finger extensions; also some interesting rhythms and position shifts.

I can't wait to get started in the morning.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006


It ALMOST snowed last night.

Thankfully it didn't. The difference between a snowstorm here and one like Chicago, Buffalo or Denver recently had is that any snow that falls here in October stays on the ground until April. The white season.

We've lived here for 31 years. Although we escaped two of those winters to Argentina (for bonus summers there!) in 1997 and 1998 - and then we cheated on their winter by vacationing back to Alaska. So, we've endured 29 Alaskan winters, and the 30th is coming on. But each winter has been harder than the one before. Every year, starting around the fall equinox, I start to dread the oncoming darkness. I really don't mind the cold that much, nor the snow (we actually don't get a lot; but what snow does fall, stays), but I loathe the darkness. The first half - going into the solstice - goes quickly, and there are several holidays to help break the pattern. It's that second half - January, February and March - that I have the most trouble with.

Then, this past winter, I started learning the cello. I quickly got into a routine of playing first thing in the morning after Z left for school. After clearing out the last of the cobwebs with a few more cups of coffee, by 7:00 I am usually (trying) to make music. I play in my living room, which has lots of large windows through which I look out over our creek's valley and at the low hills beyond, as I torture my poor cello.

With our extreme solar cycle, every day the sun comes up at a different time and from a different direction. In the summer, it's well up before I start playing, and coming in from the north-northeast. By mid-September the sun is rising in the east at around 8:00.

One morning in late September, many years ago, we were driving home to Alaska on the AlCan Highway through the Yukon Territory. It was just before dawn as we neared Whitehorse. The highway in that area runs along a river between two mountain ranges. The mountains on both sides were completely covered with aspens, whose leaves had all just turned color. As the predawn sky started to lighten, it triggered an effervescence of intense yellow light shining off every leaf of every one of those trees. It was as if these trees were giving back some of the energy they had stored up all summer. The hills were so bright, I pulled off the road and we spent the next half hour just watching (of course, in those predigital days, we had no film left in the camera). We've always wanted to take another autumn roadtrip back through that northcountry to experience that again.

Our Kenai Peninsula used to be heavily forested with spruce trees, but a bark beetle infestation beginning 10 years ago has decimated our forests. As the spruce trees have died off and their needles fallen, we've begun to see an emergence of birch, aspen, poplar, willow, and even some mountain ash and larches taking their place. A few weeks ago, we had our week-long autumn, and everything turned yellow all at once - not just yellow, but YELLOW! For a few mornings that week, we had some rare breaks in the autumn drizzles, and I got to watch a couple of those incredible predawn light shows with the trees on the hills across the creek glowing bright yellow - as I played along on my cello. Who needs accompaniment with all that going on outside the windows?

Now, the leaves are long gone and the sun is rising later and later each morning - about 9:15 am today. This coming Sunday when daylight savings ends, our sunrise will step back an hour, but then the darkness will resume its quest to conquer the daylight. By the solstice, sunrise will have slid to 10:15 am. Then it stops changing, briefly, before that inescapable cycle starts all over again.

The view out your window sounds really beautiful. I'm not sure how I'd handle so much darkness. Have you ever tried one of those lightboxes that's supposed to give your daily minimum dose of bright light?
I've had to cut down more than 250 trees on my property since the infestation started in 1996. I finally dug out the closest stumps this summer. It's only this fall that I've really noticed how much the deciduous trees have (finally) taken over.

I've considered whether SAD is an issue, but I sort of don't think so. Athough the darkness is somewhat depressing, it really doesn't really make me depressed (does that make sense?) I just really detest it. I do have LOTS of lights in the house with bright white walls. At least in the winter the sun is low in the sky and when it is up, it fills the house with lots of direct sunlight.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006


Prowling in its lair?

For the past couple days, after playing for a couple hours I tinkered a bit with the wolf eliminator. Their design makes it so easy to install and move around on the strings. The first day, I had started with the 5-gram weight, and then switched to the 7-gram weight on the d-string. The next day, I moved it over to the g-string for a while, and then later put the 9-gram weight on the g-string.

But, when I bowed the open D it was so loud and intense, that it felt as if my cello wanted to get up and walk around the room. It was a reasonably clean D, but strong. I "dialed" it back by sliding the weight down the string. Today, I played through most of my session with the 9-gram on the g-string, but at the end, I put the 7-gram weight back on the g-string for a while. It also produced an intense D, which I was able to dial out by sliding it lower.

Then I put the 5-gram weight on the g-string. It didn't affect the D as much, but I'm suspecting it really isn't doing enough about the wolf.

Tomorrow, I'll see how it goes. Eventually, I'm going to have to settle on one, send the others back, and then try not to tinker with it. Maybe I'll keep two or three of them...

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Thursday, October 19, 2006


Scaredy cat

I trust the kitty wasn't reacting to your cello playing

Actually my dog did something like that the first time I played, now she just looks at me, pleading, until I let her outside.

The poor cat was reacting to my son wearing a scary pumpkin face Halloween mask. I wished I had a tape recorder on; the cat started moaning what sounded exactly like "oh, no, no, no, no"
Aw, poor puffed-up kitty. Isn't it funny what scares them sometimes?
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Sez it all

Link here

(This was making the rounds in the blogosphere early this year, but it's still neat; thanks mig)

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006



I started with the 5-gram weight on the g-string. It really didn't do much; my E still screeched; I moved it up and down, but with little noticeable improvement. So I moved it over to the d-string and, immediately, I was playing a new cello! Warmer, richer, cleaner. Very noticeable on the g-string and the d-string. Some improvement on the a-string - it was obviously not as "brassy" as before. Even the c-string had a step change in quality. I could see the improvement in the spectrums on my tuner.

All this time I thought it was me! (Not that I still don't have a LONG way to go.) It all really sounded better, but there was still just a hint of screeching, so I tried the 7-gram weight, which appears to have totally muzzled that wolf! I had gotten so that I almost dreaded playing E or F-natural on a string crossing, because if I didn't hit the exact point, it sounded so sour... Even F sharp and G didn't really sound good. That made it hard to be very satisfied with my current Suzuki pieces, since they all seem to predominantly use the d-string.

Really, it sounds remarkably better. I can't believe how long I tolerated it. It was fun playing through my pieces. For the first time in a long time, I liked how I/we sounded. What a good feeling.

I'm patiently working my way through the three orchestra pieces. We're working on a piece called "Painted Desert" by Anne McGinty. The cello part is good, the whole is great! Our orchestra is beginning to come together as a unit, we are starting to smile at each other when something good happens, and yet grin encouragingly when someone royally misses one. Being the sole cellist, when I miss one, it is noticed. This pressure sure is a good motivator to make me practice a lot between rehearsals.

Yesterday, I mentioned another blogging cellist, who lives in Austria, and uses the name Mig. He is a very talented writer. He left a comment recommending another blogging cellist(!), Ruth, who lives in France, and is also quite an engaging writer - her blog is Meanwhile, Here in France. I'd run across her blog earlier this year but then lost the link. I've added both of these to my sidebar.

Wow, I'm in complete awe of your mastery of wolf tone elimination. Congratulations on such a success. And on the orchestra, too.

The wolf eliminator looks pretty. Who would think a few grams of weight below the bridge would make such a difference.
It still sounded much nicer this morning, so I wasn't just imagining it all.

I made several minute adjustments up and down the string, today. Now I've got something else to tinker with.

At first I was sort of depresed that my beloved cello was flawed with a wolf. Like getting the first chip in the windshield of a new car (that happens a lot up here). But after putting on that eliminator, I haven't looked back...
Not a flaw, a sign of quality! It saddens me to say this, PFS, but no wolf is not a good sign.

My inexpensive (ok, cheap) laminate cello has very little wolfishness. My good expensive cello definitely has some wolf. I can play through it, so it's not so much that I want to put on an eliminator, yet. But I might try one in the future, especially in view of Guanaco's favorable experience.

I think if I started with my good cello I would have been very frustrated and disappointed. Too many things to work on to be distracted and discouraged by the equipment.

Did you find that the wolfishness came out more on up bows? It does for me. Up bows are still a weak point for me. If I get a weak sound or a scratchy note, it's always on an up bow.
Yeah, up bows were worse for me too. Still a weakness, especially trying to play the slow, quiet half and whole notes.

I spent way too many hours getting frustrated from trying to play through my wolf, thinking that my inexperience and low skill level were at fault.
The luthier who sold me my cello later installed something on the inside of it that eliminated my wolf. It looks as if what you're using would have been a lot simpler.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Taming the wolf

Ellen G. at Cellos-2-Go sent me a full set of six New Harmony Wolf Tone Eliminators, designed by David Bice; they arrived this evening. I was advised to put the 5-gram one on the g-string, about half an inch below the bridge, and try it out. Then, I'm supposed to move it up and down slightly to fine tune the dampening effect. If needed, I might also try moving it over to the d-string. Then, once I find the best location, I'll try out the other weights (3 grams, 7 grams, 9 grams, 11 grams, and 13 grams) to find the best response. Hopefully, I'll be able to get my teacher's input on my final selection at our next lesson - remember, she seems to be able to draw out the wolf a lot better (worse) than I can.

Once I've settled on the best size, I just send the unused ones back to Ellen. She only billed me for the one eliminator that I will be keeping. What a nice way to do business! I recommend her highly to all cellists.

Here's what Stringworks has to say on its website about wolf tones:

It is frightfully common - on nearly 75% of cellos in existence - and it is easily remedied in most cases, yet it is still something that causes confusion and frustration in cellist from young to old, from beginner to seasoned veteran - the wolf tone. It's difficult to describe a 'wolf tone', but essentially it comes across as a warbling tone where the sound of the note being played actually skips from the note to a harmonic or series of harmonics, and back very rapidly. There are a number of theories on the cause of the wolf tone, but a widely generaly consensus is that it has to do with a conflict of fundamental tones within the instrument itself, and the instrument is unable to contain the massive amounts of vibrations caused by conflict and still create one tone, but rather it breaks up the tone and the sound comes across as a 'wolf'.

The good news is that the wolf tone can be minimized almost to the point of being inaudible with a device called the wolf eliminator, some of which are relatively inexpensive, small, and easy to install. There are several types of wolf eliminators - with the two basic groups being 'interior' and 'exterior'. Interior wolf eliminators are typically custom made by experienced luthiers and are professionally installed. The more common variety is the exterior wolf eliminator.

Exterior wolf eliminators come in two common varieties, the traditional brass cap with tightening screw and rubber core, and the new solid brass version... These devices are installed on the offending string between the bridge and tailpiece. What a wolf eliminator does is reduce the vibrations emanating from the string, and thereby reducing the vibrations occurring from the wolf and making it nearly inaudible. The disadvantage is that wolf eliminators do reduce vibrations from the entire string, so some tonal loss may be experienced, but if your string is producing too much tone for the instrument itself to handle without producing a wolf tone, perhaps it is a good thing to stifle it a bit. Wolf tones are most typically found on the notes of the upper position on a cello - most commonly E, F and F#. The position of the wolf eliminator on the string can be customized to target these very notes by moving it to various positions on the string itself.

Wolf control seems to be more of an art than a science. It is known that putting a weight or tension on one of the strings between the bridge and tailpiece seems to help hold it in check - like a muzzle. It isn't clear exactly why this works, nor it is really clear which method is best. It also appears that the wolf eliminator doesn't necessarily have to go on the string where the wolf is the worst, although that would be the place to start.

There seem to be a handful of competing approaches. New Harmony wolf eliminators are simple cylindrical weights that have a crooked slit from the surface to the center. The slight crook in the center of the slit "locks" the eliminator onto the string. Most varieties are also cylindrical but use a straight slit with a small screw to lock it onto the string. Another version, called a Wolftoter is mounted on the strings between the bridge and tailpiece. It is made of a hollow sphere with two spring attachments, and comes in specific ranges D-E, Eb-F, and E-F#.

One concern is that wolf eliminators can dampen the tone of the cello. The discussions on CelloChat suggest that this effect can be minimized by proper placement of the suppressor (including which string and where on the string).

More to come...

[BTW, I stumbled across another cello blog this evening from Googling "wolf tone", called Metamorphosism. Another blogging cellist!]

Happy wolf-tone eliminating.

I almost feel sorry my cello doesn't seem to have a wolf. I wonder though if one of those brass doodads would quiet down my harsh A-string and look nicer than the red rubber-band I'm currently using for that purpose.
thanks for the link. here's another blogging cellist for you:
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006



This morning I began working on two new pieces (more Bach!), #7 and #8 in my Suzuki Vol. 2. It was nice to play through them the first time OK. Sight-reading! Clearly, a lot of practice is needed, but it feels like I'll be able to pick them up fairly quickly. Lately, I've noticed my technical abilities have undergone a step-change improvement, all across the board - even on the newest pieces. Working with the metronome has sure made a difference. I've been steadily increasing the tempo every week or so; now I'm up to 92 bpm on most of the pieces - a little slower on the newer ones. I don't feel as if my sound quality is improving much, though.

Apparently, I'm being way too critical of my sound - especially the d-string - for my level of capability. It's good that I have high expectations for myself, but I can't just blink quality into existence overnight. My lesson (#17), yesterday, started off with a long discussion about my sound issues. My teacher thought the d-string sounded "OK... maybe a little bright". I could try a set of synthetic core strings to take that down a bit. Of course it hasn't sounded that bad to me these past few days. She tried my bow on her cello, and it sounded pretty good to both of us. She suggested that I was probably using too much rosin. You only put it on when you need it. She says she rosins about twice a week. I clearly had too much on. Hmm.

Then she found that wolf that I've heard a time or two, hiding between E and F on the d-string. It was pretty obvious. But hard to describe. Like a somewhat slow, warbling vibration - partly resonating but then jumping way out - back and forth. I'm not sure how she got it to come out so clear. I think it's my lack of bowing skills, which might explain why I only hear a screech when I miss my intonations on those two notes. The wolf seems to roam back and forth a little between these two notes (depending upon temperature and humidity?) I'm going to order a New Harmony wolf suppressor from Cellos2Go.

We talked at length about my bowing. I'm still holding my wrist too high - actually I'm holding the bow reasonably well with the right part of the fingers, and a good position with my thumb, but I'm letting my wrist slacken and the fingers droop down, hanging from my hand, over the bow. I need to hold the bow further out - still near the ends of my fingers but with the wrist straight and the lower knuckes extended out, not down, more or less in line with the back of the hand and the forearm. That helps me keep the bow loose.

Tonight, I've been experimenting holding my hand out in these two positions, without the bow. I can feel some muscle groups in the top of my forearm and front of the upper arm tense and relax as I moved between the two. Needless to say, the "correct" position is the relaxed one... Awareness of these muscles will help me "check" on my bow hold as I'm playing.

We started off with a couple duets - partly for sight reading practice. It wasn't too bad, but my intonation sucked. Then we went through the C-scale, slowly, and I sort of "found" my place. Still my weakest part yesterday was intonation. My rhythm and tempos were good. I didn't play too many wrong notes (just several poorly executed ones). After our long detailed discussion, we only had time to play through "Judas Maccabeus", "Hunter's Chorus", and "The Whale's Song" from Mooney's Position Pieces book. I was mostly pleased with how I did. We turned to the Orchestra pieces and talked about some of the questions I had, and she made several helpful suggestions.

Finally, we talked through the two new pieces, #7, "Musette from English Suite No. 3" and #8, "March in G", both by Bach. She explained the "teaching points" - the open second position, using the first finger for C natural. I've been drilling on this a lot the past few months, so it hasn't been difficult. Then the "inchworm" shift from second to first. We talked briefly about the purpose and handling of the dynamics markings.

A too-quick hour. I feel as if I could do at least another half hour. Since I can only take lessons every other week, if I extended them to an hour and a half, I'd be sneaking in a third lesson each month.

Ah yes, the wolf thing. I have the same problem on my new, good cello. It's worse on G string, but I play E and F more often on D string, as you probably do.

At least take comfort that it's good cellos that have wolfs. My laminate junkie has very little wolfishness.

On the wrist and sound things, I have some opinions that would be difficult to explain. Have you seen Prof Edberg's right hand video? It's at

Notice that his wrist is high. BUT, it's because he's playing with as little arm involvement as possible.

Nicholas Anderson says the bend/straightness of the wrist depends on the volume and it's making more and more sense to me. He says the wrist straightness of the wrist acts as a gas pedal. We don't try to straighten the wrist. It just straightens by itself if we're pulling more, and automatically bends by itself if we're not pulling it straight.

Heretical ideas, no doubt, but they work in my mind.
Hey Guanaco, wanna play a silly blogger game? I hereby tag you.
Maybe I will start a blog before too long. Problem is, I'd be interested in posting mp3s and MIDIs and PDFs as much or more than words. BTW, how is your website,, hosted? I see that's where you keep downloads. Nice job with that fingering chart. What graphics package?
Go for it Terry! I like the idea of publishing mp3s and pdfs, etc. In addition to text, you should be able to post your designs and recordings through your blog, like Misty does in hers, for example:

My website,, is affilitated with a site owned by my son and hosted by a server in Florida somewhere. I honestly don't know how he set it up, sorry I can't help there. But there sure seems to be plenty of website hosts available...

[I drew the fingering chart with AutoCAD and then converted it to a pdf.]

I've been thinking about your discussion of wrist angles. It makes sense.
But at my current level, I think I'm far too inexperienced to be testing these ideas. I'm willing to go with my teacher's recommendations until my bowhold is natural and effortless... then I can try out other positions for stylistic purposes. [Style! I'm still working hard just to hit the right notes at the right time. I'm only now starting to think about dynamics. And I'm only hoping to get to style and interpretation, one day...]
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Sunday, October 08, 2006



Lots of positive reinforcement from commenters about yesterday's report on my partially flubbed perfomance at the Evening of Classics concert. Thanks for your good thoughts, Terry, Gottagopractice, Pinkpuffyslippers and Erin, it really helps keep me motivated. Ten months and 185 posts ago when I started blogging, I never expected to become acquainted through the blogosphere with other people who share my passion for the cello :) Each day, I look forward to reading other bloggers' latest posts about their music and the things they want to share about their lives. In addition to your cello blogs, I'm following several bloggers who write about their violins, violas and oboes. Veteran performers or novices, we all share a passion for playing music, and we like to blog about it. (Terry, you should consider blogging too.)

What's funny about Friday night, is that I probably could have emcee'd the whole thing without any hesitation... It's been many years since I had to do anything like that, but I had little problem speaking to large groups of people in formal (and occasionally informal) gatherings. The main difference is that I was confident I knew how to speak, I knew how to prepare my material and I had developed a presentation style that worked for me. But I'm not confident that I know how to make music yet. I have so much more to learn...

Hace ocho años, when I had to quickly learn spanish after taking an assignment to work in the oil fields in southern Argentina, even though it didn't take long to begin to understand spoken and written spanish, it took me a year and a half before I even started to feel comfortable talking with groups of people - such as in one of those raucous lunchrooms at a remote YPF Oil company jobsite. But then one day, something clicked, and I was able to hesitantly offer a jest or two into their lively discussions. [The camaraderie of these guys who worked endless hours, away from home for weeks at a time, in bare minimal housing, in harsh remote climates (that wind never stopped blowing!), using shoddy equipment, inadequate tools, with no training, taking huge risks to get the job done - all that for a paycheck that barely kept their families solvent - was something else. Their lunchtime gatherings became a highlight of my regular trips out to the company jobsites scattered across the Patagonian desert.]

So, I know I'll get there. My confidence level is pretty low, right now, but then obviously so is my skill level. I know that with time, I'll develop enough confidence to play reasonably well - at least up to my skill level - in public, and that my confidence will continue to increase as my skills improve.

Whatever wolves were haunting my cello late last week were gone today. Even E and F on the d-string sounded nice this morning. Still, last Friday, I noticed my g-string was starting to sound a little sour. But this morning, I stopped briefly during my warmup to put my poor hearing-offended dog out, so I lay the cello on its side on the floor beside me and then proceeded to bump it with my foot as I stepped over it. It rolled onto its face leaving a slight imprint of the strings and bridge in the soft carpet. This caused the g-string to go rather flat, but when I retuned it, everything was noticeably better!

Don't try this at home...

This is on a different subject, but the other day my sister told me that she had "googled" me and stumbled across your blog. I have since been reading with great interest, the archived blogs as well as current. I do hope you enjoyed Fireworks--I like the idea that it is up there in Alaska.
Hi Elizabeth!

Thanks for your feedback on my humble blog. I'm guessing you wrote "Fireworks"... nicely done!

I really liked your descriptions of the thoughts and pereceptions from the point of view of a troubled and somewhat addled but hopefully redeemable middle-aged man. Nice ending, too!

Your book called to mind another introspective novel I'd recently read: "It's All Right Now", by Charles Chadwick.

I look forward to your next work.
I never imagined I'd meet an Alaskan blogging cellist either. I'm glad to have found you, G.
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Saturday, October 07, 2006




Oh well...

Last night's KPO fundraiser was actually fun (after the first performance was out of the way). The turnout was really impressive - the church was overflowing; hopefully a lot of money was raised. There was a lot of fantastic music from a lot of top notch musicians. I enjoyed all the performances, but IMHO, the best was Maria Allison's piano solo, "Malaguena" by Ernesto Lecuona. Other outstanding performances included Maria on piano with Emily Grossman on violin playing Mozart's "Violin Concerto #3 in G Major"; Molly Watkins on flute with Maria on piano playing Henri Busser's "Prelude and Scherzo"; and Spencer McAuliffe with Maria on piano, singing "Non Piu Andrai" from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro". Another crowd pleaser was the Kalgin Island Quartet plus garter-clad tuba(!) in an over-the-top performance of several latin-themed pieces including "Hernando's Hideaway". The worst part was, well, ahem, my pitiful role in the otherwise well-played performance of "Knock on Wood" by the CPY&CO.

Today I'm filled with doubts about what I've gotten myself into. I really knew that piece. Friday morning, I played it a more than a dozen times at full tempo, and along with the recording. I played it pretty much from from memory (but reading from the music), and I didn't miss a note (or a beat). When we all got together for a final rehearsal Friday evening (the first time with the percussion section), I didn't do so well, but not that bad. In the forty-five minutes before we went on (first up), I wasn't nervous - at all. Yet, by the eighth measure, I lost my place for a while, then I picked it back up again OK, and I hit a couple wrong notes but then at measure 33, I lost my place again and only recovered near the end. Fortunately, other than my cello stand-partner and the violist on the other side, I suspect that only the conductor could tell that I was floundering around.

Why? Nerves? I don't really know. I didn't really feel nervous. Afterward, though, I realized I hadn't watched the conductor - that might explain why I lost my place a few times. I think, too, that I got distracted by the percussion playing behind me. We hadn't practiced the piece with the percussion (which is key to the piece); although I had played against the recording...

So, two dismal performances, so far. Will I ever improve to where I can actually play "in public" without messing up? I sure hope so, because I'm not ready to give up.

This morning, I "got back on the horse" again, and had a really good 2-1/2 hour session.

On a positive note... during those 45 minutes waiting for the program to start, I stood in a room with 50+ other musicians who were busy tuning their instruments and warming up. As I held my cello, I could FEEL its strings vibrating in response to certain notes in the cacaphony of sounds, like it wanted to join in.

The success public performances will come. You know the capability is there, it's just the matter of letting it out in public, which is a whole different thing, but also requires practice.
What terry said. One of my more memorable performances was at a wedding gig, when we lost the third cellist. (It was a cello trio.) I think he just got overloaded, and got so lost he never could find his way back. Learning how to concentrate while so many new things are going on around you is one more complication beyond nervousness, and now that he is more experienced he rarely does that anymore. ggp p.s. I love the sympathetic vibrations of my cello, too. I think it is the most "alive" instrument.
Playing with others, in public, is a whole extra skill to develop. I'm confident you'll get there as you gain experience with it.

I have a hard time in my groups with pieces without any rests, where everyone is playing the same melody. I can't imagine how hard it must be to play orchestra music.
Yes, what everyone has said is true - it's just another skill you learn as you do it more often. Christopher had his first experience playing with the full orchestra yesterday and he said it was fun, but also very confusing.
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Thursday, October 05, 2006


Another one of those days

This random image came in a spam today that had nothing to do with music. Cool, huh?

My d-string sounded so horrible, I couldn't finish my session today. I tried bowing more carefully, I used more rosin (when in doubt, more rosin!), I adjusted my bow tension, I worked on intonation... No matter what I tried all I could produce was a lot of yowling, screeching and groaning. Am I starting to find the wolf that supposedly lurks in all cellos?

I considered all sorts of mechanical causes. I thought about replacing the d-string and the a-string with the Crown strings I bought from Cellos-2-Go several months ago as backups. But I decided to hold off until after tomorrow's recital. It didn't seem like a good idea to go into something like that with new strings that hadn't been broken in yet.

Humidity hasn't changed lately, it has been raining a lot these last several weeks, but I did a close inspection of all the joints and seams. I did notice that the top of my bridge was leaning toward the fingerboard. As I was straightening it, I noticed that the "balls" at the end of the a-string and d-string were slightly cocked in their holders on their respective fine-tuners. So I loosened each string (one at a time), reset the balls in the holders and tightened everything back up again. Still no improvement.

For a while I tried just ignoring it and playing "through" it, but that wasn't easy. As I became more and more frustrated I finally realized that the harder I tried, the worse it got. So I finally just put it away.

I've had bad days like this before, and I know that whatever is haunting me and/or my cello will go away; so I'm not beating myself up with self-doubts or anything like that. As far as I can tell, it was just one of those days. What concerns me, though, is that this came up the day before our recital. Fortunately, it's a pizzicato piece... :)

Maybe it's just pre-recital jitters? You wouldn't want to have a great practice the night before anyway, right? Don't want to peak too soon.

I've never understood what a wolf tone is exactly. Someday I need to get the geniuses on ICS to explain it to me.

Best of luck with your concert.
Except that this morning's practice has been great! No howling or screeching at all...

All I know about wolf tones is that the cello itself (due to the fundamental design and type of wood, etc.) has an internal vibration that is triggered when the corresponding note is bowed. This apparently comes back to the string and messes up that particular bowed note(?) For sure one of the ICS pundits can explain it better.

Thanks for the support. I'm feeling pretty confident. My teacher told me to just think about making music and having fun. We'll see.
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Evening of Classics

Kenai Peninsula Orchestra


7:30 PM
$10.00 AT THE DOOR



Yay! I assume that's your band playing? Wish I could be there.
Our string orchestra goes on first, then we get to enjoy the rest of the program.
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Playing beside another cellist

In advance of our upcoming recital on Friday (gack!), several extra players ("ringers") came to last night's rehearsal of the Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra. One was a cellist who'd played with this group last year but now plays with a larger local chamber orchestra. Believe me, we definitely needed a(nother) cellist. I was relieved to take second chair. I don't know if she previously knew the pieces we worked on last night, but if not, she sure "sight read" them well. I've been practicing the recital piece intensively over the last few weeks, so I kept up reasonably well on that one. But I've got a long way to go to be able to sight read very well at all. Fortunately our conductor gave us a heads up about the next several pieces we are going to be working on, so I can get a jump on them.

It sure was nice was to hear TWO CELLOS playing together. It should be obvious from all this that I'm living in a place so remote that this is my first experience in over ten months to play alongside another cellist (except for my teacher's recital in Homer last May - an episode I never ever want to have to think about again). To my knowledge there are only three cello students (including me) in the area. There are quite a few more in Homer. I really liked being part of the blended cello sound last night. Since I wasn't a basket case (that recital in May, again), I was able to relax and enjoy it. We actually held our own beside all the violins and violas. Hearing a second cello not only helped me with rhythm and tempo, but also with intonation.

Playing with the metronome is now a full part of my practice routine. After warming up and running the scales and arpeggios, I switch on the metronome. For the familiar pieces, I've been steadily increasing the tempo - now, I'm up to about 92 for most of them. For the more recent ones, I slow it way down to work on accuracy. For the newest pieces I turn it off. I think it is helping. My rendition of that Bach Minuet #2 is almost good, and I'm finally feeling those dotted quarter notes in Happy Farmer.

I haven't fretted ;^) much lately about intonation, and surprisingly I haven't had to cringe much either.

I'm getting annoyed with my d-string, lately. It's the original string that came with the cello, and it seems like it used to sound better. Of the four, it seems to be the one that needs the most retuning and most often. Maybe it's time to put on a new string, or maybe as my cello is "opening up" (I don't really know what that means - I borrowed the phrase from the CelloChat forum) a wolf is emerging. But, if I don't hit the first position E and F notes exactly, they screech. I am able to overcome this by intonating exactly and by making sure the bow is exactly perpendicular to the string and by paying attention to bowing pressure. Low humidity also seems to be a factor. But on those rare occasions when all the planets are aligned the d-string can sound fantastic! I have to talk this over with my teacher at our class on Thursday.

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