When playing cello is like dancing salsa (minus the hip action)

TBF and I recently enrolled in a salsa class to get a “formal education” (and to halt that weird dynamic that sometimes occurs when two people in a relationship learn something together that neither one is really qualified to teach) I originally learned salsa by the seat of my pants on the dance floor, so this is the first time I’ve ever approached it in any technical sense.

Salsa dancing is really just executing a series of steps in a pattern to beat (ok, well there’s a lot of hip actioninvolved too, but that’s beside the point). And the basis of all patterns are individual moves that can be strung together in an infinite number of combination. The Lead initiates moves based on the patterns. It’s up to the Follow to know how to complete the move, bringing them to the next one.

In class we’ve been breaking down patterns by learning the individual moves. Move + Move+ Move=Pattern. Plus, the more moves both know, the wider the variety of possible patterns.

Which brings me to cello…trust me.

Today I spent about an hour with Lee Op70, No. 6 (aka Shroeder #12) which appears easy: one bow stroke, six notes. Ha. To say the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing is not just an idiom in this scenario. After a 20 minutes missing notes and fighting the urge to toss Schroeder out the window, I needed a new approach.

So I salsa’d it.

Broken down, #14 is really just a series of repeating measures. Further, each measure is its own pattern of six notes. I grabbed my trusty pencil and numbered off the unique measures. The whole piece can be broken down to five measures. Five moves. Right off the bat #14 started to look less intimidating.

To learn the moves, you learn the steps and repeat the steps until the move feels natural.

I took measure #1, broke it down note by note, put the practice mute on (to avoid driving the neighbors INSANE) and repeated the measure over and over for the better part of 15 minutes, until I wasn’t even looking at the book and the six notes became the entire piece in my head. Then I took measure #2, and did the same thing. Then I put them together. It went off so well, I’m rewarding myself with a little blog break to tell you all about it.


The idea of working note by note is not new: between my teacher and the kind peeps who have commented on this blog it’s come up a time or ten before. I always understood theHOWof that approach, but today was the first day I made the connection to the theory and application – the WHY and the WHAT it will actually do in the greater scheme of things.

Before, when I though about the whole piece of music and my goal to be a competent cellist, it felt painful and ridiculously slow to be learning it note by note. It’s tempting to feel like I’m going to be 80 before I get through #14, and I might as well forget about Bach.

However, it’s kind of like the first time I saw a dance floor full of people whirling and spinning in complex maneuvers and thinking “there is no way I can do any of that.” When I got that all that spinning and whirling is really just one step at a time, it didn’t take long to get in the mix of it. And if I consider that the whole piece is just 5 measures in varying repetition, scratching Bach off my future repertoire seems a little premature.

Bear with me, kids. I know you’ve been trying to get this through my thick skull for a while now. I’m slow, but I catch on. Thanks for sticking around (and not slapping your forehead too loudly at this moment)

Break’s over. Back to business.


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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