What brought this on?
I’ve been learning the G major scale for six months. That’s right, for six months I’ve been calling myself learning a new scale and still can’t get through it start to finish without screwing up the D-E transition on the A string (or shifting from 1st to 4th position if you like to think of shifting as moving from position to position rather than note to note)coming AND going.
Shifting. The first time I encountered the shift i thought – oh hell no, there is no way I am going to figure out how to do that. After this week’s lesson, embarrassed and tired of fumbling through the scale again I finally heard something that Kaia has probably been saying all along: getting the shift down is all about muscle memory. It’s not rocket science or musical talent or a gift from the muses. It’s just determination and repetition.** Muscles learn through repetition.
The only thing was going to stop me from learning it was thinking I couldn’t do it. And this one small shift is the least of my worries – if I want to play the cello I’m going to have to learn to shift, a LOT, all over the place. How sad would it be for me to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble?
Tonight I decided I was just going to sit down and do it. For as long as it took, I would repeat G major scale, and specifically the D to E shift – well until my fingers bled, if that’s what it took. For the first hour I practiced slowly with the tuner on, getting familar with every note. Then I turned the tuner off for a half hour an let my ear guide me. Then tuner on. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Thankfully no blood was shed in this exercise. Three hours later (with a couple of stretch and water breaks for good measure) and I can now smoothly transition from first position D on the A string, to the bloody E.
Of course it’s not going to end there. I’m going to have to keep up the repetition until I don’t even have to think about it and that might take longer than three hours. But it was a good start. I felt like I made a breakthrough of sorts – both in the skills and the technique for acquiring those skills. I got a little lulled, because at first so much came so easy, but that was just the warm up. To get over my nerves about playing in front of people, to memorize my pieces, to acquire more complex skills like shifting and extensions, I am going to have to repeat everything until I am my own song stuck in my head and in my fingers.
It’s year two, and now the real learning begins!
*…so not literally. I did get some nice string indentations, sore fingertips and a baby blister on my ring finger. I feel proud of my little “battle scars,” I earned my progress tonight and it felt great!
**I also found this article on things to consider when practicing shifting technique really helpful for my inner overachiever who is totally into theory and strategy for everything.