Etudes

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Since having the lesson with my teacher’s teacher, I’ve largely been working on basics: open string bowing, practicing bowing without extensions, shifting, etc. while trying to implement the new understanding I have. I’ve heard significant improvement, but the more complicated piece I try to play, the more it all falls apart. So, I’ve hardly been working on my songs this week. As soon as I would start reverting to old habits, I would stop and do exercises for whatever the problem was and try again. While slow and painful, this has yielded better technique while playing.

Today I decided to pull out the etude book, which I’ve largely been ignoring, just like the pieces I’m supposed to be working on (who knew I could spend so much time bowing open strings?) Being me, I go straight for the etudes that I love, which are also the ones I have the most trouble with — some I’ve never even finished playing because of the frustration I experience while working on them. (What does this say about me?) Not only do they start off sounding a thousand times better, but I could actually finish them. Granted, they weren’t flawless, but they’re much better. These skills I’ve been working on seem to be quite transferable, which means I must be doing something right, right?

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4 responses »

  1. Bravo – you’re definitely doing something right. It exciting to discover the power of going back to basics. after 24 years of playing I still find myself going back to open strings, slow motion vibrato and trilling exercises and very basic shifting exercises and I still find the results delightfully satisfying.
    As for your pieces, you might want to try practising them at massively reduced tempi (always use a metronome for this) that give you the time and space you need to think about your technique changes and apply them. Work in small sections and don’t be in a hurry to get the tempo back to anything recognisable until you feel comfortable with everything – notes, sound, bow, intonation, etc. I find this approach very effective when I need to reprogram my technical habits in the repertoire I’m working on.
    Sorry about the ramble. Keep it up with those positive changes!
    Oh, and thanks a million for the link to my blog. I shall be returning the favour.

  2. I’m always delighted to hear what people have to say, so ramble away! Interesting that you mention slowing down, because that’s exactly the opposite of what they want me to be working on. I have such a habit of slowing things down that it’s actually causing me problems. Instead, they want me working on being in perpetual motion — at no point is my bow arm, wrist, or hand supposed to be still, nor is my left hand. If I’m relaxed, it’s easy to stay in motion, but if I tense up, I slow down and it ends up sounding like my poor cello is being choked to death. If I start to tense up, I stop and relax. Then I start again. This has forced me to stay far more relaxed than I ever was when slowing down because it’s harder to stay in motion at a glacial pace.

    I’m just taking a break from working on one of the various etudes and somehow managed to keep my bowing relaxed and fluid and like the image of seaweed swaying in the currents, like I keep being told to do. Whoa what a difference it made. As I just kept going and relaxing into the motion I suddenly found I could play fast. Like more than twice as fast as I’d ever been able to play this piece before.

    I have a problem with freezing up when I make mistakes and over thinking everything, so they want me to just go, even if I get notes wrong, my intonation is crap, etc. What’s interesting is that once I was able to let go of getting those things right, they got a lot better!

    Of course, next lesson I’ll probably be met with an OH MY GOD SLOW THAT DOWN! as invariably happens when I finally succeed at doing what I’ve been asked to do.

  3. “but the more complicated piece I try to play, the more it all falls apart”

    The new complicate pieces are taking up a lot of cognitive resources leaving less for you to subconsciously focus on your increasing skills.

    Going back to the older etudes, since they’ve been assimilated to some extent, they take u far fewer cognitive resources which leaves you enough to focus on your newer skills.

    It just means you are learning through your hard work!! Kudos!

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