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.

I, too, struggle to not use my thumb to generate pressure against the fingerboard. Every time I sit down to practice I remind myself to pull with my arm rather than squeeze with my thumb, and every time I forget after a few minutes and find myself squeezing again.

Most mornings I wake up with a mildly sore thumb (primarily in the middle knuckle). The pain goes away once I start moving my thumb but I am worried about developing tendonitis there.

Hopefully, like you, I can gradually increase my thumb-awareness and eliminate this habit.
One book I read said to not press hard against the cello with the thumb as if holding on for dear life. I laughed at that statement because it's exactly what I have a tendency to do myself. Nice to know a lot of people have that tendency.
I'm a real 'gripper' too. Such a hard habit to break! Really interferes with good vibrato also. It's been suggested to me to practice vibrato with the thumb off the fingerboard altogher until I can put it back on without it digging through to the strings!
It's been intersting reading through your journey with the Vivaldi too. I'm also in the process of learning this piece. Mastering some of those tricky shifts is a real challenge.
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