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.

Funny how we're both dealing with the same issue, yet a very different manifestation, at the same time. I, too, am working on weight focused on only one finger at a time, but one of those fingers happens to be the thumb. On notes other than the A-D line. Same issue, just on five fingers rather than four, so expect to re-visit this issue a couple of year down the line.
Just letting the fingers rest on the string when not in use is an interesting concept to try. I know all the instructors I have had tend to stress pressing down with all fingers (I have a tendency not to do that at all on violin so it carried over to cello). I do think not having the weight on all the fingers will make shifting easier as well.

Your instructor sounds very knowledgeable. Once I get through book three of my current cello studies I hope to be able to find a good instructor where I live so that I can continue to progress.
Thanks Guanaco - you've given me hope. My left thumb problem means I will have to learn to play differently, and it's good to know that's possible!
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