Chinese Proverb

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

My 2014 Cello Goals

I didn't accomplish a lot of my 2013 goals, but looking back at my 2012 goals, it seems that I accomplished more items from that list instead! ;) Does that count??

My 2013 goals were:
  1. Finish Suzuki Book 2: Not even close! ..argh... only worked on two new Suzuki pieces this year! :( However, I was busy playing and learning other pieces... 
  2. Start learning how to do vibrato and use it in my playing: I started learning to vibrate with Clayton and when I went to CelloSpeak, but have not been practicing or using it while playing since then. 
  3. Play with a community orchestra: I showed up to one rehearsal! Lol! But that doesn't count since my goal was to perform in a concert with a community orchestra. 
  4. More practicing, less organizing for my cello group! This totally did not happen. I spent more time organizing then practicing this year. 
  5. Post at least 5 videos by the end of the year - that will give me 2-3 months on each piece - Wow, sooooo BAD!! I only posted 2 videos this year!
  6. Keep up with my blog entries: This was not good either. I only posted 42 entries last year, compared to 98 entries the previous year. I swear there is a direct correlation with the amount of entries, my progression and practice time! That is, the less blog entries, the less practice time and progression I feel I've made.
  7. Work on sight-reading skills: I've been trying to do more sight-reading. I typically don't practice any of the music that I play in my group (on purpose) so I could work on my sight reading skills. We have monthly play-ins, so I get consistent practice on this. 
  8. More efficient practice time: I didn't really have much time to practice...? I think my practice sessions were definitely less focused then last year though. 

Despite all the unmet goals in red, I don't feel like 2013 was such an epic fail for me. This year I feel like I became more "comfortable" with my cello.
  • I feel more comfortable playing with others in general; i.e. if I mess up, I keep going and it doesn't feel like a big deal when I mess up either. I think getting over that feeling helps a lot! And I feel like I can listen to others while I'm playing at the same time... finally!!
  • I've been playing "free improvisation" with our group on a monthly basis so I no longer feel as self-conscious about messing up while improvising in front of people - although I still don't know how to improvise that well.
  • I also feel like my cello isn't completely foreign or detached from me (if that makes sense!). That is, when I don't pick up my cello for a few days, I don't feel like I have to start over from scratch. Now I can pick up my cello after a few days of not practicing and do a few quick exercises to warm up and I'm good to go. Before, I really had to work at getting everything back to where it was (and then some), before I could start playing any piece of music. 
  • I also feel like everything past first position isn't "scary" any more. Before I would have mini-freak-outs and think, "What? No way! I'm not ready for that! That's waaaay out of my abilities!" Now I feel like any note on the fingerboard is just a note that can be achieved by lots of repetition and practice, so now it's more like, "Darn it, this one is going to take a while... I'm really going to have to spend some time on this note to get it in tune..." I feel like everything is playable as long as I have enough time to practice it, which I feel like is a HUGE step forward in feeling comfortable playing cello. 

My 2014 Cello goals
1) Work on a past goal: Post 7 videos & finish Book 2 
     January 31st - Hunter's Chorus
     March - Musette
     April - March in G
     June - Witches' Dance 
     August - Two Grenadiers 
     October - Gavotte 
     December - Bourre 
2) Work on a past goal: Play with a Community Orchestra 
3) Work on a past goal: Keep up blog entries (at least five entries per month)
4) Work on something I want: Learn 1-2 pieces from the Bach Suites => already started on Minuet 1!
5) Work on something I want: Learn vibrato and use it consistently 
6) Work on something I want/weakness: Learn three octave scales
7) Work on something I want/weakness: Learn how to read from a lead sheet & improvise
8) Work on a weakness: Feel more comfortable reading and playing more complicated rhythms

This year, I'm going to organize my goals into three categories: 1) working on a past goal, 2) working on something I want to learn, and 3) work on a weakness.

I want to be able to feel like I've accomplished most of my goals by the end of the year since I didn't complete a lot of goals this year so I want to have a good mix of things that I want to learn to keep me motivated, but at the same time work on weaknesses so I feel like I'm progressing. I have a lot of the same goals as last year too, so this should help with feeling like I'm continuing my progress.

My main focus for 2014 is to play and read different rhythms better since I feel like that is the area that is holding me back the most. And this year, my goal is to achieve at least 75% of my goals!!! ;)

...just 'cause I think my cat is adorable! ;)
He always looks like he's smiling when he's asleep.


  1. Thanks for reminding me, I really need to make my list of goals for 2014! You mentioned working on vibrato, I learned a cool new trick from Emily Wrights blog. I imitated a relaxed vibrato I remembered seeing on YouTube without thinking about how it felt, and only about how it looked (in a mirror). Worked like a charm! I think it's great that you are looking ahead to more ambitious pieces! In my experience this in where insights and growth spurts happen... especially if it feels totally alien and awkward at first. Its very much like way you describe learning new fingerboard geography, pushing back the bounds of the possible. Congrats on your list and all of your achievements of 2013! Can't wait to hear the new recordings! No pressure though, I know how hard it can be to feel like a piece is as ready as it's going to be. Only posted two videos myself last year, even though I was focusing on it!

    1. Thanks Ben! :) I'm going to have to try that regarding the vibrato... although I think I would have to go through some YouTube videos to see whose vibrato I like the best. I haven't thought much about that, but I know I want a vibrato that looks fairly relaxed and doesn't look like it's too much effort. Who's your favorite? :)

      Yeah, I'm a bit worried about the videos since I'm trying to work on phrasing which is screwing up my rhythm. I'll just say I use rubato. heh, heh... ;)

      Can't wait to read your 2014 Goals! I may have to steal some ideas!

    2. Favorite vibrato has got to be the hummingbird technique of Rostropovich in his middle years, but as for youtube training, the slow vibrato of David Finckel, Jaime Fiste, Paul Katz. Abigail McHugh has the best set of exercises to try to emulate visually though.

    3. I'm going to have to do a blog entry on your idea/suggestion! :)

      I found some YouTube videos of cellists playing the Swan to look at their vibrato, and I think I want to do an analysis of what I like in their vibrato (and body movement) and apply it to what Emily Wright's blog about imitating the whole persona. Then try it of course, but I'm sure mine will sound like a dying goose and not a lovely swan! Good practice for vibrato though...

  2. Hey ya, not sure if you still remember me, I know i've been silently following you..BTW i think item 5 and 6 shouldn't be red, quantity doesn't couldn't possibly imagine how many beginning cello learners like me benefit from the 2 videos and x number of posts you shared last year!

    2013 was a busy year and was not particularly a successful year for cello for me :( My biggest 2013 resolution to post video and cello blog is still pending. I also found my practice time sometimes reduced to 5 mins before work :| And yeah, still no vibrato..

    But all is not lost, I still think 2013 is a milestone in my cello journey.

    For one I did a solo in my annual office dinner event, which was a bit impromptu since my pianist was supposed to accompany me but unfortunately her stage fright got the better of her :P I dare not to have a look at the video since i kinda lost in my sight reading and was improvising lol. It was a hilarious experience but I lived thru it!
    I also slowly improving on counting and playing with others during the weekly trio practice sessions. In 2013 also, i started my cello suites journey, which I plan to write a blog on since every piece evokes different set of emotions. I did Prelude no 2 and Bouree 1 & 2 from suite no 3 and currently learning courante no 1. My teacher believe these suites better be learnt relative to what I am feeling at the moment and I am kinda agreed! I just got promoted at work and courante no 1 really rocks :)

    But I guess similarly to 2012, I managed to get this down for sure in 2013 : To never let the passion falter, not one bit :)

    For 2014, I am going to concentrate on learning the suites and record my experience about it! Never mind if my teacher still decided not to teach vibrato yet (although I wouldn't say no!), I'll just perfect/master all that i've learn in the past 2 and 1/2 years :) Of course, that passion thingy as well hehe

    I wish for your success in realizing your goals for 2014!

    1. Hi Thaddaeus,

      Of course I remember you!

      Kudos on the solo! I have yet to do that, and I'm totally scared to do it! Wow, how did your trio manage to get together on a weekly basis??

      ooo... that sounds interesting regarding the cello suites and different emotions!!! Please elaborate!! 8)
      Well, I guess I can wait for the blog entries too.... but I really want to know! Does each suite elicit a particular emotional response or something? Or does your particular personality/mood reflect on how you play each suite? A little bit of both? Who determines what emotion it's supposed to be?

      Wow, you're really going through the Suites fairly quickly!! ...slow poke over here...

      Congratulations on your promotion and here's to another successful year! Cheers! :)

    2. Hi ya, I am glad! Well we are office mates so it helps with the planning and music arrangement

      I can try to elaborate but you would have to forgive my cello-naivete! I guess you are correct about it's a lil bit of everything :)
      For one, the suites are written in a key which in agreed by many musicians carry certain inherent qualities/mood/feeling. For e.g. C major = grandeur, G major = gallantly, D minor = despair, E minor = deathly, dark (you would find so many versions of this but they wouldn't contradict). So, when learning to play courante in G, I would have to get rid that heavy feeling from playing Prelude no 2 in D minor..
      Having said that though, my teacher always stress Bach are supposed to play how you want it as Bach didnt leave any performance notes and articulation whatsoever (yeay..thanks?) While Rostropovich would go so far as studying the relationship with sound on harpsichord (I dare not to say more, I went to Eng school not conservatory :P) but learners like myself only have my experience and emotions as my tools.
      So when I played courante in G for the first time, I played it light bow and jumpy (just got the news about promotion, bite me). My teacher did not disagree, but pointed out it sounded a bit choppy due to string crossings that I havent mastered at such tempo. He suggested legato weight-always-on (more suited for Prelude 1) with dramatic staccato. I tried with doubts at first, although amateurishly and boy,was I wrong.
      So I guess in conclusion, my Bach experience is determined by a) inherent quality of the key b) my experience/emotions c)my competence. You'd notice b and c are variables of time hence I'd find my take on the piece might differ in the future. And I guess these apply to any other music but with Bach, it even more so don't you think?
      BTW,I only started Bach when my teacher caught me playing this music left by previous session student while waiting for him. He thought it was a good break from schroeder and here we are :)
      As usual, sorry for the long reply :P Cheers!

    3. That is seriously AWESOME!! Thanks for sharing that!!! I wondered why there were so many Bach Suites in different keys. Now I need to go back and listen to hear if I can feel/hear the different moods/qualities in the music. Can't wait to read your blog about it too. Seriously get on it! =p
      I'm going to bug you about it if/when I finish Minuet 1 and you haven't posted anything. Really. I'm serious.

      It's those small intricacies that I think make playing the cello so interesting. Although I don't even know if I can distinguish the difference between playing "grandeur" versus "gallantly." ;)
      ...argh... I just need to get through the minutae of technical playing so I can get to the fun stuff like this!!!

      That's totally funny! ...everyone should sneak a little Bach Suites into their practice... I just decided I was going to start playing them, although I should have started a few months back when Clayton suggested it, but I thought I wasn't ready... In retrospect, it's never too early to start learning the Bach Suites. It's like the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." In this case, "When the student is ready (for Bach), the Suites will appear." ;)

  3. I enjoyed reading about your blog. You have settled nicely into the pattern of getting partially there but beating yourself up for not getting all the way there. We can all relate. Still you have inspired me to put some concrete goals out there so that I keep moving forward. Whether it's 98 or 49, it's good to see somebody else actively posting. You may not realize it but you are having a positive effect on others when you do this - me in particular. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks Michael! :)

      Yeah, I can't help it... I just want to be as proficient as fast as possible, and for me there's no use in setting goals if I can't eventually achieve them. ;)

      I also think it's important to show "failures" because they're really just learning opportunities in disguise. We can't succeed without making mistakes and as the saying goes, "the light bulb was invented with 1,000 steps - not 1,000 mistakes." Although I do tend to be hard on myself...