A beginner adult cellist's observations, musings, lesson notes, break throughs, practice logs and video logs. I have no previous musical background and the cello is my first instrument - and I'm totally loving it! :)
Went over EMajor scale and Clayton wants me to start singing along with scales for ear training to start recognizing what a Major scale, i.e. start recognizing intervals for major scales.
During scales, sing along to the notes. Make sure I can hear and/or think about each note before it's played
Put the tuner on E and then sing up the scale to test whether I know what the intervals are.
Did I mention I'm a terrible singer?? Soooo embarrassing to sing...blah...LOL!! ;)
Anyway, below is a fairly timely YouTube video regarding singing. Clayton went over this stuff while we working on phrasing for Minuet No. 2 in Book 1. It's funny, but during that lesson I remember Clayton asking me if I could hear, or know what I wanted the piece to sound like, which I hesitantly replied, "not really." His response - "yeah, I can tell..."
My immediate internal thought was a knee jerk reaction of something to the effect of "flip off!" ;). He didn't say it in a mean-spirited way, and Clayton is SUPER nice (but honest), and he knows me well enough that he knew I wouldn't take offense, but it definitely got me thinking about being more aware of what I want each piece of music to sound like and if singing will help, so be it - I guess I need to learn how to sing!
Pretty much what my teacher was saying too.
My vibrato is kind of non-existent. I'm "vibrating" but it's not really making any sound! Lol! ;)
Put the metronome on 60 and watch my finger to make sure that my knuckle stays loose and that there is a small pivot point at my finger pad. Rotation should not be consciously done, but an effect of the arms movement.
Put the metronome on 60 and then vibrate one pulse, than two pulses per beat, than three pulses per beat and than 4 pulses per beat
There's an exercise that he was shown that was taught to him by a violist to keep their knuckles loose.
The position of my hand should not change when I do vibrato. I should not have a different looking hand when I play with or without vibrato.
When I was vibrating on my third finger, I tended to sqaure up my hand instead of leaving it at a slant.
Weight of my finger
My finger seemed to be moving around too much and not staying planted in one spot
I'm having more issues on my first finger than any of the other fingers so he suggested that I slant my finger more on my first finger.
Getting my 2nd finger to start vibrating was also difficult so he had me experiment with where my arm felt more comfortable starting vibrato
Because I'm a bit impatient, I asked how long it typically takes to learn how to do vibrato and of course, I received the expected standard response of, "it depends" or something to that effect. ;)
Although Clayton did mention during his undergraduate studies that he had to re-examine his vibrato and work on it a lot because his vibrato wasn't very noticeable. He explained that he was being a "good student" and vibrating all of his notes, but when he would audio record his playing, he couldn't hear the vibrato. This led him to re-examine and re-learn how to play with vibrato. I wouldn't have expected him to have issues with his vibrato because he just plays beautifully. Anyway, I guess this means it'll probably take a loooong time!! ;)
This lesson was kind of a disaster since I didn't really practice much of what Clayton assigned, and I also lost my scale info for EMajor so I didn't practice that much... yep, kind of a disaster... :(
2nd 1st 1/2 3rd 2nd
1 x2 4 1 x2 4 1 2 4 1 2 4 1 3 4
IV III II II I
Position Pieces: The Elephant's Waltz
This was a disaster too! :( I practiced this, but for some reason it just didn't stick with me. Normally I can think of the notes and not worry about the fingerings, but not this time. I think maybe it's because I wasn't too familiar with notes on the G string in the first place.
Things to work on:
Try to make it sound like an elephant waltzing
Heavy strokes in the lower half of the bow and also try bowing closer to the bridge
Make the first note heavy since it's a waltz
Experiment with bow lengths
Work on faster tempo
Make it sound more legato
Chorus from "Judas Maccabaeus"
Sounding too "fluffy" - I need to watch my bow stroke and make sure my angles are correct
My bad habit of pushing my bow forward too much has returned
Things to work on: tone & bow angle
Clayton wants to start incorporating vibrato into pieces so we worked a little bit on doing vibrato on the half notes
Clayton teaches the "soft/flexible knuckle method," and not the "rotation method" - not sure what those are officially called...
Also, after this piece I'll be switching to another method book to work with Clayton on. I think we'll be using Solos for Young Cellists. Clayton likes to go at a faster pace, and it's been difficult to re-learn some pieces to cover them with Adam. I've discovered working on old pieces is just not very fun, so by the time I get to the piece with Adam it's kind of boring. Also, they tend to focus on different techniques which can get a little confusing sometimes.
Got to record Minuet No. 1 which is kind of a disaster right now since I haven't practiced that in a while. I'm going to have to "re-learn" that piece before I can record it. ...ugh...
I wanted to go over the orchestra pieces for fingering since I only have 5 weeks to practice before the concert. I'm still not sure if I'll be able to pull it off... oh well!
Symphony No. 8
We went over the fingerings for a few sections and we went over some orchestra etiquette. It's ironic, but I did some research on orchestra etiquette and even took a mini-workshop, but as soon as I had to apply it, everything went out the window!
Some etiquette we went over is if I share stands with another cellist, and I'm on the inside (which is where I'll be), than I'll need to turn the page. So Adam pointed out the measures where I should drop out and get ready to turn the page.
Adam recommended that when I receive any type of music, the first thing to do is research it! That is, look it up on YouTube or download the music and listen to it with the score a few times.
I have to admit, I tried this and for some reason I couldn't hear the cello or bass section, or maybe I just don't know what to listen for...
We actually spent some time listening and following the notes which was extremely helpful! But I think I'll have to have him do that again. I don't have good enough/trained ears to pick up the cello section just yet. Weird right? You'd think I could figure that out easily because I play the cello and am "familiar" with the timbre of the instrument, but I can't!
I also purchased and download two CDs since I figured I should probably be familiar with these compositions.
I'll be listening to these pieces of music none stop for the next few weeks since I'm not familiar with them. :)
The community orchestra rotates between section leaders depending on who wants first chair. The current section leader knows I'm a beginner, so he emailed me some helpful tips.
Here is some info from Vera Matlin Jiji, Ph. D., who wrote a book on learning cello as an adult. Her advice is aimed at learning chamber music, but I think it applies to community orchestra work as well.
"... Get yourself a CD recording [youtube works fine] and a full score ... Also get a full size cello part. First listen to the music until you know how it goes, how the cello part fits in, and how the parts work together...
" By the way, do not despair when you realize you cannot play the part as quickly as the professionals do. Most amateur groups play at about a half to 2/3s of the tempo professionals use, and not just because they can't play faster. Often, modern professional groups play as if the faster the better. This is a s silly as ordering a gourmet meal, then eating it as fast as possible. Savor the music. Let it breathe.
"Practice these parts, both alone and, if possible, along with the CD. [it's possible to find programs which will let you play music at a slow speed without changing pitch.]
"...Get a full score and listen, following the cello part with your eyes, until you can read it as quickly as the CD is playing. Now follow the score as the CD is playing again, but this time concentrate on how the cello part fits in with the other. That's when to edit your part, penciling in any cues you find helpful, such as when you are playing with or against the melody line; when you are soloing; when you have the melody; which other instruments are playing a pattern similar to your own, etc. These hints will help you to keep up with others, even when your skills are still shaky. What you are doing is called "faking," but being able to fake well when you can't play a passage as written is a skill every respectable amateur must cultivate.
"Only after all of this should you begin to practice the cello part, marking appropriate fingerings and bowings as you go. Practice your part slowly at first, alone. When you think you have it in your fingers, then try playing the main notes (even if you have to skip the fast notes to keep up with the beat) along with the CD. The way I do this is to use headphones to cover only one of my ears. That ear gives me the recording's sound. The uncovered ear gives me my own cello's sound. When both ears are giving me much the same material, I'm ready to play it with others.
"When playing with other amateurs, don't try too hard to play every single note correctly. I did that all the time at first, increasing my tension and the odds of slowing down. Play the main line. If necessary, play only the first note in each group of four when you have a passage of running sixteenths. If necessary, play wrong notes, but play them at the right time to allow your fellow ... players to keep the music going. Above all, keep counting and keep the time going.
"When the music is fast, rest your bow on the middle of the string. Use only a small bit, say two inches, for each note. That helps to keep the pace going.
"...[In a group, if you] are unsure of yourself, start by playing softly. First of all, if you are wrong, you won't be sounding a loud jarring note in everyone else's ears. Second, you will learn more quickly by hearing what the others are doing rather than by concentrating exclusively on your own part.
"The beat is crucial...it's important...to stay exactly with the beat. That means that you shouldn't hesitate before the downbeat. If you do that in every measure, even the slightest bit, the piece will begin to drag. At the same time, when you come in on "one," don't hammer on the first beat of every measure. Play the music in phrases..."
As part of my 2013 goals I want to play with a community orchestra, which I happened to discover a few weeks ago. There is no audition and players are all levels. Anyway, I received the music but I'm not sure I can play it...oops...
I don't remember what type of bowing this was for the orchestra piece, but there are a few fast notes in the piece that I'll be playing in the orchestra.
I'm a bit skeptical about playing in the orchestra since I think I'm still over my head, but I figured it would be good practice to work on the pieces.
Position Pieces: The Elephant's Waltz
I was having issues finding the notes on this one and I was practicing some incorrect fingerings which made it much harder to count out the rhythm and correct my bad fingerings at the same time.
New Scale EMaj
4 sharps: F#, C#, G#, D#
Start in half position
Notes: E, G#, B
Wow, I was totally not grounded on this scale and couldn't find any notes! This is going to take some work.
Chorus from "Judas Maccabaeus"
Work on phrasing
I was working on counting out rhythms and trying to be precise in my counting so I was stopping my notes fairly quickly and not using dynamics.
I totally missed all of the dynamic markings because I was trying to pay attention to my fingerings and rhythm. I've been trying to count the rhythm in my head instead of feeling it, but unfortunately, when I start to count I can't work on dynamics. I can only work on dynamics when I "feel" the rhythm and don't count. It's weird...hopefully I get better at doing the two at the same time.
For a "quick fix" regarding the dynamic changes for the two G notes in this measure: use less bow on the first G, and more bow on the second G to increase the volume
Since one of my goals this year is to improve my sight-reading, I asked Clayton that I no matter what I say (or how much I complain), that he make me count out the rhythms. Hopefully I don't complain too much...
I don't know what it is, but it's kind of embarrassing counting out rhythms!
Well, it's a bit late - but better late than never!
My 2013 resolutions are:
Finish Suzuki Book 2
Start learning how to do vibrato and use it in my playing
Play with a community orchestra
More practicing, less organizing for my cello group!
Post at least 5 videos by the end of the year - that will give me 2-3 months on each piece
Keep up with my blog entries
Work on sight-reading skills
More efficient practice time
A look back at my 2012 Resolutions:
Stop worrying about how far I get in the Suzuki book and focus on getting each piece polished, getting them memorized and learning the technique - after Book 1 of course! ;). ...uummm.. screw this goal!! I need to get through these Suzuki pieces faster darn it!! That darn turtle has lapped me twice already! Turtle soup is definitely on the menu next year...
Learn vibrato - NOPE!! Although Clayton did show me some pre-vibrato exercises, but I haven't really practiced them. Does that count? ;)
Learn 2nd & 4th position better and practice it consistently 1/2 point! I've gotten more comfortable with 2nd position, but haven't really played in 4th position much or practiced it.
Be able to have consistent good intonation for 1st position - this should become second nature Well... intonation is something that needs to be worked on all the time. I'm much better at recognizing when I'm off. Point for this!
Start playing more improvisation NOPE!
Learn how to transcribe songs NOPE! ..*sigh*...
Learn how to do jazz pizzicato on cello Kind of?? Not really jazz pizz - just have to use more of the fleshy part of my finger. It's more about learning jazz basics. I did attend a jazz cello workshop for beginners. 1/2 point! ;)
Start playing with other musicians YES! I play in a cello ensemble, have tried playing some jazz with a couple of guitarist (I was WAY over my head!!), played some cello duets with my co-worker and played duets with a pianist.
Do some ear training YES! Although this wasn't a very good goal, since ear training should be part of practicing anyway right?
Practice shifts and extensions daily - I hate practicing these, I tend to avoid these because I'm not very good at this! 1/2 point! I've started practicing shifting more because of the Mooney's Position pieces. Not daily though...
Focus on 1 or 2 pieces, instead of 3-4 pieces and other misc projects at the same time! Focus on assignments given and not what I want to work on or skipping ahead. I've discovered once I finally get to the piece I'm already bored with it because I worked on it before and its no longer fun and exciting! uummm..not going to happen?? Just too many things going on at one time! At least now I know this wasn't a very realistic goal.
If I do 9 out of 11 goals, than I think I'll have met my goal for 2012. Well, not quite - although I think I may have set way too many goals to begin with!
Some positives to end on - highlights from 2012:
Started a successful cello group/project - not quite ready to disclose the name, but I think I may later
A lot of "firsts":
First time I attended a cello workshop (I attended two!)
First time I played with other musicians
First time I played in a cello ensemble
First time I played in holiday concerts (for two retirement communities!)