Friday, April 30, 2010

Fiddle-de-de; Fiddle-de-da!

Lesson today was GREAT! I did well enough to pass Andante by Mozart (very tough for me). I also spent time working on my fiddle pieces (from the Basic Fiddler's Philharmonic book). I passed Oats, Peas and Beans and Sour Mountain. I am still working on Arkansas Traveler, which is a little harder for me to play. Overall, I love playing Fiddle music!!

Next week, I have some ear training to get caught up on as well as finish up Boccherini's Minuet (from Suzuki Book 3). I am feeling very confident today, and am just beaming. I can do this -- I really can play the cello!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lesson 4/28/10

Today's lesson was so-so. I was disappointed with my nervousness. Some days I go to my lesson and am calm as a clam. Other days, I just am jittery and nervous. I read on a blog today that lesson times can bring on performance anxiety, and I think this is correct. I shouldn't be nervous -- I love my cello teacher -- it is just that I practice so hard, and I want to show off what I have learned. Oh well...

On the other end, I am starting to play fiddle music. My cello teacher suggested that I learn some basic fiddle tunes, just to keep my practice sessions fun. I have been working on classical pieces only, so fiddle music is a nice change of pace. It will also help me with my rhythm, and stress new skills. Overall, I am still happy with my progress (even if my cello was being very squeaky today).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Practice was SO GOOD

Last evening, I had a wonderful practice session. Oh, I am seeing such good progress, and it is exciting to me. I am still working on my assigned pieces, and am still struggling through Schroeder's method book 2 (ugh!); but, I can see my hard work paying off. The method book is very difficult, much different than Book 1, which consisted of scales and etudes. This book does have etudes, but they are all in Tenor Clef (not there yet). The beginning pages are shift exercises and they are so darn hard. I can see, though, that with continued practice, I am getting more comfortable shifting back and forth and also I am getting faster -- which is a bonus. The second book I am working through slowly is also a Schroeder Method book. This book is by Carl's brother, Alwin, and consists of 170 foundational cello studies. I am only on #20, but it is runs and runs and runs of scale work. I have seen huge progress in my ability to run through notes simply because of the etudes in this book. For example, I am learning Boccherini's Minute (from Suzuki Book 3), and there are three sections where I have to do a very lively run. I used to play these parts in stop-fashion (four notes, stop, and then the next four). Now, I can play through the entire run, AND still pay more attention to the longer held quarter notes. It is all of dynamics, and it is finally happening for me. I am getting to the point where I can multi-task without a brain overload (hooray!)

Anyhoo -- just gushing because I ended my cello practice with a big KISS (for the cello, that is). I love playing the cello, I just love this instrument. I love that I am getting better, more able to play these pieces, and that while I still get frustrated, it is not like a brick wall type of frustration. It is the "my fingers won't do that" kind of frustration, and I know that is overcome with more practice (and not trying to scale an impossible wall!) I am jazzed, psyched, and geared up to really, really take off here -- any day now! Cello, I love you!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good Success - 4/23/2010

I had a very good lesson today. I am making great progress on my new pieces:

Minute by Boccherini
Nocturne by Mendelsohn (I actually passed this one)

I got over my issue with note reading and am back to playing well again. Now, I just need to work on my intonation and rhythm (always rhythm).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Practice Today was GOOD

Finally, a good practice day. I spent about 35 minutes working on my lesson material (for tomorrow), and am reporting in that it was a good session. I did everything assigned, was able to do it with not a whole lot of frustration, and I generally am feeling well-pleased! Hooray for a good day of practice!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Revisiting Bach

Ok, so now you know it...I am hard headed and stubborn. I simply do not give up that easily. I really got fed up with Bach's March in D. I tried, tried, and tried to play this piece, and no matter how many times I worked through it, I simply couldn't do it. I rather pitifully gave up on it today. I whined to my teacher, took my lumps, and passed through it. I felt like a total failure for being such a wimp about playing this piece.

I have been thinking about it over and over this day. I have decided to not let it go. I am not going to allow this piece to win. I am going to keep on playing it until I AM SATISFIED that I can play it. It might not be good or even worth the time, but I am not giving up until I am ready to give up on it.


I am so frustrated today. I went to my lesson, after a rather awful practice session. My entire attitude was not good, I was feeling blue, and really didn't even want to be there. I gave it my best, but the result was awful. I feel so ashamed because I love my teacher, and she is doing this for me as a favor. I need to show up with a good attitude each time I meet with her. Sigh!

Ok, enough of my whining...I will not do this again, because I know better, and I am a responsible adult. I know enough to shape up and pull myself together. Ahem.

Some insights:

I finished the Gavotte and am now working on the next peice by Bocherini. It is a good piece, and I have played it through before. I am struggling all of sudden to read notes. Not sure where this came from, because before I started on that awful Bach piece, I had no issues reading notes. I think it has messed with my mind -- so I have to give it up and take back the control and tell myself that I can read the notes!!

I am also working on shifting exercises. I am rethinking whether or not I should continue with Schroeder's book 2. It is really, really hard. I am wondering if there is an easier method book to use.

Well, that is all for now. I passed my scales, got my Kit Kat bar, and have since devoured it. Chocolate actually makes me feel better, so there cello!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Better Practice Today

I had a pretty good practice session today (so I am feeling better). I have decided to make sure to end each session with something positive. This way, while I may have struggled through some tough things, I will end on a high note (pun intended!)

My current study materials include:
  • 170 Foundational Studies by Alwin Schroeder
  • Violoncello Book 2 by Karl Schroeder (brother to above)
  • Cello Book 3 (Suzuki)
  • Strictly Strings Book 2 (Alfred Music)
My practice routine is as follows:
  • Method Book: #57 and #58 shift exercises (scale work in 1-5th positions) - playing through each one 3xs to become comfortable with shifting positions.
  • Scale Review for above: Review of C Major and D Major so that I remember finger placement - 1x
  • Foundational Studies Book: exercise #14, played several times through until I can do it well
  • Suzuki Book 3: Gavotte by Lully, played 10-12 times, various sections. Focusing on good intonation and finger shifting (especially 2/3rd string)
  • Strictly Strings Book 2: March in D by Bach, played 2-3xs to get more comfortable with sight reading (no numbers) and stressing reading notation for 1st and 4th finger (D and G String - which I always reverse)
Normally, this entire process takes me about 45-60 minutes each day. Today, I did much better on the Gavotte and made it all the way through Bach with minor errors. I ended my practice with Suzuki Book 2 -- replaying some easier pieces (Musette by Bach, Two Grenadiers by Schumman, and Gavotte by Gossec -- the last being much easier now!) It was a great reminder to me that I am making good progress. I was able to play these pieces from Book 2 fairly well, and some even with greater ease. I am well-pleased for the day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thinking this through...

Ok, so I had a rough day of practice yesterday. It was like I went in and "just did it." There was no joy in the effort, no real sense of learning at all. It was "grind, grind, grind." When I started playing the cello, my goal was to play for myself (and the Lord). I wanted to learn how to play so I could enjoy the result --making beautiful music. I didn't think much beyond that goal. It was a pretty lofty goal for me, considering that I had no musical ability at all. I couldn't play a note, couldn't read a note, and the thought of actually doing two things at once (fingering and bowing), well was simply wishful thinking (to this one who cannot go anywhere without walking into a door or trip up a curb).

Today, as I sit here quietly reflecting on my practice session as well as my goals, I am confronted with the reality of the situation. Playing the cello is not a cake-walk. It is not as easy as 1, 2, 3 and rest. It is hard work, and it requires diligence and perseverance. I have attempted to learn the cello on sheer determination. I have stuck it out, chosen to overcome obstacles, and I have made very good progress. I have studied hard, approached the subject as though it was something I could simply attack with logic and reason (my chosen approach).

Now, that I have had some time to think back on my approach, I realize this: if I am going to really learn how to play the cello, then I have to dedicate myself to the study, regardless of the outcome. Logic dictates to me that "if you work hard enough, whatever you seek will come to pass." There is never any guarantee in that belief -- you can work really hard at becoming an Olympic swimmer, but there is no guarantee you will make the Olympic team.

I may want to be a professional cellist one day, but there is no guarantee that I will do it. I can work very hard towards that goal, but I have to be satisfied with the journey, the process of it, and not fixate on the goal. If that is all I am doing, then when I get there (if I do), what is next?

No, the journey, the learning process has to be what motivates you onward. That way, whether you arrive at your goal or not, you will have satisfaction in the process. You will think, "I made it," not because your goal was achieved, but because of all you overcame and all you learned along the way.

My new thinking is this:
  • My goal to complete Book 3 is valid, but no the be-all-end-all of things
  • My goal to improve steadily is valid, but cannot be measured consistently. There will be good practice days and poor practice days. Persevere.
  • My goal to play professionally is valid, but may not come to pass. The better approach is to play as a professional would -- seeking to be the best cellist I can be.
  • My goal should be to master the cello, to play with proficiency and grace. My goal should be to make beautiful music, for me and for others, but not to be like any one particular cellist.
My goal is now to be the best I can be, to study hard, and to persevere in the work necessary.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Perfecting Bowing

My teacher wants me to practice making nice connecting bows (I tend to stop and start). I have given it a go, and frankly, I sound terrible. I think the issue is with bow pressure (not even). Today, I practiced my Gavotte (better and now at about 80BPS). The March in D (Bach) sounded more like I was torturing small furry creatures, so I gave up on it. It is such a difficult piece -- all 1s and 4s (first and fourth finger) and combinations of them in odd patterns. I am not really giving up on it, just decided I needed a break. I want to play this piece through because it does challenge my weakness -- 1st and fourth finger changes on the D and G string.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Art of Playing Cello

The Art of Cello Playing by Louis Potter
Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. (1980)
ISBN 0874870712

I am going to purchase this book next week. I read the review on Amazon, and think it will be beneficial to me. I am a book-learning type person (give me a manual or method book, and I pretty much can teach myself!) I am ready to really dig into the art of cello playing, to look at it from a technical standpoint.

I am a puzzle-solver. I like putting puzzles together, and taking them a part. I actually prefer to deconstruct things, and use this method to help me learn how things work. I do this with just about any thing I need to learn: I study it, I analyze it, and then I start taking it a part. Once I have the pieces identified, then I put it back together. This entire process helps me see the individual parts as well as the whole picture. It is how my brain is wired, and how I do just about everything.

I think my cello study will improve once I can deconstruct the nuances of technique. I realize that practice, practice, and more practice is the ticket to good success; but, I also need to really "see" how something is done (how a move is made) before I can learn how to refine it.

Anyway, this is my plan. Just another book to add to my list of reading!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lesson 2

Today's lesson was great! Oh, I think I am making progress, for sure!!

I came prepared to play Lully's Gavotte and Bach's March in D. I also passed my scales (my teacher is having a scale master's contest). I did C Minor instead of G Minor (reversed them), but still passed. I have just G Minor to finish and then I will have learned all the scales in my method book (hooray!)

My teacher played her violin on Lully's Gavotte, just to help me with timing. It really helped. I find her playing along with me to be beneficial (plus it just sounds so GOOD!) I love the violin and cello together -- they complement one another so well.

I really struggled on the March (it is such a hard piece -- from Strictly Strings Cello 2). I will need to practice it more this week, and hopefully can put it "to bed" by next week (Friday, perhaps).

I also watched a really good video on You Tube before my lesson, and got some good instruction on practicing vibrato. Violinists do vibrato differently than cellists, so my teacher wasn't quite sure how to show me. I will watch this video again, and start practicing the suggested technique over the next few weeks.

All in all, a very good lesson. I am thinking now that I will record myself playing Lully's Gavotte sometime next week. I will post it on You Tube as a record of my actual playing ability. I want to wait until I can play it without too many errors (and at a relatively moderate speed -- now I am about 60-76 bpm; I would like to be at 100 bpm).

I am excited about my learning, and feel very confident that I am going to play the cello really well. Now, on to more practice!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Ok, I am challenged...I mean really challenged. I have no sense of time, I mean it. Actually, my son says I am just an 1/8 note off, but it is like swimming up stream in concrete boots, just to figure out how to do two things at once. He wants me to keep a steady beat with my right hand, while tapping out the music I am playing (Lully's Gavotte) with my left. Oh, it reminds me of grade school dancing in the gym. I was miserably off, always stepping on my partner's toes -- I simply have two left feet (er, hands!)

I am getting better, though, and I do see a light at the proverbial end of this tunnel. I know that it will come in time (no pun intended). When my son was beginning piano, I remember his teacher being really concerned about him. He simply could not keep correct time (too fast, too slow). Now, he can play the most magnificent pieces (new piece is by Rachmoninoff). It is so amazing, so many notes in one measure, and he (my son) plays it well.

I know that I will get this soon, and that I just need to keep trying. It will click for me too. I also need to remember that my son was in 3-4th year piano studies when this clicked in -- I am just in my fourth month of cello (with no previous music experience). It will come in time.

So for now, I will just keep on practicing and trying to get on the beat. I can do it, I know I can.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lesson 1

Today was my first lesson in Book 3. I tanked. I cannot explain it, but even with some practice, I just froze and forgot everything I learned last week about postions 3-5. Oh well, good thing my cello teacher is so sweet. She is SUPER and so very kind. I just love her, love her, love her.

I need to work hard on practicing for Lully's Gavotte and also Bach's March in D (from Strictly Strings, Book 2). Both are pretty difficult pieces to play. I am getting better, but slowly. Oh, I am so impatient. Why can't I play better NOW (with my very best Varooka whine -- from C&TCF a la Gene Wilder)!!

Just Some Fun

Me in 4th Position

Me Practicing "I Love My Cello"

Me - Scales G Minor

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Blog

Hi friends! I decided to create a new blog that will be devoted to my journey learning how to play the cello (at age 47). I have posted a number of times on my regular blog (, but thought today that it would be really fun to keep a daily practice journal so that I could look back and see how much I have improved over the course of several months (and potentially years.)

My History

I am not musical. I was raised in a musical family, but the joke was that everyone seemed to get some special talent, except for poor little Carol. Truthfully, I was a pitiful sight. I was scrawny and very skinny, with buck teeth and big Coke bottle glasses. I was glumsy, often falling up stairs and over cracks in the sidewalk. I regularly walked into closet doors! LOL! I was pretty pitiful (it is Ok, I can admit it).

My family was pretty talented. My dad sang Barber shop quartet in college, and my mother played the piano fairly well. My dad also played the organ. My brothers all played guitar (though one took piano lessons too). This was the rock and roll 60s' so we had a garage band going every day. I tried piano lessons and flute lessons and simply could not make my fingers work in sync. I couldn't play two hands on the piano, and I never could learn anything other than Mary Had a Little Lamb (on the flute). When I was in high school, I tried to play guitar (like my brothers) and failed at that as well. I simply couldn't strum and finger the chords.

I pretty much gave up any hope of playing an instrument, and simply settled for singing in the car and loving to watch/hear others play.

I have loved music since I was a child, often sang off-key (loudly) and never once stopped singing, even when people covered their ears. I simply loved all kinds of music and I longed to be able to play some of it myself. I contented myself with the fact that I wasn't "cut out for music" and that God had gifted me in other areas (art, for example). I decided that it was OK to enjoy music -- to listen to it and to watch others perform it.

Years later, after my son was born, I made the decision to make sure that he was exposed to music and that he had the opportunity to learn to play some instrument. In 3rd grade, he took up violin, though he really didn't connect with it. He played it, learned how to read some notes, but other than that, it was just something he did with the other kids in his class. In 4th grade, he started bugging us and asking for a piano. I am not sure where this came from, but he was so insistent that he became a broken record. He would plead with me, beg me, then tell me that he would just die if he didn't get a piano to play (yes, he was that dramatic).

We scraped enough money together to get him a small keyboard and made sure he took lessons. Well, he and the piano just clicked. It was kismet, it was fate -- it was God-given talent! Our son took off and started to furiously learn to play the piano. In less than one year, he was playing like a 3-4th year student. In three years, he was playing like he had studied piano for 5-6 years. Now, six years later, he plays college level piano and is seriously considering studying music at college.

As he explored music, he also has learned violin, guitar, cello and drums. He now wants a saxophone to play.

Music and my son are a dynamic duo. It has been such a blessing to have music in our home. I have learned so much about classical composers (thanks to my son's teacher, but also to Ambleside Online -, which includes composer study right from Y1), and have come to appreciate the finer details of music.

Last year, my son's teacher asked if he would be willing to play the cello on a couple Beatles' songs (for the fall recital). He said yes, and brought her cello home to learn how to play it. It took little time for him to be able to play the songs and when the recital came, I was so moved by his performance. I must tell you that of all the instruments I have tried (or longed to play), the cello is the one I would have chosen first. I have always loved the cello's voice and have loved to hear it as part of a symphony or in solo performance.

Once my son was finished with his performance, the cello was sent to the corner of his music study. It sat there for a good month, just waiting for someone to pick it up. I would go in there each day, get books (it is also our library room), and see it. Once or twice I thought, "just pick it up, Carol. Try it out." But then, I would walk back out of the room. It was maybe another month after (October), when those thoughts kept coming back around to me. It was like this little voice in my head wouldn't stop saying to me, "Go and try it."

One night, when I was home alone, I went in and got the cello out of its bag. I held it, picked up the bow, and plucked the strings. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. I even managed to bow it a little. The next day, I asked my son to show me "how to play it." He gave me a couple lessons, but I was lost. I sat there thinking, "Oh no! It is just like before. I don't understand it, and will never be able to play it."

Not long after that, perhaps another couple weeks, a friend of our family presented my son with an old Kay Cello. It has belonged to this man, and he had tried to learn to play it some 15-16 years before. He said he didn't know how good it was or if it even worked well. We gratefully accepted it, after all it was free. I thought, "well, perhaps my son will want to play it again." We took that cello home and it sat in the corner for a couple days.

I finally pulled it out and thought, "this is a pretty crappy cello." It was dented and dinged and had a big mark right on the front. It was dirty and looked SO OLD. I set it up, bowed it and it was out of tune. Thankfully, son came to the rescue and tuned it for me. I started bowing again, and I thought, "Ok, not bad. It has a decent sound."

For the next couple weeks, I got the cello out of it's bag and bowed it. I didn't know how to make notes or even read notes. I spent an entire month just learning to hold it, to hold the bow, to make nice sounds. Then in December of 2009, I pulled out the method book that came with the cello. I opened it up and said, "Whoa, I don't get this at all." It was by Carl Schroeder and it was an old book ($2 original price). It had illustrations that were hand drawn inside. It also was all notes, hard notes, and lots of information that was well beyond my ability to understand.

I took a couple days and went out on the Internet and looked up beginning cello lessons. I found several good You Tube videos and watched them. I also found several sites that offered free lessons in note reading (Bass clef). I started to read notes using very simple pages. I practiced a correct bow hold.

It was right before Christmas when I pulled the Schroeder book out again, and unbeknowst to me, it was much clearer to me. I actually looked it through and started on page one and worked my way through to the scales at the back of the book. I wasn't playing them correctly, mind you, but I was playing them. I first learned how to finger the A string. The I moved to A and D. Then A,D, and G. Finally, A-C.

After Christmas, I decided to ask my son's piano teacher if she would be willing to give me basic music lessons. She is a very fine violinist and pianist, so I figured she could get me started. She agreed to give me some free music lessons, just to help me learn timing, rhythm and such. Oh, how I am thankful to her for her gift of music and of teaching. In just three short months, she has taken me through the Method Book 1 and through Suzuki Book 2. I am now playing the cello and beginning Book 3.

I went from not being able to play any instrument to being able to play a 2-3rd year cello book. This is where I am at now, and this is the beginning of my cello journey.

This Blog

My purpose in keeping this blog is to chronicle my journey as I begin Book 3 of the Suzuki series. I thought it would be helpful to me and fun to record my efforts as I learn to play more difficult pieces. The next level is a big jump up in skill, so there is much to learn. My hope is that I can work through this book with my son's teacher and then transition over to a professional cello teacher.