Courting the Courante

August 26, 2013

One of the assignments for this week's practice was to work on the second half the the 1st suite Courante. Saturday evening I sat down and started in with the first half of the second half of the piece. At first I just played half notes for each pitch, working on intonation and left-hand movement.

Next I set my metronome for 80 and played through the piece very slowly, using all slurs and bow markings. By very slowly I mean one click per sixteenth note, two for eighth and so on. That went fairly well so I increased the metronome speed to 90. And then 100, 110, 120, 130 and finally 140. 140 for sixteenth notes is still not performance tempo, but the music was holding together. My intonation was good, my bowings were all correct, and it actually began to sound like a Courante.

Encouraged I reset the metronome for 120 and started at the beginning of the piece and played through to the middle of the second half. Then at 130 and finally at 140 several times.

In all I spent about 45 minutes on this one piece and the progress surprised me. I had imagined this piece to be difficult and was anticipating a great struggle to play it. I must have been in the right space to make big strides as that is what happened.

Sunday evening I returned to the Courante and focused on the final lines of the second half. The passage of C# - G - A - G, A - G - C# - G, C# - G - A - G, C - F# - A - F#, A - F# - C - F#, C - F# - A - F# beginning in measure 31 gave me some trouble at first. The rapid string crossings required to use the open A string felt awkward and constrained. After working on that passage for a few minutes it started to feel easier.

As with Saturday evening's practice I started without the metronome and just played half notes all the way through to hear the piece. Then I set the metronome for 90 to the sixteenth note and played through slowly. Once that was working I increased the metronome by 10s up to 140 again.

By the end of 40 minutes work I was playing the entire piece at 130 or 140 with relative ease. What I had once thought would be difficult and frustrating proved to be musical and flowing and enjoyable. Spending two evenings practicing the 1st suite Courante was delightful and making music while I did so was why I wanted to play the cello in the first place.

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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.