Starting A Piece with Great Intonation

Sunday, January 21, 2018 | Uncategorized

Have you ever begun playing a piece, only to completely botch the first note? It can be totally frustrating and demoralizing to have this happen over and over again. Here are two quick exercises for beginning a scale or a piece on the right note.

1. Start with both hands down by your side. Then, making sure that fingertips/bow are leading and your whole arm is following, bring your left hand and right hands to the cello. Play an open string followed by the 1st finger on that string. Listen. Ask yourself, was that correct? Or am I sharp/flat? Or am I not sure? If you’re not sure, try it again, this time trying to sing the two notes in your head. If you are sharp or flat, try again, this time singing the two notes in your head before you play, and aiming slightly lower/higher as needed.

2. If you find that you are worrying about whether or not you’re going to “hit it” as you are bringing your hands up to the instrument, come up with a constructive replacement thought to think.

Ex: “Don’t screw this one up!” can be replaced to say, “full, round sound on open D and connect to first finger E.” 

3. And to check your intonation for the rest of the scale, try practicing with a drone.

How to remember to practice, or, how to fit practice into a busy schedule-- for adult and teenage students

Friday, September 23, 2016 | Uncategorized

We all like to play the cello, but practicing can elude even the most enthusiastic of cello students. Getting into the habit of practicing is just like getting into the habit of doing anything else, like flossing your teeth. Here are a few of my favorite ways to remember to practice every day and to incorporate practicing into a busy schedule.  

A Scale A Day. Make a rule that you HAVE to play a scale 7 days a week. It takes literally one minute to play a scale. I don't care how busy you are. You definitely have a spare minute, so play a scale during that minute! If that's all you have time for, then great, at least you touched your cello and made some sounds. And chances are that you have a little bit more time than a minute, so you'll continue to play and get in a practice session. 

Practice less, more often. This is exactly like working out. You could do one 2-hour workout each week, and you'd probably gain some sort of benefit from it. But that's not nearly as beneficial as getting in a 20 minute workout 5 times a week. Same thing goes for practicing: getting in 5-10 minutes of practice 4-5 times a week is way better than practicing for 2 hours once a week. This is particularly effective if you attach your practice habit to something else you already do on a regular basis...

Attach practicing to something you do on a regular basis. For example, if after dinner you normally read the internet, decide that you only get to read the internet after practicing 15-20 minutes. This can be very, very effective. Also, chances are that you'll leave practicing feeling happier and more satisfied than you would have felt after reading BuzzFeed for 20 minutes. 

Don't assume that practicing needs to be limited to after school and work hours. What would it be like to get in your daily practice before work or school? What about attaching a few minutes of cello practice to eating breakfast? Make a rule for yourself that you can't eat breakfast until you play some cello. 

Keep a practice log. Make your practice log as detailed or not detailed as you like. You have a practice log on your MyMusicStaff account page, but feel free to log it in your Google calendar, in a spreadsheet, in a notebook, in tally marks on the wall (chalkboard paint could be cool for this...). 

For the visually-minded, try the "Seinfeld method." Get a big calendar and hang it on the wall where you can see it. On days that you practice, write an X or some other mark of your choice on the calendar, making the mark big enough that you begin to create a visual design of  Try to create an unbroken chain or a consistent weekly pattern. 

Let me know if you come up with any other creative ways to strengthen your cello practice! 

3 Tips on How To Release Tension While Playing

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 | Practice Tips

Many technical issues in cello playing are caused by holding tension in our bodies. 

Here are a few tips on observing and reducing tension (without making you more tense in the process!):

1. When you observe tension, notice it but don't get frustrated by it. Observe it neutrally. And don't be surprised if in the process of letting tension go, you discover more tension. We are all much tenser than we think we are. Be glad that you're noticing it (so many people don't notice their tension, which is what gets them into trouble) and also know than even just letting a little tension go will help your playing. It's not an all-or-nothing thing. 

2. Observe your breathing. If your breath isn't flowing naturally, then you are holding tension and interfering with yourself. So, start to see if you can notice your breath when you play. To begin with, notice your breath immediately before you begin a piece or a scale, at a given midpoint, and at the end. If there are certain areas where you stop breathing, come back to them, working slowly and methodically. Avoid trying to control your breath, just observe it neutrally. 

3. Try doing a few gentle stretches or lying down on the floor (I like semi-supine position for this, but if you're a yoga person, the "corpse pose" is also good for this) for a minute or two before practicing, or in the middle of a practice session if you need a break. I don't recommend playing cello immediately after being on the phone or computer. Better to take even a minute to relax a little bit to help your body and mind transition into practice.