Chinese Proverb

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2 year mark...

It's been about two years since I started the blog to track my progress in learning the cello, and I've learned a lot about myself and the cello since then! ;)

Anyway, due to my recent lack of practicing, I was thinking about a comment / observations that around the "two year mark" seems to be where people drop off with regards to playing cello because life seems to get in the way, or they decide it's not something they want to pursue long term. Or maybe some people come to the conclusion that the 2 years of practice isn't worth the "reward"; that is, knowing "just enough" to play through songs and certainly not the way we would have liked or anticipated after playing for 2 years!

I've also heard quite a few cellists, who had been playing around 2 years, comment that they just had to "get to the 5 year mark, and then they would be okay." So what happens at the 5 year mark?? Is that the point where we magically know how to play the cello? Please say "YES!!" ;) ...right? ..someone... anyone??

...hhhmmm... anyway, this got me thinking if my involvement in creating a cello group had kept me motivated in continuing to learn the cello (perhaps learning and playing with others helped me stay interested?) or if I would have continued on the same path of cello learning. I would like to think that I would have continued practicing at the same pace as before and would have finished Book 2 by now (dang it! ...could've, should've, would've...), but now, I'm not so sure!

At any rate, I figured I should list some things that inspire me to keep motivated for the upcoming year! I've been thinking about doing this post for a few days now, but coincidentally happened to run across Mike Block's post first! Oh well!

Anyway, things that inspire me and/or keep me motivated:

  • My teacher Clayton: for being the most talented, hard-working, kindest, dedicated and most humble person I know. I really don't know how he does it! And because he makes me feel like that I can do anything that I set my mind to! I'm going to miss him when he finally wins that audition, which I have no doubt he will do!
  • My teacher Adam: for being a wonderful teacher! Being an extremely patient and understanding - yet "strict," and knowing that I'm a total spaz! Making sure that I get the pieces the best that I can, even though most of the times I was pretty certain that was all I could do, and also understanding that my rhythm is a work in progress, but is still confident that I'll get it eventually! ;)
  • YouTube videos! Without YouTube videos of cellists, I would definitely not be as inspired at learning how to play the cello! Every time I find a great cellist, I immediately run back to my cello and practice some more! Well, after watching it a billion times first! lol! 
  • Playing with others! There really is something to be said about learning and sharing music with others. It's just much more fulfilling
  • Blogging!! It helps me feel accountable and keep what I've learned fresh on my mind, especially when I keep up with my lesson notes.
  • Having a To-Do List of songs! I always think, "when I get to that level, I'm going to play ______, and it's going to be KICK-ASS AWESOME!" At which point, I typically dork out and imagine a beautifully executed, soulful performance by yours truly! LOL! ...such a dork! ;)
  • Finding like-minded musicians! I've met some really awesome cellists, composers and musicians who are all very passionate about learning music. The "music world" is really a different world unto itself... I am just so fortunate to be surrounded by such wonderful people! 
  • Learning about the instrument or related items! I love geeking-out on learning about cellos, bows, rosins, tailpieces, strings, music software, etc. With accessories, I always think, "maybe this will make be sound better!!!" which kind of tricks me to practice more to test it out! So gullible... kind of sad that I can "trick myself" into practicing more! 

Now that the concert is over (YES!!!) I can focus on Suzuki stuff again!

Goal for next weekend: Judas Maccabeus recording with vibrato (I hope!). :)


  1. Me would be 2-year old cello infant as well in 2 weeks :D I think personally for me when it comes to cello, it's not really how proficient I get after learning it for x years. It's how it continues to make the 1 hr I spend at it everyday becomes the highlight of the day :) Heck I would sometimes smile at the sight of my cello :P Hopefully we would both age into the cellists we often heard in our dreams!

    1. Wow, I need to get back on the 1 hour practice schedule!!! So jealous!!! =p

    2. Oops, forgot to say, "CONGRATULATIONS THADDAEUS!!!" :D

      OMG, I thought you had been playing for a lot longer!!!! Wow, you're playing a lot more complicated stuff than I am and playing in a Trio - much more difficult since you can't exactly "hide" behind other people!!

      Congratulations to you too, and I hope we have many more cello epiphanies and cello years ahead of us!!! :)

      ...wait a minute...weren't you supposed to post some videos??? =p

    3. LoL, in my defense I did record myself playing Squire's tarantella but it was so bad i wished it would self-destruct :P

      I think Ben sums it up too well down there on the type of stuff I heard (and hate) on the recordings, yep preeetty much everything. Trio recordings however sound a bit better, probably because of my great band mates :) We will do our rendition of saint-saens' Danse Macabre after this (inspired by Cernat-Huillet!), hopefully we could record that (provided it sounds LIKE Danse Macabre).

      On solo video, the reluctance + procrastination is too great, but yeah I guess yourself and Ben do inspire me, so I'll start thinking on what to do my 1st video. Maybe some music from book 3 that I like (scherzo, humoresque and la cinquantaine), and definitely not tarantella. I am just not there yet!

      BTW, congratulations to you too! Don't really compare because we are just different persons taught by different teachers :) My teacher's crazy (but I like!) method of 'glimpse to the future' is the only reason I play all these complicated stuff! And no need to mention sometimes I just sucked my teacher had to curb our 'enthusiasm' (good example: Dotzauer op 120 no 7, look it up..sounds heavenly if you could pull the double stops otherwise you just want to Stop!Stop! lol - tho i am crazy enough to still practice it secretly at home!) And hey, did I mention I adore your tone? Oh I did right? Like 6 times? Looking forward for your vibrato-ing Judas Maccabeus! Still haven't got the guts to ask my teacher about it..

    4. Yeah, it definitely inspires me to attempt to play more difficult pieces, and keeps things on the more exciting side! My teacher Clayton seems to throw things my way and sees if it sticks, while my teacher Adam won’t let me “pass” until it’s the best he thinks I can get, so it’s the PERFECT balance!

      Kinda like the idea of attempting something that is totally “unplayable” at my level! Makes me want to work harder so I can play more difficult pieces. :D

      What?? Book 3?!! ...need to catch up!! =p

  2. I just hit the 1 year mark about a month ago (~1000 hours of practice), and I've been following your blog for almost as long. Truly inspirational, thank you for updating your progress and sharing your insights! I think of your blog as kind of a digital nexus of accumulated cello experience & wisdom, especially since you are in the same boat (adult learner), are highly methodical & analytical, and the links you provide are simply outstanding material (Finckel, McHugh, the blogs, et al).

    As for knowing when you've arrived as a cellist: my teacher learned how to play the 1st Bach suite in a matter of months as a young cellist, and then it took almost a decade to get it to a point of "satisfaction" (to my ears, my teacher sounds very much like a world class musician). Certainly as our ears improve, we realize how short we fall of our goal to sound anything remotely like our heroes, and this "dissatisfaction" is likely to continue as long as our ambitions are a vital driving force. Hearing a world class musician like David Finckel marvel at recordings of his own heroes and how much he struggles to match their enviable technique really puts the height of this ladder into perspective. There is also the phenomena that as students, while we are "playing" we fail to "hear" much of the of details because our minds are caught up in the mechanics of playing. To this end, I have recently learned (at the urging of my teacher) that regularly leaving a high quality digital recorder on during a practice session can be a very enlightening (if excruciatingly painful) experience. I imagine you go through this kind of process already quite a bit when posting your videos ;)

    So thank you again, and congratulations on your 2 year celloversary. Keep up the excellent work! You will certainly reach your goals if you stick to it. As Emily Wright of Stark Raving Cello put it, "the only difference between you and [her] is thousands of hours of practice".

    1. Congratulations Ben!!! Hope you’re enjoying your cello journey!! :)

      I would be interested in how often you record and how you use your recordings (e.g. what do you listen for, do you do comparisons, do you revisit and listen to your older recordings, do you have scheduled recordings for goals, etc.)? Also, what recording device and software you use? :)

      Yeah, it’s painful… I still get nervous when I have to record a video to post – it’s like a mini-performance! It definitely pushes me to do better. Honestly, in the beginning I took a LOT of videos because every time I saw a mistake, I wanted to do it over. After realizing I was getting WORSE each time (because I was getting more tense with each recording), I settled on doing 2 sets of recordings, with 3 takes each. The better recordings were always the first or second video taken from the first set, but the second set of recordings gave me peace of mind to try and fix some issues in the first recording, even though it never turned out better. :)

      It’s so funny you should mention that! The other day someone nonchalantly asked me, “so you’re a cellist?” After some heming and hawing; I finally settled on, “…not really, I just started learning to play the cello… like two years ago…” She gave me a weird look, and I would assume because she was expecting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer since if one plays the cello they’re called a cellist, and that’s should have been the end of of that, instead of me getting all flustered and providing explanations! Lol!

      For me, it is a bit more complicated than that. I definitely do NOT consider myself to be a cellist - maybe a “cellist-in-training” or “cello-newb” or “someone learning to play the cello,” but certainly not a cellist! Perhaps it’s at the 5 year mark that we can acknowledge that we’ve arrived as cellists! ;)

    2. ..hhmmm... I should probably add that it's just me being weird with my own personal hangup about calling myself a cellist, and that people can call themselves cellists whenever they feel like it! LOL!! ;)

      That does seem to be a bit discouraging to think it would take that long to acknowledge that though... I'll have to think about why that is...

    3. Thanks! Really, I am very new to using this mic (Zoom H2n), so I am still figuring out what the best method or schedule is. So far it has mostly provided a basis to start asking the right questions, and those questions are leading to very useful answers. My current method is to zero in on specifics and try to understand what is going wrong. I'll play once though a whole (or specific problem-part of a) piece imperfectly, and then listen not for mistakes, but for bad stuff that I was previously oblivious to. If I can't fix it with drills like "multiple repetition between two notes," then I do my homework to find several possible solutions and then I experiment. If none exists, I ask my teacher. Often the answer is: patience - experience - practice. But not always.

      Here is a short list of the type of stuff that a mic will pick up on:

      -noisy transitions between 2 notes
      -unbalanced string xings
      -misheard intonation
      -tone (squawks, screeches, and general string noise)
      -noisy legato/slides
      -lack of overtones (ie thin reedy sound)
      -weak/overpowered bow starts
      -uneven/overly-uniform vibrato
      -lack/inconsistency of dynamics
      -noisy contact point changes
      -letting notes die an early death
      -weak/impure harmonics
      -inconsistent tempo/rhythm

      Things a mic won't pick up on:

      -funny/bizarre facial expressions
      -tension in the limbs/neck
      -bad posture/form
      -practicing in PJs
      -quick fixes/solutions/analysis

      I try to play with the mic on as much as my poor little cello ego will allow (~3-4 times a week) with plenty of time to make any possible corrections before the next lesson. It does leave a distinct mediciny taste, but it's definitely worth the discomfort. I feel like it helps to focus my lesson a bit more because I have much better idea which questions to ask my teacher, or at least a heads up on the incoming critique. And hopefully, it spares her some pain as my tone/intonation improves.

      I think the biggest "benefit" of the mic is that it dramatically increases the sensitivity and accuracy of your hearing. This can be a curse too. But as musicians our skill will always be limited by our ears, so really there is no way around this type of "rude awakening" other than opting for delusional musicianship. A popular choice among amateur guitarists ;)

    4. Wow, that’s quite a “short” list! :)

      Great items to listen for – didn’t even consider half the items on your list! Actually now that I think about it… I think I only really listen to 3 out of the 13 you listed: tone, inconsistent tempo/rhythm, and misheard intonation! Wow, great list/breakdown!!! I think I may get too caught up with some of the visual issues that I miss out on all the rest. …hmmm… I guess I’ll have to experiment with audio recordings too!

      Although I guess that would depend if I'm more an audio or visual learner too - maybe a combination of both? I'll have to experiment to find out. :D

      A few lessons ago my teacher pointed out that I should match my bow strokes to an audio play-along I was testing out, and I couldn’t even tell what type of bow stroke they were using! If this dramatically increases sensitivity and accuracy, than maybe I should integrate this too! Although I wonder if my poor little ego could handle both audio AND video feedback! Lol! ;)

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