Chinese Proverb

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lesson #29 (10/24/11): Last cello test (finally!)

I haven't made much progress since I received my new (final) cello because I've had to re-learn my bow angles and finger spacing. Hopefully next week I will post the next Suzuki piece: Long, Long Ago.

Cello test
  • I finally got my cello back from the luthiers so we tested and recorded my cello during this lesson. This was the cello I purchased without my teacher seeing it first. I know, I'm not supposed to do that, but I just liked this cello immediately. Love at first sound/bowing/touch! :).
  • Fortunately my teacher liked it better than the other cello, this cello has more volume and isn't as "muddy" as the other cello
  • The audios for Jonathan Li cello with different strings and bows are posted below. The first half of each recording uses a cheap carbon fiber bow and the second half of the recording uses a pernambuco Paesold bow
    • Evah A and Permanents D, G, C:  
    • Jargar Fortes on A&D and Permanents on G&C:

  • My other cello was really dark and I wasn't used to how "bright" this one was, so I darkened the tone by switching the strings to Jargar fortes for A & D, Permenant G and Obligato C. Although my teacher said my other cello was pretty dark and "muddy" and he didn't think this cello was bright at all, and it was probably because I was so used to how the other one sounded
  • I switched it back to the strings I had before I went to my lesson: Evah A, and Permanent D, G & C and recorded this as well. This is what I currently have on my cello
  • The original strings were Evah A&D and Belcanto G&C, but the Evah D was fairly muted and the Belcantos were a bit on the fuzzy side, i.e. not very focused. Although I think it would probably get more focused as I played the cello more

The items below weren't covered during my lesson, just stuff I've been working on independently.

Ear Training
  • I had a conversation with my husband regarding cellos tones and the preferences of beginners, and I came to the conclusion that I agree with my husband, the darker (sometimes muddier) tones do tend to hide bad sounds easier than bright focused cellos which is probably why I liked my first cello!
  • I've been doing some ear training and I've noticed that it's definitely a lot easier to recognize notes on "bright" cellos than "dark" cellos
  • The main idea with this program with regards to recognizing notes and being able to tell if a note is in tune, is assigning characteristics, descriptions, emotions, etc. to each note
    • Example: F# sounds "twangy" and a bit hard
      • Also, to me D on the A string sounds "silvery." What I would imagine silver (metal) would sound like if it had a sound because it sounds slippery and shinny to me...I'm still in the process of assigning characteristics so I'm not very good at describing them yet
      • And E sounds mellow to me, and if that note was a type of metal, I would imagine that it was bronze because its not particularly shiny, its a bit soft and its a little laid back! 
        • It's kind of weird that I'm assigning types of metals to the tones because most people generally assign emotions and other descriptions, and I don't have a lot of knowledge on metals either! I guess when I think of "properties" I think of metals
      •  Anyway, its also good if I can associate feelings or emotions, but I haven't been able to do that yet. Although I've read that will become easier to do once I start doing minor scales
  • Back to the other point, I can't seem to hear these "characteristics" as easily on my other cello because the notes aren't that vibrant on that cello and the cello is quite a bit darker and richer (more overtones)
    • Hmmm...does darker sounding cellos always have more overtones? Is that why its easier to hide bad tones?

Re-learning & muscle memory
  • I was really frustrated with switching to my new cello and having to re-learn the finger spacing and bowing angles. I think the bridge is a bit higher on this cello and narrower or something, because my bow angle for this cello is definitely a lot sharper and I still haven't been able to get used to it yet
  • I tried playing all of the old repertoire and they sounded way off so I have to re-work all the correct bow angles to those old pieces as well

I don't have a lesson this Monday since its Halloween and my teacher is busy, but this will give me another week to work on my bow angles and finger spacing.

Now that I've finally settled on my cellos, I can finally focus on practicing and not wasting time on finding a cello! ...although I'm still looking for a bow...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lesson #28: Another Bow Trial, More Perpetual Motion & More Intonation

This was an interesting, fun lesson!

I was hoping to test and record my other cello, but I still haven't received it from the luthier's yet, but I should have it soon! :D

Bow Test
  • I bought a cheap Chinese bow from eBay - I know, I'm not supposed to buy stuff from eBay...but I couldn't help myself! I won/bought it for $25.00 and the shipping was $29.99
  • Overall, I liked how it felt in my hand and how stiff it was; however, the bow doesn't give as rich a sound as the Paesold bow I'm currently using, but I did make a discovery - I prefer bows that are even more lighter and stiffer than the bow I'm currently using! 
    • Lighter bows to me feel more slender and fit better in my hand, and to me, it feels like I have to do less work to get a good sound from my cello
    • I also found that the current Paesold bow I have isn't as stiff as I want it to be, but I didn't discover this until I started working on Perpetual Motion. I found when I use a stiffer bow than the Paesold, that its easier to do this type of bowing
  • My teacher recommended that I send it back and try another bow, so I think I may have to do that 
    • Adam mentioned when we first tried out the bows that he didn't like the one I'm currently using because it wasn't stiff enough. However, I chose the bow anyway because it felt better in my hand than the other bow, which felt more chunky to me (oops, should have listened to him!)
    • He recommended that its best to go with a bow that can handle advanced bowing, even if it doesn't feel as comfortable. Bows that feel comfortable but can't react well or do advanced bowing is very limited in their capability, and I would get used to how "uncomfortable" the bow will feel anyway
  • Bow critique
    • I don't know how my teacher does it, but he was able to pick out a bunch of stuff wrong with the bow! I guess he has a fairly trained eye with regards to this type of stuff!
    • Adam noticed that the bow was a little warped, and the frog was starting to lift up off the stick. Also, he knew it wasn't made of Pernambuco, which it was made of IPE wood, and that the hair on the stick wasn't perfectly straight either! 
      • This is sometimes done to correct a bow that is warped and bending to one side - the bow maker will put more hair on one side to straighten it out. Sometimes its not straight because the bow-maker simply isn't that skilled to hair it perfectly straight 

Perpetual Motion
  • I thought I played this "okay" during the lesson, but my teacher said my bowing was much improved from my last lesson. I can't really tell though - maybe I've gotten used to how I'm supposed to do this type of bowing that I don't remember how I used to do it 
    • Although I did practice this very slowly for a while to get the right bowing for each note
  • The first half of the piece I didn't play that well, but once I got into the groove of things, which was half way through the piece, my bowing and the sound just came out on its own! 
    • I think if I were able to warm-up, instead up driving straight from work to the lesson, than I would be more consistent in my bowing
  • As far as intonation goes, it wasn't a complete disaster, which was surprising. :). However, I still need to work on my F# and watch my E. My finger keeps moving towards the nut which makes it flat when I move from the A string to the D string

Perpetual Motion Doubles
  • I was able to doubles during the lesson - Yaay! :). It also helped that he was pretending not to pay attention! And yes, he admitted as much! :).
    • I've mentioned this a few times in my blog, but my teacher still makes me nervous when he watches me play. It reminds me of a falcon watching a poor field mouse! Okay, it's not that bad, but I'm really self-conscious so I get nervous pretty easily. I'm still trying to get over that and I've gotten better for the most part - I think...
  • Anyway, it wasn't too bad since I had practiced doubles during the past two weeks, and I thought l played it fairly decently, especially since when he initially showed me how to do it two weeks ago I couldn't even get past the first measure and was unable to find the rhythm
    • I had recorded him playing the Perpetual Motion Doubles during that lesson, and had to slow it down to half speed to figure out the rhythm! Yeah, it was that bad! I also had to listen to it repetitively to get it into my head too. 
      • I put the video on a loop and listened to it through my headphones at work. 
    • Once I got the rhythm it into my head, I had issues combining my left hand and right hand. My left hand was moving faster than my right hand, so I had to slow it waaaay down - even slower than half speed to get my left and right hand coordinated
    • Anyway after that, I was able to play it at half speed and then increase the tempo slowly. It still isn't as fast as the way my teacher plays it, but I think I should be able to get there in another week or so
  • My teacher mentioned a story of a guy that didn't like making any mistakes. So much so, that he only practiced very slowly to prevent any mistakes from occurring and would only increase the tempo once he got it down perfectly, which was also very frustrating for the musicians he played with. However, his performances were pretty flawless. I'm not sure I have the patience to do that, but its a good idea

  • I was telling/complaining to my teacher that my ear isn't very developed; that is, I can't tell if something sounds off because right now chords that are supposed to sound dissonant sound good to me too! And, I really can't tell when an individual note is off. I can tell when a note is really off, but other than that, not really, which is obvious in my E and F# notes 
    • My teacher kind of laughed when I told him this, and said he was wondering why my E's and F#'s were kind of all over the place when we kept going over it! 'Cause I can't hear if its off! =p.
    • I can only tell if my E and F# are off because my hand position feels off to me, but the sound itself is difficult for me to determine
  • My G on the D string and my D on the A string sound good, so my teacher recommended that I "ground" these fingers and move the other fingers to the appropriate spot. For me, its easier to hear G and D because it rings so much easier than the other notes
  • Spacing between fingers 
    • Need to work on keeping my fingers slanted and making sure my third finger has a bigger gap from my first finger 
  • We kind of got off on a tangent when we started talking about Janos Starker, who is one of my favorite cellists. I think it may be one of my teacher's favorite too, he called him a "great technician." I know some people find Mr. Starker to be to robotic and unemotional, but I don't find that to be true at all! I think I may have mentioned this in a previous blog - I can't remember what I've posted any more since there are so many!
    • As a dancer, I like to evaluate body movement and when I watch Mr. Starker play it's simply AMAZING! I've watched several YouTube videos of Mr. Starker, which I I've put on mute to watch for body movement and then play it with audio and I can't believe how precise, relaxed and controlled he is! I want to be able to do that!
    • I also have two of his MP3s, Suites for Solo Cello and Cello Essential, and I really love his phrasing, dynamics and expression! It definitely is NOT unemotional or robotic! Although I understand the dichotomy between his movement and the sound can be misleading to some, but just listen to any of his music (without watching him) and its just so very expressive! IMHO
    • I liken this to dancing, most people who are beginner dancers love watching aerials and "flash & trash" (i.e. lots of tricks), which for the most part doesn't need a lot of technical skill, and think that more advanced dancers who are more subtle and technically sound who do less "flash & trash" to be boring! ...I don't know, I'm just drawn to really good body movement! 

  • Continue bowing and getting comfortable with the new bowing, once this is down try putting it on autopilot and focus on my left hand and intonation. I should be comfortable enough with this new bowing to put it on "auto-pilot," and need to continue working on it until I am  
  • Work on intonation specifically on E and F#
  • Work on left hand fingering and making sure that my hand is tilted correctly

Next Lesson

  • Go over Long, Long Ago and possibly Allegretto. I have Long, Long Ago pretty much down so I think we should go through that piece fairly easily and do Allegretto as well during the next lesson. I've actually been working Happy Farmer and Minuet C because I wanted to skip ahead and have some fun. Who doesn't skip ahead, right? ;).

I also have to rework my new bowing technique into the old pieces to get more contrast in my bowing and to make the pieces sound better, and to also work on my intonation on the older pieces now that I don't have markings on my fingerboard.
I've been trying to apply the new bowing I learned with Perpetual Motion to Rigadoon (skipped ahead again) so that should be pretty fun once we get to that piece.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Lesson #27 (10/04/11): Bowing & Intonation

     I've been really curious lately about how to play cello in Jazz and Blues because I dance to Lindy Hop (Swing) and Blues and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could play along or jam with people when I get good enough.

    However, I've found that there isn't a lot of information that teaches jazz for cello or improvisational cello for that matter. Although I think the cello is a very versatile instrument, I haven't seen a lot of sheet music or information out there. I'm curious if playing Jazz with a cello is frowned down upon, or maybe it's not as versatile as I thought it was. 

    Anyway, I asked my teacher if he could teach any of this to me and he admitted he doesn't have much experience with this - which I completely understand. Jazz is just a whole different animal when it comes to reading and playing that type of music. I'm going to have to research this further.

    I've also discovered that the guitar and violin have so much more literature, music sheets and information out there than the cello. Why is that?

    My lesson notes:

    • Since I removed the frets and thumb marker, I brought along my tuner to check whether my fingers were in the correct place. I didn't want to spend the entire lesson looking for a specific note and since I already know I need to work on this, I didn't want to spend much time on it
    • Using the tuner
      • Adam warned me about not becoming too dependent on the tuner. I told him I primarily use it to make sure that I can find my E because if my first finger is correct, than all of my other fingers are generally in tune 
    • Recommendations
      • Use chords and open strings to check intonation and find the E
      • Listen for sympathetic vibrations, i.e. ringing
    • Focus on bowing, not on intonation (for Perpetual Motion only)
      • Just for this piece, Adam would like me to focus more on my bowing instead of my intonation, not to say throw intonation completely out the window, but for this piece he wants me to get the bowing down before anything else. 
        • He recommended going back to the older pieces to work on intonation since I had the bowing down for those so I can focus primarily on intonation
    • Need more "bite" on the A string
      • I'm still missing the "bite" on the A string which is noticeable compared to the notes on the D string. Notes on the D are nice and full, and notes on the A string sound like an after thought
      • I can feel the bow grabbing the D string, but I can't feel the bow grab the A string, so I think I don't have the basic movement down to grab the A string. My angle is probably off or something so I'll have to work on this more
    •  Exercise:
      • Play open D on all notes on the D string and open A on all notes on A string to focus strictly on bowing. For example, the second measure is:
        • F# => D                     G => D
        • G => D                      E => D
        • A => A                      A => A  
        • F# => D                     A => A
      • Sounds easy, but it totally made my brain explode!
      • First, I tried reading the notes, and playing only the D on the open strings. It was confusing because seeing and expecting a note, and not hearing it totally threw me off 
      • Next, I tried singing it in my head (I have this song memorized), but as soon as I played the open D string for the notes, the sound overrides what I'm thinking and I completely loose track of how the song goes! Very weird... talk about rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time! My teacher said this is definitely an indicator to show whether I know the piece inside and out
        • My teacher warned me to keep practicing this even though it may be really hard now because this technique will be really helpful in the future. He uses this technique when practicing difficult pieces, if he can get the bowing down he can put his bowing on "auto-pilot" to work on his fingering
    • The reason for the focus on bowing
      • There is less bowing technique available than there are notes available on the cello, and intonation work is an ongoing thing. Therefore, the faster I can get specific bowing technique down, the more I can focus on my fingering and intonation, which will make it easier for me down the road
    • Closer to the frog
      • Make sure I bow closer to the frog and use the lower half of the bow only, even though the instructions state to bow in the middle, I should always look for the easiest most efficient way to bow

     How to read Treble Clef
    • I was curious how to read notes on the Treble Clef because I had some music sheets in Treble Clef and I didn't know how to convert it
    • The most common is memorizing F-A-C-E for the spaces or E-G-B-D-F with the mnemonic Every Good Boy Does Fine

    • Another way: I can simply think of it as a bass clef and then think of it as being two notes down

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Cello Practice Log #10: Perpetual Motion Prep Bowing & Doubles

    As you can tell from my Practice Log it was a real struggle for me to practice last week after I removed my penciled frets. I wanted to practice but every time I picked up my cello and played it, I was turned off by how bad I sounded because my intonation was off. It was really frustrating - to the point that I couldn't practice more than 2-5 minutes at a time!

    I made it through the first week without frets and I think I'm ...s l o w l y... getting it down...

    I think I'm getting used to it (I hope), so I'll continue leaving the frets off for now.

    However, I did manage to figure out the prep. bowing and doubles for Perpetual Motion in D Major. It's still a work in progress, but overall not too bad. Lots of scratches during my string crossings (it's that darn elbow being too low again), but I finally got the rhythm down so now I can start fine tuning it more.

    Things I still have to work on:

    Prep Bowing
    • String crossing - lots of scratching from hitting the other string. Lift my elbow and watch my bow angle 
    • Cleaner sound - watch my bow angle, especially coming back from the A string to get a cleaner sound

    Double bowing 
    • String crossing - I either drop my elbow too much or don't lift it high enough. Also, I need to reset when I get back to the D string and make sure I'm properly aligned, sometimes I'm still rotated slighted towards the A string
    • Increase the tempo - I couldn't quite keep it at the same tempo in the beginning, my brain shut down half way through, so I had to re-start at a slower pace

    Once I get this cleaned up a bit more, I'll start practicing on Perpetual Motion in G Major!

    Overall, I guess it wasn't too bad... ;).

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Earplugs + Martini = Better Intonation?

    I've been really annoyed at how awful my intonation has become, although it's only been one week of removing the frets and thumb marker! If my intonation doesn't improve in the next 3 more weeks, I'm going to pencil-in the 3rd fret mark back on to the fingerboard, but leave the thumb marker off.

    Since it typically takes 30 days to develop a habit, I thought I'd better give myself the full 4 weeks to determine whether I can handle practicing without any visual or physical aids.

    This got me thinking, "what can I do to make this more enjoyable for me in the mean time?"

    Two things I've discovered

    1) One Chocolate Martini + Cello Practice =  Fun Practice!
    • My favorite drink is a Chocolate Martini - so yummy!!! Anyway, my husband and I went out dancing the other night, but when we got to the bar, they didn't have the music we were expecting so we ordered some food and I had a chocolate martini. After we finished our food we drove home, and I decided to do some cello practicing.
    • Obviously drinking alcohol isn't very conducive to learning. However, I did learn that when I'm "relaxed" and not worried about intonation, that my intonation comes back to me! All the old songs I learned were spot on! I know this was true because I always practice with my tuner ON when I play any piece to watch for intonation, which I did this time as well.
    • So what does this mean for me? 
      • That I'm probably over-thinking things again (as usual) and I'm forcing my hand to do things that it normally doesn't do, i.e. before I removed the markers my hands were consistently getting the correct intonation; therefore it shouldn't be as difficult as I'm making it because even while I was a bit tipsy my hand remembered where to go!

    • During my practice this weekend I'm going to try and just focus on being nice and relaxed and not be overly concerned about intonation. I'll focus mainly on how my body feels and what my fingers, hand, elbow, etc. is doing.
    • This reminds me of a Family Guy episode:
      • Lois & Peter after a night of heavy drinking, sing some karaoke songs, which shows them singing perfectly in tune and singing professionally. The day after, they reminisce of how awesome their karaoke duet was and how they kicked everyone's butt in singing. It then flashes to another scene which shows them as they really were, i.e. falling down drunk, singing horribly out of tune with Peter barfing beside the stage! 
        • LOL - I wonder if this was the case for me...probably not since I only had one drink! Although I did take more freedom in expressing the pieces! ;). 
    • These are just observations of mine, so DON'T start drinking and practicing! Although, imagining a bunch of drunk cellists practicing is kind of a funny thought! :0)

    2) Earplugs + Cello Practice = Better Intonation!
    • Another thing I tried this week, practicing with earplugs! I couldn't get past how bad I sounded and would stop after 5 minutes of playing scales. I thought, "if there were only a way for me to practice without hearing myself so I could get comfortable with finding and memorizing the position first before working on how it sounded..." I immediately wished I had an electric cello so I could just turn the volume way down, then I thought of earplugs. 
      • I put them on and used an electronic tuner to check my intonation, i.e. if my intonation was correct a green light would light up so I could check it visually instead of aurally. Although I still could hear my cello through the earplugs it wasn't as annoying hearing myself play out of tune!
    • It seems counter-intuitive, but it actually works out fairly well! I made a few discoveries:
      • First, I never noticed how much the cello vibrated against my leg, the front of my chest and over my stomach! WOW!! My teacher had mentioned this during one of my first lessons, but I always thought, "yeah, I can feel the cello vibrating, not a big deal - who doesn't?" But I'm talking about really vibrating powerfully~!  So much so, that I can tell if my intonation is correct because it vibrates with a certain intensity! Feeling AND hearing the cello now has a whole new added meaning!
      • Second, I was able to really focus on my body posture and what my limbs were doing. For example, the only way I can consistently find first position is if I make sure my initial seated position is correct and all the cello parts are touching specific spots on my body. This is all basic stuff and something my teacher has told me countless times, but it just clicked for me how important it really is!
      • Third, when I removed my earplugs, my volume was SO MUCH LOUDER! Almost annoyingly loud! I've been working on getting more volume for awhile now, and this definitely helped.

      Thursday, October 6, 2011

      Cello Practice Log #10: Removing frets and thumb marker

      Seven months after my first cello lesson (has it been that long?), I've decided it's finally time to take off the thumb tape on the neck and erase 3 out of the 4 penciled-in frets for first position. I removed them last weekend, but decided to leave the 3rd penciled-in fret on the fingerboard as a guide. As you can tell from yesterday's post, I had absolutely no luck with that, so in my frustration I decided to take off ALL of the markings! Yeah, I know not very logical...

      Intonation issues without the thumb marker
      • I didn't realize how much I depended on the thumb sticker and am really, really tempted to put it back on!! It's horrible knowing that I can have good intonation by just adding a sticker back on! Ugh...frustrating... I worked really hard to get good intonation using the thumb marker and penciled in frets and now I have to start the process over again. Out of my comfort zone again... 
        • I guess I can't complain - my teacher didn't suggest doing this, I just thought I was ready to start removing the markers. My goal was to have first position down by the end of the year, and since its already October, I'm a little behind!
      • The thumb marker was really helpful because I always knew where I was on the fingerboard and neck, i.e. if I didn't feel that comfortable piece of tape below my thumb, I knew I was off. 
        • Now when I move from the A string to the D string, my thumb moves around which causes my entire hand to move so I become too sharp or flat! I'm going to have to figure out a body indicator or something to know if I'm in the correct place. 
      • hhmmmm... I wonder if it would have been better NOT to have used the thumb marker in the first place... 
        • Does this help the learning process or hinder it? Does it provide a good means for muscle memory or is learning first position without a marker better? Which helps develop intonation faster in the short term versus long term?

      A great thumb marker:
      • I tried some different types of thumb markers, but all of them just got greasy and peeled off. However, I've discovered a good way to make a great thumb marker that lasts until you decide to peel it off! 
      • I had painter's tape laying around so I cut a small thin piece and then put Johnson Strings Fingerboard Tape over the painter's tape for the thumb marker. 
        • This way, the fingerboard tape is sticking to the painter's tape and the Fingerboard Tape's metallic top keeps the sweat from making it peel faster.
        • If I put JS Fingerboard Tape directly on the neck, it slides around after awhile because the glue heats up from my body heat and sweaty hands. 
      • Painter's tape also peels off fairly easily and I can stick it back on a few times. It's amazing stuff! I use it to mark off sections in my bow too. 
      • I also like layering the tape on top of each other to get a thicker feel. I normally cut two thin pieces of painters tape and stick them on top of each other, and then layer two JS Fingerboard Tape on top of that. 
      • The black felt thumb marker that comes with the JS Fingerboard Tape package gets really mushy and gooey quickly, and kept peeling off after a couple of days. I also found that the silver fret tape works best. I purchased both colors, but discovered the gold Fingerboard Tape rubs off to show silver underneath so it doesn't look as nice - so might as well get silver, right?

      Anyway, hopefully it won't take that long for me to get my intonation back...grrrr..

      I won't be doing a video this week (maybe next week) because my playing is really terrible right now! No exaggeration!

      My practice log: Working on LOTS of scales to get my intonation back

      Wednesday, October 5, 2011


      My intonation is completely suffering from taking off the thumb sticker and penciled-in fret markings! Grrrrr...

      If my intonation is going to be this horrendous, might as well go all the way!!!
      I'm taking off ALL the pencil markings along with removing the thumb marker...screw it!!

      Go BIG or go home right?!

      ...grrrr...intonation you're mine...wait and see...

      Monday, October 3, 2011

      Lesson #26 (10/03/11): Perpetual Motion & Bowing (slurs & bow control)

      I did poorly this lesson since I had erased three fret-lines from the fingerboard (I left the 3rd line) and removed the thumb sticker from the neck three days before my lesson. I was focusing so much on my left hand that my right hand bowing wasn't cooperating, but what else is new right?

      My lesson notes below:

      D Major Scale

      1) Bowing:
      • Flat wrists: my wrist was more upright than usual, so I need to start working on making sure my wrist stays more flat and my fingers more rounded instead of straight.
        • Looking at my previous videos my wrists doesn't seem to be very flat in the first place so I think I'll have to work on this more. 
          • I think my wrists were less flat because I stopped focusing on drooping my elbow, i.e. if the elbow is higher than the wrist than the slant of the wrist increases instead of being flat. I'll have to refocus on this during practice.
        • Pinky: my pinky was also straightening out and was more stiff than my previous lesson so I need to round this out more and relax it. It felt relaxed to me, but when I compared it to my previous video I definitely noticed that it looked more stiff and straight than it did previously.
          • I think it's because of my elbow again... a higher elbow causes a more slanted wrist, which makes the fingers straighten more as well!
      • String Crossing to A:
        • I wasn't lifting my elbow high enough to get to the A string so I was hitting the D string. I need to practice lifting my elbow higher and moving my entire arm as one unit. Ack - another elbow issue!
      • Slurs (two notes per bow): I tried two notes per bow, which I had to do a lot faster than what I was practicing at home so I couldn't quite get this.
        • I was practicing with a tempo of 50 with 2 beats on the metronome at home, so I think I need to increase this a bit during my practice time. I'll put the metronome at 60 and see if that works.
      2) Left & Right Hand Coordination:
        • To start training myself to get my right and left hand doing things more separately, my teacher recommended playing with the idea of using different dynamics with each hand; that is, playing forte with my left hand while my right hand plays in pf and vice verse, but not both at the same time.  
          • If I wanted a soft sound from my cello I should play forte with my left hand, which means really attacking the fingerboard with precision and the weight of my left fingers, but playing softly with the bow.
          • If I wanted lots of power and volume from my cello, my fingering should be softer (but enough to get a clear note) on the fingerboard, but attack the strings and use more weight with the bow. 
          • Why not both?
            • If I were to play forte with both the left and right hand, my entire body would become more tense up, which would affect the sound (i.e. a more choked sound from the cello), and I would also tire more easily. 
            • If I were to play softly with both the left and right hand, the sound would be fairly weak and the notes won't be as distinct and clear. 

        Perpetual Motion in D Major

        Before I removed the frets and thumb marker I had this pretty much down, but it all went out the window once I removed them! Although I guess out of all of the pieces so far, this would be the best to work on relearning intonation since most of the notes are fairly close together and don't jump around (disjunct).

        Items I need to work on:
        • Consistent volume throughout
          • The volume for the notes I play on the A string were a lot quieter than any of the notes I played from the D string. I should make sure that all of the notes have the same volume throughout the piece. 
          • Try doing the following:
            • Same as the last lesson - accentuate all of the notes on the A string for now
            • Use twice the amount of bow for notes on the A string for more volume
        • Coordination
          • In measure 10, continue working on moving my fingers over to the D string while I'm bowing on the A string.  
            • As I play the first D note (A4) on the A string, move both my first, second and third finger over to the D string while still playing the D on the A string to prepare to play the F# (D3).

        During this lesson my sound was very muted and lackluster. I think it was because I was really self-conscious about my intonation that I reverted back to my bad habit of playing more quietly. Whenever I feel like I'm going to mess up or know a note is going to be off (because I can feel my finger placement isn't quite right), I play very softly and more timidly, which is what happened during this entire lesson because I was so concerned with my missing frets and thumb sticker!

        Besides getting over being self-conscious, some things I can do to improve on sound: 
        • Listen to a lot of cello pieces
          • Also, count along with the piece to get used to timing, finding the beat and to learn how to count with a steady rhythm
        • Find an UNFORGIVING practice room
          • I always sound so much better when I practice in the middle of my living room, and sound much worse during my lesson which in a practice room at the university. The university practice rooms are more soundproofed and therefore less forgiving. Which is good because the better one sounds in one of these small practice rooms, the better they will sound in a larger room. 
            • I think in a larger room, it may sound better (albeit quieter) because the soundwaves(?) are dispersed, but in a smaller room, the sound is amplified because soundwaves bounce back at a faster rate so it can be more harsh and therefore less forgiving.
        • Or, practice closer to a wall 
          • I used to practice closer to the wall (right in front of my mirror) in my living room, but moved the chair back to the center of my living room while I worked on getting more volume. However, I've noticed when I move my chair closer to the wall that I don't sound as good and it takes me a while to get a good sound again!
          • Although the volume is much louder closer to a wall so that may be a bit deceiving as far as getting the correct volume to come out of my cello. 

        My teacher playing Perpetual Motion at 5 years old! 
        The search function in Blogger couldn't find this video from his channel, so I just downloaded it using a free online software and uploaded it to my YouTube instead. Hopefully he doesn't mind me stealing his video!

          Cello Review, Part 2: Jonathan Li cello

          The first review will be on the Jonathan Li cello.

          The contenders were:

          2011 Eastman Jonathan Li 503 (left with the lightest color)
          2011 Calin Wultur Student (middle)
          2010 Eastman Pietro Lombardi 502 (right in case)

          A quick note: ALL cellos are different, so if you're looking at the same maker and model, the cello will most certainly have different characteristics, so none of this applies except to these specific cellos.

          2011 Eastman Jonathan Li, Model 503, Stradivarius, Beijing, China

          Evaluation: My favorite and will be my primary cello
          • Description: the Jonathan Li cello is Eastman's top cello in their 500 series line, which is described as:
            • A cello crafted from the most select, stunning flamed Maple back with a straight medium-grain spruce top. A refined, golden colored oil varnish enhances the tonal quality of this cello. Each cello is meticulously calibrated for optimum sound production.
            • This cello was made from one of Eastman's small workshops in Beijing where production isn't the primary incentive and only a few higher skilled makers in their shop get to produce the 500 series (Jean-Pierre Lupot 501, Pietro Lombardi 502 and the Jonathan Li 503 cellos). These celli are not mass produced and are only distributed to small violin shops. 
          • The 500 series is not listed on Eastman Strings website either...wish they would post information on these celli! Come on - we consumers want to know!
          • Some Eastman Info:
            • Eastman has quality, properly cured woods and the largest supply of tonewoods from all over the world and takes proper care and time to air dry their wood for a minimum of 5 years in a controlled environment, i.e. they store their wood inside large buildings to protect them from the elements. 
            • Eastman cellos are also backed by one of the best warranties in the industry, which covers any defects in material and construction for the lifetime of the product. 
            • Why so many Chinese made instruments, including these Eastman cellos? Chinese makers are consistently winning Gold at Violin Society of America (VSA) shows as well as other maker's competitions with their instruments. These instruments are no longer considered bottom of the market, nor cheap. Many Chinese luthiers are highly respected and are making professional level cellos costing as much as the best American instruments. These Eastman instruments are fully handmade without the use of power tools, whereas German instruments costing under $10,000 are all machine carved and then, on better instruments, hand finished.

          This NOT an endorsement for Eastman Strings, although I did just purchase two Eastman cellos... ;). And certainly NOT a recommendation to go out and buy a Chinese cello from eBay!!  Please don't! This is just my observations, so take this all with a grain of salt and don't buy anything because what I posted...just saying...just in case...

          Sound Quality:
          • The sound of this cello is very smooth and warm and sounds great under my ear. However, I haven't shown this cello to my teacher yet, so I don't know if it sounds good to other people or on a recording. I don't have an audio clip of it, but I'll post one as soon as I get my cello back (hopefully by the end of next week). 
            • Although I haven't shown my teacher or recorded it, this cello sounds absolutely beautiful under my ear and is very comfortable, and responsive to boot! :)
          • These three cellos were like The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears! The first cello (Pietro Lombardi) didn't have enough volume and wasn't as responsive, the second cello (Calin Wultur) was too responsive and had too much volume, and the third (Jonathan Li) was just right! I received those cellos in that order too, go figure! :).
            • The Li's volume is in between the Calin Wultur cello and the Pietro Lombardi cello, with the Lombardi being the quietest. The Li is not as loud as the Calin, but I don't need a cello with lots of volume since I'm not doing solos, recitals or playing in an orchestra yet. Not to say that the Li cello is a quiet cello -the volume is fairly close to the Wultur's volume and I'm sure the Li's volume will increase as soon as the varnish cures completely and the cello acclimates and settles into its new home. It also has a thicker, richer type of volume... if that makes sense...

          • The audios for Jonathan Li with different strings and bows are posted below. The first half of each recording uses a cheap carbon fiber bow and the second half of the recording uses a pernambuco Paesold bow
            • Evah A and Permanents D, G, C:  
            • Jargar Fortes on A&D and Permanents on G&C:

          Response, Comfort & Playability:
          • The Li's response is in between the Wultur and Lombardi celli and is perfect for me. The Wultur is waaaay too forgiving, i.e. when I play the Wultur first I can't get a good sound if I play other cellos afterwards because I've gotten sloppy with my bowing playing the Wultur. Although I'm sure the Wultur would be great for a cellist who has their technique under control and wants an easy response - not me though, my technique needs lots of work! :). Whereas, the Lombardi is more particular in producing a good sound, and won't make a good sound unless I bow correctly. It was a bit frustrating at first playing the Lombardi, but it definitely has helped me improve my bowing and playing any other cello is a piece of cake! The Li cello is in-between both of these - an easier response than the Lombardi, but not overly easy like the Wultur
          • The finger spacing is also just right on the Li cello. The Wultur string length was too long (27 1/8") and was making my hand tense up trying to spread my fingers wide enough, making my hand hurt. It's also the bigger pattern of the three cellos even though they're all Strad models. The Lombardi string length was too small at 26 3/4" which gave my hand too much "wiggle" room and made it harder to get my fingers in the right position moving from one string to another because my hand wasn't stretched enough and would collapse.  The Li at 27" is just right, and my fingers fall perfectly into place naturally and feels great! I didn't think I would notice any difference in string lengths, but I definitely can feel it in my hands! See...just like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears!
            • Being a beginner, the string length affects me a lot, but I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually. More experienced cellists probably don't have this issue
            • I've learned that knowing the measurements of my current cello is a good idea so I have an idea whether the cello will feel good and to minimize surprises when ordering online. I liked my rental cellos measurements and discovered that it was actually a 7/8 cello! After testing larger patterns I learned not to look at larger patterned or larger measurement celli because they don't feel as comfortable to me. I'm 5'6 so I'm right between small and large patterns, but I definitely prefer small
              • Example: I tested a 4/4 Montagana pattern and a 4/4 Giovanni Baptist Gabrielli pattern and found that they were too big for me. For the Montagnana it was due to the upper bouts being so large (I like upper bouts below 14") and the Gabrielli pattern is just a large pattern in general. I think a 7/8 Gabrielli pattern would have worked for me, but the local shop I tried it at only had a full size. 
              • However, once I get more experienced and my fingers and hands stretch out from playing the cello for awhile, I think I want to try out a Montagnana or Gofriller pattern because I LOVE how those patterns sound in general! That will be in 5+ years though - I don't want to go through the experience of looking for another cello again! It took me 3-4 months to decide on a cello! It was fun at first, then reality sunk in...

              • Measurements: The Jonathan Li's string length is right in the middle of the two and feels just right! The string length made all the difference in the world to me, even though all the measurements are fairly similar
                • Pietro Lombardi cello (Strad):
                  • Length of body: 30"
                  • Width of upper bout: 13.375"
                  • Width of c-bout: 9.375"
                  • Width of lower bout: 17.375"
                  • String length 26.75 - too short
                • Wultur Calin cello (Piatti Strad):
                  • Length of body: 29.875"
                  • Width of upper bout: 13.5"
                  • Width of c-bout: 9.25"
                  • Width of lower bout: 17.5"
                  • String length: 27.125" - too long
                • Jonathan Li cello (Strad):
                  • Length of body: 29.875"
                  • Width of upper bout: 13.5"
                  • Width of c-bout: 9.5"
                  • Width of lower bout: 17.5"
                  • String length: 27" - just right!! :).
            • No wolf tone on this cello!! Well, a very, very small one, which gets stronger with certain strings, but has disappeared with the current string selection I put on! 

            Maintenance & Health:
            • Adjustment: Having the cello adjusted to the cellist once it's purchased should be part of the buying procedure as the preferred setups are unique to each individual cellist. Some shops will adjust a cello for for free when the cello is purchased. However, since the shop I purchased this cello at is out of state and the difference in climate, I took it to my favorite violin shop instead. The luthier lowered the nut, adjusted the soundpost and did some work on the bridge. 
            • Acclimatization to drier climates: Since this cello was made in 2011 and shipped from a more humid climate to a dry climate, it's having some acclimatization issues.
              • What I've learned: Cellos from China may have wood with a high moisture percentage when assembled there and can have shrinkage issues with coming to drier climates of the US. Often times, shops will hold the cello for a time period in their shop and monitor the cello as it gets acclimated.  There really is no way to prevent shrinkage from happening, especially if the cello is traveling from one state to another, or from one country to another. It's just part of the finicky nature of cellos and the process of a new cello settling.
                • Since Eastman creates these celli in a temperature and humidity controlled environments, the shrinking issues were most likely from the result of the cello traveling from the more humid climate of California to the much drier climate of Colorado. Also, the seasonal change from Summer to Fall could have affected it as well. There is no way to tell for certain what caused the issue unless I was able to watch the cello's production from start to finish.
              • The seams opened up a few days after I got the cello back for the adjustments. The ribs also started to bulge at different sections along the seam and the neck started to curve as well, so I took it back to my luthier who opened the seams and cleaned out some of the stain/varnish that had leaked into the seam closing (which may attributed to the open seam). He then let it sit for a few days to help the cello get acclimated and then reshaped and glued the bulging areas. 
              • Currently the neck/fingerboard is being straightened because the neck and fingerboard was starting to "back bow" which happens in dry climates quite often. It's been two weeks since I dropped off the cello but the wood hasn't straightened yet - I'm having Li cello withdrawals... blah! :(. Anyway, the luthier removed the fingerboard from the neck, which is a glued-together unit, to see if the neck will flatten on its own. However, the longer it was back-bowed, the more difficult it'll be to flatten it out. Therefore, if its been back-bowed for awhile, he'll need to use different techniques to straighten the warping, which will of course cost more. He may also need to re-plane the fingerboard playing surface as it is beginning to develop bumps from shrinkage!
            • I'll be taking the cello to the shop in another 6 months just for a checkup to make sure that it doesn't have any further settling issues. Even with all of these acclimatization "issues" I still believe this is the cello for me!

              Resale value:
              • I'll be holding on to this cello for a very long time! I'm not letting go of this puppy! :). However, the shop provides a generous 100% trade in value for an instrument of a higher price.


              •  ....oooo...soooo...Pur-Tay! :). High flaming on the back! 
              • What's the deal with flaming anyway? 
                • Historically, highly flamed pieces were reserved for more expensive cellos, so it became a quick indicator of the quality of wood being used. Although this is no longer true today, there are many modern violin makers creating expensive cellos without highly flamed pieces. I just lucked out and came across a cello that had high flaming! :). Also, cheap knockoffs will paint artificial flaming so they can state it has high flaming to increase the price.
                • Instruments should be made with spruce tops and maple ribs and bottoms. 
                  • In my opinion, they're really is no need to rent or purchase laminate wood cellos, as I've come across cellos in the same price range using spruce and maple. Even though they're more durable (my first rental cello was laminate wood), its not conducive to sound. In retrospect, for me it was less enjoyable playing on a laminate cello. There really is nothing better than hearing the ringing tones of a cello and then realizing the sound is coming from YOUR cello! Okay, I have to admit that sounded a bit conceited, but its totally true! However, it definitely motivated me to get better sounds out of my cello!
              • I'm not too fond of the lighter varnish, I prefer darker varnish, but its still a very beautiful instrument! I saw this olive/chocolately colored cello that was absolutely beautiful. My least favorite varnish color - the reddish-orange varnish...
              • This came with all of the fittings that I requested on my first cello (Lombardi) with beautiful ebony Pegheads (all my cellos have Pegheds!) and ebony Les Bois d'Harmonie tailpiece which makes this lovely cello that much more beautiful..IMHO.

              I purchased this cello and will be using this as my primary cello.

              Wow, that was a long post... hopefully, my review on the two other cellos aren't so long. Next review: the Pietro Lombardi cello...

                Sunday, October 2, 2011

                Cello Reviews, Part 1: Selecting a cello

                My favorite violin shop provides a Pre-Purchase Consultation which I think is an excellent idea! Getting professional unbiased advice from another violin maker! I had brought the three cellos I had on trial. Yes, it is expensive, but I'm going to have the cello for awhile so I want the cello I pick to be capable of responding the way I want.

                I have two reasons why I'm posting these reviews:
                1) It'll serve as a reminder of what I need to look for in a cello next time I purchase a cello in the not-so-near future
                2) I think it would have been helpful if I knew HOW and WHY other people picked out their cellos and it would have been nice if I was able to find other people reviews on the cellos they selected. Unfortunately, I didn't come across any blogs like that...

                Below is some information and advice I've come across while in search of my perfect cello!

                Cello development:
                • New cellos develop in stages like cellists do - at first they need to be broken in where they just need to be played A LOT  - both the new cellist and cello! :). During this time the cello's sound should become more focused, refined and the volume should increase as it settles. 
                  • So far all of the cellos' sound have become more refined, and should also develop further 
                • Once my technique becomes more developed and I ask the cello for more it should be able to respond in kind. If I ask for more volume because I've learned to perform a solo, the cello should say, "okay, you've got it!" and give me the power that I need. Or if I've learn how to play with different emotions, it should say, "oh, that's new, but I can do that!" and provide a richer palette of colors for me to use! The cello should be able to learn along with me and with each development, a door should open to provide me with more options. And as it does so, the palette of sounds should increase along with my technical development. Yes - a cello can do that! least that's what I've been told... ;).
                  • I know that's asking a lot from an intermediate cello, but I'm not going to settle for a mediocre cello, even one in the "lower" price range! 
                  • Why? Because I've discovered my first rental cello was holding me back! The very noticeable strong wolf (even with an eliminator) made it so I had to press down to get a good sound and I wasn't able to sustain any soft quiet notes from that cello. How would I have discovered dynamics if the cello wasn't able to provide that in the first place? Or made strides in my bowing in just a couple of months if I always needed to use a lot of strength and weight in my bowing? Obviously an experienced cellist with good technique can make (most) any cello sound good and play it with relative ease, but for a beginner like me, I think it makes all the difference in the world! I've read that getting a good first cello is important, but I didn't realize how important it really was for me!

                A tip from Linda, the shop owner I purchased the cellos from:
                • "Projection isn't everything you also want breath, responsiveness and complexity. You want to be able to play very lightly and still get a quality sincere voice. Compare the dynamic ranges in various places on each cello. Can you go from PP to FF easily in a single bow stroke? Play closer to the bridge to get an idea of the cello's true potential. Take your time and savor the process you may be surprised at what you will learn and discover."

                Some factors to consider when purchasing a cello:
                1. Sound quality - does it sound good "under my ear," and secondly, to other people? I should enjoy the sound coming out of my own cello!
                2. Response, Comfort & Playability- how is the response to tonal range, expression and dynamic? Does it feel comfortable, and if it has larger upper bouts (e.g. Montagnana & Gofriller patterns) will I be able to reach the lower positions later? Is it easy and forgiving to play? 
                3. Maintenance & Health - will it need repairs now or in the future? Is it a high maintenance cello, i.e. will its present condition be indicator of future repairs or maintenance? 
                4. Resale value or trade in value - how long will I be playing this cello? For shorter time frames, this should be a higher consideration
                5. Appearance - how is the workmanship on the cello? Is the wood and varnish of good quality? Cellists put a premium on sound, but let's face it, we're visual creatures who base value on visual beauty!

                The contenders:

                • 2011 Eastman Jonathan Li 503 (left with the lightest color)
                • 2011 Calin Wultur Student (middle)
                • 2010 Eastman Pietro Lombardi 502 (right in case)

                I received these three cellos from the same dealer from Santa Barbara, California who has been extremely patient. Linda should be nominated for sainthood or something! The poor women - I've probably driven her nuts, and my teacher too!

                I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this cello dealer/violin shop. She also has a reputation for being a very knowledgeable, patient person, which is why I looked at her website and tried some cellos - even though I was very hesitant and scared to buy online! I won't list the website (I dislike listing shop names), but if you're interested let me know. Although it's fairly easy to figure it out after reading through this blog! ;).

                I've played/tested a total of 13 cellos: 3 from Craigslist, 6 from local shops and 4 from online sites (3 from Linda). At one point I had four cellos in my very small living room which was a disaster! I don't know how people test out more than three cellos at a time, especially to give each cello enough time to really settle and develop, especially in the very dry climate I'm located.

                I've only shown four cellos to my teacher. None of the other 8 cellos made the cut for me to show him. Although I have yet to show the Jonathan Li cello (which is my favorite) because it's still at the shop. Hopefully he approves...

                I'll review the three cellos separately. Reviews to follow...