Gritting it out

I recorded myself on the first two lines, and it was just weak.  It just didn’t express anything.  It was gross. I spent the entire practice  of about 50 minutes getting the first three notes sounding somewhat tolerable, both in terms of dynamics and tone.   There’s so much to do, and a job change in the mix.    I’ll be in two different cities in the next two weeks, and the recital is on 8/12.

I also learned a couple of things about self recording.  For me, it’s actually easier to just let the recorder run for an hour and divide the track into sections with vocal introductions rather than constantly stopping and re-recording for each take. Besides, there’s audio editing software if I need to cut someting into tracks.  The other thing I learned is that my singing voice isn’t horrible.

While singing, I learned that I wanted the first two notes to have a slight decay, and the third to have a bit of a sustain.  Whether that is right or wrong, the important thing was working to get the bow to match how I was hearing it in my head.  At least now, it’s something.

It takes guts to do this, but that’s why this is hard.  And I am willing to do it.   And it’s non-linear.   The next 60 measures won’t take 30 times as long as the first two.   And while I’m at it, I need to develop a consistent vibrato.

David Finckel”Talk 7: Clean Up!” on YouTube

I just got finished watching this.  Had seen some cello cleaning material before, but I must admit I become lax. After all I don’t play nearly as hard as a professional therefore how often do I really need to clean it, right?

Check this out. Here’s my microfiber rag afterwards. 

I have seen the light, or in this case the darkness. I must say I was shocked by how much dirt was on there.

It bears repeating that one must be extra careful to tilt the cello to avoid possibility of drippage. It is absolutely critical not to get the alcohol on the cello body itself.

Mm. 64-67

I’m working hard at intonation for the final tenor clef section, particularly the runs where I have to switch the bow after the first note and then gracefully step from Bb down to D.  The shift from G to F is not accurate, so I’m just exhaustively training myself by ear and the tuner. I’m also doing gradual shift exercises so that I can hear the G-F reliably (this is easy in fourth position), then changing one finger at a time until I can do G on 1, F on 4.

In my next post, a music theory question for you. [UPDATE:  I’ll wait until after my performance to worry about my question, and I may see if Quora has it first]

Ringing Tones

I’m revisiting the first line to make sure all of the Cs, Gs, Ds, and As are ringing, especially on the 1-1 shift from G to A.  Just going back and doing target practice over and over.   It sounds like a different piece now.  My accuracy is not good so far – about the same as a Lebron James Free Throw, hence the break to write this post, but I know what I should be listening for.  Sometimes on the final note of a phrase, I can squeak to the right note by using vibrato if I’m already close.  Granted all movements should be made with conviction and not fishing for pitches, but if I’m already very close, I can get the notes to ring.

Another question I have is that if I play A and C well, should the following F ring as well? What does it mean for the entire chord to ring?  I’ve never experienced this. I’d like to.


Intonation in Extended 2d Position


, ,

Focus today was on shifting 1 back from second position.  Apparently, I have been compromising my hand when I do this, and instead, need to move only the finger back.  This causes me some discomfort on my thumb pad, but it’s better than what I have been doing, which ruins my intonation.  I also need to make sure I let ringing notes ring.  The C is especially wanting these days.

I also worked through the Schumann Op 102 mv 2 with the piano (thanks again, Aurora!).   It was a challenge listening for different cues, but no matter what happens, I have to play out.  I don’t have the option of retreating to turtle mode.  An added benefit: I am more likely to correct mistakes as I play if I play confidently than if I play timidly.

[UPDATE: Went back and read Nancy’s Post on shifting, and focused for thirty minutes on mm. 30-36 of the Schumann, which has a couple of tricky shifts that need to be smooth]

Also, worked on Mooney’s Tango, which is where the shift issue came from.

Schumann Op. 102 Check-in

May 31 was the deadline I gave myself for learning the piece on a rudimentary level.  This means I can play it mostly from memory, knowing full well there are still sections to woodshed and make smoother.  I was hoping I would have more under my command by now, but there are no parts of the piece I haven’t tried yet.   So, we’ll count this as a win. The recital is in August, so my plan was to get it really smooth in

The recital is in August, so my plan was to get it woodshed the bowings in June and start working with the piano part in July.   I think I can pull it off, and maybe even remove some of the simplified fingerings for the marked ones.   For instance, the final line is played on the G string, starting at the F# above 7th position.  Basically, that means thumb position with thumb on F.  But to do this, I really have to be SURE of my intonation, and that means creating some exercises to make this “can’t miss” performance-ready.  But  I like the softer tone that I get on III.  Since I know how it should sound,  playing it in tune is feasible.  But again, remember “can’t miss”.  Make it as easy as possible for the first performance so I can focus on playing with feeling.

I can still finish the last 6 measures on III, so I still get the dulcet finish the piece requires.

Last eight measures of the section

Which fingerings to try?


I’m have to end strong because audiences remember strong endings more than strong middles, so it needs to be done with some elegance.   The final two measures feature a strummed F major chord, so as I come out of Fourth position, I need to reshape my hand to chord-ready while I play the final bowed note F.

I’m fortunate to have a teacher who can play the piano part of this piece and to have a piano in our lesson room.  We actually played the first two lines together, although she did accomodate my speed.   When it’s done, it’s going to be a superb showpiece for 8 years of lessons!

The Cello Bubble


A soap bubble, but sans violoncellist

Background: Saturdays I have an orchestra rehearsal with the BPSM New Strings program, followed immediately after by my private lesson with Aurora.

My teacher uses s concept called the cello bubble, which is equivalent to mumbling, and consists of huddling over your cello with short bows and playing only for your little practice world in your own head.  Interestingly, my conductor also used the bubble analogy today , but in a different way.  She used the idea that our bubbles have to join when we play as a group.

We discussed the need to play out, and really speak with that right hand.

  • Feuillard – Keep trying to get that squiddy  hand feeling . Be aware of tension that immobilizes fingers first.  Practice in front of the mirror, focusing on straight bows.  This will help my string crossings. It might be fun to do the bowing motion underwater in real life at the pool tomorrow.
  • Lully Gavotte from Book 3.  yes, back in book 3! w00t.  Play out – get out of the cello bubble, especially on runs of eighth notes and the trills.  Metronome work on the first three lines.   Follow bowings!
  • Schroeder.  Not discussed.
  • Schumann.  Make decisions on the bowings and stick to them.  Try to be more rhythmically accurate in the minor sections.  And those triplets!  We also decided that for a first performance of this piece, that easy is better, and go with the surer intonation over the more stylistically preferable.   There are large sections where we play entirely on the D string, but we may cheat a little, especially on those high E where 4th position E on I is more convenient and local for my left hand.  Also, decide on whether to break up slurs, but whatever we do, we need to lock in the decisions by May 31, for the most part.
  • Eb Major scale.   Coming along, but the shift to 4 needs refinement on the D string as well as the Eb-F-G sequence on the A strong.

There was also an post-lesson discussion on how long to stick with a piece before moving on.  Obviously it’s not until mastery (Or I’d still be back on Kummer #4) but we agreed to put in as much at it takes to refine repertoire pieces before moving on and keeping a reasonable amount of time, but generally not more than a month on etudes.  I am concerned about creeping sloppiness by moving too fast, though.

We also talked more about community orchestras.  That will depend more on my work schedule, but we’ll see where I can fit in and what I can audition for.

Random bit: learning a bit about blues scales and recognizing those patterns when they come up. For instance, a rock piece that looks like it’s in written in G major may actually be a D-Major blues scale (flattened C# plus addition of blues-note F natural).

Woodshedding the Schumann Op 102 mv. 2 (langsam)

Today was primarily listening carefully with a tuner to the harmonic section, particularly the e-f-g-a upbow in m. 52 and 3.   Just repetitive until I get it in tune and hear it in tune.

Still thinking about what the song actually means to me.  I tend to interpret it as a call-and-response good-bye song, with the person being left starts out angry and gets progressively more accepting and melancholy as it progresses.   I honestly don’t know what the right music history or theory is. . Although it could also be a lullaby.

I’m currently reading a biography of Schumann to try to put this all in contextMore on history and meaning coming up, but don’t spoil it for me since I need to do my own research.


New Pieces, New Teacher!

Chord Progression

Chords: G-C-Am-F#dim-D-Bm-G-Gm-D-F#dim-[??]-G

  • Don’t stay on an etude forever.
  • New Chord Exercises
  • Memorizing pieces is worth doing

The new teacher is also a Bloomsburg Preparatory School of Music teacher, as was my previous.  I tend to say very little specific about my teachers to respect their privacy.  I try to limit my comments to their approach to my teaching.

The new pieces and my progress on them:

New Etude: A chord progression exercise from a textbook hopefully my readers can recognize.  Spent several hours on this, and still having problems with my LH position.

New Schroeder Etude: #19, a/k/a Lee Op. 70, #21.   Worked some – identified trouble spots, still learning notes

I think the only current piece that I’m not changing is the Suzuki.  I didn’t work on that this week, but I think the chord tuning exercises will help there, since my main trouble spot is keeping the chords in tune.

Mooney – moved to the section on extended second position, Ballad.  Did not work on that this week except for a quick run-through.

Schumann: Worked the most on this, with a goal of memorizing by the end of May.  Once that is done, my plan is to read the score along with the piano part rather than the cello marked score.  Finally, no reading at all.  That should have me ready for the recital in August.  I will talk more about the memorization in the upcoming posts.

I used the Wolfram Alpha Chord interface on when I couldn’t recognize a chord.
(Example – link opens new tab). I must confess a great deal of mystery involving chords.

Does anybody recognize the excerpt above?

How do the ear and brain figure out what a chord is when it’s not in root position?




So, my teacher tells me in the nicest cello-teacher way he can that I’m not making enough progress on or working hard enough on my Schroeder Etude. Translation, “what the f___ are you doing all week.”

Some of this has to do with being ready to practice before I practice, and that means having my tuner and metronome nearby. I am never good at sticking with the Metronome.  After about 3 measures, I start losing the beat, then I start beating myself up.

It would also help if I logged more carefully how much time I spend on each piece.

The way I’ve been managing my time is to push ahead and focus on one thing all week, and on the other things, just stay constant.   But looking at the results,  I need to give all my pieces roughly equal attention without prioritizing them.  However, I am concerned about my time management because I have both my pieces and my orchestra pieces.

With both my pieces and my orchestra pieces to study, and this dictates about 2 hours a day with about one hour and fifteen minutes for lesson work and the remainder for orchestra.  Therefore, I need to put aside my goal of moving up to the next level of Orchestra.  I can live with that over a one-year horizon.I may not be able to make it, but if I keep records, I can at least look at the results in more detail and decide

I may not be able to achieve my goal, but if I keep records, I can at least look at the results in more detail and decide by how much.  Then work to see what I can accomplish with the time I have.

So, what are my goals?

  1. Schumann “5 Pieces in Folk Style, II, Langsam”, ready for the recital in August.
  2. Finish Suzuki book 2 by December
  3. Be ready for CelloSpeak Skill Builder workshop in late July