Chinese Proverb

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

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!

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