Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Thumb play

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.

I'm excited for you!
The thumb has been one of my problems too, and for a long long time. But if I understand your blog correctly, you are making improvements very fast! Good luck with your Vivaldi, which piece is it? And enjoy your new strings, it's always heavenly to have new strings, I think. Have you ever tried gut strings, by the way?

Best wishes from a cellist from the Netherlands :-) xMM

My cello page in (my version of) English can be found here: http://martinemussies.nl/site/music/cello.html
I was interested in your reaction to the Passione A and D strings. I've had mine on for several months, too; they remind me a lot of Jargars and they have the nice characteristic of staying in tune through a lot of playing. Like you, I love the special sound of the Larson A and D and will probably go back to them at some point. I do like the Passione's for Bach Suite playing. I have Belcanto Soloists on the G and C: what lower strings are you playing with right now?

I'll be interested to hear how you like your new pieces, the Rudolf Matz, "Andante and Rondo" for cello and piano and the Suite Francais by Paul Bazelaire. I have a recording of the Suite Francais, I love the music, and would like to learn it. The Matz piece I don't know, but I like the Matz etudes and duos that I have played.

I've been meaning to say this for a long time: thanks for a great cello blog. It's been helpful to me so many times.
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