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.

Miscellany: What I learned from Orchestra

Things I learned in Orchestra. I will eventually group these into logical subsections. Also, I am aware that some of this is in the first person, and some in the second.

  • Hardest lesson (still very much in progress): trust your body and don’t overthink.
  • Harder than I expected: keeping a rhythm while doing the same thing for twenty or more measures in a row (thank you , Saint-Saens and Sibelius)
  • you don’t always have the melody, you have to contribute anyway
  • you don’t have the luxury of not showing up. An orchestra is like a mosaic; every tile needs to be there to get full color (hat tip to Kelli Bertnshaw for that analogy)
  • You have to think in real time and learn how to “jump in” to a passage
  • in rehearsal, you don’t have to play all the notes (but you shouldn’t fake play any notes either)
  • mistakes are bad, but the audience cares less than you think if you make a mistake; you must keep playing.
  • your mistakes are less audible than you think
  • in a fast run, you don’t have to play all the notes. It might not always be possible (Wagner)
  • never be late to rehearsal. I never was, but came close once. It helped me be on time for other things as well.
  • pizzicato has to be perfectly in time. Also, be bold and obvious about it with your body.
  • our bodies communicate
  • finish strong, and together.
  • mistake management!
  • The conductor’s mood will improve when the piece does. Don’t take comments personally. He has to tell you the truth about your playing, because the others depend on you.
  • Don’t be afraid to go for it and make mistakes during rehearsal.
  • after you hear the music, it will make more sense.
  • be very aware of entrances; study the score to know what to listen for to indicate.
  • make sure you really “play the rests”. This is easier if you have the playing instrument’s music in your ear.
  • double flats are aren’t evil, but they can be scary to look at.
  • a beautiful chord makes it all worthwhile
  • of course, you must be in tune, but rhythm and dynamics are also critically important.
  • Be ready for the final note and hit it. Then work backwards.
  • Slow passages with long notes are actually harder. They must be in tune, with right vibrato and dynamics, because you will be heard if you mess up.

Technical Lessons

  • Use third position more, especially if you’re seeing lots of Ab, Bb.
  • Keep my fingers closer to the fingerboard for fast passages
  • Get comfortable with sixth and seventh position as well. Both the G and A (on the A string) are ringing notes. That A became a home base for me.


  • How you act onstage is as important as the music you play
  • your relationship to the audience is formed based on what you do between pieces, how you respect each other and the conductor.
  • in service of this ideal, don’t focus so much on dignity that you come off like a Dour Dudley. You are privileged to be be able to share something beautiful with your audience. Rejoice in it.

A bit down

These pieces are kicking my ass, and I can’t seem to play them at tempo unless I totally ditch intonation. They’re just runs. Maybe I should just quit, after all. It’s just pointless over the hill stuff and I should stop pretending.

Tomorrow’s practice :

  • m.52-92 review
  • m. 122-140 new
  • Rehearsal J-K

One thing I have to say is that this is really forcing me to focus my time. There are 200 measures in this piece and if I take chunks of 20 per day, I should be wrapped up in 10 days, leaving the rest to polish.

RHYTHM and TEMPO must come before pitch. Then pitch,then put it all together.

First Rehearsal


All of this material is published time-delayed so that it appeared after the season ended at the end of the semester at Bloomsburg University.
Rehearsals started in late January, and there were two concerts; one in March and one in late April.

January 28, 6 pm
This post is the first of several posts that chronicles my experiences in a “real” orchestra. Nothing was working except sometimes the rhythm. Maybe ten percent of my notes were right. Got to the wrong place, with no signs, and eventually figured out where the practice room was. It was critically important to get there early, so that community members continued to have a good reputation. Got there at 5:50 only to realize that downbeat was at 6:30, not 6:00.

Here is the program for the March Concert.

  • Wagner, Overture to Die Meistersinger
  • Vivaldi, Guitar Concerto
  • Saint-Saens Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah
  • Debussy, Première Rhapsodie pour Clarinette et Orchèstre

My fingers wouldn’t respond, and my sight reading was awful. Felt like open strings were the only thing I could play!
And the Debussy had a double flat that I had to work out. That’s a subtle piece that needs careful attention to the entrances.

The pace for learning all the pieces is about 6 weeks. I feel that I have about twenty-five spots to work on in order to be “good enough”, which works out to about 4 passages per week. I need to work breadth-first instead of depth-first.

Tuning Forks – Physics Geekery

So, even though I have several different tuners, not counting the ones on my phone, I decided to plunk down about $30 for a pair of A440 tuning forks, each attached to a resonance box. I wanted to see if I could make the forks vibrate sympathetically when I played a perfect A. The forks come in pairs so you can hit one and hear the other vibrate sympathetically. They are available from most scientific supply stores, but you want to get them pitched for music, not the 256 Hz that many kits come with.

Haven’t been totally successful, but my A ear training is getting better.

Quick Practice Log, and Happy 2019 a bit late.

Had a minor injury that kept me away for two days, but some heat and ibuprofen and I’m back on it. No, you don’t care about these minor old people matters, but as this is a blog about the challenges of playing in midlife, it’s somewhat relevant.

It also means I lost the beginning of my thumb position callouses.

My Intonation is rusty and focused today primarily on extended second position for the Humoresque. Lots and lots of target practice. Once I get that D to C shift on the A string, life will be peachy.

I also want to set my goal of paying more attention to my right hand, which is tricky at times because I’m left handed. I always wondered if I would play better with a Charlie Chaplin left handed cello. Unfortunately, those are expensive, and it’s more than a matter of just reversing the strings and moving the soundpost (which is itself not trivial).

Big Parts move the Little Parts

This has been my teacher’s mantra lately and is emphasizing that I get the arm into position early as I get near the third octave of my scales.   The arm should be guiding the fingers instead of the fingers finding the arm.  We are applying this to the C# minor scales. Does anybody know why we do melodic on the way up and natural on the way down, btw?

The scale is coming into focus now, although I’m still working on scales 30 minutes per session.   But I’m glad I’m tackling it instead of avoiding it.

Moving to the Suzuki Piece, Humoresque, I’m trying to use this idea to shift more confidently.

Quick Summary of Today’s Lesson


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Schroeder 27:  Keep working on dynamics markings; once the middle section feels comfortable, it will be done, then I can start thinking of it in much bigger chunks.

Humoresque: Play confidently, remember that forte can be played at a slow tempo. Trust your ears.  Focus on tone and rhythm this week.

Mechanics: Big parts move little parts.  Drive with your arms, not your fingers. Practice the ski lift, particularly on the scales.

Continuing to move through Mooney 4th position sections.  Nothing notable so far.  Sight read a couple of pieces.