I’m seriously getting my butt kicked by pretty much everything cello right now. I seem to be failing at everything, and I really mean everything, to the point where I somehow accidentally flung my metronome across the room and broke it and dropped/flung my bow about a dozen times. (Metronome and Bow: 1, Elysia 0) Thankfully the bow is okay, especially because I had a cello-mare last night about my bow. (In this dream the stick broke and I took it to the luthier. He sanded down the broken edges and glued them with this never drying glue, so that the pieces were always moving around and I couldn’t get enough tension to play.)
My teacher had me buy the Schroeder etude book for sight reading, and I have thus far failed at all the songs, even played as slowly as I could possibly go. (So, Sight reading: 1, Elysia: 0)
On to Sicilian… I’m having tons of trouble with D-E-F# on the A string. For whatever reason, that is the hardest extension for me. My teacher wanted me to have my wrist loose, like turning a door and sorta use rotation to throw my fingers to the right spot, because my fingers are so inflexible that I can’t reach. Yes, I know that’s not how it’s *supposed* to be done, and so does she, but we have to get me on the right notes without injuring me. However, as much as I’ve tried this, it’s either nice and loose but the D is sharp and the F# is flat, or I can be tense and have good intonation. I tried having a nice, loose, slow, round vibrato and going between the notes, but the intonation is terrible (like I said before.) Somehow everything in this song seems harder the more I play it. (Sicilian: 1, Elysia: 0)
I went back to some earlier songs, such as the lovely Bach minuet. I thought since they were easier I’d be okay, right? No. I couldn’t even get through a single phrase. It was awful. It sounded worse than it did the first week I was playing that song.
What the heck is wrong with me?
I made this lovely image so you can see the piece I’m working on. I’d record it’s awfulness for you, but my recording device and computer hate each other. Also, I think you’d be quite upset at me after listening to it! Instead, a visual representation:
There’s a nice little guide, but I don’t know if you can see it so well, so… Red = OMG! My ears! Yellow = Well, at least my ears are no longer bleeding! Green = It’s actually sounding OK!
This week has been busy and unfortunately pretty lousy cello-wise, largely due to a lack of being able to practice, but also because I’ve really been struggling this week. I had my lesson Sunday, which was a wonderful lesson, but after that everything kinda went downhill. The exercises my teacher wanted me to do for dynamics worked just fine, except that none of what I was able to do in the exercises transferred to my current songs. Also, the one part of the Mozart song I’ve been having trouble with is still tangling up my fingers, despite the “easier” fingering she gave me to try. Then, I started working on the next new song, Sicilian, which seems to have become my mortal enemy. I feel like I’m fighting a battle just to get through the song, even ignoring timing, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics. The shifts in this song feel several levels higher than in anything I’ve played previously, which has left me feeling like I’ve somehow missed something essential. Before it was always shift, stay a while, shift, stay a while, etc. There has always been time to feel grounded where I was, but now I feel like everything is sort of a shot in the dark and I’m lucky if I end up close. shiftshiftshiftshiftshiftshift with maybe a couple of 8th notes before I move again! To top it all off, I still haven’t gotten down to the music store to buy the books she wanted me to get for sight reading. *sigh*
Today I had my lesson and I expected for all my pieces (and scales) to be totally torn apart, which is normally what happens. Okay, always what happens. So, we tune then she has me start working on A major, two octaves. She asked first how practicing it had been going to which I replied that it’s worse than terrible at best, that my extensions are still quite painful and that coming down from the high A into 4th position is a disaster. Her reply: Oh, I didn’t realize you were still having so much trouble with the extensions. You always sound so beautiful that no one would ever know. Me: I’ll make sure to grimace every time I do an extension to remind you. Me (in my head): Beautiful? What the *$^@ is she talking about?? So, apparently at some point I stopped scrunching up my face every time something is difficult to play, which would explain the lack of her getting all over me about it. Also: my teacher thinks I sound beautiful??
So, moving on to the songs since my poor hands wouldn’t relax enough for A major. The first two of my songs, she decides we don’t even need to go over, that they sounded good last week and that with another week of practice they really don’t need to be worked on more, that it’s important that we move on again. ??? Third song, we play it through. My dynamics are a bit underdone, but she liked everything how it was, I just need to work on exaggerating them more. The part that has been tripping me up, the extended 4th to harmonic 16th notes, she agreed was too slow, saw I was having trouble at the extension and gave me different fingering to use. Again: ??? Since when do I get things made easier for me???
So, moving on again, we start working through a new song. Then, miracle of all miracles, we actually got to the vibrato questions I wanted answered. And the answers made sense for once, rather than confusing me!
Why does this all feel so wrong???
This week has been awful for me practice-wise. Everything I’ve tried has failed, to the point where I actually rubber-banded my thumb behind the neck of the cello while working in 5th position because it wouldn’t stay put (if that failed I was prepared to tape my thumb back there!) I was terrified that I’d hit some sort of plateau because I’d been making absolutely zero progress on anything for several days in a row, which has NEVER happened. Now, suddenly, everything is comfortable up through 5th position, I’m succeeding at shifts I normally fail at, my dynamics not only seem to make sense but I’m adding little nuances of articulation that normally take forever to figure out, and my timing has miraculously gotten better. Can I have more days like this? Now, I’m just waiting for my weekly lesson, so that my teacher can tear it all apart again!
My teacher sent me home this week with three songs desperately in need of dynamics. Unfortunately for me, the reason they didn’t already have them was due to me not having a clue where to start. I spent until yesterday frustrated beyond belief, having analyzed all the harmonies as she requested and ending up more confused than when I started. So, today I decided to try singing the melodies, totally off key with absurd dynamics, bad American Idol audition style. Surprisingly, my ears have not started bleeding, I actually hit a few right notes, and I came up with some reasonable dynamics for a couple of the songs.
Last summer I had this awesome idea: I could take some music classes at a local community college. There was this class, Exploring Music, which is a sort of pre-theory class, that sounded perfect for me. So, at the last minute, I signed up. It was all about the fundamentals: rhythm and time signatures, scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, and chords. All of it was very in depth and I learned a great deal, much more than I was expecting to. I had been hoping that many of the really basic theory questions I had would be answered, so that I would no longer need to “waste” time asking those questions to my teacher. Now, when she starts talking theory as it relates to my current pieces, we no longer need to backtrack. Plus, I feel I’m able to ask much more intelligent and relevant questions.
Since I did well in that class and really enjoyed it, I signed up for the first class in the 4 semester Music Theory series. Today was the first day and I liked the teacher, who had been recommended to me by someone in my class from last semester. She teaches all four semesters and I hope to have her for all of them (assuming I do okay in this one!)
So what’s the problem? I haven’t told my teacher about any of this.