I’d rather play a coffee grinder.

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Today, while my mother-in-law spent 20 minutes grinding coffee, I realized that the sound of my cello, when bowing within about 2 inches from the bridge, is actually more harsh (and painful) sounding than said coffee grinder. This would be fine if I could avoid bowing in that 2 inch zone of ear-drum-rupturing brightness. Unfortunately, my teacher has caught on to this pattern of avoidance and has assigned me a task that may leave me deaf: I need to practice bowing each sub-phrase (however I choose to divide them) at different places along the string so that I can actively choose (instead of by default and avoidance) where I’m bowing. Somehow she’s convinced that for some parts of the songs I will actually choose to bow closer to the bridge. Except I’m thinking not likely, since the coffee grinder is less painful. And I’m not talking about “nasty” like Les was, I’m talking just plain old bright and painful no matter how prettily I bow. What’s even worse is the realization that I’ve been purposefully not working on this aspect of my technique because it’s so awful to listen to. This week should be fun. And by fun, I mean my cello will be lucky if I don’t remove my end pin and stab her with it.

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9 responses »

  1. Hi there!
    I stumbled across your blog today, while looking for all-things-cello-related to further fuel my own beginners-obession, and it’s so great to read the chronicle of your progress -it gives me hope! πŸ™‚
    I started in January this year so your blog is giving me so much to look forward to -thank you!

  2. I think (although I haven’t reached those positions in my own playing yet) that as you play higher (i.e., closer to the bridge) on the fingerboard, you’ll have to play closer to the bridge with your bow too. Otherwise your bow won’t contact the stopped string without also playing the strings on either side as well.

    My cello isn’t overly bright closer to the bridge, but it is nice and crunchy there. πŸ™‚

  3. @Mark – Yes, the crunches. They sometimes happen, though I’ve largely eliminated them (unless I’m doing something that I really should know better than to do.) In the higher positions the cello certainly does better playing closer to the bridge, but it’s still an assault on the ears. But 1st position is physically painful to my ears no matter what when playing within about 2 inches of the bridge, even without the crunchies. My cello is in general extremely bright no matter where I bow, but it gets exponentially worse as I move the bow toward the fingerboard.

    @Su – Hello there! Glad my blog gives you hope! Have fun on your new journey πŸ˜€

  4. Spend part of your practice time wearing ear plugs (or noise-canceling headphones), and go for the feel of it. Partly it’s a matter of time – that intense cello sound under your ear is an acquired taste – and partly it’s technical. As your hand becomes softer, the edgy crunchiness is mitigated. But your hand development will stall if you don’t force yourself out to the edge to get your brain the feedback it needs.

    BTW, did you set your rss feed to a teaser instead of a full post on purpose? I rarely click over to a blog to read, even one as fascinating as this is. So if you don’t have ulterior motives for keeping readers away, I for one would love if you would fix that!

  5. It’s not crunchiness! I mean, if I bow badly there are the awful crunchies (I don’t usually) but that’s a whole separate issue. It’s a very different sound that is present no matter how I bow. My luthier knows what I’m talking about and it’s a sound that is hard to hear at first but once you hear it, it can’t be unheard. Just part of having a crappy cello. He said possibly that stuff on the inside is loose and creating these weird sounds, but my cello isn’t good enough to warrant taking it apart and rebuilding it with higher quality glue. :/ I’ll try earplugs and see if that helps.

    As for the RSS feed, I was hoping that setting was for what appears on the front page of the blog, not the RSS feed. I’ll change it back for you!

  6. Many thanks – I’ve been missing reading your blog. πŸ™‚

    I think I know a bit of what you mean. I have an inexpensive cello in my second city that I call my “tin cello.” It has an indescribable unpleasant quality to the tone. Paradoxically, getting down near the bridge and going after that nice, edgy cello sound makes it, at least, not so bad. If something is actually loose inside I guess that might make it worse (though might make me want to look for a way to make it not loose!).

    Have you experimented with recording the cello while making notes about what you think of the sound quality under your ear, then comparing to the recording? Sometimes simply knowing that a particular bad sound under your ear results in the best sound out front removes the psychological barrier to going for that bad sound in practice.

    Has your teacher played your cello for you (using your bow!) so you can hear it out front? That can also help you compare your way of playing with what needs to be done to get the best possible sound.

    Oh, just thought of one other thing. I once had an irritating almost buzz that only I could hear that turned out to be a loose peg decoration – those little wooden plug thingies at the edge of the peg. Does your cello have those? One was loose, I pulled it out, and no more buzz. I would have glued it in more firmly, but I “misplaced” it before I could do that, so if you find a loose one I recommend you glue it in firmly right away!

  7. I know that it sounds completely different to the person in front of the cello. Just turning it sideways and bowing it sounds a thousand times better (and the awful sound isn’t there either.) There’s a huge difference between how she sounds to me as the player and how she sounds to someone sticking his/her head right in front of the f-holes. I just find it very difficult practicing because what sounds good on the cello from behind it actually sounds quite awful to the person in front of it (or at least isn’t what I’m going for.) There are a whole lot of oddities to her sound that can only be heard sitting behind her. Blech. Also, I don’t have recording equipment, so that isn’t an option. :/

    No, my cello doesn’t have those. They’re plain and boring, but at least there are no parts to come loose. Last week, however, I started hearing this really weird ratting and it was sudden and I was baffled. I turned the cello sideways to hear it better and it was gone. I tried playing normally, and there it was. Took me half an hour to figure out it was a button on my shirt. Serious awesomeness.

    And no, I’ve never had my teacher play my cello.

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