Vibrato and non-doing


Last lesson, Carrie told me I was very close to a real vibrato. I, of course, didn’t believe her. I had just barely moved from the my-cello-sounds-like-it’s-projectile-vomiting phase to what I dubbed the “failbrato” phase, which, while it doesn’t make you fell like vomiting in sympathy, still makes you feel like you’re bleeding out through your ears. Like I said, I didn’t believe her one bit. But, being such a wonderful student, I diligently practiced all the vibrato exercises she wanted me to work on, which of course sounded awful, were tiring, and also extremely discouraging. In fact, the more I practiced them, the worse they sounded. Thankfully she told me not to practice vibrato for more than five minutes at a time.

So two days ago I was practicing vibrato and it must have sounded worse than it has sounded in weeks. I had also been avoiding practicing one particular song I was supposed to be working on because my intonation had sounded just awful the past couple days and I was dreading it. So, after my five minutes of bleeding out through my ears I was thoroughly frustrated and feeling in a foul mood. The only thing I had left to work on that day was the song I mentioned previously where I’d been having an oddly hard time with intonation (again, especially frustrating because normally I have an easier time with intonation with that song than with other songs.) Thus, being the grump I can be, I thought Why don’t I just COMBINE these two awful things? So yes, even though Carrie had seemed to give up on having me practice vibrato in songs, I figured I should, just because it would sound awful.

The results? Real vibrato and good intonation! Seriously! It was gorgeous (OK, gorgeous for me, not gorgeous on an absolute scale.) Instead of being tiring, it was energizing. Real vibrato is FUN! Of course, I kept doing it for such a long time that I couldn’t practice yesterday because my finger muscles were so sore from their workout. (Note to self: listen to Carrie’s recommendation that I spend no more than five minutes at a time doing vibrato!)

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of one of the many interesting concepts I encountered in my studies of Buddhism: non-doing. It isn’t not-doing, but rather, you are still doing but without the normal type of effort and particularly attachment to the results of what you’re doing. I believe that the real reason I was able to do vibrato in that moment was because I wasn’t trying to do it. Rather, I was allowing myself to doing it poorly. Thus, I was doing it without trying to do it correctly. And thus it happened all of it’s own accord because I really did have the preparatory work done (which Carrie tried pointing out to me and I didn’t believe) and was doing it without actually trying to do it.

Not sure I explained that well, but oh well. Either way I now have a real vibrato!


3 responses »

  1. Yayay! I love your blog. Always nice to read another adult beginning cellist’s journey. I just started learning vibrato (after successfully distracting my teacher from trying to teach me for over three months 😉 It’s not that I don’t love the sound, but its such an intimidating skill to LEARN that I’ve been dragging my fingers about it. You describe the process so well. I’m still at the “cello siren” stage. Sounds awful, but I’m optimistic that one day all this “waaahwaahwaahing” will pay off in a beautiful vibrato!

    Keep playing!

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