Improving One Little Thing At A Time


Ever since my teacher and I switched our approach to how I’m being taught and how I’m learning, practices have been rather odd. For example, I was working on two octave A melodic minor. Going up, fine, going down, fine. Until the very last note. It just sounded ugly. I’ve never been so unhappy with the sound of a single note in my entire life. It was just awful. As a result, I spent over an hour figuring out how to make this note prettier. As in I played the A in first position on the G string the entire time. First I wasn’t happy with the bowing, so I worked on that. That got better, so I added the vibrato. I worked on the vibrato itself for a while and once happy with it started just playing a drone of the A with vibrato and listening for what else was wrong. My beautiful transitions between up and down bow tend to turn to garbage with vibrato. I work on playing a drone using different parts of the bow for more practice. Put it all together, it’s still not ideal, but it’s significantly better. By the end instead of being ugly it sounded more soothing and almost exotic. My husband said it was beautiful and it was definitely the best vibrato he’d ever heard me do, which is good to know the improvement wasn’t just in my head.

In the end, all I’ve managed to do is make one note of my A melodic minor scale sound pretty. That’s it. But it’s one awesome note, which is better than the zero awesome notes I had before. At least that’s what I tell myself so I don’t loose my sanity from working on a single damn note for an hour.

Finally after being done working on that note, I went back to the scale and worked on other aspects of it and heard some improvement. Then I decided it was good enough for now because I really do need to learn the new Haydn song before the weekend. I’m sure if I told my teacher I spent all my practice time working on a single drone she’d kill me. And then I wouldn’t exist and my teacher would be in jail. Which wouldn’t help with me learning to play the cello. But as long as I don’t force her to kill me for not working on the Haydn piece she’ll be totally stoked (and probably laugh at me) for spending an hour and a half playing a single note.

4 responses »

  1. Ah, but you’ve done so much more than that! In getting one note to be beautiful you were working on many different aspects of your playing which are by no means exclusive to A2 in first position. You’ll be applying them to everything else you do on the cello.
    You may not always remember to, or “get it right” but you’ll always remember the beautiful tone you produced and the encouraging words from your husband. You’ve set yourself a high standard for tone production, vibrato and bow transitions which all add up to an artistic sound. What is more, you’ve shown yourself you’re capable of this high standard. I call that just about the most productive practice session you could have!

  2. This way of practicing is fun, but I’m always thinking of all the stuff I didn’t work on, you know? Particularly as I’ve been set to the task of figuring out the Haydn piece all by myself. I’d at least like to be able to play the whole piece through to the end by my next lesson. Except being me I’m spending about 90% of my time on it working on the first phrase because I feel like I shouldn’t move on with it sounding so horrible. I think today I have to ignore that first phrase that now sounds so much better than the rest and work on everything else. Otherwise, It’ll start out pretty amazing and very quickly start making my ears bleed.

  3. I’m the opposite. I blow through a piece until I know it, and I probably don’t spend enough time doing what you’re doing. I’ll trade you practice habits.

  4. Perhaps we should add them together then divide the result in half. With my way I’m lucky if I end up being able to play the whole piece! I mean, the piece I’m working on is only 24 measures long… I really should have been able to get through that already. Especially because there are a lot of repeated elements. I just can’t bear to move on when something sounds awful still.

    On second though, you can just take some of my practice habits. I think I’d be just fine that way.

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