Chinese Proverb

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cello Lesson #11 (5/31/11): Close, but no cigar...

Great lesson today!! :)

Getting closer to correct bowing, but not quite there yet. Well, at least that's what Adam says, but I don't really believe that I'm getting closer....  :). Only because it doesn't feel "natural" to me yet and I'm still thinking about too many things at once! 

A few more things I need to work on and remember:

Bowing Notes:
1) Make sure my fingers are down - I tend to lift my 2nd and 3rd finger, which I need to keep down. During a previous lesson Adam mentioned that he tries to feel (be conscious) of his fingers on the bow at all times. Think of "frog suction fingers"

2) Scooping - went over the feeling a scooping motion where the whole arm pronates/rotates inward. I tend to use my hand a lot instead of my whole arm. This should help with my sound (since I sometimes skate on strings) because using my whole arm adds weight so I don't have to use my hand as much. Also, "scooping" is more of a feeling and can't really be seen. It feels like its scooping because of the weight and rotation of the arm

3) The tip - when I'm at the tip I tend to lose my sound too because I don't have enough momentum to get back using the same energy/weight. Adam suggested that I could use a "down circle" or "up circle" to make sure that I have enough energy to go back the other direction. Using the up or down circle will keep the bow moving so I have enough momentum/energy to keep the sound consistent. Its analogous to a paint brush motion or fishtail.

4) Angle of my bow - this is my main issue! My bow always seems to want to point up. I've gotten better, especially since I've been working on making sure my wrist is more rounded when I am at the frog. More bowing in front of the mirror for me and making sure my bow is parallel to the bridge!

I've come to the conclusion that it may be helpful for me to "warm-up" before going to lessons, but I can't exactly do this because I have work right before lessons.I typically have to work on my bowing for 5-10 minutes before I can feel that I am doing it correctly, so going to lessons without practicing my bowing first, normally will result on working on my bowing longer than if I practiced beforehand. I can also tell when I'm not warmed up because I don't feel the whole weight of my arm.

We went over what makes a good sound: Speed, Weight and Placement of the bow on the strings.

Demonstration #1 - Adam played his cello with his back facing me and bowed with open strings with not enough weight, too fast, too much weight, etc. and I was surprised that I could tell when there wasn't enough weight used or if it was too fast just by the sound!!  Pretty cool exercise!! I also recognized the sound that I typically made - too slow/not enough speed! It was kind of weird when I recognized the sound and it clicked on what I had to do to fix my bowing!! Again, very cool demonstration!

Demonstration #2 - He then played at different places: close to the bridge, in the middle and close to the fingerboard. The sound was different for each, so when playing closer to the bridge, I should bow with less speed and more weight; closer to the fingerboard, faster speed and less weight.

Demonstration #3 -  He played a note and I was suppose to tell him if it was in tune or if it was sharp or flat. I could tell if it was "off" or sounded bad, but it was more difficult to say whether it was flat or sharp. Although I got most of it right! :)

Demonstration #4 - He played the D major scale and purposely had one or a few notes off pitch. This was harder to hear what was wrong! I think I only got half right.

Items to work on with regards to intonation:
1) More Speed - I'm hesitant in my bowing so my sound suffers. I guess, if I'm going to make a mistake, I should make a LOUD, CONFIDENT sounding mistake! :)

2) Get my 4th finger in the right position - I tend to have my pinky farther than it should, resulting in a note that is too sharp or a pinky that is not entirely on the string (falling off). My left hand position is not entirely correct. We will be working on this next week, which should fix the issue.

During my next lesson we will be going over left hand fingering. An exercise for me to do in the meantime:
1) Look at the fingerboard and place my hand correctly, play a note (do this 10x)
2) With quick peeks, place the hand correctly, play a note (do this 10x)
3) Without glancing, place hand correctly, play a note (do this 10x, if the note is incorrect, start over)
*I need to work specifically on my fourth finger.

Cello fixes:
I showed Adam my new endpin and he noticed that my fitting wasn't sitting flush to the cello and that my endpin was not straight when it was retracted. He instructed me to look through the f hole to see how my endpin was at an angle in relation to my soundpost. And sure enough, my endpin wasn't straight! He recommended I take it to the luthier to get it fixed because it may cause issues later. Since everything is being held up by tension, the incorrect angle of the fitting may cause unnecessary pressure in the wrong areas. I wonder if this could be contributing to the wolf tone on my D string?

He also reset my strings and straightened my bridge while I practiced scales on his cello, which was fairly difficult to do since he didn't have markings on his cello!
I always tune my cello with the fine tuners before I practice, and some of the fine tuners couldn't be turned to the left any more, so he loosened them and tightened them at the pegs. I need to start tuning my cello with pegs more often. Jeez, I didn't think my poor cello was in such a bad shape!

Whew - lots of stuff during this lesson!!! It was a good lesson though!!

I really enjoyed this lesson, and I'm not sure if it was because I've finally put my full confidence and trust in Adam's teaching ability or because I felt that I actually learned a lot today.... hhhmmmm...or maybe I learned a lot because I didn't ask a billion questions and just asked what he had planned and just absorbed what he had to say! In any case, I should keep my mouth shut more often and LISTEN more! :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wolf Tone Eliminator/Suppressor

I'm doing a bunch of quick posts to catch up with my notes, and will probably update or add to these later as soon as I get caught up with my entries.

I had a horrible wolf tone on my D string, which my teacher pointed out later when I hit a wolf tone during my recital. Adam explained that every cello has a wolf tone, and the wolf tone is typically found between D and G - usually around F, like mine does. 

The wolf tone was not present before; however, I read that better instruments and correct finger positions will produce the wolf tone. So on the positive side, my cello is a definite step up from my initial laminate-rented cello and I'm finally getting my fingerings correct! :)

This is a great article from Strings Weekly on wolf tones: How To Tame Annoying Howling Wolf Tones by Sarah Freiberg.  A paraphrase the article and some additional notes below.

Another great article on wolf tones by Aitchison Cellos: Wolf Notes

What is a wolf tone?
A wolf tone can normally be found on the lower strings of the cello and is a result of the instability between the vibration of the body of the cello and the vibration of the affected string. The air volume and the top, or the air volume and the back tries to cancel each other out. When the sound waves are slightly out of sync, the wolf tone appears - the sound gets louder for a bit and then the waves cancel each other out. There is so much energy when the two notes are out of sync that the top of a sound wave's pitch goes UP and at the bottom it goes DOWN.  The vibration of the affected string has barely begun to sound when it disappears and is repeated again. which leads to an oscillation, howling or out of tune note.

Well-made cellos have stronger wolf tones:
Every well made, properly proportioned cello has a wolf tone and the wolf is not the result of a basic structural failure, faulty repair job, or misplaced soundpost. It's just a characteristic of the cello because the process of amplifying the sound of the string through the body of the instrument is imperfect.

Better sounding instruments tend to have stronger wolf tones because powerful resonances are required for good-sounding cellos, which increase the likelihood of wolf tones.  Also, if your cello is in good adjustment, the wolf can be more pronounced. This is because a cello that is not well adjusted has pitches that are wobbly so a ring is not present when playing and harmonics will be off pitch. When harmonics aren't matched, there is a range of pitches for each note and nothing is focused, so the wolf can hide or make for just general "wolfy" areas.

It's a good idea to bring your cello in for an adjustment first to ensure the bridge and soundpost are fitting properly, which will allow for better assessment of the wolf problem.

Wolf on D string:
If the wolf is noticeably present on the D string and the wolf 'stuttering' on the D string in first position is easily elicited, then the soundpost may not be giving the cello enough support and may need to be repositioned, tightened, or a longer post may need to be made at the point - so bring your cello to a luthier for a checkup. However, setting the soundpost may make a stronger sound, causing a stronger wolf to appear. Finding the optimal balance between maximizing the sound of your cello, but minimizing,taming a wolf is key. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution.

Still on my to-do list: bringing my cello to my luthier to check to see if my wolf on D string can be tamed if adjustments are made to the soundpost or bridge of my cello.

Selecting a surpressor - less is better:
Don't put on a heavy wolf eliminator if you can get by with something less intrusive because wolf eliminators also act as filters and can dampen the sound of the cello. Since all good cellos have a wolf, any eliminators take away from the voice of the instrument in one way or another to a lesser or greater degree. Less is better, here's why:
  • By completely "eliminating" the wolf, you may be eliminating other resonances as well, i.e. this will remove all supporting overtones that color or enhance the note or related notes.
  • Attaching wolf eliminators/suppressors will directly affect a specific pitch or note which could be the reason some players feel a loss of tone, vibrations or color from their cello.
The goal is to find the least invasive wolf eliminator to the cello's whole acoustic system while retaining a high degree of success with the cello player.

Types of surpressors/eliminators:
1) Single rubber mute - the cheapest and easiest wolf suppressors you can use - you may already have one at your disposal. Since the most bothersome wolf usually hovers around fourth position on the G string, put your mute there (between bridge and the tailpiece).

2) Wolf suppressors on individual strings - If a mute doesn’t do the trick, there are wolf suppressors that fit on one string—in that same area between the bridge and the tailpiece. The usual on-string suppressor consists of a brass tube encircling a rubber tube, held on the string by a screw. Below are two of the most common wolf suppressors used. There are others, but these two were the ones that were highly rated in forums:
  • Lup-X Eliminator - comes in a 8.4 grams only
  • New Harmony Wolf Eliminator - devised by retired scientist turned cello-builder and cello-innovator David Bice. These are brass wolf suppressors that fit directly on the string without using either rubber or a screw to affix them, and they come in different weights: 5, 7, 9, 11, or 13 grams. A heavier wolf eliminiator gives a punchier sound on the cello, so for a dark-sounding cello, a suppressor with more mass may be needed.

Placement of the eliminators:
Finding and placing the wolf eliminator/suppressor in the correct place between the bridge and tailpiece to get rid of the wolf can be complicated. This involves plucking or bowing on the right place between the bridge and the tailpiece to find the correct spot. There are many methods for finding the correct placement.

Here's a helpful YouTube video explaining one of the methods: Finding and Fixing a Wolf Tone

1) Mute locations - Match the pitch of the string between the bridge and the mute to the wolf tone, or to a harmonic of the wolf and should get your to the right position. This will usually be about three-quarters of the way towards the bridge.

2) Suppressor string locations - as with the mute, match the pitch of the string below the bridge to the pitch of the wolf. Sometimes, a wolf suppressor "works better on the C because you allow the G string behind the bridge to enhance or vibrate sympathetically with other notes on the musical scale. Plus, with G strings made smaller in diameter these days, they aren’t able to add mass (along with the suppressor) to help with the suppressing job."

Other options:
1) Adding a tuned resonator to the top of the instrument.  The Wolf Resonator comes in three specific ranges (D to E, E flat to F, E to F#) and costs about $52. This is basically a spring-mounted weight that compensates and thus suppresses the distrurbing vibrations. The device can be installed inside or outside the cello with putty.
2) Add a finger - You can lessen the severity of a wolf tone by placing an available left-hand finger on another string at the pitch of the wolf or an octave of it.

3) Use your legs - Squeeze the cello with your legs to prevent the cello from vibrating when you bow on the wolf note.

A wolf tone is unique and individual to each cello and cellist. Since every cello and every setup is different and requires different solutions to remove wolf notes, I recommend exploring the many different solutions and finding one that works for you. There is a lot of information out there, but hopefully I covered all the important items. Below are some helpful forums, which is also where I started my search on this topic.

Helpful forums regarding wolf tones:

And the winner is...:
After my research I settled on the Lup-x Wolf Tone Eliminator for a couple reasons:

1) I read through a lot of articles and forums and there were a lot of good reviews on Lup-x
2) I didn't want to go through the hassle of buying different grams through New Harmony and then returning the ones that didn't work. Also, I have very limited knowledge on placement of the eliminators (only what I've read) so I didn't want to spend time moving around 5 different eliminators to try to find the perfect spot for each one, and I already spent a lot of hours researching wolf tones and its eliminators, so this extra step didn't appeal to me. 

I purchased the Lup-x and decided to bring it to my lesson and have Adam put it on my cello instead. When I handed it over to him he mentioned that he used the same one! Wish I would've known that before researching it so thoroughly, although I did learn a lot about wolfs tones. I guess it was a good decision on my part. I could also add that to my list of reasons to purchase Lup-x - because my teacher uses it! :)
My cello with Lup-x Wolf Eliminator:

New Endpin for my cello

When I first purchased my cello Adam mentioned that my endpin was bent. I thought this was a fairly cheap upgrade, so I purchased a New Harmony carbon fiber endpin for $45 at Everything Cello.
I purchased an 8 mm endpin without a fitting option because the website stated it "fit most standard fittings." However, once I received the endpin, it wouldn't slide inside my existing fitting past 1/2 inch.

Luckily, my husband knew what to do! We headed off to Home Depot and purchased fine sandpaper and graphite lubing. Normally, the graphite tubing comes in a small tube, but Home Depot only had the large canister.

My husband sanded down the fiber carbon endpin, wiped off the excess shavings and it slid right into the fitting. 
Word of advice: Put on gloves and lay down a garbage bag or something to cover the table. Sanding down the fiber carbon gets messy! And use a mask too.

My happy cello with its new endpin! :)
The New Harmony endpin is a lot lighter than  my old steel endpin. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cellophant and surgical tubing for my cello bow

My shoulders and arms are more tense than most - I think it stems from my slight curvature of the spine (or maybe not). I have the same "tenseness issue" when I do Lindy Hop/Swing dancing, which took me several years to get to the point of "relaxed, natural dancing." However, I've found that my tenseness has appeared again, but this time in my hands, which makes my hand cramp up easily, especially during faster bowing. Tenseness seems to occur every time I learn something new!

I've used the Cellophant from Things 4 Strings for awhile, which has helped me immensely. Before using the Cellophant I didn't know how a relaxed hand was supposed to feel like. Now that I know, I can adjust my hand until I feel the "relaxed-hand feeling."

I thought the next step would be using the surgical tubing. I decided to start using tubing since my teacher uses it on his expensive bows and when I tried Adam's bows, my hand felt much more relaxed! Adam even mentioned that it helps him during performances when his hand starts to sweat because it prevents his bow from sliding around.

Adam explained that adding the surgical tubing increases the diameter of the bow grip, which makes it easier for my hand to grip the area and obviously makes the surface area less slick. My bow definitely feels more slippery without the tubing, which causes my hand to become more tense because I feel like I have to grip the bow tighter to prevent it from slipping out of my hand.

This was the cheapest surgical tubing I found online: McMaster-Carr website. Type in "surgical tubing" in the search field to view the options. This website also doesn't require a minimum of 3 feet to purchase tubing like other websites.

I ordered tubing in black #1 and natural/amber #2 with the measurements below, which fit perfectly onto my bow:
Inside Diameter: 5/16
Outside Diameter: 7/16
Wall: 1/16

1st Order:
Line Quantity Item   Ships Unit Price Total Price  
#1 3 Ft. 5234K77
Super Soft Latex Rubber Tubing 5/16" ID, 7/16" OD, 1/16" Wall, Opaque Black (Same as 5234K47)
Monday morning $1.29 $3.87  
#2 1 Ft. 5234K34
Super Soft Latex Rubber Tubing 5/16" ID, 7/16" OD, 1/16" Wall, Semi-Clear Amber (Same as 5234K47)
Monday morning $1.29 $1.29  

I felt that the black tubing was more thin and less squishy than the amber/natural tubing, even though they had the same measurements, so I ordered thicker tubing by increasing the wall thickness. My next order below:

2nd Order:

DescriptionOrderedShippedBalanceUnit PriceTotal
#35234K78Super Soft Latex Rubber Tubing, 5/16" ID, 1/2" OD, 3/32" Wall, Opaque Black1
Per Foot
#45234K79Super Soft Latex Rubber Tubing, 5/16" ID, 9/16" OD, 1/8" Wall, Opaque Black1
Per Foot

I used the one labeled #3 above because I thought #4 was a little too thick for me, but that's just my preference.

My CodaBow Diamond SX with black surgical tubing:

UPDATE: I put the beige tubing on after a week because the consistency of the black tubing became more slick and hard over a few days of use. May be this is why most cellists use the beige tubing and not the black tubing!

How to put on surgical tubing onto your bow:
  • Lay down a towel or paper towel 
  • Measure the length of the section the tubing will cover and cut the tubing with sharp scissors (I used my kitchen scissors to cut the tubing)
  • Unscrew the end until the horsehair piece comes completely off
    • Wrap the hair with paper towel lengthwise or fold a towel over the horsehair to protect it from any drips
  • Use dish soap (I used my dish soap Palmolive - orange liquid)
    • Drizzle soap into the hole until it comes out the other side
    • Then wrap the tubing in a paper towel and gently/lightly flatten the tube to coat the inside evenly
    • Wipe off the extra soap that comes out 
  • Put the end screw back on before sliding the tubing on to prevent as much liquid from getting inside 
    • This might be helpful, but I haven't tried this: put a sticker or tape over the area where the frog attaches so liquid doesn't get inside. I ended up with too much liquid in mine and had to spend some time cleaning off the screw.
  • Slide it onto the bow 
    • It's easier to push from the end until it bunches up and then it'll slide forward - don't pull the tubing from the front
  • Attach the frog back onto the bow and screw the end back in
  • Push the tubing back over the frog 
  • Wipe off any excess dish soap 

WARNING (added 3/26/2012): Adding tubing can cause the bow's eyelet to be replaced sooner than later because twisting the endscrew with tubing over the frog causes added pressure, which prevents the frog from moving forward to tighten or loosen the hair as easily, which makes the eyelet and screw work harder. I replaced my eyelet a couple of months ago, and the bowmaker only charged me $25 to replace it, but I was lucky he had an eyelet that was able to fit my bow readily available, otherwise I would have had to wait for the part to be shipped to him.

Another blogger that came across this same issue:

Even though it does cause these issues, there are a lot of cellists that still use tubing, and I think that without the use of the Cellophant and tubing, I would still be struggling with my bowhold. 

Cello Practice Log #1: A New Practice Plan

I was a little frustrated with my progression, but I have to admit the first couple months it was my fault because I wasn't practicing... However, during the summer I'm turning it up a notch so hopefully by the end of the summer I can see some real improvements.

I've purchased a couple of books to practice more efficiently and effectively:

1) The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness
2) The Advancing Cellist's Handbook

I met with Adam on May 24, 2011, after I told him my plan that I really wanted to get serious about learning how to play the cello over the summer because once fall starts I'll be attending school and working full time again, and won't have much time to practice again. He selected a few more books that I should work on during the summer. I've also implemented the Goals and Practice Sheets from the Advancing Cellist's Handbook. This book is for intermediate/advanced cellists, but the beginning section of the book is applicable to beginner cellists.

I wasn't tracking how much time I was spending or what I was doing before Tuesday, so Sunday through Tuesday don't have practice times.

Weekly Logs:

Annual Goals:

Lifetime Goals:

This is a good starting point, but after reading some other blogs I've noticed that other beginners are starting more difficult etude and technique books...hhmmm...

Trust that it'll work...

After purchasing A LOT of books, researching cello playing online, youtube-ing the hell out of cello playing... (David Finckel's Cello Talks are awesome!) - I've come to the conclusion that all this information means absolutely nothing if it cannot be utilized!

Which my co-worker Mike had also advised. I think he had done what I did - researched this to brain overload!!

So I am putting my cello learning in my teacher's capable hands and will try and stop second guessing him all the time (its in my nature, so I don't think I can completely stop). After all, my teacher has 24 years of cello playing and is pursuing a Doctorate in Music Arts, which probably means he knows a thing or two about cello playing, right? :)

I know he's very knowledgeable and talented, I just need to get over my thoughts that there's an easier, better way... and struggling through is part of the learning process...

Also, no exaggeration when I said I researched the hell out of this. Below is a list of books I've acquired in the past 2-3 months.  Books highlighted in lilac I am currently using as part of my studies and books highlighted in yellow I found to be helpful.

Method Books:
1) Suzuki Cello School, Volume 1
2) Essential Elements 2000 plus DVD for Strings
3) The ABC's of Cello for the Absolute Beginner by Janice Tucker Rhoda
4) All for Strings Comprehensive method Book 1
5) Muller Rusch String Method for Class or Individual Study
6) Mel Bay's Modern Cello Method Grade 1
7) Strictly Strings A Comprehensive String Method Book 1
8) Violoncello Music for Beginners

Technique Books:
1)  Finger Exercises for the Cello by Cassia Harvey
2) I Can Read Music: A Note Reading Book for Cello Students, Volume 1 by Joanne Martin
3) Alwin Schroeder 170 Foundation Studies for Violincello
4) An Organized Method of String Playing by Janos Starker
5) Mark Yampolsky Violoncello Technique
6) Klengel Technical Studies for Cello, Volume 1
7) Becker Finger & Bow Exercises With New Scale Studies For Cello
8) Thumb Position for Cello Book 1 by Rick Mooney
9) Sequenced Scale Studies for Cello by Wendy Bissinger

Learning how to play:
1) All For Strings Theory Workbook 1 by Anderson & Frost
2) The Art of Cello Playing by Louis Potter, Jr.
3) Cello Playing For Music Lovers: A Self-Teaching Method with A Play-Along CD 
4) Picture Yourself Playing Cello by Jim Aiken 
5) Key Papers Technique and Theory for Cello Book One by Charlene Wilson - in my reading pile
6) The Art of Playing the Cello by Maurice Gendron 

I found all of these books to be helpful!! Each one explains things a bit differently, and I agree with my teacher that sometimes you have to see something from different angles before it clicks.

I recommend buying Picture Yourself Playing the Cello first if you are a complete beginner like me to whet your appetite - to see if playing the cello is something you really want to pursue. If so, purchase Potter's Art Of Cello Playing and Cello Playing for Music Lover's at the same time because both provide great information and Cello Playing for Music Lover's references exercises in Potter's book.

Technique/Playing comfortably:
1) Cello Technique: Principles & Forms of Movement by Gerhard Mantel
2) New Directions in Cello Playing by Victor Sazer 
3) Just Play Naturally by Vivien Mackie - in my reading pile
4) Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide For Musicians - in my reading pile
5) A Modern Cellist's Manual by Emily Wright

I have a mild curvature of the spine (not serious enough to be scoliosis), and my right side is about an inch or so higher than  my left. The difference is not as noticeable if I workout and lift weights, but when I first started my neck, shoulders and back began to act up as usual and I had to get several massages to feel normal again. I will be continuing to research how to play more relaxed and comfortably, and will post on this later.

Teaching Cello:
1) The Advancing Cellist's Handbook: A Guide to Practicing and Playing the Cello by B. Whitcomb 
2) Teaching Suzuki Cello: A Manual For Teachers and Parents by Charlene Wilson - handy tips!
3) Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education by Shinichi Suzuki - in my reading pile
4) Intelligent Music Teaching; Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction - in my reading pile
5) The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness
6) Rosindust: Teaching, Learning and Life from a Cellist's Perspective by Carnelia Watkins - favorite!
7) Playing the String Game: Strategies for Teaching Cello and Strings By Phyllis Young

I'm implementing the Goals and Practice Logs from the Advancing Cellist's Handbook and will also be posting my logs. Also, Rosindust is not only for teachers, I found this to be very inspirational and even found great tips on my left hand fingering and bowing.

I've always found teaching guides to be more helpful than student guides because in teaching guides it usually breaks down tasks step-by-step to teach students, which normally is not covered in a student's edition!

I'm sure Amazon loves me!! Cello is an expensive hobby...

Suzuki Method for the beginning adult cellist?

I researched the Suzuki Method and from what I’ve read, the method is based on the following:

1) The Suzuki Mother Tongue Theory

2) Delay in reading notes
3) Enriching environment - Parent support and peer/social group support

While I think it's brilliant for young children to learn via the Suzuki Method, I don’t think it is conducive to a beginning adult learner (around my age – 30 or older).   Here’s why I think this is:

1) Suzuki Mother Tongue Theory -

Suzuki compares music learning for a young child with learning their native language through immersion by “learning by ear." Based on this theory young children pick up minute
nuances easily, which I believe to be true. I believe this stems from a survival mechanism to allow children to communicate with their parents. If a child cannot communicate effectively to request food, shelter, water, etc. than the child will die, which is why I believe this ability became inherent. It obviously improves the fitness of our species by allowing children to survive to adulthood to reproduce (ha – I did learn something from by biology class!).

The theory also hypothesizes that children have a certain “language acquisition device” to detect these small nuances (I would be curious to see how the FOXP2 “Talking Gene” applies to this as well), and also mentions this is why adults learning a foreign language have such a difficult time learning another language. It’s not that they can’t pronounce words (well, sometimes), but it’s because they can’t HEAR the minute nuances like children can. This is why it’s a brilliant idea to learn how to play an instrument at a young age, and why this is BAD for adults. Think about it, how fast can a child learn a language compared to an adult?

While I agree listening to the music that you are learning helps, I believe it shouldn’t be the primary method of learning.

2) Delayed note reading -

The Suzuki Method advocates learning to read notes later, which I think is great for young children, but HORRIBLE for adults. I’ve also read many stories where children taught through the Suzuki Method
who enter high school cannot read notes, quickly fall behind, become more frustrated, which eventually stalls their progression. Therefore, I think reading notes should be introduced sooner than later. Here’s why adults should learn reading notes initially:

a) Neuronal networks strengthen over time –

Why remember numbers: I, II, III, IV and then relearn it later, when adults can easily learn it as A, B, C sharp, D? Introducing this sooner than later will make neuronal connections stronger, so why not
introduce it at the beginning so the synapses have a longer time to grow and strengthen? (i.e. neurons don’t have to grow new dendrites to reconnect to another neuron from relearning, this is what stalls learning). Obviously delaying note reading for children who cannot learn to read and play at the same time is effective, but for adults this is actually counter-productive!  Children have better brain plasticity and can relearn things more easily, while adults have a harder time re-learning.

b) Note reading is harder for children -

Back in our hunter/gatherer days, it was extremely important to communicate
quantity to let your ‘tribe’ know how much food is available to ensure survival. This is why using NUMBERS for fingering is easier to understand than assigning LETTERS. Understanding and communicating SMALL quantities has become inherent due to survival. I emphasize small because once you go over an amount that you cannot physically carry or count on hands and feet than it becomes more abstract. Can someone really understand and visualize a billion apples or even a thousand in a room? Probably not… go on, try it. How would a thousand apples look in a room, how about 100? Unless you’re like my husband, physicist extraordinaire, than it would be hard to visualize – even I have a hard time visualizing 50 apples!

Why are letters harder to understand? What we’ve basically done is assigned VALUES to arbitrary squiggly lines (i.e. characters of our alphabet). Someone had to come up with the squiggly lines, right?

This takes higher cognitive abilities because this is an abstract concept and it is “difficult” to keep track of what each squiggly line means. This is why I think children have a more difficult time associating letters with notes.  You are asking them to associate one abstract concept (notes) with another abstract concept (letters). However, I believe adults will have an easier time learning how to read notes because they obviously have higher cognitive abilities, better concentration, understanding of more complex ideas, ability to form words, etc.

Pretend you’re learning a language (Spanish) and you’ve been learning how to speak it for about 4 years, which you can hear and mimic. Well, imagine in the 5th year, the letters you’ve seen and associated verbally to letters, will now be assigned to Chinese characters!  This is the same thing as changing fingering notation from numbers to letters.  It seems extreme, but it isn’t – this is essentially what's happening. Again, I think due to brain plasticity and how the mind works, children will have an easier time with relearning fingering. However, it will be much harder for adults to relearn.

In general, I think the longer note reading is delayed, the more difficult a time someone will have later and there will be a more pronounced “hesitation” while a person converts numbers to letters, which I'm sure gets lets noticeable over time and practice.

Learning notes may be harder in the beginning for adults, but I believe it will lead to a faster progression later (strengthen those neurons!), and learning won’t stall or come to a complete halt if a person gets frustrated enough to quit when they have to re-learn how to read notes. Let’s face it, no one likes investing their time and energy in learning something only to find that they have to relearn it! For adults, I think it would be better to learn it the “right way” the first time.

3) Enriching environment -

a) Parent involvement - 

Parent participation is extremely important, and all though I see its importance for children - this does not apply to ADULT beginners. I know my mother won’t be telling me when and how to practice!

b) Peer/social support –

The Suzuki method promotes playing in groups which fosters “camaraderie, and provides motivation for students to learn new music while keeping the 'old' pieces they have learned in top form.” Actually this would be interesting to see how fast an adult beginner cellist would progress if they played with other beginner cellists in a group setting… perhaps something to try and experiment with?

This can also serve as motivation for adults, but I’ll make the assumption that most adults are internally motivated; otherwise they wouldn’t have pursued this.

Not to mention, that by attempting to foster a nurturing environment, many teachers, parents and peers will compliment the children with a job well done, even though the song was performed out of tune or out of rhythm. The child will remain unaware that the song was performed incorrectly, especially if playing within a group because their “incorrect playing” will be drowned out by the other children performing. This encouragement will help children progress further. An excellent strategy…for children!

However, the adult’s discerning ear will KNOW when he plays incorrectly and family, friends and spouse will be more truthful in telling them their real abilities, e.g. “that didn’t sound quite right,” or from my husband during the first few days of practicing - “sounds like a bag full of cats!!” :)

In short, adults can understand abstract concepts, pay attention and communicate better than children, but children can mimic and hear music much better. These are completely different learning abilities and attributes, so teaching should be completely different for adults as well! From what I’ve gathered so far, the Suzuki method seems to work AGAINST the adult beginner, but that’s just my humble opinion.


We are adults and in charge of our lives and therefore, our education in cello!

The advantages of being an adult learner far outweighs that of a child, so don't be discouraged with my opinion of the Suzuki Method above. 

1) So what if a child can hear the little nuances? Adults - we - can recognize that a note is out of tune faster than a child due to our many years of listening experience; and thus, we can make the necessary adjustments sooner than later!

2) We know our efforts will reap rewards, so we are more likely to practice longer without prompting. I actually enjoy practicing!

3) We know (or should know) how to practice efficiently. If not, I recommend reading The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness and The Advancing Cellist's Handbook. I think knowing how to practice is one of the most essential item that one needs to know before picking up an instrument!

4) We can communicate to our teachers whether or not we would like more method books, technique books, etc. 

5) We can communicate to our teachers more effectively than children regarding what we think is wrong and what we need more help on. 

6) We can buy books, buy better cellos, music, etc. without asking permission first.

7) We can research online cello resources and expand our knowledge as fast, or as slowly, as we want.

8) We can learn complex tasks faster than a child can and we can follow directions / instructions. Even the simple task of putting together a coffee table a child cannot do.

9) We are internally motivated - in most cases, children start because their parents "force" them to play an instrument.

10) We like to be involved in our learning process and are also self-directed learners. We like to learn!

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

11) We're smarter!! ...neener, neener, neener! =p  Well, I would hope so....

The reason I mentioned this was because I was discouraged that the Suzuki Method was so prolific and couldn't understand why there wasn't a single adult beginner teaching method. At least, I haven't come across one yet...

So for now, my suggestion: put together a practice plan and get a good teacher to help implement it to achieve your goal. I will be posting my practice plan shortly. 

If any one has come across an effective adult beginner method - I would be happy to know! And to share any ideas or tips that you've found helpful.

My first cello recital - Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

This was my recital on April 30, 2011, playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. This was the only piece we worked on all semester.  I started playing Twinkle on March 9, 2011 and this is after 6 lessons, with 7 lessons total. The first lesson was just an introduction to the cello -  naming cello parts, strings, etc. I've never played an instrument before, so everything is taking a little longer to learn.

I thought I was doing fine until I heard a wolf tone (which doesn't happen when I play at home), and I got really nervous so my hands started shaking. It was very obvious during my recital that my hands were shaking because I could hear it in the sound, but I'm not sure if you can hear it in this video. This made me even more nervous and caused me to miss a section in Twinkle!!

After listening to it today, I've noticed a lot of squeeks & squeels, so I decided to re-record it see how a few more weeks of practicing can help. 

UPDATE: Nevermind, I'm not going to do another video... I think I'll just leave it at that!

My teacher Adam doing a demonstration after all us played our pieces: Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude:

Introduction - how I started, my cello, and brief synopsis

I decided to start blogging about my cello journey after reading quite a few other blogs and recommendations that blogging was helpful in progressing through one's studies. I was sort of writing a blog on my laptop in Word so I thought it would be best to transfer those and reorganize some of my thoughts into Blogger instead.

I'm turning 30 today (5/29/2011), so also I thought it would be interesting to see how much I could improve by my 31st birthday. My plan is to post a blog and video at least once a month. 

How it all started
This is my first instrument and like most adult beginner cellists, I've always dreamed about learning how to play the cello!

My co-worker (Mike C.) who is in his 40's, started playing the cello, had started bringing his cello to work when his lessons had moved to Wednesday nights after work. It was a surprise to us all when we found out that he was playing the cello, so we started asking him a bunch of questions about his lessons. He had been playing for about a year and I thought was already playing fairly well! 

One of the reasons I was so hesitant about taking cello lessons in the past was because I didn't know anyone who played the cello (until Mike started) and I didn't know how difficult it would be. All I knew was it was the most beautifully rich sounding instrument I'd ever heard, which I still think so today! I also had no idea how I would go about acquiring a cello. At the time, I didn't know renting cellos (or any instrument for that matter) was available! By seeing him accomplish his goal of playing the cello, getting advice as to how to acquire a cello and seeing how far he had progressed in one year - made taking lesson less daunting and spurred me to action!  

I was short a couple credit hours to become a full time student, so I signed up for a 2 credit hour Beginning Cello class at the university.

During my first lesson, my teacher Adam went over the cello basics: how to care for the cello, named the parts of the cello, named the strings and showed me how to pluck the strings (pizzicato). I was assigned the Suzuki Book #1 and was introduced to Twinkle on my second lesson on February 23, 2011 (plucking only with no bowing yet).

During the first few months (January through the beginning of March) of signing up for my lessons, I didn't practice very diligently or consistently because I was swamped with school and work (full time work and school); and the first quarter of each year is a very busy time for me at work because I work for an investment firm. So I was only practicing 2-3 times a week and only for about 10-20 minute. Nevertheless, I fell in love with practicing and learning about the cello!

Purchasing a cello
I decided to purchase a cello on April 13, 2011 after my teacher, husband, online researching, etc. gave me the same advice - purchase a decent quality cello (one that fits within your budget) even though you're a beginner!! I had a rented a laminated cello for $49/mo.and thought, "I'm a beginner, there's no way I could hear the difference between the two! My ears aren't discerning enough!"  I wasn't one to to listen to classical music (until I started playing the cello), which I also thought put me further behind than those who did listen to classical music.  

Long story short, the difference between a laminated cello and a good cello is unmistakable, even to an untrained, non-classical listening beginner adult like me!! HUGE DIFFERENCE! My teacher said to look for a ring to know if you have the right note. I always thought I could hear a ring from the laminated cello - boy was I wrong! So I agree wholeheartedly, don't rent a laminated cello!

I went to a local luthier Reed and did a rent-to-own plan. My cello cost $1,800 and I also purchased a Coda-bow for $600. My luthier gave the advice that a bow should cost around 1/3 of the cello. Again, I thought, "Wow, that's really expensive! How could a bow make that much of a difference in sound?"....silly me! He demonstrated on two different bows, and again, it was really noticeable! My pretty cello below - LOVE my cello!! <3 

Quick Summary of Events:
Since its been a few weeks since I started playing, below is a brief timeline of what has happened so far:
·      1/12/2011 – First lesson (7 lessons total: 1/12, 2/23, 3/9, 3/16, 3/30, 4/6, 4/27)
4/13/2011Purchased cello & started practicing "more seriously"
·      4/26/2011 – Started practicing with drones
·      4/27/2011 – Last cello lesson for Spring semester
·      4/30/2011 – Spring Recital for class
·      5/15/2011 – First summer lesson
·      5/24/2011 – Added Method & Technique Books
I will go over some further details of items mentioned above since this blog is getting fairly long.

With this blog, I plan to track my progress and hopefully by my 31st birthday I will see tremendous improvements!!  Also, it will be a way for me to organize my thoughts and projects. 

Helpful feedback and advice is always welcome! Thanks for visiting!