Chinese Proverb

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lesson #42 (1/22/12): Etude, Intonation & String Crossings

I had my lesson with Adam a couple hours after Clayton's, and it looks like every Sunday I'll be having two lessons in cello, one in jazz and the other in classical. A very nice cello day indeed! :).

Not overwhelming either, I'm finding the more busy I am at work and school, the more I want to "cello-out." Hhhmmm... I guess it's a form of procrastination for me! Practice the cello or do cello-related stuff (i.e. blogging) instead of homework! :).

We went over Etude and had a few corrections to go over:

  • I know I always write about intonation in my blog entries, and I'm sure a lot of the info is repeated in my previous entries, but I think I just forget about specifics sometimes, and most times, I just can't tell if my intonation is off... I understand the concepts, but my ear hasn't been able to distinguish the minute differences yet, so I think the repetition of intonation correction is just going to occur over and over until my ear finally picks it up! Or until my teacher gets sick of repeating it over and over again! LOL! :). I hope he doesn't, otherwise I won't eventually pick it up. Anyway, if all of this sounds familiar, I apologize because I'm sure I've probably repeated it in a previous post.   
  • For Etude, which is in C Major, the E I normally play in D Major is too flat. Adam mentioned that in C Major the notes need to be more spot on because its more noticeable when its off
    • I remember from a previous lesson when playing in D Major that playing the F# a little bit higher was okay because it was leading up to the tonal center/home and it had to feel like it was going somewhere. I think he mentioned something called tonal expression. I guess in C Major there can't be as much "fudging" in intonation - I wonder if its because it doesn't have any sharps or flats?
  • Anyway, to check whether I am in tune, he wants me to play: 
    • 4th finger on G - play against open G
    • 1st finger on E - play against open G 
      • When playing this, I should remember the hand position to get used to the 1st and 4th finger relationship 
      • Also, if I'm having issues with my my pinky feeling weak, I can move my elbow slightly forward to get more weight into the pinky. This is something I can also do with my extensions

Closer to the bridge & more articulation
  • With this piece I should play a little bit louder and closer to the bridge 
  • We played this together with him doing two different accompaniments. I mentioned that I did NOT like the accompaniment that he preferred because I couldn't hear myself play. He said if I had trouble hearing myself, that may be a good thing because that meant I was in tune!
  • However, this led up to a good point, he recommended when playing with other musicians and instruments, I needed to make sure my notes were more articulated. So for this piece, I really need to make sure that I have my martele bowing down with a good start and stop, otherwise it'll easily blend in with the accompaniment
    • Adam mentioned it's really important to have an articulated sound because its really hard to compete with a grand piano if the bow strokes are in tune with a piano, and a legato-like sound or a stroke that is similar to a piano key stroke, would just get lost. One of the best ways to distinguish notes between a piano and a cello is to have an articulated sound using different bow strokes

String Crossing 
  • I need to revisit the different angles for the string crossings and remember that there is a minimal amount of bow movement 
  • I was having issues when I bowed on the A string and came back to the D string, that my bow was in a different spot. My bow hand also felt less secure after I did the string crossing back to the D string
  • Exercise: String crossings
    • Make sure my bow stays in the same spot
    • Do this at the frog, middle and tip (as many different location to get used to it)

  • Get a BIG sound! 
  • Adam mentioned that my favorite string should be the C string because it can be very robust and beautiful sounding! Right now my favorite string is the G string because it sounds really nice and it's easy for me to move, but I do love the C string as long as I'm not the one playing it! 
    • Currently, I don't like the C string as much because its harder to move, although I've been working on playing the C string so its not as difficult as it was before.
  • I have discovered that I can make a fairly big sound from the C string, but I always feel like it completely over powers the other strings so I always hold back on trying to get a big sound from it.
  • Also, when I first started playing the cello, I didn't like making really big loud sounds and used to play with a mute on all the time, and I feel like I'm having that same issue with my C string right now. I know I can make a loud sound, but I don't particularly want to....I know, I'm weird. Loud sounds scare me! LOL! :). I'll just have to start playing this loud for awhile so I can move on to the next piece - it doesn't look like the next three pieces use the C string. Yaay! :).
    • Wait, I shouldn't be thinking that the C string, I love the C string...

Anyway, Adam finished the recordings of the cello accompaniments and gave them to me on a CD during our lesson, so I'm REALLY EXCITED to do my next recording because I'm going to play it with and without the accompaniment. Unfortunately, I won't be able to do that until next weekend because I'm way too busy with class and work. I signed up for two history classes this semester, which was not very good planning on my part because both classes require a LOT of reading. Not that I don't like to read, but trying to read a lot of pages under a deadline is hard for me to do - so much easier (and quicker) to read when I feel like I have all the time in the world!

Hopefully I'll have something up next week, and I still have to transcribe a song too! 


  1. I read an earlier post of yours and was dismayed to find that your teacher had discouraged you from playing with a tuner after the tape came off.

    Imo, unless you are born into music, or grow up speaking a tonal language, correct intonation is almost impossible to learn without some reliable and consistent reference source. I think that the old idea that it's bad to play with a tuner and comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of how pitch is learned. Singers use tuners. Saxophone players do it as well all the time while playing to check the upper registers. In fact, anyone who wants to play in tune does it. Playing in tune means being able to play with others, and that is one of the most rewarding parts of music!

    I think some teachers discourage tuners because they can't remember how learned as they were toddlers at the time. Perfect pitch is not a magical gift or ability that magically springs to life unbidden or from hours of playing guessing at notes, it's the result of early exposure to consistent and reliable pitches. The source of the pitch learning is important, and cannot just come from thin air. Some unfortunate people learned "perfect pitch" at the age of 4 from an out of tune piano, and thereafter all standard (440hz) music is forever ruined for them and sour sounding.

    Make sure you aren't practicing from an out-of-pitch internal tuner, or you will be practicing mistakes.

    I find that smartphone tuners like the ones you find on iphones + androids are the most reliable and accurate due to the high precision noise filtering microphones that come on most modern cell phones.

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thanks for sharing! Don't worry, I still use my tuners EVERY time I practice. :).

      My teachers discouraged me from using my tuner because they didn't want me to rely on it SO MUCH. Trust me, my eyes were glued to that sucker whenever I played! And, I definitely had the look of SHEER PANIC AND TERROR every time we turned off my tuner during my earlier lessons. I've gotten somewhat better at that - the look of panic!

      In my earlier lessons, I seemed to have played relatively in tune when either teacher played with me (they both commented on this to me), which was probably a good indicator that I was able to hear whether I was tune or not, and was over thinking things, and just panicking and second guessing myself. I'm assuming this is why both my teachers came to the SAME conclusion that I needed to use my tuner less when playing a piece! :)

      I totally agree with you about using tuners though, and use two during my practices at the same time: one for the drone and one to watch the needle.
      When I don't know how a note is supposed to sound when it's in tune, especially when learning a new scale (I'm learning B flat right now which definitely sounds foreign to my ears!), I'll look at the needle and try to associate and create a reference point for a particular note with the drone so I have a visual and auditory connection.

      However, if I can hear that the note sounds better with the drone and my cello is resonating more (physical connection), but the needle is NOT pointing straight up and has a red light, I'll go with my auditory & physical connection and "disregard" my visual connection, but will make a mental note that it's a certain amount of cents off from the center.

      I think if both my teachers hadn't discouraged me from relying on the tuner so much, and shown me how to check my intonation in different ways - I wouldn't know how to use my cello's own resonance or double stops to check for intonation.

      "Let your cello tell you if your in tune" is something I hear A LOT! In the beginning I thought, "Really?! Come on, give me a better explanation!" but now it makes sense. But of course, it's still a (unending) work in progress and something I don't do that well right now. ;).

      It's ironic, they both have different teaching styles, play the cello differently and get different sounds, but this is the only thing they agree on. :).

      I absolutely 100% agree with you that "perfect pitch is not a magical gift or ability that magically springs to life unbidden or from hours of playing guessing at notes." However, I don't believe you need "early exposure," just "consistent reliable pitches" and knowing HOW to associate and create reference points to recognize correct pitches.

      IMHO - I think there is too much emphasis on the "natural born" talent, which I think can only take you so far anyway. The age old question of "nature versus nurture" is no longer relevant, when research and studies have shown that it's NOT that black and white, and it's a combination between the two, maybe 50:50 or 60:40 or whatever. I know this blog entry seems to the contrary, but I do side more on genetic predisposition, just not on this topic. ;).

      I think adults are more than capable of learning an instrument and can make up the lack of "natural talent" or starting "late" because they have better cognitive skills, communication skills, and have a good work ethic (more apt to practice). ...I wish someone would adapt the Suzuki material for adults or create an 'Adult Learning Method' - I wonder if there is a study in Adult Education & Learning...I'll have research that.

      Anyway, getting off my tangent... Thank for the tip on the iphone, I'll have to check into that! :).

      Sorry about the long post, but I love discussing intonation and the "adult learning process!"

      By the way, which instrument do you play?