Theory, Breathing, and Exercising.

Standard

This past Monday my theory teacher assigned a ridiculous amount of reading — two chapters — which she expected us to have done by today’s class. This would be fine in a normal sort of class, but, for me at least, I have to do all the exercises in the book as I go along because otherwise I just end up lost. Sure, I can follow the words, but until I’ve actually done what is being talked about, I’m pretty much clueless. So, I started reading the first of the chapters, only to discover that the only way I could understand it and do the exercises was to read another chapter — one that isn’t supposed to be gone over until next semester. No, I wasn’t being stupid. The professor just skips the chapter and covers it in the next semester because otherwise she doesn’t have the time to get to everything she’s supposed to cover in this class. Unfortunately, the material in it really is required for understanding everything that comes after it. Which left me with three chapters worth of reading and exercises. I (barely) managed to get through it all, but I did. Even then, today’s lecture was confusing, which is really really unfortunate because I knew what was going on far more than anyone else in the class. Plus, she was using examples in lecture that were far more complicated than anything that happened in the reading. And not following the rules that were rather clearly spelled out in the book. Which left the couple of us who weren’t totally lost kinda scratching our heads. But, at least next week is spring break (yes, it’s quite late) so I will have a bit longer than two days to work on the relevant homework.

All that being said, I’ve hardly had a chance to practice this week. Most of this week’s practice has been about breathing. I’ve played lots and lots of scales because that’s an easy place to observe my breathing (or lack thereof.) I’ve found that I’m fine until I get to a shift, and then I hold my breath, which throws off everything else. If I think too much about the shift, I lose track of my breath and it just plain old stops. Interestingly, if I keep enough focus on my breathing so that I don’t stop, I actually do a better job shifting. I’ve managed to get to a point where I don’t stop my breath if I screw up, which I didn’t think I’d accomplish in less than a week. It’s much easier to recover from messing up, too, if I just keep on breathing. So, I keep working on breathing because it helps everything else, even if it’s only indirectly. I’m supposed to be learning a new song this week, which I’ve pretty much not worked on, but somehow I successfully sight read the whole thing today. I’m really an abysmal sight reader so this came as a surprise. I’d like to think that somehow the breathing thing is connected. Yesterday my MIL also mentioned to my hubby that I was sounding really good while she heard me practicing, which was interesting since I was specifically working on breathing at that time. So, I think it’s helping, but sometimes I’m just not sure. Today, during the tiny bit of time I got to practice after class (I was furiously trying to finish the reading/exercises earlier in the day) I actually ended up stopping because I simply couldn’t stand the sounds coming out of my cello. It wasn’t even that I was playing badly — for me I was actually playing quite nicely — but it just sounded so bad that I just couldn’t deal with hearing myself anymore. Most of the time I feel confident that I will one day be a decent cellist, but not today. Most of the time when I feel down about it, it’s more about knowing that I don’t sound how I want to, a more conceptual sort of down. Today was different, though. I’ve never felt before that my playing was just so awful I couldn’t bear to listen to it anymore.

On another side note, on Sunday I started working out for the first time in a couple years. I just felt the need to move. I’ve lost enough weight from the cello diet that it actually feels good again. I felt a sudden need to take better care of my body since the only one I have with which to play cello. Not sure this will last, but I’ve felt more like myself these last few days. Today my back and shoulder were hurting, which happens to me a lot due to an injury that I remember having at the latest since the age of six, but it could be older (I just can’t remember since I was so young.) Usually I take it slowly and try not to move which I hurt like this, which means no cello. Today, however, I just felt the need to move. So I exercised and stretched thoroughly, which helped a great deal — enough that I could play. So, I’ve made it my goal to exercise, even just for 30 minutes, every day. I figure if I can somehow carve out several hours for practice, I can carve out 30 minutes for exercise. Of course, I’m not sure this will actually last, but for now it feels good, even if it take a little bit of time away from cello.

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2 responses »

  1. I was under the impression I was breathing just fine while playing…until I started paying attention to my breathing. And I’m totally with you on the shifting thing. At last rehersal I discovered I was holding my breath for six whole measures due to some crazy shifting requirements. I’d love to know – if any – breathing exercises you are doing while you play.
    I’ve mostly been trying to incorporate more yoga “belly breathing” cause that also calms my nerves, but I’m wondering if there is other stuff I could be doing to help!

    • Start out really really basic (it’s harder than you think!) my teacher says breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth to help make your breathing more continuous/circular. Start out with something simple like a nod octave G major scale, one note per bow, using the whole bow. Take a good deep belly breath, breathe out deeply, then breathe in again. On the outbreath is your downbow on tonic. Up bow, inbreath for supertonic. Downbow, outbreath for mediant, etc. Make sense?

      For shifting she recommends inbreath while prepping and outbreath as you shift. It’s good to practice that one on its own first since it’s harder and the note during which you are prepping may be an outbreath in the scale (which makes you have to switch things up a bit.) In songs, if there is a part where you start holding your breath, try to figure out a good way to breath with the motions very consciously- ie. if you tense at a shift, make sure you take a good inbreath before so you can breathe out through the hard part.

      I know you’ve been working on tone a lot lately and this should help considerably. Today I worked entirely on my breathing and making left, right, and breathing all one action. By the end it was sounding good enough that I remembered why I chose the cello over all the other instruments in the first place- to me there is nothing more beautiful than a well played cello. Certainly my playing was far from perfect, but I was able to hear from my own cello the kinds of sounds that drew me to the instrument in the first place.

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