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!


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