Three Weeks Worth of Practice

April 14, 2010

My teacher is on sabbatical from his university position and as a part of that time is giving a series of recitals in England. His sabbatical has been filled with activities so he opted to take the week before his 14-day trip off from teaching. This has given me three weeks of unsupervised practice. I am pleased to say that I think I've made excellent progress an all of my assignments.

Working from Suzuki Book 1 he wanted me to practice the C Major scale on page 19 using a penciled in hooked bowing rhythm. Since I found the penciled marks a bit hard to read I used Sibelius to make my own set of C Major scales, one as printed in the Suzuki book and one with dotted quarter and eighth notes.

C major hooked

I find creating scales or other pieces of music using Sibelius to be helpful. I am a very visual person and recreating music in this fashion helps me to "see" it more clearly.

Thanks to the Art of Cello Playing book, I finally get hooked bowing and playing scales this way is becoming easier. Not quite second nature yet, but headed that way.

Continuing the hooked bowing theme I was to practice the Etude at the bottom of page 19 also using hooked bowing, at least the opening section. This too has started to come together in the last few days. I still get turned around once in a while and play to regular bows instead of a pair of hooked ones, but by and large I can play the piece either way now.

Skipping the Happy Farmer, he next wanted me to work on Minuet in C at the bottom of page 20. This piece has come together very nicely and is starting to sound good, even to my ears. The odd part about playing for me right now is that I am not aware of what the music sounds like. I hear the notes I'm playing, but I'm too focused on their production to hear the overall presentation.

The sticky place in this piece for me is the slurred transition from the open A-string to G on the D-string midway through the second repeated section. I finally figured out last night that the trick is how fast I move my right hand to the new string. Any delay results in extra sound from the A-string while trying to play the G. Slowing that section down helps, now I just need to gradually speed things up again.

David also wanted me to work on Minuet Nº 2 on page 21. This is the last piece in book 1 and I am very happy with how quickly it has started to come together. I started it in earnest only 9 days or so ago and it working quite well now. I nearly have it memorized and have started to play it all the way through with both repeats.I find it fascinating how much my focus or intention changes from one repeat to the next. Passages that are easy, fluent, and sound good the first pass often fall apart on the second. I need to maintain my focus through to the end of the piece.

This piece introduced two new techniques: the extension to reach G# and triplets. Slurred triplets at that. Actually the triplets weren't too hard to play correctly. I spent considerable time "talking the rhythm" before playing the piece at all. Once I felt I understood the patterns in the piece I played through it many times pizzicato, again focusing on the rhythm. Even after I started playing arco I would set the bow down and return to pizzicato any time my rhythm started to wander from where it should have been.

Tonight I was able to play both Minuets from start to finish, both repeats, without any real difficulty. They both need some polish, and I'm not entirely sure I could play them back to back three times without getting flummoxed, but I am close to that point.

The last piece assigned to me was Long, Long Ago in C and its variation. These pieces are the start of book 2 of the Suzuki system. Long, Long Ago is one of my favorite pieces from book 1 and learning it in a different key didn't prove to be too difficult. I actually find the middle section with the, in C Major, low G to be easier to play as I don't need to move my left hand.

The variation is starting to work. I nearly have the pattern memorized which means my intonation will now improve. When I have to watch the music my sound tends to be the first casualty. The alternating slurs and hooked bowing is fun to play. All the work getting hooked bowing is now paying off.

I've covered a lot in three weeks and I am looking forward to my next lesson. Hopefully I am able to perform most or all of this well under David's scrutiny.

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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.