Rebuilding My Technique

July 13, 2016

For some time my practice has been unsatisfying; I feel as if I am not making any progress. Pieces that I can play one night are gone technically the next night. I've been struggling with Suzuki book 6 for over a year now.

I fear that I have reached a technique cul-de-sac. I need to correct several aspects of my technique otherwise I'm not going to advance much further.

Toward that end I am going to start over in a way. Between my schedule and my teacher's schedule I won't have another lesson now until late August - call it six weeks. I'm going to start with book one of the Sussmannshaus Cello series, and work my way through every piece, every exercise, every page. And then book two and then book three. My focus will be on correcting all the little things I do now in my Suzuki studies that are preventing me from advancing.

A by-no-means complete list:

Flying Fingers

There are two parts to this. One I pull my fingers way, way, way too far off the fingerboard when they aren't stopping a string. This wastes time and it distorts the shape of my hand, which leads to poor intonation among other things. Two, I tend to only have the finger necessary down. For example, if I'm playing an F# on the D string with my 3rd finger, often as not, that's the only finger on a string. All the others are waving at the audience.

C-Clamp Thumb

Instead of using my arm and shoulder to pull my fingers into the fingerboard, I squeeze with my thumb. Sometimes hard enough to make my thumb ache. A clenched hand isn't mobile. Not only does it make my hand sore, it prevents me from playing fluidly and quickly.

Curved Fore-finger

In extensions I tend to curl my fore-finger making the note it's playing sharp.

Collapsed Hand

I let my hand shape collapse, losing intonation and hand position between notes

Floaty Little Bowing Finger

My right hand shape suffers at times too. Most visible is my little finger floating around off the pearl.

Straight Bowing Thumb

At times my bowing thumb is straight rather than curved. This make my bow less responsive and harder to use

The reason I am going to use the Sussmannshaud books is that I've never played any of those pieces. I don't have any muscle memory to overcome, and no expectations for the pieces from prior experience. To this day I can't properly play "Happy Farmer" from book 1. The hundreds of times I played it incorrectly have firmly cemented it into my fingers. Using a different method's initial books will give me material that is simple enough to play that I can focus on my technique.

I want to build a good, natural, pain-freee techinque so that I can play the pieces I want to play to the best of my ability. Until I rebuild my technique I fear that I'll continue to be frustrated and unmotivated, and moreoever, that I'll never be able to play pieces much beyond where I am today.

Author's profile picture

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.