Sunday, March 22, 2009


Why I'm not posting much anymore

I've only posted a few times this last month. I can't claim not to have the time. I guess maybe I've just run out of things to say.

Several times, I've opened GoogleDocs and sat here looking at the blank screen; then after a time I close the window without writing anything. A few times I have written down a sentence or two. But whatever inspiration that got me started evaporates, leaving me empty; and I end up exiting without saving it.

Some of this may have to do with my awareness that one or two people actually do read this. While that initially was good for the ego, at the same time it has become a little intimidating. Rather than write what's going on in my head, I end up worrying about what you few readers might think about what I've said, and then I start censoring myself. I obsess about not offending people, or worse, simply boring them. I've ended up pulling my punches, leaving out any strongly-held feelings, avoiding controversy.

I started writing this blog to document my experiences as I learned to play the cello. At first there were a lot of wide-eyed impressions to record as I struggled with each new technique and surprised myself with new and better sounds. Each lesson was a fountain of topics to report on as I tried to dissect all the minute adjustments and patterns I was trying to learn. But gradually my lessons and my practices became less eventful and more routine. There are only so many ways I can write about practicing the same technique or passage over and over and over and over until at some point I finally get it. Sure, every time that I realize I've finally gotten there is a victory; I guess I've run out of adjectives to describe them.

There's a bigger issue, too. I've been feeling as if I've run into a wall; that I'm not ever going to be even competent at this. I am rarely satisfied with my playing, and am constantly frustrated at not feeling able to improve. When I sight-read a new piece, I fret so much about intonation and fingering that I'm not able to think about the rhythms and timing. After I've worked out the fingerings, I am eventually able to start trying to concentrate on rhythms. Rhythms, aargh...

Nevertheless, I continue plugging away at my two-hour a day practices. I do see progress as I move through the etudes, but seldom in the Suzuki pieces - where improvement is so agonizingly slow. Today, I did realize I had finally made a significant step-change on that eighth-note run up the A-string (A-B-C#-D#-E) and back down the D-string (B-G#-E) in "La Cinquantaine"; my last major stumbling block on that piece. This week I returned again to the Boccherini "Minuet". There still plenty of room for improvement, but it does seem a lot easier to come back to than I thought it would be. I am really struggling with the Mooney "Double Stops" book, but I still work on it daily.

I recently read an article by Alex Kelly in the December issue of "Strings" about harmonics ("Harmonic Convergence", page 30). I started spending a few minutes at the beginning of my daily warmup finding the harmonics on each string and playing them "meditatively". That's as far as I've gotten with Kelly's method, so far; but it makes so much sense. I think these basic harmonic points (1/2, then 1/3, 1/4, and eventually 2/3 and 3/4) should be taught very early.

I ran into a wall with my play when I was a junior in college...I just hated everything about it...and, hate to say it, those feelings stuck around for about two years, at which point, I finally got out of the funk. Don't take this the wrong way...but perhaps you should consider switching to a new teacher...there is probably nothing wrong at all with your current one, but it can be a good idea to just to get a new perspective and new ideas...every person has a different approach, and many of them are very good! it can be radically different even if they are both suzuki teachers. or try going back and forth week to week with two different teachers...

as for the nothing to write issue...I face(ed) that problem as well, and lately i have been kind of using the blog as a means to get myself to do things to write about...I know, its kind of lame to plan my life around my blog...but it does get me to do different things!!
I've run into too many walls to count since I've started the cello. I switched teachers (on my 6th teacher!!) and have taken many breaks. I think it's natural. Switching teachers does help with inspiration although I was switching because I wasn't getting the kind of instruction I wanted. Sometimes switching pieces helps too. The last wall I hit was about a year and a half ago and I remedied that by taking a 4 month break from lessons. I continued to practice and play in my quartet but the stress of needing to show improvement after each week's lesson was gone. And what happened? I improved when I went back to lessons! Or at least I felt like I did.

One other thing: I used to say to my teacher, "The more I practice..the worse I sound". And he replied..."Are you getting worse or is your ear getting better?" Since then, I've kept that in mind and it has helped me a lot.
Not sure how useful this will be, because you're quite far in advance of me (so it may be old hat for you), but I managed to get through my last slow period by rearranging my practising time, switching from an hour of playing something set by my teacher to spending 20 mins on a scale, 20 mins on a study, and 20 mins on something easy that I wanted to learn anyway. The latter adds a bit of fun, and is great for my sight reading because I never spend more than a week on any piece I play that way.

So, for example, last night I did E-flat major for 20 minutes, a thing called "Cantilena" from my method book for another 20, and then "Danny Boy" for another 20. (The latter has been my "me time" piece for just under a week, for the obvious reason :-)

Putting aside some time to really work on stuff that wasn't set by my teacher really worked for me. And I've been amazed at how hypnotic playing scales can be -- it's sometimes hard to force myself to stop and switch to the study...

Another thing you might find interesting, if you haven't read it already, is a book called "The Art of Practicing" by Madeline Bruser. I've been reading it recently, and while it's a bit more "new-agey" than I would normally like, it's got some ideas I found quite inspirational.
Personally, I find the pressure of a performance kicks me out of apathy. Just blog for yourself. If others enjoy your thoughts, fine. If they don't, why care. They can go elsewhere.
Hey--Don't quit! I've been slogging away for 1 1/2 years on the Suzuki and the Francis Grant series. I came to terms with the fact that I probably would never be good enough to do any real demanding works. I do have two friends (piano and cello) who like to get together and make music. We're all very unjudgemental, and the sheer joy of playing hymns, folk songs, and easy classics is worth all the work. Keep at it! love your blog; it inspires me.
Bill Supon
I agree with the others. Try not to be too discouraged, recognizing that cello playing, like all things in life, has cycles. Put your head down and enjoy wallowing in the downerness of it all.

I know what you mean about the blogging thing, though. It would be so much easier if no one read what we wrote - but then we'd miss out on the comment crack!
Every once in a while I stop blogging for weeks or months at a time. I just lose interest but I always get back to it and enjoy it. It's a creative process that always beckons me back. Relax in your departure from it, same regarding cello. I find that that a mogul in playing sometimes drives me away form the instrument but I get back to it knowing that practice, frustrating as it can be, always leads me over the mountain. Too, drop back and play easy stuff and remember how good you sound, recall how how it was at the will all take you forward with a smile.

As for blogging talk about anything, it's all interesting, gee, after all, you live in Alaska!
I am letting my punchier (possible offensive) side fly a little more these days, and people are into it! I say go! Go! You'll always have the Cellomania-loyal to be on your side anyways.
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