Thursday, June 11, 2009

 

More on musicality


I've been pondering this issue for some time, now. After three and a half years learning to play the cello, with thousands of hours of practice, and steady progress through my lesson books, I guess I just haven't been able to imagine myself to be a musician.... not yet. That's probably why I don't feel very musical... yet.

Behind all this is my sense of not measuring up to my own idealized sense of what I want to be able to do; for example: to be able to sit down with my cello in any setting along with a variety of instruments, and play any sort of tune with little effort, even improvising a little now and then... Well, something like that anyway.

In both orchestra and my trio, I am able to learn new parts only after a lot of intensive practice on my own. Lately I've noticed this is getting easier. Then, as we play through new pieces together, I am finally starting to be able to hear the other parts sooner, as I play mine. It used to take quite a few run-throughs before I could begin to feel as if I were fitting in. So, some progress on that front...

A few weeks ago I started working on the Adagio from the Marcello Sonata from "Suzuki 4". I spent the first week just tapping out the rhythms while the metronome ticked away beside me. One morning I realized I was mentally "tapping" out the rhythms to the steady "beat" of my footsteps on the treadmill. That meant I was ready to start plucking the notes, one phrase at a time - and always with the metronome. This piece is chocked full of shifts back and forth all over the fingerboard. Not long ago I'd probably have complained here about how hard it is to learn all those shifts. Now, though, I just see them as a series of interesting challenges, ones I know I can do - especially with those new study methods. I'm already about half-way through the piece and I've run through most of the shifts that are also used in the second half of the piece. Today I started including these notes in my treadmill workout.

I guess maybe I ought to be feeling somewhat closer to my musical goals after all...



[Sheez, for the second dang time, I accidentally clicked the "Report Abuse" button at the bottom of my Google Doc preview page as I was working on this entry. Why is this button placed so prominently in the bottom right corner of the preview page? Why would anyone even want to report their own document? What I actually intended to do was return to the composing/editing screen... but for some strange reason, there is no button for that - just that blue-underlined text; located right beside the button. So, I guess once I actually publish this in my blog it's going to be tagged somewhere as an objectionable post?]

Comments:
Hi. Love your blog. I've been studying cello for 6 years and share the same thoughts. I work at so many technical issues and STILL don't sound like YoYo! Sometimes I just close my eyes and play and pretend. Maybe that's the musicality.
 
Maybe musicality is like "art". We can't define it but we know it when we hear it. Certainly we can hear very different versions of the same piece, and both can have great musicality, but nothing else in common.

For me, musicality has a naturalness about it. It is not forced, not stiff, not awkward. And it has some sort of overall vision, such that the elements go together, rather than detract from each other. Other than that, it seems limited only by imagination.
 
Hey Guanaco, I'm struggling with some of the same Suzuki pieces and technical issues you're working on, and I found myself curious all over again about how you started and how you've managed to assemble a musical life (playing in ensembles, taking that theory class, finding a teacher) where you live. It's an inspiration. But now I've read everything on this page -- where do I find the oldest posts? There must be a tab/link somewhere but I can't find it. I thought I'd read some of your older posts when I first discovered your blog but my memory is fuzzy. Keep up the great work --and if you find yourself at a plateau, I think there's a kind of intermediate-level doldrums that affect adult amateurs. (I hit Suzuki Book Five and realized with frustration I was never even remotely happy with how I played Book Four -- or maybe Book Three!) But with your discipline and hours of practice, you'll fight your way out of it sooner than I have.

P.S. Based on your repeated mentions of it, I'm going to buy Mooney's Double Stops book this week. (I really appreciate Mooney's other books.)
 
One of the most fun lessons I had was when my teacher pulled out a list of words, and had me pick a word, and then play the music to fit the word (like sad, jubilant, happy, etc.). It was really fun to play the same piece but differently to fit the word. It was a great lesson in musicality.

The other thing that I struggle with on a daily basis is just having enough technique to be able to produce the sounds I hear in my head...I do a lot of practicing 'hearing' the music in my head, but my ability to produce the sound I want has been the issue. I guess that's what we're all after in our cello journeys. :-)
 
You've been learning real music. You perform in public with Cellocracy and other groups. People ask you to play.

After 40 years I'm still weak on anything much above 4th position and thumb positions terrify me -- even though I've used them in performance. Successfully! There is probably more 'cello literature that I can't play than I can.

Yet, I enjoy playing in musicals and doing continuo in early-music. And others are happy to listen to me do it. I still don't sound like Yo-Yo Ma, I never will, and I don't particularly want to. I'm happy with the sound I can make my 'cello produce.

I think you're much closer to being a "real musician" than you care to admit.
 
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