Tuesday, March 30, 2010
After several days of consciously NOT using my left thumb on the neck of my cello, a couple of interesting things have become apparent.
This began last Wednesday with my teacher having to remind me dozens of times during my lesson to let go of my thumb, don't push the strings down onto the keyboard, but let the weight of my arm pull my fingers into the strings [later I read a comment somewhere that my wrist should be just high enough above the plane of the fingerboard to allow my curved fingers to move freely on and off the strings].
Since this is a major issue that if not resolved could lead to permanent disabling problems, my teacher told me to just forget about making progress in my current lesson pieces for a while, and focus instead on relearning how to finger the notes. I could use my lesson pieces if I wanted for practicing the new fingering, but I should not worry about tempos, and I should just slow down if I hit any tough parts.
I started out the first day with scales, slowly. As long as I kept my attention on my thumb, it was OK, but as soon as my attention drifted to note quality, my thumb gradually "wandered" back to the neck. I fixed it and kept going, though. Then I moved onto my current etudes [slowly] and a few random pieces I've been studying lately. By the end of my third practice I was able to not have to concentrate so hard on things thumb.
Since then, it's become almost "normal" to not use my thumb! It didn't take nearly as long as I'd feared to get used to it. So now I only touch the back of the neck when I shift beyond third position, and then only lightly to properly "locate" the hand. That's not to say I haven't still found myself starting to grip again once in a while - these mostly happen when I try to master a passage way too fast and then stress about it.
Last night at orchestra, I was able to play our pieces thumbless...
What's really surprising to me is how much more accurate my extensions are. When I was thumb-locked, I would lock my thumb into place on the neck and try to roll the rest of my hand forward or backward to reach the extended note - seldom far enough. Now I still keep my hand in the appropriate place and I still extend for the note with the first (or fourth) finger, but I let my hand go with the extended finger enough to ensure the notes are accurate.
The same goes for shifts. Rather than barely releasing my thumb just enough to let it slide hard back and forth with each shift (which, of course, led to crappy shifts), I'm focusing more on where the fingers should be going and just going there. I still haven't played anything very fast, and I am slowing it down for the trouble spots, but my thumb isn't sore after practicing, so I must be doing something right.
The other thing that's different is how the notes "feel" as I play them, pulling down into the strings instead of pushing down onto them. They seem to sound rich and pure.
This is kind of exciting. I feel like I've learned a new skill.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
After yesterday's thumb problems, I skipped my weekly Cellocracy practice last night and didn't practice this morning before today's lesson.
We spent today's lesson focused on my left thumb. For the next two weeks I'm not supposed to use my thumb at all [except when needed to move my hand to certain positions - and then immediately let it go]. While my thumb is dangling free, I'm supposed to consciously wiggle it slightly while playing. I'm supposed to think of letting the weight of my hanging arm pull my intonating finger into the string; instead of pushing the finger down onto the string from above. I'm supposed to center the weight on the finger that's playing the note. Any other fingers [as appropriate] should only lightly rest on the string.
As it turns out, when I think about vibrating that note, I'm doing it right.
We played through a few new pieces she'd given me last time and then worked on the Vivaldi piece. I played everything slowly, and at all times, thumbless. My teacher had to remind me, frequently, to let go of the thumb. By the end of the lesson, though, it seemed to be working.
No thumb pain tonight!
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
A sudden sharp pain at the base of my thumb - in the fleshy part of the palm! This afternoon, as I was slathering it with Blue Emu
I found a rigid muscle in that area that seemed to be the source of it all.
I've been dealing with a lot of generalized pain in this area over the past four months - it came on rather suddenly. I couldn't really pin it down - where, exactly it was hurting, but I'm pretty sure I know why. It seemed to come and go; some days it seemed to be a lot worse than others; some days it seemed to go away altogether.
I've been working at trying to reduce my thumb pressure against the fingerboard, and recently I'd begun to believe I'd made some progress.
Then last night at orchestra I felt a strong "twinge" for a moment; it didn't last nor did it return. However, this morning as I was playing a piece with a lot of first finger extensions, that twinge returned - but this time it was more like a jolt. I looked at my thumb's location on the back of the neck relative to the first finger and I realized I have been locking the thumb in one place on the neck while trying to extend only my forefinger backwards to the Eb. We had talked about this at several recent lessons and my teacher told me I had to let my thumb move freely when I play these extensions. Easy to say, harder to actually do, consistently.
I hate taking ibuprofin for things like this; it seems so ridiculous to ingest large quantities of something that affects the whole body just to deal with a small localized issue like this. It would be nice to be able to rub in a small amount of ibuprofin-laced cream directly on the source. Lacking anything like that I applied Blue Emu. So now, about an hour later, the cream seems to be warming things up and it feels OK... But I can't trifle with this, so I'll probably go ahead and start taking ibuprofin too.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Measure by Measure
Z and I saw 'Alice in Wonderland' today. I liked it well enough, I guess... But it seemed incomplete somehow... I don't know.
I'm able to play through the first two pages of the Vivaldi Sonata in E minor more-or-less, but I still have a lot of work to do on quality and getting it up to speed. To that end, this week, I've devoted most of my practice times to working on just one phrase at a time. There are four of five such parts that really needed some work. For each section, I start playing it pizzicato, slowly, for a dozen times or so; then I increase the metronome a few notches and play it pizz another dozen times. Then a little faster, and so on. After getting up to my target speed I slow the metronome back down and do the whole process again, using the bow this time.
For the past several months I've been dealing with some pain in the base of my left thumb, without a doubt due to squeezing the fingerboard [I really wouldn't be surprised to find indentations in the wood at each position]. So, each day I start out practicing vowing to keep my thumb relaxed; I begin my scales consciously not squeezing, letting my thumb hang relatively free. After a while, I end up absorbed in one issue or another and soon forget my thumb, which means I start squeezing again. Nevertheless, it does seem to be getting a little better. I'm able to hold onto that relaxed thumb "thought" a little longer each day. For the first time in many months, my thumb doesn't hurt at all today - even after a full two-hour practice this morning.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
David Finckel's Cello Talks
Just in case anyone hasn't had the pleasure of viewing David Finckel's fascinating and entertaining "Cello Talks", here's the link: http://en.wordpress.com/tag/cello-talks/4/
Since April 2009 he has posted 73 brief (+/- 5 minute) videos.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Signor Vivaldi di buon compleanno
alerted us today
of the 332nd
birthday of Antonio Vivaldi. I mention it here because I have been so immersed these past two months in his Sonata in E-minor
. While I found the last piece by Tchaikovsky relatively easy to learn (the technical aspects, at least - the musicality still eludes me), the technicals of this Vivaldi sonata have been much more challenging. This week, though, I realized that it is finally coming together. I've been playing it slowly with the metronome, but a few days ago I decided to slow it all down just a little more; it all came together, and I played it through just fine. I'm visualizing the music better, somehow, and it seems to be helping.
My approach to this piece, as well as to two new etudes in the Percy Such book (one by Sebastien Lee, and the other by Felix Battanchon), has changed. I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing differently, but a lot has to do with a change of attitude. I guess I'm no longer in such a hurry to get through it, to produce a finished product. I'm happy to work for hours, if needed, on a single phrase or a line until it falls into place, and then move onto the next part. Also, I no longer feel the need to pressure myself to have something "perfected" for my lesson (that could explain the "success" of my last lesson).
I no longer feel as if I'm trying to measure how much further I have to go in my cello studies. I'm more comfortable with just knowing that I am moving in the right direction - and I am (mostly) doing the right things to get there. My growth will come from doing all that consistently and often.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010