May 22, 2012
Another week and another good cello lesson. This week, in addition to reviewing my current assignments, we talked about my audition and ideas for preparing for orchestra in the fall. The goal for my immediate future it to learn to play faster, which will involve lots of metronome work and learning to get out of my playing comfort zone.
Over the past week I have been focusing on specific parts of the first movement of the Bréval Sonata rather than the whole first movement. David's specific instructions were to "not perform" the piece but rather to work on small chunks of the music, particularly in the development section. I did that and it is working. As a completionist it was hard to ignore the entire piece but I am very pleased at how well I can play the passages I've been focusing on. This week I'll shift to new passages while still playing through the ones I've already started to master. Eventually I'll have the entire piece.
Since this piece will not be ready in time for the recital in mid-June we decided that I'd play Allegro Moderato, with David accompanying me on his cello or double bass. So I'll start to play that piece again so as not to lose the polish it had for the audition.
I haven't been putting much effort into this étude and it shows. I need to finish it off once and for all. David said he likely won't listen to it again but he wants me to complete it. No new étude assignment from the Schröder book this week.
Instead of new études from Schröder I'll be reviewing études from the Lee book. With the metronome. I've already played all of these pieces so relearning then should be relatively quick. The goal is to play them in perfect time using the metronome. And to play them considerably faster than before. Most of the time I tend to play well under performance tempo and in order to function in an orchestra I need to step up my game. A lot.
During the lesson we played through the first 6 études. On numbers 5 and 6 David really challenged me to play faster. And then faster still. And faster still. On number 6 he said he'd play the accompaniment at performance tempo and not wait for me. My job was to keep up with him. If I got behind I should skip notes and catch up at the next down beat. The first time through I got completely lost and the second time I was able to keep up. It's a different mental state when you play fast. You don't have time think about each note as it goes by. You can't be looking at the note you are playing. You have to trust that your hands will do the right thing while your brain is looking ahead at the next passage.
I still remember the night I stopped looking at my left hand as I was playing and learned to trust that I could place my fingers without seeing them. But I still think about them to some degree. There's enough conscious thought that it slows me down. I need to let my sub-conscious take over. I never think about tying my shoes. I grab the laces and the tying happens on auto-pilot. Once I know a piece, I can play faster if I challenge myself and let go of the conscious thought pattern that helped me to learn the piece. That's the first goal for this summer - to build confidence in my ability to play pieces at performance tempo. To learn to trust that I can play the music without so much conscious thought slowing me down.
David loaned me the music to An English Suite by C. H. Parry as it is very likely to be one of the orchestra pieces starting in August. We spent a few minutes looking at it, and he played a bit of it for me. The university here has the Naxos Music Library which provides streaming of thousands and thousands of pieces of music. With that resource I can listen to what the piece sounds like, and start to work on it over the summer. I spent a good 30 or 40 minutes last night working on the first two lines of the piece with Sibylle's help. Once I got the rhythm sorted out at a very low speed I was able to set the metronome, first at 80 and later at 100 per quarter note, and play through reasonably well. The goal is to double that speed and play 100 per half note.
Learning to play faster will be a challenge for me. Not so much a physical challenge but rather a mental one. In the book Illusions by Richard Bach there is a line about "argue your limitations and sure enough they are yours". Which means that if you argue that you have limitations then you will have limitations. I need to stop telling myself that playing fast(er) is hard and just do it.