Thursday, March 01, 2007


Rhythm Studies

I've been using the rhythm technique my teacher suggested the other day on my basic pieces. Where I play the entire piece using only eighth notes - substituting two eighth notes for a quarter, and more importantly three for each dotted quarter, and so on. At first it required a lot of concentration to play this way at any tempo, but it only took a few tries to work it out. And now? It's been a fun challenge to bring it all up to my current practice tempo (112 bpm). I decided to NOT play these pieces normally for now, so that I could concentrate on this process. Of course this procedure doesn't do anything for my bowing, but it is making me count these out in my head. In a few days I'll go back to playing these normally... I'm expecting big things.

Satisfactory, steady progress on Ashokan Farewell. I was able to play through the entire piece (pizz) at a reasonable approximation of the correct rhythm. My fingers are starting to go where they are supposed to, more often than not. I think this is the toughest piece I've taken on so far. It's not really that hard (!), but it has several slurred eighth note runs across several strings. Today, as I was working on it, I had one of those moments when I realized how far I've come with the cello. A year ago, I would have looked at this piece and not understood even the simplest part of it. Now, as I look at any individual segment, I can "hear" it in my head and then be "almost happy" with the results when I play it. Today as I played though it, I suddenly remembered that this piece had been one of my primary motivations way back when I was much younger and was trying to become a fiddler; and now, finally, I'm actually playing it. (Well, almost. But soon...)

Finally, this afternoon, after three weeks (!) my bow is back, sporting new hair. I can't wait to try it out tomorrow.

This latest cold, dry spell is now entering a third week as a massive high pressure cell sits over the state (no doubt the reason for all the climatic havoc in the rest of the country). Overnight temps fall well below zero, with the bright blue sunny days warming up to 15F or so. These super low humidities haven't made my cello sound so tight and nasally as it did last time. Maybe the Dominant strings have something to do with it. I am keeping my dampits wet and my room humidifier running full time. The forecast calls for a little snow on Monday and then more cold dry weather for a few more weeks. Believe it or not, I had lunch today with someone who complained about the weather! Whatever.

Isn't it great to see progress? I like looking at music and realizing it has become much easier than it used to be.
One of my own favorite ways to practice rhythm is to play it on the piano first, since I can find the notes easier there. Dealing with only one hurdle at a time is best for me. Sometimes just tapping the rhythm is helpful too.
At first I tried to pick tunes out on my keyboard, but my piano "skills" were way too rusty - (from decades of neglect), and I found I could actually get there faster on my cello.

This "new" method really does seem to be helping me, much more than the tapping ever did.
I love Ashokan Farewell too, especially on the cello. I played it at my last recital, a 3-cello arrangement, with fiddle, banjo, guitar, and flute accompaniment. Quite a production--but I like everyone to participate!

There is a cello version of Ashokan Farewell that you might enjoy listening to on the Adagio Trio CD, Stillpoint.
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