COVID Cello Project Lessons Learned.

I recently submitted a video of myself performing, that will be added into the mix for a YouTube Video. A sample can be found at this link. It’s not the one I perform in, but worth listening.

First, a big shout out and thanks to for even doing this. , and giving us all an outlet to share our playing with the world. If you participated, and you have the funds, the guy deserves a donation for this labor of love. Heck, even if you didn’t participate.

Just as a background : to make these videos,you play along with a backing track, which you download from the internet. The backing track has the entire piece, but with your part emphasized. This keeps everybody in time, and hopefully in tune.

The main point is to summarize some lessons I learned, first, in terms of playing, then into terms of producing the video

  • Even if you make a mistake, play until the end. Otherwise, you’ll get to the middle to realize it’s not as strong as your beginning. Starting over at each mistake was very tempting for me , but it is the poorest use of time imaginable.
  • As with orchestra, if you miss a note, it won’t hurt the recording, but try to jump back in quickly. See #1
  • Don’t go more than five takes without a break. Do some deep practice on the sections missed.
  • When you finally get one you like, think about how much better you know the piece than when you thought you knew the piece.
  • It was wise to start with an easier part, so you can focus on the process for the first time. My first run through was at the higher octave. I wouldn’t have made the deadline.
  • Learn the predominant notes of the piece and what they sound like. In Bb minor, there is only one ringing tone, the C. There’s no way around just training your ear to memorize what the other important notes of the scale sound like. I feel more at home in Bb now. Practice the relative major of the scale too, to get some of the other notes sounding good.
  • Be prepared for at least 50 takes your first time.
  • Keep a few of your failures. You might find they are better than you thought. Don’t just delete them. But see the next section with regard to memory usage.
  • Get good fingerings if you can’t figure them out yourself. Tony provided, some as did my teachers.
  • Seek advice from others. As one friend pointed out, “Remember, you have 150 cellists who have your back” Thank You, Nancy Mack, without whom I might have given up after two nights of not getting a good enough take.

As for actually producing the video, Murphy’s law predominates. These things happened. Tony has a how-to video, which helps with the major pitfalls, but still:

  • The video stopped playing at random times. Don’t play directly from the internet. Download. This may be obvious to you, but I had more faith in my 300 mbps connection than perhaps it merited.
  • The video camera stopped recording at random times, once when I was at my final two measures! Try to make sure you are visibly moving so the video doesn’t think you’re a still image. In my recording, the bow was mostly below the camera angle, so it’s possible the camera found insufficient motion. There’s actually a joke about this topic: “What’s the difference between a cellist and a coffin? With a coffin, the corpse is on the inside.” Get into it, even on a sad piece. Don’t be the corpse.
  • Even though pants are also usually below the camera angle, I recommend wearing them.
  • Make sure your recording device has enough memory. Even though I deleted files and apps like crazy, the phone kept filling up. I had to find my gallery app’s preference and tell it to stop keeping ‘deleted’ files for 15 days. YMMV.
  • Frustrations will happen; be resilient.

I can’t wait for the next one.

Practice Logs Week of 8/1-8/7

Going to start writing every day now, even if it’s just to note when and what I prepared.


Marcello E-minor sonata, 4th movement, specific measures for intonation.35 min
Happy Birthday, Rick Mooney Double Stop book, p. 1610 min
Schroeder double stop etude, m. 2 and 45 min
Revisit: On the Wings of Song. Check bowing and get ready to play along with piano tracks.10 min
Practice log 8/1

Day 101

New 100 Day Challenge Group

Been spending much of my time over at this facebook group. As you’ll recall, this blog started out as a 100 day practice challenge, and as I needed some motivation and community, I tried this group out. As much as I love it, I also need to post my practice logs here as well. Tonight I worked on just one shift, primarily on the metronome, and wasn’t a stickler for perfect intonation. I plan to refine this tomorrow. I’m under a great deal of job stress right now, but I also need to keep making whatever progress I can.

Lesson Notes 11/12



Gigue from Suite 1

Sounding more even, now work on giving the notes character. Think about rise and fall of each phrase. Crescendo towards the middle and decresendo towards the end. On the first trill, just work on a smooth upbow afterwards. And give yourself some credit, you’re doing some things well.

Baccarole (third position piece)

When there’s a lot going on, start with small chunks and get the intervals right, then the shifts, and watch for a delay in that first shift! A metronome will help, and I can always ask for help from somebody, to tell me if they hear a delay or record myself. Get that G-F# shift down before you move on.


We reviewed posture – the left leg is more critical than the right, which really doesn’t play any role at all. Angle the cello and make the endpin comfortable and then see if you can hit the notes (finger 4 on each string) comfortably.

Do more bow exercises on the open string, and think about on releasing tension in the right hand. I can always do the pinky probation exercise.

Part of the teacher’s job is to show us how and what to practice. We worked on a practice plan for the position piece as an example.

Lesson Notes 10/30


, ,

Lesson Objectives:

Lesson last night focused on the Marcello Sonata and the Gigue from Suite#1. On the latter, he suggested that I get the rhythm, then the notes, then the bowing. For the bowing, use the metronome to get those fast first down bows and the notes in the first slur to be equal length. Also, analyze the piece and ask what are all the bowings and rhythms needed to learn this section or piece?

Lesson Assessment:

As far as the lesson itself goes, I didn’t show well what I learned, except perhaps in the position piece. I recommitted to doing things in the standard order, and making a separate practice session for the orchestral pieces.

After Action Report:

Tomorrow’s practice will be better. You absorbed more than you thought. I was so prepped for my lesson, and so surprised when it went south on me. But a few positive that are obvious need to be repeated

Specific comments on things to do for next lesson

  • Scale was good – time to move on to a new one, although this time, do enough so that you leave yourself for some new bowings and rhythms. Do the usual review of the important notes as well.
  • Upcoming e-minor scale: For e-minor, those would be E-G-B. You have C,D, and G natural (on the descending part) , and will ring. You also have the high E harmonic so you know you’ve arrived correctly at the top. Interestingly, the third octave goes precisely through the middle one-third of the A string. It starts at the 1/3 point, and moves to the 2/3 point. Both sound the high E harmonic.
  • I’m back on the metronome, set on eighth notes for the Marcello Sonata. My focus today is on dotted eights + sixteenth and subdividing that beat. The other is to make sure I’m keeping the same pulse across the rest after the first line.
  • For the Bach – get the notes, add the bowing, add another bar and play the entire thing as a phrase. Use “robot arm” on that downbow plus slur on upbow.


Why do we practice melodic minor and not natural or harmonic?

General Comments after a tough lesson

  • You did not literally do “everything” wrong, or the piece would be utterly incomprehensible.
  • Your lesson went better than you thought, and you absorbed more than you thought.
  • Since you can’t have a do over, be content with small victories.
  • You have more skills for diagnosing problems and checking yourself than you used to have.
  • You are going to make yourself more nervous by criticizing yourself. Can you put the criticism, even if deserved, on the shelf until later. Don’t be unbelievably positive (I can’t stand that), but can you just wait to talk about it to yourself later?
  • Do not ask “how did this happen”. Save that for the “after action briefing”. The answer is always, “you emphasized other things in practice”
  • It will sound better tomorrow.

Lesson Review 9/13


General Observations

  • Learn to relax the right side of the right hand. The hand shouldn’t look like it’s trying to suspend the bow in mid-air.
  • There are certain notes that should not only be 99% in tune but 100% in tune. Really go for that maximal ringing.
  • This is particularly helpful on the lower strings where one has more overtones to hear.


  • F major is in pretty good shape going down, but work on making it habitual
  • Start working on D minor

Mooney Position Piece (3d pos. Waltz)

  • Make sure all the A notes ring,
  • Play with a pulse
  • Still needs work to find the notes, and I’m a long way from making it sound musical.


Schroeder #36 (also Dotzauer #5) : needs a lot of intonation

  • Same comment about the A
  • Keep your hand in position

Kol Nidre

  • Play difficult high passages in the lower octaves first, then try to keep that sound in your head while you work out the high ones

Orchestral Pieces

  • Worked out fingering for mm 67-70 in John Henry
  • When deciding on which passages to practice, ask “where will the cellos be heard?”, and focus on those
  • Sometimes you can just move up and down the strings and just be at the top or bottom on time.

September 4 Lesson Review

Playing the Cello Well

According to my teacher, playing the cello well consists of two things:

  • Nice tone and intonation (those are the same, basically)
  • with a rhythm

Tone and Intonation

Low D needs to be your home base #1 on the cello. You should know when you hit it right and imagine the note ringing with all of its overtones. You know, this is the note Pablo Casals said he practices every day, just to make sure he has the hang of it. Seeking it out and getting the reward should become a Pavlovian response.

Scale F-major

Find the trickiest part of each scale; work on the shift need to make notes in tune. If you make a mistake, correct after, not “in flight”.

For practicing, Say “1 and, 2 and, ” shifting during the “ands”

Position Pieces

Idea for each position is to quickly find the target note with the correct finger, and be confident in arrival there. For extended third, this means 2 is on E,A,D,G for I,II,III,IV

Kol Nidre

Back to the beginning – play with a rhythm – make sure I am in a crescendo to the final note in each group. When I get to the B-flat in the 4th bar, hold it for its proper length but don’t hold the note after it. Then, ensure all those 16th notes that finish the phrase get the same length.

For next week

#36 in Schroeder – pay attention to the most important note and make sure it’s in tune. –

Position Piece: Waltz

From the mooney book – extended third position.