Sunday, August 12, 2007


Practice log

Every once in a while, I try to document my daily practice routines here. Mainly so I can go back through them later to see how they've changed.

Each morning I have to rally myself to get off my ... and take the cello out of its case, setup the music stand and lay out all the accessories (see for example Cellodonna's list of some of the things cellists take with them). I'm envious of my fellow cellobloggers who are able to keep their cellos on stands - it sure would make this whole process a lot easier (I lack both the space and appropriate humidity). I'd sure be more inclined to pick mine up for a half hour's noodling between regular practice sessions if it were just sitting out.

Anyway, once that's done and I tune it up (those new Jargars are really stable, I seldom have to make any adjustments), I warm-up for several minutes bowing open strings - with full bows, concentrating on proper bow holds and pressures. Then I play the basic major scales: C, D, F, and G through two octaves - first slowly for intonation, then gradually picking up speed, playing various rhythms and bowings. Then I play Bb and Eb scales on two strings into third position. Finally, I go back and play the F and C scales on two strings into fourth position. After this I spend a few minutes practicing shifting up and down from 1st through 4th positions. Next I play some intervals on the string pairs - first as individual notes back and forth across the strings, then double-stopped. All the time, I'm now watching my left thumb to make sure it follows the second finger, and that I'm using the side of my thumb.

This usually takes at least half an hour. Because the next piece up in my lesson will consist of pairs of 16th notes, I've gone back to Suzuki Book 1 to play the etude variations using the 16th pairs. Then I randomly pick one or two pieces from Book 2 and try to play them cleanly, aiming for a good sound. If needed, I stop and work on any trouble spots. Then I move on to a more focused effort with the last four pieces in Book 2, which are not yet smooth. I'm still a long way from playing Gossec's Gavotte cleanly or anywhere near tempo, but the others are getting much better. Somewhere along here I take a brief break to stretch and walk around for five or ten minutes.

Then I plunge into the first three pieces in Suzuki 3. At my last lesson, my teacher suggested a revised fingering for the first shift in Schubert's Berceuse that made a big difference, and all of a sudden it all came together cleanly and it's sounding pretty good now. Progress on the Lully Gavotte is slow and steady. Finally I've started working on fingering the first half of the Boccherini Minuet, playing pizzicato slowly, concentrating on accurate rhythms. Since there are several unusual fingerings using forward extensions and double-barring, I so some work on these separately. This is progressing faster than I'd expected.

This usually takes up to two and a half hours each day. Whew. Still, sometimes I have to make myself stop and put it away.

Cellocracy will have to audition for a slot in the Evening of Classics concert in October. The program coordinator will meet with us at the end of the month, when our orchestra resumes for the fall season, to hear us play. We'll play through the four trios that we recently played at the Library Concert. Frankly, I'm not sure we're ready yet. But now I'll have to fit these pieces back into my practice routines...

Friday, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra put on a remarkable concert to celebrate its Summer Music Festival. Paul Rosenthal played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D - so fine! Sometimes it seemed as if he were playing two violins at once. How sweet! This was the Orchestra's 25th anniversary, and they went all out to present a good show, even inviting several former members who'd moved away to come back for this. They had nine cellos for this concert, normally they only have four. Its founding conductor, Bob Richardson, presented two of his own compositions, Along the River, and Song of the Lonely Man, with ethnic flautist, Gary Stroutsos. The program concluded with excerpts from Holst's Planets (Mars, Venus, and Jupiter). My teacher, as principal cellist, played several solo parts in these latter pieces. Z's teacher also soloed several of the brass parts. Although the program lasted three and a half hours, it was so good, I was tempted to drive down to Homer on Saturday for their second performance.

Alas, that didn't work out. We camped out on our land instead, taking advantage of this continued run of fantastic warm sunny days.

It was interesting to read your practice routine. I'm not always so diligent with the warmup. I have my cello on a stand and most days, I just pick it up and start something...which is probably not the best start to a 'focused' practice. ;-) You've inspired me to track my practice.
I liked reading through your routine; it sounds really thorough and I'm sure you're reaping the benefits. I've found that as I get older having that warmup routine has become more and more important! If you don't mind a suggestion, I think you should add arpeggio exercises to your warmup routine.
Thanks for the feedback :)

I too found that I need these warmups to loosen up my muscles and joints (not only in my hands and fingers - but also my shoulders, back and neck.)

I used to play a few arpeggios in my warmups, but then they sort of fell off my list some time ago. However, when I started Suzuki Book 3, I began working on its arpeggio exercises with fingering variations, and I've been considering going back through all the arpeggio exercises in the first two books.
So, what I'm wondering is...

Is this blog your practice log, then? Do you keep any other records on a regular basis?
When I first started learning the cello, this blog was going to serve as my daily practice log. That got boring quickly since my daily routines did not vary much.

I do keep track of what "issues" I'm needing to work on and try to make sure I come back to them each day until I'm satisfied. It's actually more thought out and organized than it sounds - I work with a lot of sticky notes on the margins of the scores, including mini-checklists for things such as troublesome rhythm sequences, and increased tempos, etc.

So, this blog does contain all that I actually write down about my lessons, my practice, and my progress. That's why I periodically describe my daily routines in such detail.
Ahhh ... you're my cello hero, Guanaco. Always a source of inspiration!

Aren't sticky notes great? I couldn't practice without them.
I, too, wish I could leave my cello on a stand. However, I have 4 little siblings (the youngest in his "Terrible 3" stage), so that could be something of a hazard...
I often daydream about the day I'll be able to play The Planets. Mars in particular. It looks like so much FUN.

The quieter bit in the middle of Jupiter is what I performed as a cello duet back in May. It's a lovely duet. I can see if I can scan it for you if you like, our orchestra tutor arranged it for us.
I've been practicing one scale in depth per day, but I think I'll add the basic scales (C G D A, F, Bflat and Eflat) to my routine as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

I also recommend arpeggios and octaves because these patterns show up all the time in scores.
Hi Guanaco. I envy your dedication (and free time!) to get in 2+ hours of practice. You'll surely make much faster progress that way.
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