Year Four of Cello

January 01, 2013

Thanksgiving every year marks the anniversary of my being a cellist. I had my first lesson on November 24, 2009. I'm now a month in to my fourth year of playing cello.

The past year has been very good to me cello-wise. I was privileged enough to play with an area orchestra, I participated in two music camps, and played in three recitals. My technique continues to improve and I seem to be getting music at a deeper level.

In the coming year I am looking forward to my 4th String Fling, to reprising the orchestra music at a spring concert, to cello camp and music camp, and a 4-week mini course on music theory. Musically I'm into book four of Suzuki now, and have just started my first Bach Suite movement, Minuet 1 from the G Major suite. For the Bach Suite I'm using the Henle edition. I'm also using the Schröder études book, the Lee études book, and, most recently, the Postiion Pieces for Cello book by Rick Mooney.

Over the past year my intonation has gradually gotten better, but I am still stuck on trying to play faster. David and I have identified that I hold my left elbow too low (too close to my side) and that my left thumb slides too far around the neck of the cello. Both of these things combine to collapse my hand and, since I squeeze with my left thumb, there's too much tension in my hand to allow for rapid finger movement.

Without calling them goals, here are the things I want to devote more cello time to in the next 12 months.

Be fully prepared at recitals. My last recital, just before Christmas, was not my best day. For a variety of reasons I was ill-prepared and struggled with my performance. Historically I tend to preform my most recent piece at recitals. Often these pieces are still under construction. Anticipating a spring recital in late April or early May I would like to pick a piece now and have it fully prepared and ready for performing several weeks prior to the recital.

Rebuild left hand technique. Now that David and I have identified the root cause of the tension in my left hand, I need to spend considerable time rebuilding my left arm and hand technique to eliminate that tension. Hopefully this will allow me to play at faster tempos without fatigue and soreness.

Learn to play chords and double stops. Along with the Position Pieces book by Rick Mooney, I also purchased his Double Stops for Cello book. As an increasing number of my pieces have chords and or double, triple or even quadruple stops, I need to develop this technique. As I have said before, after spending all my time trying not to play two stings at once, it is surprisingly hard to do it deliberately.

Improve my vibrato. I have been slowly working on vibrato. I find that it interferes with my sense of pulse and rhythm. I need to find some less involved older pieces, ones with lots of longer notes, and practice vibrato with them.

Continue to learn music theory. Two years ago I took a college music theory course and learned quite a bit. This winter I am taking a 4-week mini theory course as a refresher. I also want to spend time with my flash cards to learn all the notes in tenor and treble clefs, and to memorize all the key signatures.

Have fun. At times I get caught up in the frustration of a piece I can't play, or of the difficulty maintaining good intonation through shifts and extensions, and I need to remind myself to have fun playing my cello. I have a lifetime to learn and grow.

I'm looking forward to year four of being a cellist.

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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.