Half Speed

March 10, 2010

Last night's practice session was very frustrating. I've played Rigadoon with the incorrect tempo enough times now that playing it with the correct tempo is difficult. I don't have an innate sense of pulse, I can't play a piece and then say, "I got the tempo right." I have to ask to find out it I did it correctly.

I tried using the metronome some last night. However I can't really hear it over the cello. I either need a louder metronome or a softer cello. I do have a small rubber mute, but it really doesn't quiet the instrument very much. I need to get a serious practice mute to make the cello quieter so I can really hear the beeps of the metronome.

After a pretty discouraging session I finally just quit and put the cello away.

Later I talked to Sibylle, who is a life-long pianist and who has taught piano for over 20 years. I asked her to be my rhythm teacher. I told her my goal is to develop a sense of pulse, an internal metronome that I can trust and rely upon regardless of the piece of music in front of me. As a part of my practice each day I want to spend 10 or 15 minutes on rhythm.

I also decided that I am going to feed the Suzuki CD to Audacity and slow all the remaining pieces down to 50% of the recorded speed. Audacity can do this without altering the pitch. Listening to the CD (and I've listened to it a lot) certainly has taught me the melodies - I can (and do) hum them or whistle them all day long. I wake up humming them. But at a pace that is too fast for me to play. Sure, over time I can develop the piece to where I can play it at "performance" speed, but initially I just can't. My head (which knows the piece from the CD) wants to play at performance speed, while my left hand and right arm are lagging behind.

My hope and belief is that reducing the speed of the tracks to 50 (or even 30) percent will allow me to learn the rhythmic patterns of the pieces correctly at a pace I can play, and then I can speed things up.

As frustrated and discouraged as I was last night after my abysmal practice session, I am eager to try again today. I just need to be smarter about it. In karate-do we used to say that "old age and treachery win out over youth and vigor." Meaning that working smarter is sometimes better than working harder. I've been working hard at cello. Time to work smarter too.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.