Friday, November 17, 2006


Rhythm and Intonation

I ordered Modern Reading Text in 4/4 For All Instruments from Amazon. It contains a series of progressively more complicated rhythmic structures, all on one note. It is designed to help develop a better sense of rhythm and pulse and understand all the sub-divisions of the beat. This would seem to be a good fit for some of my single-note intonation work. Now all I have to do is find a way to fit it into my practice schedule.

I find myself spending an hour or so each morning working just on intonation. I'm playing each note a lot slower than before. (Since I'm using long even bow strokes, trying to keep each note even, I guess I'm working on several bowing issues too.) This all came on with the introduction to the extensions, and a feeling of awkwardness (especially in orchestra) trying to play the fourth finger extended, and not being able to find my way back home. I listen to each note carefully, trying for ringing sounds and purity. I start with the on-screen tuner to see how close I'm getting on each note, but after a while I don't seem to need it.

Then, I start working on all of the various fingering combinations for the first two positions with extensions. Next I play up and down the first eight semi-tones from the open string to the fifth, using all the different combinations of fingering. At first it was surprisingly hard to do this smoothly. I had to stop and "tell" my fingers to do it all differently. But after a while it came more readily.

Between notes or sets, I often move my hand back to first position. I'm trying to consciously picture in my mind where each finger is and what I did to make it go there, whether I also move my thumb and/or other fingers, what wrist and elbow/upper arm movements I might use (such as first finger extensions). At the same time, I'm trying to imprint each tone in my head. Then for a while I do some random open fingering, listening to various intervals and combinations. I want to teach my fingers all the ways to make each note. I am paying a lot more attention to my thumb and how far I move it on the back of the fingerboard as I shift to the other positions.

After a while, I switch on the metronome and try different speeds.

After nearly a year(!) of trying to learn how to tocar el cello ("touch the hoop") it's really the first time I've approached the fingerboard so analytically. Yet, I have always been analytical - even obsessive about the details. My analytical nature is what drives me to blog all this in the first place. I was trained as a chemist drone, where it was important to carefully follow each step of an procedure in a precise and repeatable manner. In my later jobs I adapted these skills to tackle challenging situations by breaking them down into smaller pieces, and trying to figure out how and why they fit together. This would often lead me to a big-picture sense of it. Of course I was always more successful when I knew a lot about whatever issue was at hand. Unlike the cello.

After a short break (coffee and the internet), I work through a few pieces of my basic Suzuki repertoire, playing each one a little slower than before, but thinking about the sounds. After this, I excerpt just the tough parts from each of the four or five newer pieces and focus on carefully working them out. I'm doing these slowly and purposefully for 6-10 different segments, with lots of repetitions, (trying to think about where my fingers are going, etc.) I'm trying not to think yet about how these parts fit back into their respective pieces. I worked on these at least an hour yesterday and today.

Then another short break, and I work for a while on my orchestra pieces. These are all challenging rhythmically, for me, and I have to concentrate a lot on counting and resting. Finally I reluctantly put it away.

The other day I mentioned I felt a bit aimless about my cello playing, but I think today I have a better sense of what I want to do. It occurred to me that my previous goals, while generally appropriate, were too focused on moving through the Suzuki program as fast as possible. I've come to understand that getting to book four (or wherever) is going to be much more complicated and challenging than I had been assuming, and that I was concentrating too much on just "picking up" each piece quickly rather than learning to really play them well.

I was going to say "Welcome to the journey", but that sounded so condescending. Instead I'll just express my delight at finding a fellow traveler.
Thank, GTGP. My book is starting to fill up with stickies to highlight the segments that "need work".

I also like the spot method you linked from your blog. It looks like a good procedure to use before hiding the easy parts with the stickies.
Re what you said about moving too fast through Suzuki, I was reminded of a post made a few months ago on the "Cellist By Night" board by Chiddler. (Fortunately that thread was conveniently resurrected by Cellist Hilton this week.) Chiddler writes about a "wunderkind" who apparently spent two years in Book 4. He wrote, "Time well spent, from what I heard. If I could play Book 4 like that by staying with it for a couple of years, I'd feel very successful, indeed." Check out the thread (Suzuki workshop in Pasadena.)

I do like the idea of that rhythm book, which I'm contemplating getting. Thanks for bringing that to light.
Hi Celladonna! It was just that thread, originally by Chiddler, aka Terry, that made me start thinking about the whole issue of how I had been approaching my Suzuki program.
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