It always interesting to discover what element of a piece is going to be particularly challenging. Sometimes it’s obvious – like the counting in Rigadoon (one-e-and-a-two-e, say what?!) or crossing strings or a shift but most of the time it sneaks up on me after I find myself repeatedly stumbling over a note (or couple of notes or an entire measure).
Earlier this evening I spent about an hour working over an etude with a measure that behaves somewhat like that one uneven step in a staircase; tripping me up every time I get to it. After I’d spent all of practice time Friday (hour and a half) with the Etude, breaking down the etude measure for measure and then building it back up again, I expected some improvment. Still, the stumble. The problem with this particular measure kept eluding me. It’s deceptively simple scale-like decent followed by four notes that are proving about as deadly to me as walking and chewing gum. I would slow it down, adding a note at a time, but every time I started to add a little speed, or tried to play the entire line – bam! Faceplant.
Rather than get all bent out of shape, I put down the cello and bow and just looked at the music, running the notes through my mind, making the approximate sounds and tapping out the fingering on my shin. (Do you know that when you’re seated, the shin bone makes an excellent fingerboard proxy. It gives less than the thigh and the forearm.) I unfocused my eyes and just looked at the whole piece, and then it became clear.
In the whole etude, this is the one measure where I have to leave a finger behind (my index finger) (E) play a lower note (C)and come back to it (E) then go up (G). I hit the E (1st/index finger – D string), drop down to C (fourth/pinkie finger G-string), but when I get back to that E, my fingers are looking for something to “do” and one of two things happen: I hit the G (fourth finger D string) early and get totally discombobulated, or get off tempo and get totally discombobulated.
Trouble is, there is nothing to do – I’m already there and ready – all i have to do is stay on time and play the note. It sounds simple, it’s not like independent finger motion is a new concept, but for some reason the idea that my left hand doesn’t have to ‘do’ anything at that moment (because it’s already there) just short circuits my brain and, faceplant. In this case more it’s efficient to leave first finger on E, reach for C with the fourth and then play the E again.
To return to the stairs analogy; it’s actually akin to thinking there’s a step when really there is none. Ever done expecting a curb and their is none? Your body gets all ready to adjust to the step and you wind up tripping over your own feet.
Turns out *I* am a doer. I am looking for some action to take or move to make at every possible moment. I love to-do lists and multitasking and crossing items off the to-do list. I can’t just sit and watch a movie; it’s the perfect time to also make dinner, unload the dishwasher, sew some curtains, wrap presents and/or fold laundry. I’d rather take one big trip from car to the house than three little ones, even if it means precariously balancing groceries and cello while I pause for the mail. I am a one-trip wonder: wonder at how many things I can get done in one trip. When it comes to the cello, I was seeing a note change and assuming there was some fingering movement necessary.
I’m a firm believer that within every challenge is a gift, teaching me something about myself i may not have been conscious of and offering me an opportunity to change/adapt/grow if what I’m doing isn’t working.
The challenge in this piece is learning when to move and when to sit still: essentially, to do nothing. Sure I could move my entire hand for each note every time, but with that strategy, I’ll be playing nursery rhymes and folk songs till the cows come home. What I’m learning playing the cello is that sometimes doing less is more.