Chinese Proverb

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cello Lesson #13 (6/15/11): Bowing, Left hand, 4th Position & New Piece: Song of the Wind

I was completely off yesterday! I know I normally complain that I sound awful and have to focus more on specific technique, but yesterday nothing was working for me! Things that I thought I normally have down were completely out the window. Maybe it was because I didn't get much sleep the night before, I had a headache during the lesson and I didn't get to do my normal 10 minutes of warm up before my lesson... ugh...I know, a bunch of excuses, but still very frustrating! :(

I wrote really crappy notes too! I’m going to have to do this from memory! Normally I’ll have 1.5 to 2 pages of notes with more complete sentences, this is barely half a page and incoherent. Complete chicken-scratch...

Lesson notes:

1) Cello Maintenance – it seems my lessons always start with cello maintenance. I should really get this down and understand how I need to take care of my cello so we don’t spend so much time on it. Although, it's been very informative because Adam has been explaining and showing me how to maintain my cello as he’s doing the maintenance and also going over helpful tidbits of information. Always a learning opportunity!
  • Bridge fix
    • My bridge was bent, tilted/curving at the top in the wrong direction. The feet were fine and still between the dots, which I’ve been watching for. The pressure from the strings had made it tilt towards the fingerboard, but I couldn’t tell - it looked straight to me.
      • I don’t think I’ll be doing that adjustment any time soon, I have a feeling if I tried it, I would snap the bridge in half.
  • Location of bridge
    • We discussed that the bridge should be approximately between the f holes and between the little spikes on the f holes. It’ll be different for each cello because each cello produces sound differently. Since moving the bridge changes the sound, it's ultimately the cellist’s preference that will determine where the bridge will be. But in general, it should be located below:
  • Bridge types
    • We also discussed different types of bridges, and I remembered what a French and Belgian bridge was from my recital when he showed me his two custom bridges. The Belgian bridge has a higher arch (picture below from Pinksterboer's Tipbook Cello).
      • French - enhances lower frequencies and makes the sound mellower. Commonly used for beginning cellists.
      • Belgian - brighter, more pronounced sound and more clarity on A and D String, but low registers may not be as clear.
  • Plug – Adam recommends the plug be pushed in further because there are two bass bars at the top and the bottom that will allow the cello to expand and contract for weather changes so the plug should be in a little further.

2) Sitting position
  • We went over sitting posture briefly. I was tucking my left foot behind my chair, which I don't do at home, I'm not sure why I did it during this lesson. Anyway, we got into a discussion on how heels changes how one sits.
    • I feel like heels actually makes me want to lean forward a bit more, but makes it harder for me to move my feet towards the front. Although being on the balls of my feet help feel like I can "push off."
  • Items to remember:
    • 1) Make sure that both legs are touching the correct spots. My left leg was behind my cello - a total off day, I normally don't do this... I think...
      • I'm pretty sure I don't at home. I can't do it even if I tried because my chair at home doesn't have four legs, it has one in the middle with 5 or 6 arms that spread out to steady the chair, so I can't put my foot back there because the arms get in the way.
    • 2) Make sure my posture is nice and tall.

3) Conscientious scales
  • As he left to grab his cello, I did a quick scale warmup and he happened to come in later when I wasn’t really paying much attention. I have all the luck, I’m blaming it on my headache!
  • What I normally do when I do scales is make up little exercises and work on one specific aspect at a time. It makes things much more fun and interesting.
    • Example: I think, “Okay, this time while doing D Major scale, I’m going to focus on the most relaxed bow grip ever while still making a good sound.” Or, “This time, I’m going to do D Major only at the tip (or frog) of the bow only.” Or, “This time, I’m going to make sure my bow points downward the entire time.”
  • He said doing conscientious scales are important because a lot of cellists warmup with scales and do it without thought, which isn't very beneficial and just wastes time. 
  • We went over what to focus on during my scale practice, which was:  
    • 1) Making sure my elbow was “pulling back” more
    • 2) Making sure the weight wasn’t from squeezing my hand
    • 3) Making sure that my wrist was straight
    • 4) Making sure my thumb was behind my 2nd finger, not my third
  • I have to admit, I don't normally focus on my left hand during my scale warmups – mostly just my bowing, so I’ll add that to my warmup.
  • I also have problems moving from G to A string in 1st postion because my wrist is bent. When moving my hand position should remain the same and the elbow dropping slightly down and away will put it on the A string. The movement should not come from any part of my hand or wrist.
  • Finger spacing -  I need to watch my 1st and 4th finger. Remember that fourth is a teeny bit further than I think and not to allow my 1st finger to drift towards the nut.
  • I tend to drop my elbow which puts a bend in my wrist, so I need to make sure I hold it up. I think it almost feels like an ballroom posture - uplifted in shoulders, chest, arms and elbow... I can also think of it as pushing my wrist up to counter the bend.
  • When doing scales I tend to repeat the last note, which will cause issues later, i.e. it will restrict what I can do with scales later when I learn different rhythms and patterns, so I need to stop repeating the last note.
  • He also mentioned that it would be a good idea to record myself to see what I'm doing wrong. I haven't told him that I've been keeping a video log and blog, so I'll have to tell him during my next lesson.

4) Bowing
  • Bow needs to point downwards at the frog.
    • Allow the wrist to to bend at the frog. *sigh*
      • Really, I thought I had this down before, but I was having a really bad off day. I’m going to have to work on this tonight and make sure that I haven’t lost it!
    • When bowing on A & C string, there is a slight contra-body movement where the body twists at the waist. I, however, twist and allow my shoulders to slump forward, so I need to focus on having a nice straight posture.
    • This should feel like a wire is attached at the top of my head holding me up. Or another dancing analogy, the coat-hanger posture:
      • The head is a the coat hanger hook and everything below the top of the shoulders is hanging nice and relaxed like a long coat hanging on a coat hanger! Nice, tall and relaxed.
  • Going over correct and incorrect positions
    • During the last few of lessons Adam has been really good about letting me know what's correct versus incorrect. I’ve found this has been very helpful because in prior lessons he would mostly point out parts that I needed to fix.
      • Or I wasn’t listening to all the positive/correct things he was saying, which is what I typically tend to do.
    • This has been helpful because instead of just working on one specific variable, I would change the entire thing and make it worse because I thought the whole position was incorrect. Now that I know what is correct, I can leave that portion unchanged and try to fix another aspect of it.
      • Example: I need to work on more weight on my left hand, so instead of just working on weight, I change my elbow, my wrist, the slant on my fingers, thumb position and anything else I can think of! However, I should just work on one variable at a time and not a bunch of variables so I know if one variable helps or not.  
  • Bowing closer to the frog
    • I feel much more comfortable at the tip than the frog because it's easier to feel when its off balance at the tip, so I know not to move my arm in certain ways.
      • maybe I need to figure out how it feels like to be balanced at the frog because I don't quite have that feeling yet!
    • Since I'm okay at the tip, Adam would like me to work below the 3rd blue line of my bow:
    • I added lines back onto my bow last week, when I was working on French Folk Song and Lightly Row because it helped me move throughout the bow easier.
        • During practice, I would think, "Okay, in this section, I need to get to that 1st gold line to that 3rd blue line by this note." It's actually kind of fun!
  • Taping my bow
    • The blue tape is painter's tape I had left over from painting my living room last summer, and the gold tape is the fret tape I purchased when I first started using my cello, which doesn't work very well on the bow. The gold tape keeps falling off and as its peeling it makes a buzzing sound! 
    • I think what I'll have to do is get some masking tape and color it with a different colored marker and replace the gold tape.
    • Also, this time I used a measuring tape to put the lines on. The first time, I did it incorrectly and measured from the top of the bow and kind of just eye-balled it, so my spacing was off. This time I did it correctly and used a measuring tape and measured from the hair of the bow (on the bottom).  

5) New Position: 4th Position
  • We went over 4th position, which was difficult for me because my wrist and elbow is incorrect in 1st position, i.e. my elbow properly is not properly aligned and my wrist is not straight. However, I think working on 4th position will help my 1st position because I really have to focus on having a straight wrist and correct elbow. I'm supposed to be able to swing my elbows and mine tend to be locked and stiff.
    • Exercise: Lightly skate on top of the strings and move the arm up and down. I keep getting stuck because I'm focusing on my weight. What NOT to do:
      • Bend the wrist forward
      • Touch the top of the cello - there should be a curve in the hand that prevents it from touching the cello
    • Exercise: Do the pattern four times each in 4th position: [1,4,3,4], [1,4,2,4], [1,3,2,3]
      • Focus on the wrist being straight, my teacher's correct position below:

  • Also, since 4th position is located in the middle of the cello, the strings here will be easier play because it is farthest from the top and bottom. Therefore, I should need to put a lot LESS pressure.

6) Repertoire

Adam would like to go over all of the pieces that I've learned at the end of the summer, which means I need to continue reviewing and practicing the pieces as I progress. I think this is a great idea! :)

This is my favorite part of the lesson! TOTALLY FUN! This motivates me to have the piece(s) done by the next lesson so I can play them!

  • French Folk Song
    • I was having issues with this - I kept playing the wrong notes! I didn't have any issues during practice whatsoever and had this completely memorized before my lesson.
      • Adam mentioned that it's normal for beginning cellists to play the wrong notes when they've never played with a piano or another accompaniment before because they hear the other notes and get confused. I have to admit my fingers had a mind of their own and was trying to match what he was playing.
    • I was also doing this too slow. Its funny - I was trying to listen to him for my timing and I kept thinking I was too fast because my notes were ending before his, so I kept slowing down, but he kept slowing down to match me!
  • Lightly Row
    • I did much better on this one, and only messed up once during the last portion because I loss my focus – I was trying to listen to the music because I thought it sounded awesome! :)
    • This time, I focused on making sure my internal rhythm was where it should be, instead of timing it to what Adam was doing, so this went a lot smoother!
      • It was a little strange for me to keep my internal rhythm going. In partner dancing I’m used to lagging the music and timing everything off of my lead (partner). It’s extremely important to lag in partner dancing; otherwise, if I’m “on top of the music (on beat)”, than I’ll miss stops, sudden changes or other leads. So playing “on beat” and not listening to someone else feels very strange to me.
    • I found that my foot started tapping to keep the beat, which was a little weird because I really didn't tell my foot to do that!  Seriously, it just went off on its own!! Hmmmm... I guess my body also starts swaying when I hear really great dance music too! :)
7) Intonation

  • Adam explained that playing with an accompaniment helps improve intonation because it helps set a base line to hear how far or close a note is in relationship to another note.
  • I seemed to be okay with intonation most of the time, I think its because I've been practicing with drones! He mentioned that he was playing in 3rds during French Folk Song and that a person is either in tune or not at all, and I sounded fine for most of the parts! :)
  • There was also a section that was in 6ths which totally threw me off! It sounded very discordant! I think he said 6ths, but my memory is a bit fuzzy since I didn't write it down in my notes. Apparently using 6ths highlights the harmony right after the section and adds "spice" or contrast.

8) New Piece: Song of the Wind
  • We went through this very briefly since we ran out of time and I didn't get to play it during the lesson, but I think I can have this memorized by the next lesson.
  • Things to work on:
    • Circle bow during the rests to get back to the frog.
    • At the comma, take a breath.
      • I would like to ask more about the timing of this. I've noticed that a lot of cellist use breathing for timing.
  • Lyrics:
    • Wind the wind blows through the branches, how they bend and sway. How they bend and sway.
    • Doves and robins flap their wings and they they fly away, away.
    • Doves and robins flap their wings and then they fly away.
I'm always surprised to find how much information is provided during my lessons. I guess, I'm definitely getting my money's worth! ;)

I think blogging is really helping and getting the information processed! I'm going to have to do a quick blog about that.

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