Lesson Day: Tone, Tone, Tone

I have been a bad blogger, but the good news is I’ve been a decent cellist, managing to squeeze in at least an hour a day. As a result, I sounded halfway decent at my lesson today. (Another bonus side effect of playing in orchestra, I no longer feel nervous about playing in front of my teacher on lesson day – after all, she doesn’t expect me to be perfect and it’s her job to help me identify what’s going wrong and help me fix it – it’s all in the perspective) I felt like I did my best to bring my ‘A’ game so that we could keep moving forward. We covered a lot: the Zoe Keating show to my new cello goal piece, so I’ll just hit the highlights:

Etude Suzuki 1: I made sure to go only as quickly as I knew I could without error. Next I played the doubled note variation, which is one of my favorite variations in Suzuki. For a challenge, we alternated playing the standard and the variation which totally tripped me up at first. When I practice I only do one or the other, so my brain hiccupped a couple of times, trying to add a double note at points in the standard and dropping the double from the variation. More to work on.

It’s been a while since my last lesson, so a lot of time was devoted to bow hand technique and really developing the ability to bring movement into my fingers for shorter notes. Watching and listening to Kaia I could really hear the difference a small amount of movement made. I also have a tendency to overly shorten notes – particularly eighth notes – so we worked a bit on letting notes fill the space of their full count and keeping my bow pressure even across the length of the note so the sound didn’t “weaken” at the end of the note.

Armed with these tweaks I played Etude again, which got a little slower and more stumbly at parts when my brain shouted “loose fingers!” or “let it ring!” but overall was much better.

For Schroeder 16 we hit another one of my work in progress spots: tone. We talked about harmonics and sympathetic vibrations – and why I can hear when things are wrong but not know how to fix it. Then I learned how to listen for when the note was “fixed” which will come especially in handy for Brandenburg (G#s anyone?).

To close I got a fantastic left hand exercise with a demo that ended tantalizingly, thus: “when you get that down in first position I’ll show you the rest.” Gasp. It’s a challenge, a goal and a deadline all wrapped up in one. Don’t be surprised if it’s all I practice this week.

Since tomorrow is orchestra rehearsal, we went over one particularly difficult section of Pavane and as a result I have much better fingerings.

1. Practice holding an unweighted object (aka pencil, toothbrush, etc) like a bow, get comfortable moving fingers without worrying about dropping the “bow.”
2. Left hand finger isolation exercise. I’d try to explain it but it would just be a series of numbers (1434 x4) so next time I’ll try to figure out if it has a name.
3. Pieces: Schroeder 17 and Happy Farmer. I’m so close to the end of Suzuki 1 I can taste it (mmm, those pages are good. Kind of gummy, but good)


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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5 Responses to Lesson Day: Tone, Tone, Tone

  1. Yee says:

    Surprised that you are not done with the first suzuki book. I can tell that you are further along as a cellist than book one though. My teacher has me somewhat in the same position. We go back to the suzuki books every so often, but she prefers to push through lots of harder pieces. For example, suzuki doesn’t delve much into extensions, but my teacher had me master (if you can call it that ๐Ÿ™‚ it) before we moved on to shifts. Seems like she is using the suzuki material more as supplemental pieces… Sounds like the same with you…

  2. Eddie says:

    Yeah, after two years, I’m pretty surprised too ๐Ÿ™‚ My teacher does mix it up a lot – adding pieces and technique beyond Suzuki one – so I think that’s part of the reason why. I’m also a pretty methodical learner (I prefer calling it that, to calling myself slow)
    it takes me a long time to memorize (get the piece down) and play a piece up to speed (something that has been pretty challenging with the added amount of orchestra music) I’m starting to develop some better practice strategies that have helped accelerate the process, but I’ve definitely asked for another week on a couple of Suzuki pieces that she was probably ready to move on from.

    • Yee says:

      I wasn’t implying that you are a slow learner. I can tell that you are actually beyond the suzuki book 1 level. My surprise was that your teacher (or you) has you lagging a bit with regard to suzuki versus where you are technically. But I also know there as all sorts of views on learning – even with the suzuki technique.

      I think traditional suzuki has more of an emphasis on memorization and refinement of pieces before moving on. Whereas my teacher doesn’t place much emphasis on memorization. She also sees the pieces as exercises so we don’t spend lots of time refining them. We work on them till I acquire whatever skill she thinks I should be learning from the piece, then we move on. The suzuki books have been, more or less supplemental, exercises.

      My violinist sister-in-law, is a big fan of the traditional method. She thinks memorization helps with developing your recognition of intervals and playing by ear. One day, I have to have my wife (choir director) teach me to sight sing. Supposedly, that’s very beneficial…

      • Eddie says:

        Oh no, I get that that you weren’t implying that – I’m confessing it!

        I really am a slow learner, especially when it comes to cello.

        Part of the reason is that I’m an extremely visual learner, particularly with physical technique – show me a couple of times and I can mimic just about anything. I realized it for the first time I think as a kid during my first riding lesson over real jumps my brilliant and patient teacher explained the process from the ground about six different ways, but each time I attempted the jump my horse refusing or I almost had an “involuntary dismount.”
        On the seventh she asked me to dismount, then got on the horse and showed me what she wanted by going over the jump herself while explaining the technique. I got back on and got it just right the first time. She was amazed, I was amazed. Lesson learned. After that she brought her own horse to lessons and whenever I got “stuck” she gave me a visual demo.

        Cello is a little bit of a different animal(ha!): One of the challenges with weekly lessons is that I only have an hour to watch AND listen and a lot gets forgotten during the week. One of the most helpful exercises thus far was when my teacher photographed my bow hand from various angles after positioning it properly so I had a visual reference. I also play in the mirror a lot at home, which helps.

        Technique wise, my learning style is why I’m such a huge fan of cello videos and live performance for technique (finding the right technique to watch is huge, of course) and I have considered buying a cheapo cam corder and recording my lessons (teacher permitting, of course).

        However, learning to play an instrument is an inherently audial process, as far as I know there’s no way to learn tone visually (Kind of makes me wish I was a synesthete) Tone is a huge challenge for me – I’m still teaching my ear the basics, and a lot of the Suzuki pieces are good for that, I think.

        Of course as in everything, it just depends on that delicate student learning style, teacher style equation. It’s been working so far, but sometimes it does feel a little goofy to still be muddling through book one in lessons while playing Brandenburg in Orchestra ๐Ÿ™‚

        Sounds like you have a bit of music experience in addition to playing the cello?

  3. Yee says:

    No prior musical experience… My wife would say I’m rhythmically challenged. ๐Ÿ™‚ My teacher says I’m progressing fairly quickly, but my wife says I need to fix things. Tonally, my wife does say I’m getting much better, though.

    I asked my teacher about this before – i.e. the diff in views…. She said at this stage, there are too many things to worry about. Eventually, everything is suppose to magically come together as I acquire more skills, hand dexterity, experience, etc.

    I noticed the same attitude from my daughter’s violin teacher. She’s not overly concerned about perfect rhythm or tone from her yet.

    Maybe it’s a difference between vocalists and instrumentalists at this stage of development? But I’m happy with my teacher’s attitude ๐Ÿ™‚

    Seems like tone for you is like rhythm for me…. My tone improved as I adjusted my bow hold over time. Having the bow track straighter and how much pressure to apply is always a work in progress though. Both seems to be affected by how I hold the bow; and both seems to have gotten easier as I improved my bow hold over time. You can also experiment with bow tension too… That affects how much pressure you need to apply… But how much is tone really a problem if you were first chair during your last orchestra performance? ๐Ÿ™‚

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