Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I've started using my thumb again. After spending the last few months relearning how to play without using my left thumb at all, my teacher told me at my last lesson that it was time to start letting it "touch" against the neck once more. But I had to make sure that I kept it loose and not go back to squeezing it again; and to remember to let the hanging weight of my arm pull my fingers down onto the strings to stop the notes. Also, it is important not to forget how I've been holding my cello without my thumb (more pressure with the knees, etc.)
I realized that I had to come up with some sort of mental reminder to constantly assess what my thumb is doing - for example, each time I change strings or shift positions, mentally check to make sure that my thumb is loose and not pressing against the neck. [Another thing to learn to do while not thinking about doing it...]
The first thing I noticed was that I was able to play those sixteenth notes in the second part of the Vivaldi piece faster, cleaner and more accurately. (Although it was really hard not to let myself start squeezing again.)
Since that was my last lesson until July, my teacher left me with several new assignments. First, the next part of the Vivaldi piece - another Largo, in tenor clef and 12/8 time. Then, two more etudes in Percy Such targeting upper positions on the G and D strings. Also a piece by Rudolf Matz, Andante and Rondo for cello and piano - this one has some parts that go up into fifth position. Finally Suite Francais by Paul Bazelaire. I'm starting with the second part, "Chanson d'Alsace" - also in tenor clef.
It's so cool to be working on so many new things at once. Of course, I am trying to follow my regular study plan: [first clapping all the rhythms with the metronome and figuring out string crossings and shifts; then identifying all the other tricky parts. Next, after familiarizing myself with all this, I'll start playing pizzicato, slowly, measure-by-measure, until it begins to make sense. Finally, when my fingers "know" the piece, I'll take up my bow and go back and slowly work through each measure using both hands.]
(Writing this out each time helps remind me what doing.)
After trying out a set of Passione A & D strings for a few months, I got frustrated with a certain hollowness in the sound and ordered some Larsens from Cellos2Go. The improvement was welcome.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
As I was getting out of bed the other morning I rolled onto my left hand and heard / felt a sharp "crack" at the base of my thumb. All the pain I'd been feeling in my thumb for the last few months was gone, just like that! It hasn't come back.
I'm guessing that there must have been some triggering event earlier this year that caused the misalignment - probably aggravated by all those years of the cello death grip. It took a few days of Ibuleve (thanks E for the tip!), applied generously to my thumb, to relieve the inflammation enough for the spontaneous realignment to occur.
Maybe I should have gone to a chiropractor.
I will continue playing thumblessly until I've completely broken the habit.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Weight and Balance
I've continued to work on playing thumblessly, and I've reached the point where I no longer have to keep reminding myself about it. In fact, I now have to remind myself to go ahead and let my thumb touch the base of the neck as part of going to 4th position - then of course to let go again. The pain on the inside base of my thumb is still there, but nowhere near as bad. I've been "treating" it with ice/heat/analgesic salves and so on. I recently acquired a certain anti-inflammatory gel from xxxxxx
which has really been helpful [too bad it's not available in our great country; maybe our new health care system will rectify that...] Best of all, playing (thumbless) does not aggravate it.
At my lesson today we started out playing a few scales, which led to a discussion about appropriate hand shapes. I then pulled out two Russian pieces I've been working on for the last month or so. [My teacher found these in her files and gave them to me to work on since I'd had so much fun with Tchaikovsky's "Chanson Triste". All the text was in Russian, so we had no idea what they are called or who composed them. A challenge! I eventually contacted one of Y's coworkers, who came here from Russia many years ago. She told me one piece is just titled "Romance" (no composer was listed), and the other is called "Kantilena", by Alexander Gideki, an early 20th century Russian pianist/organist.] The melodies are not very complex and both pieces are 'andante' and mostly stick with quarter and eighth notes, but they both make extensive use of third and fourth positions on the G and D strings, which is just the right thing for me right now.
I'd only begun to learn these 'the old way' so it wasn't very difficult to go back and start over thumbless. I'm almost at the point where I can start thinking about presentation - the rhythms and tempo are fine, the intonation is good, the shifts are almost all OK. So we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to play it, where to emphasize, where to use 4th, where to play in 1st, etc.
We talked a lot about keeping the left hand fingers loose unless they're actually playing. It's OK to let them rest on the string (if appropriate), but weightlessly. The weight of my arm can then be focused only on the finger that is playing. I'd been trying to "think" this as well as the thumbless thing, but not very successfully yet. She suggested I think about vibrating (even if I don't). But more importantly, keeping the weight and balance on just that one finger makes my hand flexible and it makes it a lot easier to do extensions or change positions.