Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Same old practice issues

Once again I've run up against the same old practice problem of trying to cover everything I want to each day, which means I really don't feel as if I'm getting much done at all. I've focused a lot of my practice time on the Humoresque, going through the shifts over and over. In recent days I'd finally started to work on the last two shifts - up to 5th position A and 7th position C. Of course, at today's lesson (#46), I wasn't able to get anywhere close to what they should sound like - my lesson gremlin struck again - but I was able to play through most of the rest of the piece, more or less. In the second part, where it shifts from F# on the D string to F# on the A string (in upper third position), I should use my thumb as a guide for locating the shift. In the shift to seventh position, I should let my thumb slide around to the side of the neck as I locate the A-harmonic with my first finger, and consider my hand shape and what part of my hand "rests" against the edge of the cello; then watch where the third finger plays the C. The Bb should be fairly straightforward after that.

Prior to getting into that, we played through the Gavotte in C-minor, and aside from one stumble on a descending C-minor scale portion, it went quite well. I like playing this piece - a lot. My homework from this is to play just that third position extension and the shift back to first position, over and over.

Then we opened the Scherzo. For all my other successes, I've not been able to "get" this one, yet. I usually work on it three or four times a week, but I can't really say I've made a lot of progress. If I pay attention to my bowing (which still isn't right on this one), I start messing up the notes. If I concentrate on the notes, my bowing sucks. It's gone back and forth this way for months now. My teacher suggested I put in some time playing the Suzuki Book 1 Twinkle, Etude, and Perpetual Motion pieces with the fast double-16th notes, using these to work on my bowing arm [aack, even more stuff to try to fit into my schedule]. Also, she suggested I play my scales with this same bowing technique. Meanwhile, I will also work on the Scherzo at a pace just slow enough to completely lock in the right notes.

Since my progress on Humoresque was so good, she asked me if I was ready to start the next piece. But I hesitated, because I felt I have enough yet to do on my current pieces. So, she suggested instead that I work on several pieces in the upper third position section of Mooney's "Position Pieces" and we'd go over them at the next lesson.

Back on the practice timing problem, we talked about setting up a formal rotation plan - using 3x5 cards or something. That will help...

I keep an excel spreadsheet on the pieces and exercises I'm working on so I can tick off the days that I actually practice them. Maybe something like that will work for you. I usually just concentrate on the measures that give me trouble, sometimes breaking them down to just two or four notes at a time.
I *love* the toads! I'll be interested in reading about what kind of system you come up with. Trying to practice everything every day is death by Resistance for me, as I am discovering again this week.
Yep, something there is that's hypnotic and relaxing about that Gavotte. DowuwuwuDooduwudo...
What works for me is concentrating on working on one thing every week. One week it may be working on relaxing and curving my thumb on the bow, another week might be shifting; this week all I've been doing is trying to improve my vibrato. I may stay on that one thing for a few weeks, then I'll switch and concentrate on something else. I find that working on one thing at a time helps improve other skills, plus most weeks I feel like I've made progress (even if it's a tiny amount) on something.

I hope you find a way to practice that works for you! Your dedication and thoughtfulness about your playing never fails to impress me.
I'm not at the excel spread sheet level yet but have started making a chart of everything I'm working on. Yep, too much for doing everything everyday. I have one piece that is "resting" for the moment. I try to play it through at least once a week. Some of my duet and orchestra music need some minor work so they get worked on a few times a week. I found some days the scales only got 10 minutes and the other pieces got a lot of detail time. Other days I swap it out a bit. And then last night I sat down and ended up on one piece for two hours. Just couldn't quit. Best of luck with coming up with a system.

As for shifting, I'm currently working on a piece that has a very high E-flat. Taking my teacher's advice I noted where my thumb was and other fingers to make a mental snapshot of where the note was so I could easily find it again. The rest of the notes further along in the piece didn't seem to be matching with my E-flat. I took out my tuner and checked; C-sharp! Delete my mental picture and start again. Shifts!
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