Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lesson 7/29/2010

My lesson today was great! My sight reading is getting really good, and I pretty much can play along with my teacher on new pieces -- first time through! God is SO GOOD TO ME! I do need some new music, though. I am getting really tired of playing Book 3, and I have finished Basic Philharmonic Fiddlers and Strictly Strings Book 2. I whined to my teacher and she graciously gave me her copy of American Fiddle tunes for cello. I am in the pink, so they say, and am happily learning some new fiddle tunes. I will be heading out to Central Music to pick up Fiddler's Philharmic and the Encore book this weekend, but for now, I am very contented to learn these new pieces.

American Tunes: This collection contains 16 traditional fiddling tunes from across North America. They are arranged in a theme and variation format, typical of American fiddling. The authentic fiddling style harmonies are written so that various combinations from solo instrument with piano to duets and trios to full string quartet/orchestra are possible. Includes cello melody (solo), cello harmony and piano accompaniment. American Fiddle Tunes for Solo and Ensemble books are written as ensemble books, so they can be played as solo books with piano accompaniment or together as ensemble.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Practice Catchup

I have been practicing for about an hour the past couple days. I am getting in good time, and can really see and hear the progress. We have shifted my sticky tab down from where it should be for first position, and it is good. It was in a good spot before, right where your thumb should be for first position, but that made it a huge jump for me to reach with my pinky -- even more than extended 4th position. I think it is a physical issue, the size of my hands perhaps. So we moved it down a bit and it put my thumb between 1st and 2nd position, but I can now reach from X1 to X4 in 1st position with ease. I am also not missing G anymore.

As a second help, we put a sticker on C# to help remind me where I need to be when I reach X4 in 1st position. I get there, but tend to sit to low on the register, so I am flat rather than sharp. This has helped as well, and I think with a bit more time, will be able to find these positions without the little references. My cello looks like a kiddie instrument with colored finger tapes and stickers -- but, hey it works.

As to practice, I spent all of last week refining my bowing. My teacher says my bowing is lovely now. I am working hard on finger placement as well, trying not to flatten my fingers out but keep them up on the tips a bit. I am sure I am not playing the cello precisely as I could, but my hands are old, and they have been through the typing wars (typing up to 100 wpm for over 30 years). I just don't think they want to stretch or sit a certain way. I think there is some arthritis (beginnings of crookedness) setting in as well. Oh well.

My pieces this week include:
  • Lully's Gavotte (book 3) - I already passed this a couple months ago, but am revisiting all of Book 3 to work on better bowing and phrasing technique. Major improvement -- major!
  • Basic Fiddlers - playing in group now, and I am finding that I enjoy the cello/bass part more than the melody. Let the violins play the melody -- they like to take first anyway. I really like my part as it gives OOMPH to the entire piece. I feel very important, even though I am mostly playing the same two notes.
  • Strictly Strings - we are playing through this entire book, and I have mostly the cello part. Again, very nice to play this part because it adds so much interest to the entire piece of music.
  • Schroeder's Foundational Studies - working on etude 10 and 14. Bowing mostly, striving for long smooth bows, and short quick bows.
Overall, I see great progress and I am well-pleased. My cello has behaved, even with bad strings, and a worn out bow. Perhaps a new cello is on the horizon? I sure do hope so!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lesson Update 7/22/10

Great lesson today. I moved my thumb down a bit (repositioned the velcro tab) and it made such a difference (hitting G). I also learned that I need to keep my elbow up a bit (I tend to slump). Working on Lully's Gavotte showed great improvement, and I am pleased. More posts later -- I have to take my son over to his lesson now.

Lesson for today

I am about to head out the door to my lesson. I finished review of Suzuki Book 2 and got stickers (yes! Can you tell my teacher works mostly with kids? I am just a big kid, and I LOVE STICKERS!!) I am now beginning to go back through Book 3, and review up to the Gavotte (where I got stuck). I am practicing more advanced bowing technique and paying closer attention to proper phrasing. My teacher's thumb trick (putting a velcro pad where your place your thumb in first position) has worked wonders. I now instinctively feel for it, and am missing less notes in all positions. Hooray for little cheats!!

Anyhoo -- I am looking foward to my lesson today, and I am feeling much better overall. I will write an update after I get back home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Post

I haven't posted for a while, but that was because I have been focused on getting a full-time job. My years as a website developer have come to a close, and I am in need of full-time work, any work. The hunt has taken nearly nine months, and after some 30 applications, I finally have one interview. It is for part-time work, but any work is better than no work. The last week or so has required more effort in the search, so my posts have been lacking. I have been practicing -- and have Chamber today. I am ready for it, but am not sure how much longer I will be able to continue to play in an ensemble. I do plan on keeping up with my lessons, and hopefully can continue to study the cello, and work, and go to graduate school. I can do it -- I am committed to learning to play the cello well. It is a goal I have made for myself, right up there with getting my Master's degree.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Goals for 2010

Now that I feel more confident in my playing ability, I am focusing on setting some goals down for the remainder of 2010. July is a good time to do this, since we are half way through the year. My overall goal is to be accomplished, and by that I mean to be able to play proficiently.

n. Proficient well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge

adj. Proficiently

Synonyms proficient, adept, skilled, skillful, expert mean having great knowledge and experience in a trade or profession. Proficient implies a thorough competence derived from training and practice . Adept implies special aptitude as well as proficiency . Skilled stresses mastery of technique . skillful implies individual dexterity in execution or performance . Expert implies extraordinary proficiency and often connotes knowledge as well as technical skill . (See for more information)

With this goal in mind, I have decided to chart out my path to "accomplished." I already know that to be accomplished, I must gain a thorough competence through training (lessons) and practice. I am already doing this with my cello teacher, and spending up to one hour each day in practice. I am involved in a beginning ensemble group, which has helped improved my playing and my timing immensely. By all accounts, I am well on my way to achieving my goal. But, with any good goal, you need achievable touchstones or milestones so that you can look backwards and see where you have been and forwards to see where you are headed. Therefore, this is my list of things "to do" so I can reach my goal of being accomplished on cello.

Milestone: Move from advanced beginner to intermediate cellist
  1. Progress slowly and carefully through each Suzuki Book (for music selection)
  2. Continue to play ensemble music
  3. Practice one hour or more per day
  4. Work through both theory and method books
  5. Drill on Foundational Studies
  6. Stress bowing technique (advanced)
  7. Continue to work on finger placement and learning all positions
  8. Practice vibrato

Suzuki Books

I am currently working through Book 3, but have taken the summer to drop back into Book 2. In doing so, I have found it easier to play these pieces, and am stressing performance. My teacher and I are focusing on phrasing, bowing technique, and expression. I am about half-way through Book 3, and at the point where the next grouping of pieces become much harder for me to play. Taking the time now, to work on technique, should make it easier for me to progress through the rest of this book with good success.

Ensemble Play

I am currently working through Strictly Strings Book 2 with another violinist and our teacher. This book is quite challenging to play well. I can now hold my own part along with a violin/guitar or two violins or violin/piano. Once we complete this book, we will move into Book 3 (perhaps?)

In addition to classical music, we are also playing Fiddle music as a group. We are almost through the Basic Fiddler's Philharmonic book. I need to begin Fiddler's Philharmonic soon (and the Encore book). Fiddle music has improved my playing the most, by far, and it is incredibly fun to do.


I am doing well on practice, trying not to miss more than one day at a time. I need to make sure I practice earlier in the day (now while I am not working). It is easier to get the time in and then I can spend my evenings free. Once I am working, and school begins for me, I will have to practice at night.

Theory and Method Books

I am in Book 2 of the Carl Schroder method. Book 1 went very well, and was enjoyable for me. Book 2 is so advanced, so I have taken a break from it. I will begin it again soon, and think that I can handle it now.

Foundational Studies

I am working through Book 1 of 170 Foundational Studies and have hit a road block. I think it is simply my technique, so I have taken a short break from these etudes to work on Suzuki Book 2. I will pick this study up again, and think (as with the Method book above) I can move through it now that I have some better technique.

Bowing and Finger Placement

My teacher has suggested some exercises to help with finger placement (my thumb) as well as more advanced bowing. I will begin bowing practice today, and will continue to pay attention to my thumb in various positions. Bowing technique improves the overall quality of your music, so it is well worth the time to practice these exercises (I can tell the difference now between bowing like a beginner, and a more advanced student -- oh, the piece just sounds so much better!)


I have studied vibrato (with video) for a while now. I am still not very comfortable doing it, so my goal will be to begin more serious concentration in the fall. Most of my books do not stress it, but I believe you are expected to use it in Suzuki Book 4.

There you have it -- my to-do list for cello. I love this instrument, and am finding the entire learning process enjoyable. I am finally seeing progress -- really progress (as in playing better), and it is so encouraging to me. I am willing to give the time to this instrument, and know that I will achieve my goal (some day!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Signs of Improvement

Today, I have my lesson. I have been feeling so down about my skill lately -- lots of mistakes, brain freezing right in the middle of piece of music, etc. But, yesterday was incredibly good. Chamber practice went so well, and I actually was able to keep up (when I got behind), and I enjoyed playing my part (with the violin in the lead). We sounded so GOOD!

I just finished practicing for my lesson, and have a boost of confidence to send me on my way. I have been working on keeping my thumb in the correct first position hold (thanks to a velcro tab placed there by my teacher). She asked me to play through as much of Suzuki Book 2 as I could with my thumb firmly planted in it's correct spot. I tend to float (as do most new students -- on violin and viola too). It is a common problem and it causes misplaced fingers especially on the critical notes of F# and G on the D string (on cello). I am either flat or sharp, but not when I need to be (make sense?)

Oh my, what a difficult exercise, but with practice I am getting better at keeping my thumb put. Also, when I shift into 2nd or 3rd position, I am more careful to plant my thumb where it belongs. It has helped me be more accurate in placement, and therefore, I am hitting less missed notes (Hooray!)

So, I am off to my lesson in about 10 minutes, and am excited about the prospect of it. I am doing so much better, and I am finding such enjoyment now in playing with other people. Truly, there is nothing better than playing as a group. It is fine to play solo work, but group ensemble play beats it by a long shot. I am glad for this experience and I know what I have learned already will benefit me greatly when I play at church or for another event. Yea!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Frustrated with Cello

Okay, I seriously need new strings. I tried practicing last evening and my sound is awful -- I mean really awful. I have chamber reheresal today and am dreading even going to it. Sigh! I am going to see if I can purchase new strings from today -- perhaps they will come in the next couple days? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cello Update

Time for a cello chat. I am now seven months into my cello lessons and have successfully played through Suzuki Book 2 and about 1/3 of Book 3. I had hoped to be further along by now, but realize that it is OK to take it a little slower through Book 3. I am focusing on playing well, and on trying to replicate the CD. My teacher says not to expect to be able to play well for a long time, and I am sure she is correct in this (after all, she has been teaching violin for almost 50 years!!) Still, I cannot imagine not playing well right away. I mean, why even try, why even practice, if you only will play marginally well. I don't want to be marginal at all; I want to play well. So there you have it, my goal is to play the cello well.

I have learned a lot over the last seven months. I can now play fiddle music -- and let me tell you -- it is a lot harder than it sounds! Oh my goodness!! Fiddle music actually has helped me play the cello better -- whether it is classical music or for ensemble. It has helped my timing and my rhythm. I am glad I stuck Basic Fiddler's Philharmonic out, and didn't give up after failing on "Oats, Peas and Beans!" LOL!!

Some samples for posterity!

Note: My cello really needs new strings, and you can hear it on these samples. Plus, I was nervous and made many mistakes. Oh well...enjoy and in three or four months, perhaps I will listen and think "WOW, I am really getting better at this cello thing!"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lesson 7/1/2010

My lesson today was so-so. I did OK on the pieces I practiced, but failed miserably when it came to sight reading some harder works. I think my brain is on summer holiday -- it is 113 after all -- and it is very hard to think and do anything else when it gets this hot!! LOL!