April 23 Lesson Notes

April 24, 2012

Yesterday's lesson was a good one. I've completed La Cinquataine, leaving just Allegro Moderato to complete in book 3. Graduating to book 4 is a big step up -- the pieces are longer and more involved. I also made excellent progress on my current Schröder étude, #31. And I am making good progress preparing for my audition in three weeks.


We spent most of my lesson working on Allegro Moderato. I'm able to play it with his accompaniment reliably now - I don't get lost listening to his cello. Counting is still a minor issue. The 7 3/4 measures of rest to start the piece is tricky. Since the Suzuki books don't show the accompaniment score, you have no indication when your part starts. David is good about slowing briefly as he plays the lead into my start, but I still miss it some of the time. About three-quarters of the way through the piece there is a sustained set of whole notes, almost four measures worth. David would like me to play these as trills. In my practice at home I alternate between playing them as whole notes and as trills. It is easier to count the pulse playing whole notes than it is playing trills. During our first run through yesterday I played the whole note version and had my timing perfect. On the subsequent run throughs I played trills and had no success ending on time.

The other aspect I need to focus on this week, in addition to speeding up the tempo, is intonation, particularly when there is a shift involved. On the whole my intonation is much better but shifts tend to result is poorer intonation. I'm also working on adding in dynamics. It always surprises me how adding just one more layer to what I am already comfortable doing alters the whole piece. I can play something rhythmically and tonally correct but adding dynamics often reduces the piece to a stumbling mess. I think of it as juggling. Juggling two or three objects is relatively easy, a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Juggling four objects is a 9 on that scale. Juggling five objects is a 32. Dynamics (or whatever you add last to a piece) is that fifth object.

While I was assigned La Cinquataine last week he signed off on it this week without listening to it. I've been working on dynamics for that piece too. I like the piece and will try to keep playing it on my own.


Schröder étude 31 is coming along very nicely. This piece keeps modulating the key, which means there are lots of accidentals in the score. Paying attention to those is key to playing this correctly. As with the Lee Études before these I am not penciling in finger numbers. My note reading ability has improved considerably, but the addition of unexpected accidentals throws me once in a while.

Also, the last line of the piece has an inaccurate finger number which really threw me. I had penciled in a question mark about it. David said it is a mistake and crossed out the number. Sometimes odd fingering is there for a reason and sometimes it's a typo.


In three weeks time I'll be auditioning for a place in a pre-college orchestra. Even though I'll be 51 years old I'm a pre-college music student as I'm only 2 1/2 years old on the cello. For my audition I'll be playing three scales, C:, F:, and d: melodic. All three are in good shape now. When I practice them I alternate the tempo or add slurs or even play them backwards. My goal is to know these scales inside and out before walking into the audition. I am assuming that I'll start the audition with the scales and having them as perfect as can be will help to settle my nerves a bit.

I'm also hoping to have my piece, Allegro Moderato down cold by then too. The goal is to play it faster. The performance tempo recorded in the book is half note at 88. I'm currently playing quarter note at 90, or about half as fast as needed. I need to work on relaxing so I can play faster. The stress of trying to keep up with the metronome causes me to tense up, which makes me slower, which makes keeping up harder, which makes me tighten even more, and so on.

There is also a sight reading requirement for the audition. This is the part that scares me the most. However, I think I've figured out a way to practice sight reading for the audition. I've got an entire book of études (Schröder) that I've barely started. Each night I'm going to pick one at random and playing it. Turn to a page, take 15 seconds to glance at the piece and then go. I don't know if it will work, but it seems like a good approach.

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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.