Chinese Proverb

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lesson #23 (9/12/11): Polishing Up Old Repertoire

Finally another lesson after a two week hiatus! I definitely needed a cello lesson fix!

I guess the devil's in the details because we're revisiting all of the old repertoire to get it more polished, which I don't mind since Adam is introducing some interesting concepts.

We went over the old repertoire during the entire lesson, which I found to be very interesting and we did a lot of practicing during the lesson. I always enjoy it when my teacher accompanies me because it always sounds so much better and I can get my timing and intonation better by listening to him while I play. :). He went into phrasing and dynamics and what makes these songs flow and how to interpret them.

  • Dynamics - refers to the volume to indicate how loudly or softly the musician is supposed to play a section of the song

1) May Song
  • I've still have to work on those darn F#s - I'm still rushing through them!
    • I should try counting it out with 16 beats per measure ("1 and 2 and 3 and 4") and do the string crossing to the A string on "2 and" to get the timing better. I really don't think I can coordinate all that, but I'll give it a go
    • I had him play the song with me and I definitely had some funky (and not in a good way) rhythm going on because I could hear the discrepancy in my timing compared to his. I recorded him playing it so I'll try playing along to try to get my rhythm more in time with his. I figure he's the one that will be determining if I can move forward in the repertoire so I'd better play it like he does!
  • Singing
    • This rhythm for this is just not clicking with me. He recommended singing it first before playing it to really get it into my head. This is what he does when he plays more complicated pieces because it really lets him focus on his timing and rhythm instead of his bowing and fingering and such. Time for some singing... 
  • Dynamics 
    • Forte needs to be loud - for me much, much louder!! There wasn't much contrast during the 5th and 6th measure because I was playing medium to medium soft. Or more like: medium to medium! LOL! :). Actually, I definitely know I can produce more volume, but for some reason it wasn't quite working today. I think I was a little tense from my usual nervousness so I wasn't able to relax into my bow to get a bigger sound - that, and my bowing was also off  
    • My teacher mentioned that volume is all relative and can depend on the other musicians, e.g. if playing in orchestra and there are 7 cellos than forte doesn't need to be played forte but more like mezzo-piano
  • Bowing
    • Time to re-visit my bowing again! I was noticing the last couple of days that my bowing was starting to get "weird," but I wasn't sure exactly was going on. My teacher said I was pushing my bow forward again and my bow didn't have full contact, especially after some of my string crossing. 
    • I'm going to have to incorporate my 20 min bow warm-up again. I had this on my Practice Log, but stopped using the log...I think I'd better start the log back up again since everything seems to be slipping

2) O Come, Little Children
  • Bowing 
    • Measure 12 - use LESS bow (use only half) and save the other half of the bow for the second B note 
    • Work on getting a fuller richer sound - more bow contact and volume
  • Phrasing 
    • This piece has fairly clear phrasing as the quarter rests indicate where one phrase starts and one begins. I just need to make sure that I give enough time for the rests 
    • Measure 12 - we discussed how this could be interpreted. To me, measure 14 was the "peak' of the song, while measure 12 was a "small peak" before the actual summit
    • He recommended starting the crescendo on measure 8 with piano (p) [soft] and increase in volume by using more bow and weight, but to also to remember the second B note in measure 12 is the beginning of a phrase, so make sure I don't skip over the rest before starting the second B note to give that note its fair share of the limelight
  • Interpretation
    • Since this is a Folk Song and is passed down through generations, the interpretation varies greatly. Unless, the composer specifies how to play the piece than I should start learning different ways to look at sheet music to find ways to interpret it 
    • My teacher demonstrated a few different ways I could lead up to the D note, which is played forte in measure 14 to make it sound and flow differently. 
      • I wonder how many different ways I can make that section sound? That should be pretty fun! I've also found that by trying different dynamics I've learned to control my bow more

3) Go Tell Aunt Rhody
  • Dynamics
    • In the revised Suzuki Book Vol. 1 I'm using, it doesn't have dynamics from measure 5 through 12 for Go Tell Aunt Rhody. However, my teacher says that measure 5 and 6 should be forte (loud) and measure 7 and 8 is mezzo-piano (somewhat soft)
    • A lot of times repetition of notes are used to make it sound like an echo of the previous phrase. Or a "call and response" - the first phrase may be a loud statement or question and the following phrase is a softer response/statement or answer
      • In general, when a phrase is repeated, the second repetition is played differently using different dynamics or bow technique to add expressiveness to make the piece more interesting
      • Although he says not to go totally crazy on this because sometimes a repeat of notes should sometimes sound like a repeat of notes depending on what the piece is trying to convey
    • I only got to play this twice, but the second time when I added dynamics it definitely sounded a lot better and was more fun to play and hear the difference!
  • Bowing
    • For this particular song, my bowing sounded a lot richer and fuller to me, but I'm not sure what I'm doing with this piece that I'm doing with the rest that is making this sound better...actually I think I use more bow for this piece than any other songs I've tried so far. I'll have to try using more bow for the other pieces

4) Allegro
  • We played the next piece Allegro really quickly and only once because we ran out of time, but I didn't play it as well as I normally do! :(. My bow was just being squirelly today! I definitely need to work on my bowing again!
  •  Adam said that I interpreted the ritardando (gradual slow down) in measure 12 correctly, but I think I should have made E a little bit longer and slowed down a bit more. He says when he used to play this when he was younger, there was always one person that would play right through the ritardando, which he's also done!

I think I've finally picked out my cello! Yaay!! :).
I have it at a violonmaker's shop to make some adjustments (lower the nut, soundpost adjustment and bridge adjustment) and will be picking it up today.
I'll post those pictures tomorrow, or more likely this weekend some time when I have more free time. I already have my first quiz this semester (tomorrow) and then a couple of exams at the end of the month! 

I've also been doing some some research on rosin. Hmmm....I'm always doing some kind of research on a cello-related product! Learning to play the cello is very expensive hobby! Which reminds me - I need to post my thoughts on the strings that I've accumulated. I'll have to post those at some point too.


  1. hey ya, i guess i am officially your blogstalker now (you better get that 'restriction order' ready lol)..sadly i am not a fan of blog writing :P
    anyways, your insights on the dynamics and all are enlightening! especially on the repeating a time i encounter something like that, ill make an effort to add some dynamics, even though my teacher thought it's a bit early to learn dynamics since i've yet to master my bowing..he was right, my long bows were a bit shaky last monday since i was trying too hard to control the speed.. let it flow he said..
    I also realized our teachers might have different teaching philosophies..on a second thought, i think it's quite normal since ppl have different learning teacher kinda flood me with all these kinda songs/fiddle tunes/simplified movements (last monday i had mozart's eine kleine nachtmusik, schubert's unfinished, spanish romance, el condor pasa in 1 go, apart from the jesu, joy of desiring man with crazy slurs i've yet to master :P ) he reasoned that i am quite a memorizer so he wanted me to truly master the sight reading (somehow he knew i pretend-reading!)'s fun learning so many songs (especially during revisits as you realize you are improving) but i also kinda envy all the technical details you posted here in this blog :P..that might also be the reason i check your blog for new update almost daily ( i was serious about the blogstalking you see :P )
    this has been a lengthy comment of mine, so i might just stop :P Keep posting and sharing the already make me rethink on my cello playing and stuffs and already i am noticing some improvements here n there.. so thanks again :) Good luck to both of us!
    p/s: still have rhythmic problems especially on those syncopations..singing with 16 beats did little compared to just memorizing the sound and feeling but that's cheating..please share if you find a way to somehow nail it :)

  2. LOL! That’s okay – you’ll keep me on my toes! My goal was to post video and practice logs weekly, but I’ve been slacking a bit! ;). Although YOU should post something so I know what you’re doing! :)

    My teacher had mentioned dynamics in an earlier lesson, but said it was too early for me to start doing it as well because my bowing wasn’t the greatest. But I just continued trying to do it anyway, and its really helped with my bow control. I think he noticed that I was able to do it better so went into more detail so I wouldn’t completely mess it up! :).

    He also doesn’t want me to progress too quickly until I get some technique down, which has been both VERY frustrating, and rewarding now that my technique is coming together.
    My teacher’s philosophy is to approach technique as many ways as possible and see what sticks since everyone has a different way of learning. He’s working on his Doctorate in Music Arts, but I think he’s fairly new at teaching, at least don’t think he’s had much teaching experience until last year. Although sometimes I wish he had a bit more structure in his planning, but he’s gotten better. I think he’ll turn into an exceptional teacher once he gets more teaching under his belt and has more time to focus on teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I completely ADORE him (he doesn’t know I have a blog, so I’m not just saying that!), but no teacher is perfect, otherwise we’d all be masters of the cello! …although that would be really cool! :)

    WOW – that’s really impressive that you are working on that type of repertoire already! Now, I’m seriously envious!! =p.
    One of the reasons I’m focusing on dynamics is because playing these simple songs are starting to get a bit boring so I have to spice it up a bit! Have I mentioned that I absolutely HATE, HATE, HATE Twinkle Little Star with a passion? …blah…

    I actually think you have the ADVANTAGE in learning the cello! From everything I’ve read it is SO MUCH better to be able to HEAR something BEFORE you play it! Which is what I’m working on.
    I guess in your case, you have to learn to let go of the control of knowing (and wanting to know) how something will sound before you play it. Play it trying NOT know how it will sound. Hhmmmmm… I think this would be interesting experiment:

    1) Put headphones on and play something REALLY DISTRACTING, maybe music you HATE or something you really like that can’t help but sing or dance to and turn it up really, really loud

    2) Concentrate on reading the notes only and playing what you see, and

    3) At the same time record yourself so you can check how you sound later to get some feedback

    I was thinking it would be best to somehow DISRUPT your other “senses” so you have to concentrate on reading notes. I was thinking maybe using earplugs, but I think you’d still probably be able to hear it in your head or be able to hum it or something. Playing really loud music may disable some sensory information so you really would have to focus on reading notes, at least that’s my thought... Start with a piece you know, and see how much the loud headphones mess you up. If it does, that would mostly likely mean that you’re reading music and not going from memory! I don’t know, just a thought… I’d be curious to see if that would work. I wouldn’t be able to try it since I don’t hear notes before I play them and I don’t have very good memory - yet.

    Yeah, I have issues with short notes...I haven’t had that much experience with syncopations yet, but I’ll let you know if I come across anything once I have to start dealing with those more.

    LOL… now I’m writing really long comments!! =p.

  3. Oww I reaally want to post something to tell more about my practice - just like YOU do, alas :-
    1)I am a BAD BAD storyteller, unlike someone i just followed her blog :(
    2)A bit bz, as at the time of writing this comment, i am stuck at the office with preparing slides for presentation tomorrow (worth mentioning it's 9pm Sunday at my play
    3)A bit lazy - scratch that, VERY lazy (when it has nothing to do with cello practising <-- dont believe this guy)

    Enough digressing, my practice method is nothing to talk about. Materials given to me are taken from various sources, and according to level :-
    1)Beginning - ABC's for Absolute Beginners (err, thanks captain obvious, and JT Rhoda) with add. etudes from suzuki. Dunno which book as i dont have one but only when ABC dont have what my teacher want to teach - like waltz bowing, extended positions, harmonic and melodic scale
    2)Beginning Intermediate - I havent quite here yet but the book is New Direction For Strings Book 2. I flipped and it's colorful! thank God. I started to think method books arent supposed to be NOT boring

    Oh for repertoire, I am using the free sheets from - great archive to hone my sightreading skills~

    My teacher IMO, being a principal cellist in an orchestra, tries hard NOT force me into doing something that even though sacred to cello-playing, but do not suit my body. He constantly stresses that cello has to suit our body, not the other way around (unlike some videos ive seen on youtube). However, certain things like finger and body posture, even though counterintuitive must be followed for our own sake in the future (little did i understand, until i had my first backache last week!)

    BTW, I still cannot listen the song before I play it (unless i try hard to solfege it :P - unlike my teacher) but once i heard it, my fingers just do the magic. I cant explain how but It just feels right - very different feeling when i concentrating hard to look on the score or on fingers to ensure the intonation (my teacher said somehow my intonation is better when i m closing my eyes but definitely sucked when i try to concentrate on ANYTHING at all - one experiment we did last time :P )I dunno, maybe it's just me, but playing cello for me is more like recalling a memory - to play constantly good is hard until i could remember the feeling 1st time i nailed. Now everytime i hold my cello ill more likely to play Old Irsih Washerwoman at least once due to the nicest memory I had when I learn it! My Mozart EKN still far from OK since I had the busiest day and things didnt go ok on the day i learn it (I staccatoed and rush things my teacher said it's as if I am playing william tell overture ending)

    On the experiment, Ill try my best to find a time to try and let you know. I tried it last night trying to play Jesu, Joy of Desiring Man while my ears locked on Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia (my fav!) and it went awry that it didnt recognizable as a Bach music! It's like a SAD desiring man!I gotta try it more! really good experiment i'd say..

    Ill keep you posted and meanwhile I gotta say your latest 2 posts are very helpful to me, whom to find a good luthier is harder than to find an oil field.

    Really thanks much!