The place when everything stops making sense, just before it starts making more sense than it ever had before (I hope.)


This last week has been a weird one practice-wise and this week’s lesson has left my brain more muddled than it has ever felt before. This week’s crazy marathon practice sessions seem to have left my brain in a state of utter bewilderment, where nothing I was doing was making sense, everything was sounding its worst, and the only thing that sounded good was my vibrato on 4, even up in 4th position. It was backwards Friday and backwards Saturday, with everything that normally sounds good sounding awful and the things I normally fail at resulting in the most beautiful sounds ever to come out of my cello. My husband says this is another one of those times where my brain is rearranging itself in a way better suited to understanding and learning music and that once this awfulness is over I will sound better than ever. He’s been right about that every time in the past, so I’ll just assume he’s right this time, which probably means that it won’t be the case, but I’m still hoping it is. At the very least my vibrato on 4 sounds amazing, which isn’t a bad trade for everything else sounding like crap. Okay, maybe it doesn’t sound like crap. I think it’s another one of those times where my ability to hear and understand has suddenly gotten a whole lot better.

I had my lesson today and my teacher was generally happy with what I’ve done. Haydn is still clean but it’s no longer dry, which is fine by me at this point. There was only one thing that she didn’t really like, which I wasn’t aware I was doing, but was able to easily fix. Much better than last week at the very least. Not a lot more to work on with it at this point, just reinforcing what I’ve learned already. Time to move on again. The torturous Schumann piece she was surprisingly happy with, which is good because it meant we didn’t have to work on it much. It’s the only song in the whole book that actually is worse as a duet than as a solo — every single stupid interval is a third. Yes, all thirds. It’s awful. SCHUMANN, WTF??? I was having trouble with one shift, which it turns out has to be done incorrectly to be done correctly. Which explains why I was failing so hard at it. We sight read in tenor clef a while, which somehow I didn’t fail at in any way. Soooooo confused by that. Apparently it’s backwards Sunday to go along with backwards Friday and backwards Saturday.

Then at one point we were talking about what I worked on this week. Me: well, mostly I practiced scales with drones. My B-flat major is sounding far better and what’s wrong with it I’m able to work with to make it better, so I’m feeling good about it. So, I got to play it, with her as my drone. And this is where things got complicated and why my brain has been turned to absolute mush. Apparently in America, though not so much in Europe (or anywhere else) in Western music (@Jon, yes, she mentioned specifically that this was American western music!) that sometimes certain intervals need to be made slightly smaller or larger than is “correct.” So, we worked on the different ways we could play various intervals, mostly 7ths and 3rds. I’ve done a really good job of learning how these intervals “should” sound, but now after all this my brain is so confused that at no point does anything sound like a 3rd or 7th anymore. I can hear the difference between the subtly different ways she wants me to play the intervals, but none of them feel like familiar intervals anymore. I’m going to assume that after working on this throughout the next week my brain will reorganize itself in some other, much better, fashion and that my listening skills will improve yet again and that I will think even more so that my playing is complete shit. So, um, yay? Unfortunately for now nothing makes the least bit of sense aurally. I mean, I can certainly find the notes and make the intervals sound how I want them to sound, but there’s less of a classification of right v. wrong. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be and I will just have to get used to the lack of certainty.

Also now, I’m working on three octave C major. Not really sure why I wasn’t working on it before, but now I am, along with my B-flat maj. and E-flat maj. (speaking of which, why do I have such a hard time hearing E-flat? That and G# are so hard for my brain to hear and recognize.) Plus, another new song by Gluck. Lots to do, all of it now so foreign sounding to my jumbled up mind. Hopefully my brain can handle it anyway, since I will keep practicing regardless.


Again, I’m feeling again like my playing is worse than abysmal. I hate when this happens. I have such a hard time dealing with it. It motivates me and I push myself through it so that I don’t have to deal with it for long. But for however many days or weeks, it’s torture. I doubt that I will ever achieve any level of competency, I feel like everyone who is supportive of my playing is just flat out lying to me that I’m sounding better all the time. I wonder what the hell I’m doing dedicating the largest part of my life to this instrument that I can’t even play properly and likely never will play at all well. Everything I play is just the sound of pain, all of it torture to my ears. There’s nothing right, I can hear so much wrong and can never fix it fast enough. Yet, I keep playing as if there’s nothing else in the world I could possibly do.


5 responses »

  1. I agree with your husband. I think your brain is going through a transitional phase and you will be a better cellist as a result. Your brain just needs time to adjust.

    Also, being able to hear your problems is a good thing since it’s coupled with your drive and talents to fix them. It, again, will only make a better cellist in the end. Just don’t let the process get you down.

    • It’s not so much that I get down. I just get more neurotic. I also tend to be klutzier, spacier, and just plain old stupid while I’m going through this. It’s very frustrating and it’s hard when I suddenly hear about ten thousand new things wrong with my playing. It’s like there’s not enough time in several lifetimes to fix everything. I always do end up fixing what I can hear, but when I’m presented with a ton of new problems at once, I just get a bit overwhelmed. Maybe I’m just crazy to think that I can ever be a good cellist having started so late, but I’d like to think that if there’s one person in the world who can do it, that the person can be me. Just read what I wrote. Seriously must be crazy.

  2. That’s the problem with playing an instrument that isn’t fretted or keyed to equal temperament–in the end, our mathematically perfect tuning in the West happens to have nothing to do with physical acoustics of sound and the overtone system.

    Don’t worry too much about it. Eventually your hand/ear coordination will work itself up and be ok with it–and really, pitch can be differentiated depending on the direction you’re approaching an interval too. not sure that all these subtle differences are necessary to teach you right now, but hopefully it won’t overwhelm you for long!

    • This isn’t the fist time we’ve gone over something like this, but last time my mind still divided it up into just right, slightly flat, and slightly sharp. I could always get the intervals sounding how she was wanting them but I always felt like I was playing them “wrong” to get them to sound right. Now those distinctions seem to have sort of dropped away so that nothing feels wrong but nothing feels right either. Rather, the differently sized intervals of the same distance are starting to feel different (ie. the slighty larger M7 feels more tense than the “correctly” sized M7 now, but before it just sounded sharp.) I like the leading tone that way going up but slightly less so going down. So yes it can be confusing but keep in mind that everything related to intonation is confusing for me — it’s been only seven months wife my stickers were taken off and I had to start doing everything by ear!!! My teacher likes to teach me things like this that typically shouldn’t be taught yet because I always learn them both quickly and well, even when she herself doesn’t think it’s possible. I personally prefer it because I can hear the results in my playing, particularly compared to the students who haven’t learned the same thing yet. For me, no matter how frustrating it may be for a few days or weeks, the results are always worth it. So, @Jon, yes these things are necessary to teach me because I can learn them and they will benefit my playing. I would much rather learn something sooner so I can improve upon it and have it feel familiar before it’s “necessary” even if it causes me a bit more suffering in the short run.

  3. I love your last paragraph, summed up nicely by the last sentence: “Yet, I keep playing as if there’s nothing else in the world I could possibly do. ”

    As long as we keep ending with that sentence, then all is good.

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