Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lesson #16 (6/29/11): More left hand and bowing, and D Major Arpeggio

Another very "off" lesson... TWO in a row!! :(

Since my last lesson, I've been 'deconstructing' my left hand to figure out how to use my fingers without squeezing my hand, and trying to use the weight of my arm more and to "pull" from my back.
  • The good news: I think I've "felt" how I'm supposed to create the non-squeezing fingers and "felt" how it feels when I pull the fingers from the back, so I can now recognize it when it happens and get it into muscle memory.
  • The bad news: I can't seem to recreate it and I've changed a bunch of variables (elbow position, arm position, shoulder position, etc.) to try to find it again. Ack.. didn't I say it was better to change one variable at a time? Now I can't figure out what I did initially!

I've also moved my thumb position higher on my cello neck because my thumb was initially across from my third finger, which Adam pointed out during my previous lesson that this was contributing to my hand's tenseness. Therefore, I added a sticker to the back of my cello neck to feel where my thumb should be and have been practicing with the thumb across my second finger, which has changed the shape of my hand as well.

Also, I've been trying to use more of the pad of my first finger and have been watching it for intonation because my first finger was consistently flat. AND, I've started practicing with my metronome as much as possible. I think I've made too many changes at once! :(

All of these "small" changes and I feel like I don't know how to play the cello any more!! ...not that I could play very well in the first place... but still!!
My intonation is even more off because I was used to my previous hand placement and since I've been concentrating on my left hand so much, my bowing has gotten worse!

I feel like I'm regressing... frustrating.... ARGH!
Lesson Notes:

1) Exercise Book - my teacher wanted to go over the exercises in Beginning Technique for the Cello, but I told him that I had to practice from an even easier book - I Can Read Notes.
  • Lesson #8 from I Can Read Notes:
    • I was at Lesson #14 and decided I needed to back up a few exercises to Lesson #10 because the changes I made with my left hand were making things difficult for me and I needed easier exercises to try and coordinate the changes. We practiced on Lesson #8 to make it easier for me, which really didn't help much!
    • Also, I started using the metronome with these exercises, which was (still is) throwing off my sense of rhythm!
    • We worked on this for a little while and he made some suggestions for my bowing and left hand.  
  • Lesson #14 I Can Read Notes:
    • I told Adam that I was having issues with Lesson #14 because I was running out of bow and the notes weren't consistent, i.e. too soft, too loud, grindy sound, scratchy sound, etc. He recommended:
      • Thinking about decreasing the speed by 1/2 from whole note to half note, and from half note to quarter note.
      • For quarter notes, I need to use more bow. 
        • In general, I need to work on using more bow and speed!
      • For slower bowing, there should be more contact points on the bow.
2) Metronome 
  • It's only been a week of using the metronome so he said I just needed more time to practice with it.
  • Also, I should sing the exercise first, then feel the timing by listening to the metronome for a while, get it into my body (internalize it) and then start the exercise.
  • The Korg TM-40 Metronome/Tuner I currently use:

3) D Major Scale
  • The 4th line on my cello for D and G is flat...grrrr....
    • I haven't changed any of the lines on my cello. Granted they're pencil markings and I've added smaller lines to show whether the lines have been consistently sharp or flat as a reminder, but I think these lines are just off... 
      • I think I should just get rid of the lines altogether because I can hear if they're flat or sharp and it seems that they're always changing! 
    • Although I'll definitely keep them until I figure out my left hand situation... what's up with you left hand - why aren't you working?! 
  • Adding an arpeggio after the D Major scale
    • After the D Major scale, Adam would like me to add the D Major Arpeggio:
      • Open D string, F sharp (3rd finger), open A string and D (4th finger)
      • This should help improve my intonation as well.
  • What are arpeggios? Okay, my brain wasn't working during this here's what I think he said regarding arpeggios:
    • An arpeggio is when notes in a chord are played one after another, instead of all at once. On the piano, the chord can be played all at once because I can press the keys down simultaneously. 
    • Why do I have to play notes of a chord separately on a cello? 
      • Because if I were to play G and have my fourth finger down, than the notes before it (E and F sharp) wouldn't be able to be played. G would be the only note that is heard. 
        • Obviously G is not played on the D Major arpeggio - this was just an example he provided. 
    • Arpeggios are based on the specific scale that I am playing, in this case the D Major scale, so the notes that I play sequentially are the "key" notes (or notes that can be affected by the key signature?), which highlights the harmonics/consonance of the scale.
  • I'm missing a lot of information regarding harmonics and perfect fourths and fifths, and imperfect consonances because my brain shut down after that point. I wonder if I had a dazed and confused look on my face... Have I mentioned that music theory totally over loads my brain and makes it explode...hmmm...maybe implodes, otherwise there would be a sticky mess left in the room! :)

4) Left hand position
  • I need to align my arm to my shoulder
    • I should be able to look to my left and check to see if it's in line.
    • My teacher mentioned an old trick: hold a pencil in the crook of the arm to get it aligned.
  • Open up my chest more
    • I'm collapsing my shoulders forward (oops, another thing I changed!)
      • This feels like a ballroom-y type of carriage to me, a very uplifted feeling with chest presented.
    • My elbow should be pulled back more too.
  • Don't bend my wrist - keep it nice and flat
    • I think when I concentrate on pulling from my back, my elbow drops, so I have to figure out how to having the "pulling feeling" while maintaining my elbow level.
  • Thumb position 
    • I showed Adam the line I added behind my second finger to correct my thumb position and he mentioned that I may want to try moving it even further up the neck, which is how he plays.
    • Placing the thumb between 1st and 2nd makes it feel like nothing gets accomplished by squeezing the hand, which forces my body to look for an alternative efficient, stronger way, i.e. the back!
    • He mentioned that he could feel his trapezius muscles working.  
      • Hhmmmm...I don't think I can feel that when I do my left hand fingering - something else to experiment with... ?
    • Intonation 
      • I fixed my 1st finger and now my 3rd and 4th finger are off!
        • As I had suspected it's a hand issue, which Adam confirmed. He explained that the slant of the hand will naturally bring the other fingers closer which is what is happening. 
      • Adam recommend that I should "think" of a more square hand (but don't have a square hand) to get it less slanted.
    • Exercise:
      • Continue doing what I call the "pulling exercise." Actually the feeling is more like down and back...

    5) Rotating to A string - I'm over-doing the string crossing to A again. We had worked on this before and corrected it, but I'm back to old bad habits... argh...
    • Twist from the hip/core
      • The arm will follow naturally with the twist, but I still need to make sure I bend my wrist to allow the bow to cross over without hitting the D string.
    • Don't push the bow forward
      • This is a small bow angle change and I don't need to use a big motion or push it forward.
      • Allow my wrist to bend at the frog first, and then my arm can open up.  
    • Exercise:
      • Rotate to the left making sure the shoulders stay on top of the body (moves as one unit).
      • Rotate from the hips - this is sounding more and more like one of my dance lessons!!
      • I should think about twisting the distance between the D and A string. It's a very small amount and thinking of this small measurement should help me do the movement in a small controlled manner.
    6) Cello position
    • I'm still holding my cello way to low 
      • Was I holding it like this during my practices at home? I'm not sure....  
    • I need to remember:
      • To sit at the edge of my chair more.
      • I should be able to fit 4-5 fingers between my chest and cello.
    • Did I mention I absolutely HATE the C peg touching the back of my head? It totally drives me nuts!
      • Adam has a Posture Peg where his C Peg should be, which I would love to get on my cello! Unfortunately, I contacted my luthier and he said that replacing this wasn't as simple as it sounded because he would have to adjust the size of the peg hole, and since I hadn't finished paying off the cello that he didn't want to make any changes to the cello. He also recommended trying to play with the cello higher up, i.e with a longer endpin... *sigh*
    • Proper posture will allow my arm to be more relaxed and therefore more weight can be applied naturally and more bow contact.

    7) Bowing hand
    • Fingers should be less loose.
      • Most beginners grip too hard, but my hand seems to be on the floppy side and needs to be less loose. He almost didn't want to mention it because getting a bow grip to be loose is harder than firming it up.
      • I was working on my hand being more loose because during my last lesson my thumb was really tight and cramping up during faster songs. I guess I over exaggerated being loose in the hand.
    • Use more bow and more speed!

    8) Repertoire
    • I warned Adam that everything was going to sound fairly bad because of all of the changes, and I could do it better if I went back to my old ways, but that would be practicing bad habits. He said we could just do this for fun, but I couldn't quite get back to what I was doing before and I played terribly! :(
    • We only played Song of the Wind twice and I called it quits.  Seriously, a very bad cello day...

    I wanted to end the lesson early too because nothing seemed to be working. It would have been soooo much easier going back to the way I used to do things!

    Adam was really understanding and said its difficult for him to concentrate on music if he's thinking about a specific technique too. However, he said its my left hand that's holding me back and he just wants to see me to improve, which is why we are spending more time on it.

    • There was a student that was playing a piece during our recital who was a quite ahead of me and another student (who was also stuck on Twinkle). Her goal was to get through 3 more pieces of repertoire before going to graduate school, and not necessarily gain the skills to get better. So her recital piece was very tense and forced. She wasn't going to pursue playing the cello any more so he was more lenient on her since her goals were to learn more repertoire. Although I have to admit that I was a bit jealous that she had progressed further and I was stuck on Twinkle! :)

    My teacher said that he could tell my goals were much different than hers, and he could tell I wanted to become a good musician (although I don't think I've told him what my goals are) so he felt it was important for me to get the technique down.

    If I don't have my left hand position correct,  I won't be able to play good vibrato (I can't wait to start doing that!). He demonstrated vibrato by playing a small section of Saint Saens' The Swan. Adam mentioned that despite the fact that it looked 'easy' to play, it was actually very difficult because there were a lot of technical things that were occurring in the body that one could not see watching a cellist play. 

    He mentioned that cellists are athletes because there is a lot of body control and technique to make the cello do what it does. I completely agree!

    • I get it... I really do! Technique is extremely important. In dancing, I can't stand it when 'blues dancers' say they're dancing Blues, when they really aren't dancing Blues. Just because they're dancing to blues music doesn't mean they're dancing Blues! I'm all for mixing dance styles/types, but only if they can first show me the proper technique, basics and understanding, which most unfortunately cannot. And yes, I understand that some dancers are doing it "for fun." But how can one truly appreciate something if one doesn't understand it? Doesn't that add to the enjoyment?
    • After they can show me proper technique, then they can deviate as much as they want! Obviously if they have the technique down, they have enough control to execute what they want and are therefore, purposely doing a certain technique or style "wrong." He was definitely preaching to the choir - but getting cello technique down sure can be frustrating!

    Hearing him play a small part of Saint Saens' The Swan kind of picked me up from my slump, but I was still pretty bummed afterward.  That piece is on my "To-Do List" of pieces I would like to play someday... but at my snail's pace, I'll probably be able to play that when I'm 90! ...argh!


    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Naming my cello

    I think it's time to start thinking about names for my cello!

    It took me a while to get attached to this cello. It definitely sounds a lot better than my first laminate wood cello, but I “liked” her and got attached to her faster. I felt kind of bad trading up that cello for the one I have now...

    My previous cello I named "Cellito" - my little cello! She was very quiet, and a bit timid, but very sweet and patient because she was my first cello. :)

    However, its only been recently that I’ve gotten really fond of my cello, and I've had him for 3 months now. So I think I need to come up with a name for him!

    He's definitely a male because he’s very loud, deep and strong. He has a pretty bad wolf though, which doesn't seem to want to be tamed! The name Cellito definitely doesn't fit this cello. I think he would be offended if I named him that! 

    Yeah, I know - I'm strange...

    I was thinking of the names:

    1) Vincent
    2) Marcello
    3) Vincent Marcello - combine the two! :)
    4) Vincenzo or Vincenzio
    5) Renato - something a little different than the others

    I'm going to have to test it out and see which one fits more. What do you think cello?

    Yo-Yo Ma named his cello Petunia. That name is sooo CUTE!
    But my cello would hate it...

    How Petunia was named:
    "During one of his classes for younger children, one little girl asked him what his cello's name was and he replied that it didn't have a name. He invited her to name it for him and she chose "Petunia" for it. Ever since the 1733 Montagnana cello he brought to Huntsville has been called "Petunia."

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Cello Practice Log #5: Getting there...

    I've been enjoying Colorado's summer weather and went on a nice hike with my hubby, so I did a short practice on Friday and didn't do a video yesterday. I know, I know... accountability... but my priorities were intact! My husband arrived home from campus and wanted to spend some time together. :)  Got to lead a balanced life, right?

    Anyway, I decided to use as many of the method and technique books that I had planned by decreasing the time spent on each one instead. However, I think I'll put the Essential Elements as an optional activity, since the repertoire seems to be taking it's place.

    I was worried that 10-15 minutes wouldn't be long enough, but I've found that it works even better for me. Since I know that I only have a minimal amount of time to get a section accomplished I'm much more focused (I'm still using 5 minute intervals). I think 20 minutes is sometimes a little to much for me because I feel my concentration drifting at times.   ....probably because I have the concentration of a gnat! Although on Saturday I did some extra time to make up my time missed on Friday and made some great discoveries, which I will post in another blog.

    Practice Notes:
    I also started doing 'Practice Notes,' where I jot down any discoveries, things I do that make things feel different or things that don't work very well. I think self-evaluation is important to make improvements and it makes practicing more efficient and interesting! It sure beats "just going through the motions."

    This way, everything seems to be more active and engaging since I seem to run an internal dialogue when I practice:  "How did I do that?" "What did I do differently there?" "What can I do differently to change the sound?" "I wonder what else I can do to make it feel more relaxed?" Normally followed by - "okay, that didn't work," "That felt weird," or "Ugh, that definitely was not right!"

    However, I do get the rare, "wow, that felt much better!" or "wow, that was really relaxed and the sound was awesome! - How did I do that again?"

    ...dear metronome, why can't you play nice and stop being so difficult all the time...?

    I tried using a metronome for the rhythm section in Beginning Technique for the Cello and couldn't do it for the life of me! I've discovered I can only use a metronome with quarter notes and eighth notes - anything faster and my brain shuts down in confusion because it can't coordinate my left hand fingering, bowing, metronome timing and whatever technique I'm working on at the same time!

    Therefore, I'm using the metronome with my repertoire and the book, I Can Read Music, to get used to playing with the metronome first. I'll use the exercises in Beginning Technique for Cello as finger exercises for now because the metronome doesn't want to play nice with that book yet.

    What's nice about I Can Read Music is that it ramps up slowly, so I can really focus on intonation, fingering, and now, playing with a metronome!

    Below is my practice log
    I'm up to two pages now so the image is smaller than usual.

    I wasn't given any new repertoire last week, so the video is all of the pieces I've learned so far. At the end of the summer, Adam would like to go over all of the songs I've learned.

    Things to work on:
    • Continue working on getting a nice relaxed left hand and drop the elbow more
    • Continue working on getting a nice relaxed bowing hand and bend the wrist more
    • Intonation... especially during the French Folk Song, I always have issues with my first finger in this piece!
    • Continue working on Song of the Wind! I obviously don't know this very well because I don't consistently get this piece right. I'd better get this one down by my next lesson so I can move on to the next piece! :)
    • Make sure my bow points downwards
    • Watch the string crossing to A in Lightly Row

    Improvements since my last video:
    • Definitely a lot less stiff than my previous video 
    • My left wrist is a lot straighter, but I still need to drop my elbow a little bit more and relax my fingers and arm 
    • I'm bending my bowing wrist more, but I still need to drop my elbow (darn elbows!)
    Still LOTS to work on! 

      Saturday, June 25, 2011

      My New Cello Project: The 99 Most Essential Cello Masterpieces

      I love all things cello!! :)

      I've been listening to The 99 Most Essential Cello Masterpieces to get familiar with cello pieces since I'm new to listening to cello music and classical music in general. And I thought, "what better way to learn about each piece than to do a little research on each one and post a blog of what I've learned!"

      Yes, I seem to have a lot of time on my hands! :)
      My husband and I both work full time and I'm taking the summer off from school, but he's plugging away on his doctorate thesis - so I've been having some extra time on my hands.

      My goal is to do a little bit of research on each piece by looking into the composer, history, and any other relevant information I may stumble across and post it on a blog. I thought I would post it in this blog, but I already post so many entries that I think that it would "clutter it up."

      Why is it important to understand the history of each piece? 

      In David Finckel's Talk #96: Knowledge he posts: "Musical knowledge certainly encompasses instrumental technique and the music itself, but knowledge of history, cultures, styles, composers' lives and related subjects is just as important, if not in some cases more so."

      In his insightful YouTube video below, he explains the importance of knowing the music being played:

      These talks are AWESOME!! I've watched every single one! A lot of it is still over my head, but I think if I need additional help/resource I'll know which video to watch.

      My new blog project: Cello-Brained: The 99 Most Essential Cello Masterpieces Music Project.

      Thursday, June 23, 2011

      Cello Lesson #15 (6/22/11): Glissando, Bowing, Intonation, D Major Scale & Left Hand (6/22/11)

      *sigh*....  I think I make strides forward and then a hard crash back to reality... :)

      I wish I could play the way I practice at home in front of my teacher. Sooo frustrating… My teacher is super nice (and yes, I know he’s only human) but he totally makes me nervous!

      I’ve even told him as much. Adam said that he used to have a teacher that would make him really nervous as well. He even told me a story of how he was less nervous performing in front of a master class than in front of that specific teacher. I don’t remember how he got over his nerves though.

      I think once I get more comfortable with my technique my nervousness will subside.  My guess is: when I’m thinking about too many things all at once, than everything goes out the window, so I get flustered and then I get even more nervous!

      He said not to worry and that he wasn’t judging me – well, in the sense that he was looking at technique to help me improve. Although I can tell when he finds something wrong because he kind of squints and stares at the spot and I can see it from the corner of my eye!

      Lesson Notes:

      1) Technique Book
      • Beginning Technique for Cello book
        • We went over Exercise 1 in this book, which I was not prepared to do. Yesterday he said we would go over this, but I didn’t practice it. I really didn’t think we would go over it much! I had thought that since I requested to use this book that he wasn’t really going to track my progress in it. Boy was I wrong! I know he said we were going to review it but... I guess, I heard what I wanted to hear!
        • I also was using the book for everything, except the Exercise & Rhythm section so I had only practiced those sections twice. I was focusing more on the String Crossing and Double Stops because those sections were new to me so I wanted to work on them. Oops! Well, now I know better!
      • Finger Exercises for the Cello book
        • However, I was practicing the Finger Exercises book which I showed him. This was a little better. He asked if my hands got really tired because he could see that I was really tense and squeezing my left hand.
          • I didn’t mention to him that in the past, I couldn’t even get past ¼ the page because my hand was so tense that it would cramp up! Now I could do the whole page, although not as relaxed as I should be (but definitely a lot better than before!)
        • I need to work on:
          • 1) Making sure my fingers are relaxed and the pressure from the fingers come from the back. He recommended making the movement more noticeable at first to get it into my muscle memory.
          • 2) Use the pad of my first finger. Currently, I’m using the side more than I should be. I should be using more the “meat” of my first finger.

      2) Rhythm
      • I need to start using a metronome! 
        • Have I mentioned that I hate using the metronome? It completely confuses me more – it’s an additional thing I have to think about.
        • Adam cracked a joke about a cellist buying a metronome and saying it was broken because it kept speeding up and slowing down! Yep, heard that one before – sorry Adam! 
          • It’s not that it speeds up or slows down, I just can’t seem to get the timing right. I'm always a little behind!
      • My teacher mentioned that he wished that he had worked on his rhythm sooner because he used to play by listening to the other members of his ensemble, but it got more difficult to listen to other members for timing when the pieces became more difficult.
        • I can completely relate to this: When I used to dance I would just listen to the music to know what I was supposed to be doing during a choreography and wouldn’t count at all. However, when the footwork became more intricate and with more syncopations it got very difficult to do the choreography without knowing the counts. Now I both count and listen to the music for cues, and it totally drives me nuts when I get a partner who is off beat and doesn’t know how to count.

      3) Glissando we went over this again because we just did a quick video recording the previous day and I didn’t really get to practice it much during my previous lesson.
      • Practice without the bow first and focus on:
        • Correct alignment
          • Making sure my elbow stays at the same height and can move laterally.
          • Allow my elbow to open up. 
        • Prep the move
          • The elbow moves into a small circle before the hand moves down the fingerboard.
          • Preparation allows for the correct notes to be played more accurately.
        • I can also try having my thumb already on top (my thumb kept getting stuck).
          • The thumb should also be “attached” to the first finger.
      • Practice with a bow
        • I need to move bow closer to the bridge as the fingers approach the bridge. For some reason, I kept moving my bow closer to the fingerboard! …having arm-coordination issues!
        • Also, I should remember to apply more weight as I get closer to the bridge.

      4) D Major Scale
      • Intonation
        • Ack... this always changes! He discussed that the 3rd finger is normally a little higher/sharper because than it sounds like there needs to be a “conclusion.” He did some demonstrations and it definitely sounds better!
        • Also, I think my line for my first finger is too sharp and needs to be moved closer to the nut.  
      • For the D Major scale, Adam recommended that I play A, B and C sharp against the open D string instead of playing it against the drone I was using. Or playing the note on my Korg Tuner/Metronome.
        • I think I may also record an open D String and play it on a loop.
      • I’ve discovered that when I don’t look at my fingers my intonation improves because I can really concentrate on the sound.

      5) Bow hold - my fingers are relaxed, but my thumb still seems to tighten up during faster bowing like in the Song of the Wind. Adam recommended to make sure the thumb is nice and loose by:
      • Making sure I can "feel the texture of of the frog"
        • If the grip is too hard, than the blood will rush out of the hand and will not be able to feel the bow’s texture any more.
          • Analogy: it's very difficult to read braille if I were to use a lot of pressure. It would be a lot easier if I were to move my fingertips lightly over it.
        • I feel like if I focus on "feeling as much texture as possible" on the frog than my focus goes to my finger's pads and I feel like my bow slips less. Basically, I need to "check-in" with all of my fingers:
          • What is my pinky feeling? Its normally located on top or close to the frog's eye which is smooth and slick. I can also feel the smooth inward curvature of the frog.
          • What is my ring finger feeling? I can feel part of the cool metal edge of the ferrule/D ring, the slight curvature of end of the frog, and part of my finger over the edge.
          • What is my pointer finger feeling? I feel it resting on the surgical tubing between my first and second joint.
          • What is my thumb feeling?
        • After my finger check-in is completed, my entire hand definitely feels nice and relaxed!

      6) Left hand
      • My left hand is still fairly tense, its gotten somewhat better, but I still need a LOT of work.
        • I need to re-visit the exercise from a few lessons ago. I need to really feel the the fingers being "dropped" down onto the string with the weight of the arm and the back.
      • First finger needs to straighten a little bit - my first finger is more slanted than the rest of my other fingers so my pointer finger is getting more of the side of the finger instead of the pad.
        • The string should be coming across more to the middle of my pointer finger's pad, not the side of my pointer finger. 
      • Exercise:
        • Try to make a sound by finding/using the lightest amount of weight with my finger pads.

      7) Practice with focus during each section of the repertoire
      • Adam recommended as I do a section of repertoire, to check in periodically regarding the things I'm working on:
        • Start at a slow pace and work on a short phrase. Periodically through the phrase, I should check in to make sure:
          • My thumb is nice and relaxed.
          • My left hand is nice and relaxed. 
          • The pressure of my left hand is coming from my back and not me squeezing with my thumb and fingers.
        • If all of these are okay for each section, then increase the tempo a little bit and then check-in again.
        • Then increase the tempo a little bit more until I'm at the correct tempo and everything is nice and relaxed. If I'm finding that I'm tense anywhere, I need to slow down to the previous tempo and work on that a little bit more, than try increasing it later. Yikes... talk about s..l...o...w.... progress!
      • He advised I should never feel worried or ashamed that I need to revisit technique or go over pieces again because that's a part of practicing. He still works on technique and he's been playing for 24ish years.

      8) Repertoire – darn, I forgot to record this! I'll have to do this next time.
      • Pieces:
        • Song of the Wind
          • Use more of the bow – I should be using the bow from the frog to the 1st gold line on my bow.
        • French Folk Song
          • Watch my intonation on my first finger (B and E), which is sometimes sharp. 
          • I'm waiting too long on the A note because its sounds awesome! I can always tell I’m on that note too long because I can hear Adam moving on and I'm still on the note and have to catch up!
          • Slow down on the 3-count so I don’t run out of bow.
        • Lightly Row 
          • This one was better, but I kept messing up in the beginning, so I had to reset and told him that I had to run the piece through my head really quickly. I read through the piece quickly, went over the items I was supposed to remember, and then got it correct the next time through.  
            • I have this memorized, but playing with another person throws me off, especially when I’m trying to implement the new technique I've just learned. I know - excuses, excuses... 
            • Although my co-worker Mike did state a good point: cellist who start at an early age (as children) are exposed to playing with other musicians in grade school or high school, and especially in the Suzuki Method where children play in a group. Whereas adult beginner cellist do not get exposed and gain experience with playing with other musicians until they've started! Therefore, it would be more difficult for us to play with an accompaniment.
      •  Breathing
        • When playing with an accompaniment it's always good to breathe in and while exhaling, start the piece. 
          • In the beginning he had to watch me like hawk because I would just start without any indication of starting! :)

      Another helpful tip from Mike: Mike told me he sometimes records the accompaniment and then uses that to help practice. I think I'll ask Adam if I can record him playing the accompaniment so I can play it back later and practice to that! Mike always has great ideas!!

      This lesson was a little difficult for me…
      I think having a lesson two days in a row made my brain explode!

      Also, doing the Exercises in the beginning of the lessons flustered me because I wasn't ready to do them, so I wasn’t able to relax afterwards. Oh well, next time I'll be prepared!

      Cello Lesson #14 (6/21/11): Extra monthly lesson, Glissando, Music Theory, Finger Chart (6/21/2011)

      In the beginning, my cello lessons felt more like question and answer sessions because I would arrive at my lessons with a list of questions which would take up the entire lesson. I discovered that I was actually "leading" the lessons because of this! Not to say, that it's a bad idea to come with a list of questions, but to take up the entire lesson doing a question and answer session, lesson after lesson, wasn't very beneficial or efficient for the both of us.

      I decided that I wasn't going to ask a single question during one of my lessons. I don't know why I came up with that idea, I just did, I still wonder why I did that... I arrived at my lesson and said, "so what's the plan for today?" My guess is that he had been waiting to be given the reins because he dived right it! The lesson was well thought out and flowed very nicely! Anyway, that lesson (Lesson #11) was completely awesome! I learned more from that lesson than any other lesson I had up to that point.

      The next couple lessons were fun and informative as well. I was loving the flow of the lessons and enjoying my lessons so much, I decided to schedule one extra lesson per month just to go over my questions so I wouldn't interrupt the lesson flow with my big mouth!

      My lessons are so much more enjoyable now that my teacher has been able to lead my lesson progressions.
      Despite my thoughts of thinking I knew what I wanted from each lesson and how I should be taught, my teacher absolutely had a better idea on what I should be working on, which is probably the reason I’ve been able to learn and enjoy my lessons more. 

      I found that a lot of my questions were eventually answered without my prompting. However, the questions that weren't answered, I've saved up and cover during my extra one-hour lesson per month.

      Lesson Notes:

      The questions I saved up were mostly from the Technique books & Theory Workbook I was working on. I requested to record some videos on some exercises I was working on so I could watch and listen to how the rhythm is played. We recorded the exercises of him doing them.

      1) Finger Exercises for the Cello, Book One
      • Exercises 2 and 4. Exercise # 3 was similar to the first so we didn’t record that one.
      • Adam recommended that I use a metronome - have I mentioned I have real difficulty using a metronome? It confuses me even more!
      • We went over Bow Rhythms for Week 2 – I’m still really weak on rhythm, or at least reading it and getting it into my cello.

      2) Beginning Technique for Cello
      • From Week 2 (Sliding Practice) - Sliding on the cello or Glissando was new to me so we went over how to do this:
        • Keep the elbow high enough so it can easily pass over the cello, but not too high.

      Questions from the book All For Strings Theory Workbook 1:

      Ack... music theory makes my brain hurt! I don't think I'm quite ready for this information yet. I think I'll have to hear it a few more times before I can understand it!

      I definitely did not understand everything we went over. I’m also not 100% certain that my notes below are correct….

      1) What are “Whole Steps and Half Steps” or “Whole Tones and Semi Tones (Half Tone)”
      • These terms mean the same thing:
        • Whole Steps are the same as Whole Tones.
        • Half Steps are the same as Semi Tones and Half Tones.
          • Why use different terms to mean the same thing? It's a consipiracy to confuse me even more!  :) 
          • I’ll use the terms Whole Tone and Semi Tone since that is what my teacher uses.
      • How do I know if it's a Whole Tone versus a Semi Tone?
        • Without looking at a keybaord, I can apply this to all Major Scales, I just need to remember: WT, WT, ST, WT, WT, WT, ST
          • WT = Whole Tone
          • ST = Semi Tone/Half Tone
        • Also, remember that E to F sharp and E to C sharp is a Whole Tone
          • A whole tone is made up of two half steps and is the distance from one key to another with one key in between.
      • With a keyboard: Count how many times before I can get to the next white key to determine if it is a Whole Tone or Semi Tone.
        • A whole tone is made up of two half steps, and is the distance from one key to another with one key in between.
          • If I count 2 keys, than its a Whole Tone (WT).
          • If I can count only 1 key, going from a white key to another white key, than it's a Semi Tone (ST)
            • Counting left to right below:

      2) What is a Tetrachord?
      • A tetrachord is a four note scale.
        • A major tetrachord has a 1/2 step between the 3rd and 4th notes and forms the first four or last four notes of a major scale.
      • Below is the C Major Scale.
        • If I divide it down the middle, the first section makes one tetrachord and the other half becomes the second tetrachord:

      3) How do I write in notes for a 4/4 signature?
      • Incorrect – the half note cannot be in the middle (not the proper form).
      • Correct – 3 ways this can be written:

      Miscellaneous Questions:

      1) Getting to the C String

      • I was having some issues reaching my C string and found that my wrist was bending too much, which I knew was wrong. He recommended that I raise my elbow more to reach the C-String.
        • Do not move my elbow forward - it should move upward towards the ceiling.
        • Imagine that I have a steel rod through my wrist and it cannot bend.
      2) Finger Chart
      • In a previous lesson he recommended that I get familiar with the cello finger chart because it would help as I progress through my studies.

        • If going up (moving from C to A string) – then the notes will be the same.
        • If going down (moving from A to C string) – than the note will be the next octave.
        • Cellists use different fingerings on the cello to “color” their playing. 
        • He also said 2nd Position and 3rd Position are debatable because cellists may start with different notes than the one listed above.

        Wednesday, June 22, 2011

        Learning through Active and Passive Listening

        Below is a repost of a blog from Emily Ann Peterson regarding active and passive listening. - Couldn't have said it better myself!


        12 Ways to Listen More

        Every Suzuki student should know the difference between Active and Passive listening, and incorporate both into everyday life and practice. And even if you’re not a Suzuki student, you should still know and do both. You should know because listening is a crucial part of being a musician. Listening constantly to music teaches the brain to listen for those sounds in the future.

        I ask all my students to listen to the entire Suzuki CD (of whatever book they’re learning) once each day. Sometimes its like pulling teeth to get this to happen, but when it does, EVERYONE wins. I don’t think students would “hem’n'haw” so much if they knew how much easier life gets when they listen to the songs they’re learning or have learned.

        It happened this week with one of my kiddos. We missed our lesson last week because I was at Teacher Training, so she did a lot of listening. Oh sweet victory! It worked! She came to her lesson yesterday with the next song’s notes learned and her body and soul were ready to “get her learn on!” Mom even noticed a difference!

        So here’s the deal with listening. There’s Active Listening and Passive Listening. It’s important that musicians do both. Both engage different parts of the brain, parts that we need while playing music ourselves. Both assist in a general comprehension of the music to which you’re listening.

        Active Listening

        Active Listening can be thought of as reacting to what you’re hearing. When you’re actively listening to the music, it has your undivided attention. You then do something that demonstrates you are listening and understood.

        Passive Listening

        Passive Listening can be thought of as listening without reacting. Music turned on the background is a good example of this kind of listening. You’re hearing the music, but not necessarily responding to it outright.
        Imagine a 9 year old playing video games in the basement. Mom yells downstairs, “Dinner’s ready. Bring up the laundry when you come up!” A good example of active listening happens when our little gamer friend, yells “Coming!” and adds, “The laundry’s not dry yet!” Proof of passive listening would be if he paused the game and just came up stairs. He might’ve heard his mom say something but comprehension and understanding didn’t occur (or let’s face it, he might just be lazy.)

        Ways to incorporate Active Listening into your own practice routine…

        • Freeze and hold for the entire length of the song. Do this with bow holds, cello posture, extensions, anything that requires a static muscle memory.
        • Turn it up and Dance! This works wonderfully to songs in 3/4 or in 6/8. It allows you to really feel the sway of the rhythm and musical phrases.
        • Watch it happen on paper! Listen to the song while you drag your finger across the page. I have even known some students to mimic the needed weight of the bow on the page with their finger tip.
        • Air-bow in your lap with the bow upside-down (bow hair in the air) and do the bowings during the song.
        • You make me want to La, La! (Sing “La” along with the music.)


        Passive Listening Ideas

        • Turn it on while doing chores.
        • Listen while you write in the bowings. This should probably be done towards the beginning of learning a piece to have its full effect.
        • Have it playing in the background of work or homework. (Make sure this is okay with your cubicle partner or have headphones handy.)
        • Draw or color while listening. Brownie points for drawing me a picture and emailing it to me!
        • Take a bath and have it playing.
        • Listen in the car.
        • Listen while brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed. (This one’s especially good for (pre)Twinklers. Twinkle is the perfect teeth brushing length!)

        All great and wonderful ideas!!

        What I've also found very helpful is writing in the lyrics to the Suzuki pieces and singing along!
        Most of the lyrics to the Suzuki pieces in Book One can be found on the Amarillo College Suzuki String Program website.

        So far I've only been doing 2 out of the 5 active listening (watching it on paper and singing along) and 4 out of the 5 passive listening activities (while doing chores, in the background at work with ear buds, in the car and getting ready to go to work). Go me!!

        I'll have to see if I can incorporate the rest! :)

        Tuesday, June 21, 2011

        "It's the journey, not the destination" - so hurry up and start already!

        My husband once quoted, "it's the journey, not the destination."

        If that's the case, than I compare learning the basic bowhold and learning the correct left hand for 1st position to: doing the laundry so I have clothes to wear for the trip, or cleaning the house before leaving (I like returning to a clean house, it makes things a lot less stressful), making sure the bills are paid or packing my suitcase for the trip. All the boring, tedious tasks that are extremely important, but not necessarily what brings the fun and excitement; the x-factor that makes me want to return to the destination over and over again!

        This is the reason I want to get proficient in cello basics as quickly as possible: so I can get to the part where I can play how I want, so I can concentrate on the sound and energy that is coming from my cello. I think this is where the real journey begins! This is where the interpretation, discovery and emotion come into play! This is the ultimate journey!!!

        The destination? When I can play a piece how I envision it to be! When I know that I played it the best that I could ever play it, and afterward, the feeling of great satifisfaction, peace and fullfillment ...ahhhhh...

        How did I come to this conclusion if I've never played an instrument before?

        I was given the same quote when I first started dancing, "it's not the journey, it's the destination. Slow down and enjoy learning the basics!"

        Well, I told that person in the beginning and still have the same thought, "that's a bunch of bull-doodoo and I want to get to the fun stuff now (faster)!" And boy, was I right! Not until I learned my dance basics and became proficient at it did things get to be fun and interesting.

        What's even more fun? Knowing the rules well enough that I could break it! :) This does not happen often and only when I'm "playing around," but I've found these are the rare times when it's the most enjoyable and most musical! Of course, that's years into my cello future, but something I look forward to in my journey!

        I'm aware that there is a LOT more technique to learn after the basics and learning basics is a lifelong commitment. I get it - really, I do! I'm still working on my 8-step basic (step-step, triple-step) and connection after years of practice, and it's still changing and adapting.

        I'm just really impatient for my cello journey to begin...
        I want to start playing the Bach Suites, Le Carnaval Des Animaux (the Swan), Dovark Concertos and Kol Nidrei - beautifully enchanting pieces that are waaaayyyy out of my skill level!

        I know - very lofty goals! So I'd better get to it, right? ;)

        This is the reason why I'm so focused on getting my basics down and trying to find the most efficient, and best technique and method books out there. And I think I've found them.... I'll post that in my next blog!

        Saturday, June 18, 2011

        Cello Practice Log #4: I wish there were more time in the day

        There just isn't enough time in the day to practice! For the most part, I'm up to 2 hours, but I'm trying to limit myself to 20 minutes for each section, although I've definitely gone over on some days because I wanted to work on specific sections more than others. I can see why a lot of serious cellists practice a minimum of 3 hours. The funny thing is, I know I can practice longer and want to practice longer, but I'm holding myself back to make sure I don't burn out!

        I started using the books I purchased last week, which was First Position Scales Studies and Beginning Technique for the Cello by Cassia Harvey. I really like the Beginning Technique book because its broken down into weeks and covers bow exercises, double stops and bow rhythms. I'll be starting Week 2 in the book for my next practice log.

        I really want to continue on working on some of the books, but now that I'm learning repertoire and 4th position, I don't think I'll have time to use some of the books I've planned. I'll have to be more picky about which books I choose for my next practice log. I think I'll continue using the following:
        • I Can Read Music 
          • I'm not using this for reading notes (so far) because the beginning section is too easy, but this gives me an opportunity to concentrate on my bowing, left hand fingering and intonation
        • Beginning Technique For the Cello
          • This book is a great overview of all the basic technique I need to know: bowing, double stops and bow rhythms
        • Essential Elements 2000 for Strings
          • Helps with reading notes, rhythm and fingering
        I'll re-incorporate the scale books into my practice sessions later. I think my bowing and fingering need more attention, and trying to read scales from a book distracts my concentration from both. In the meantime, I'll just do the D Major scale so I can focus on my bowing and fingering.

        It's ironic, now I wish we had stayed at Twinkle a little bit longer so I can get through some of the beginning basic books I purchased. I think if I had known about these books while being stuck on Twinkle during my Spring 2011 semester my technique would be a lot better than it is now. Oh and learn!

        However, I have a sinking feeling if I don't keep up with these technique and method books, as we progress through the repertoire that I may crash and burn! So I'm going to diligently continue with these books - although I skipped this today! Maybe that's why it wasn't a very good practice session!

        Below is a video of Song of the Wind. I've practiced it for a total of one hour and 5 minutes so far. I faced my iphone towards my fireplace because my living room was kind of a mess, but it's the same room. I'm going to finish painting the rest of the fireplace this summer!


        Things to work on:
        1) Dropping my right elbow to allow my wrist to bend forward!!
        • If I don't drop my elbow than my wrist can't bend the way it's supposed to, but it feels really unbalanced when I bend my wrist at the frog because my bow gets squirrel-ly! I think it's because when its at the frog I don't know how to balance it there. I wonder if I have a video of one of my lessons that goes over that...I'll have to check.
        • Also, I feel like when I try to drop my elbow, that I'm almost forcing it to drop so my wrist doesn't feel very comfortable. Maybe I should try coming in more at an angle or something to alleviate the wrist pressure. I'll have to ask Adam about that.
        2) Making sure my right side doesn't collapse forward
        • My right side is definitely rotated/pulled forward more than my left side. I think one of the reasons I do this is because I don't like it when the peg touches the back of my head. If I straighten and face forward completely it puts the peg closer to my head or it touches the back of my head. I know its okay to have the peg touch the back of your head, but it totally drives me nuts!
        3) Watch my posture
        • I was watching my posture, but I think I may have over done it because I look totally stiff!
        4) Point the bow downwards
        • This is driving me nuts too! I just can't seem get my bow to consistently point downwards. In this video it looks okay, but when I watch the mirror it looks pretty bad.
        5) Left hand fingering
        • I'm still working on having a straight wrist for my left hand. It's getting better, but I see a few times where it collapses.
        I guess it's not that bad for an hour's worth of practice for that piece.

        Random thought: I wish the pill from the t.v. show American Dad were real! It's the episode where Stan takes the pills to stay awake and to never feel tired. So he's able to learn a bunch of stuff, read tons of books, watch thousands of movies, learn a few languages and does activities he's always wanted to do, but never had the time to do while everyone sleeps.  An extra 7-8 hours a day to do whatever I want - that would be great! Or, I'd take the pill from the movie Limitless as well.
        "Yes please, I'll take an endless supply!!"