Chinese Proverb

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

Working on some improvisation

After a couple of our play-ins, one of our members, who is also a cello teacher, Rex, showed me and another cellist, Bill, how to do some improvisation!!! Pretty AWESOME!!! :)

Rex had attended the New Directions Music Festival last month and was pretty excited about it. I think I'll definitely have to go next year. I was too chicken to go this year because it looked like it was for more advanced cellists (and I couldn't afford it anyway!) and my attempts to learn improvisation were epic fails so I wanted to hold off until I could understand / play some improvisation. :)

Anyway, it was an interesting way of approaching how to improvise. Basically, he would start a rhythm, I would add something on, and then Bill would add something, and we would just go around taking turns. I'm not sure if I was in tune, because I was focusing more on rhythm, but to me it was sounding pretty decent! Both times I think we played for an hour or so, and time just flew by!

Way back when...when Clayton was teaching me how to do some jazz improvisations, Clayton had suggested that I listen to some jazz (or other improvisations), to find small riffs that I liked and to practice that for a week or so. Now that I've done this "exercise" with Rex and Bill a couple times, it totally makes sense because as we were taking turns I could see how listening for small patterns and knowing a few riffs could really help out in playing improvisations!

We also experimented on making some percussive sounds on the cello, tapping the shoulders of the cello, tailpiece, fingerboard, etc. I've met some cellists who are very hesitant and timid about making those types of sounds on the cello (myself included!), but wow, it sounded really cool once I got past being hesitant about knocking, tapping, etc. on the cello. I've always said that the cello was extremely versatile, but experimenting and discovering different sounds just made me realize that I know diddly-squat about cello improvisation and I'm not even at the tip of the iceberg! ...more like drifting on a piece of ice that broke lose from the iceberg!!! Sooooo much to learn!!!!

A few things Rex had us experiment on:
  • Muting strings to get a more percussive sound while doing some pizzicato and using them as grace notes.
  • Slides - Sliding the fingers and bow to make it sound more like an electric guitar! I was able to get this a couple times and it really did sound like an electric guitar! I need to practice this more to get this more consistent.
  • Chords - Getting the hand shape to play chords is difficult!!! My hand kept cramping up! Rex was explaining how hand shapes can correspond with chords, but I was too busy trying to get my fingers to reach across the strings to get the correct notes that the chord names and info kept escaping me. I can only concentrate on one thing at a time! Lol! 
  • Hand flick-thingy - no idea what it's called, but flicking / opening up the hand while using the second fingernail to strum across the strings, and then closing the hand and strumming it at the same time. 
  • Playing a note and using the left hand to tap across the strings to create a percussive sound. 

It's funny he mentioned that he used to practice using the Ear Trainer (daily for an entire year!) that Clayton had recommended way back when to learn how to start recognizing chords. I guess I should have kept up with that! :(

Improvisation goals:
  1. Do Ear Trainer (Chords & Jazz Chords) until the New Directions Music Festival next year 
  2. Learn one riff a month 
  3. Practice chords / hand shapes 
  4. Practice slides 
  5. Practice using those different playing techniques above 

Sooooo much to learn!!!
I guess my ultimate goal would be: being able to play the cello how I want no matter what genre or difficulty level, and sounding fabulous while doing it! One day.... ;)


  1. The ear training site is awesome, thanks for the heads up! Chromatic intervals up and down are a real challenge. Btw, I would love to see a demonstration video of those new techniques when you're ready for it ;)

    Did you get to learn anything like in this video? (like a left hand hammer-on/pull-off guitar technique)

    1. Sweet video!! :) Just got stuck in a YouTube hole watching a bunch of Luka's videos!

      I actually knew about the left hand hammer-on/pull-off guitar technique because it's great for fast and slow playing technique. Clayton had mentioned it during a lesson and then an instructor, Burke, at Navarro String Camp pretty much went over the same info. ...haven't practiced it much though. :(

      And I've never used it with improv before, or playing the hammer-on/pluck-offs on a different string while playing the bow on another either.

      Lol...Every time I try to do improv I swear my head is going to explode! I'll try to record something in a few months... if I can get it sounding decent! ;)