Chinese Proverb

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

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


  1. hey there hope you are doing great over there. totally agree on the not-so-ample literature for cello compared to piano and violin..based on Eric Siblin's book i am currently reading, i reason cello wasn't considered as a solo material back then, so much so mozart and beethoven almost didnt compose nothing for it..Solo on cello almost frowned upon that when Casals 1st played the Cello Suite, it did raise eyebrows among musical community (despite the sublime performance!) Really appreciate what Casals, Rostropovich and other masters did to shed that lowly-supporting-instrument dogma casted on cello few centuries back.
    That aside, your lesson this week has a striking resemblance to mine, as if we had the same teacher! My teacher also had me bow open string to enforce my 16th notes bowing while having the EKN tune inside my head that only made it harder! Totally can relate!
    On the treble clef, I am currently experimenting on tenor clef (since i am having Le cygne excerpt after 2 or 3 songs from now). I dont know if it works on treble but what I do is relating the staff to position/fingering in bass clef and go from there. In my case it's simply playing 1 string higher than it should be in bass clef. Erm it's not that 'simple' since I am having trouble in higher position (G on A string onward).
    Oh, and there's this app in the Android market called Music Sheet Workout that does at it says. Worked great for me with bass clef. Try it out, i am sure Apple market has it as well!

  2. Hey Thaddaeus,

    Hope your hand is feeling better!

    I'll have to read that book, sounds really interesting! - The Cello Suites, right?

    So... the whole solfege training for intonation is new to teacher doesn't teach that, but I looked it up and it looks pretty interesting. How does your teacher teach/explain that? It sounds like its been really helpful (pun intended)! ;).

    I actually took your advice and started singing Do-Re-Mi-Fa for notes on the D string and have found that it got easier to find the E and other notes. Pretty AMAZING! :). Still working on the A string though, I can't sing that high (really embarrassing to sing the D on the A string - yikes!) so I haven't really been able internalize notes on the A string yet.

    Yeah, that's how I convert it too! I think you explained it better though. It beats memorizing it all over again. :). I haven't had to shift yet using the notes on Treble, or I'm probably using notes on the wrong octave since I'm still in first positon... but when I cross that bridge I'll probably ask you more on that! :).

    I'll check out that App as well and let you know how that goes!

  3. hey there, thanks for the prayers, i think they work since my fingers now are almost as good as new!
    Anyway, yeah that's the book :) I dont usually believe the praises that written on the back of any books, but this one is an exception. Am not usually into books but this book is somewhat informative while easily not boring. If the book was a music, it is cantabile for sure!
    On solfege, I am glad you find it helpful! Unfortunately my teacher didn't say too much on this as well. He just said most ppl (exception : amusia) can sing Do Re Mi pretty well without any trainings since it's one of the earliest things we learn as children.
    And to tell you the truth, I sucked big time as well on A string but I did sing it anyway,in my mind, to maintain peace and harmony in my neighbourhood :) The point here is i just need to know how 2nd Do SHOULD sound like despite my vocal ability shortcomings :P
    With solfege, my aim is to be able to sight-singing the score but having too many to learn at the moment i somehow have to abandon it for awhile. I still can't do it but it's wonderful to see my teacher effortlessly solfege any new songs i show him. Something to work for! later.. :P
    So, good luck to both of us!