Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thinking out loud

I've been reading Pink Fluffy Slippers' blog (no cats over there, but lots of cello) and a recent post about the Breval Sonata in C got me thinking. She's having trouble with just a few measures in the exposition that feature duple to triplet rhythm changes, double string crossings, and awkward bowings in the triplet sections. That last tricky bit is ruining her enjoyment of the movement, because it limits her feasible tempo. (How many pieces do I have in the closet waiting for a miracle to fix those last tricky bits?)

Anyway, I've spent a good part of the past year learning and trying to apply ways to practice more efficiently. (When you start late you don't want to waste time.) So I thought it would be fun to devise a plan for attacking this section. After I write it down I can decide whether I've learned anything. Any musicians reading this entry may feel free to criticize (constructively!!!)

I'm going to limit my practice to measures 25-31. I have a very bad habit of playing on from whenever I start, so I will even put a sticky note over the measures before and after to fight that tendency. Then I divide the problems into three general categories: notes, bowing, and rhythm. Or left hand, right hand, and brain.

I won't spend much time focusing on notes. The critical thing about notes when you are needing to bring a section up to speed is that you decide on one fingering and stick to it. I would play everything in this section in 1st position, so that's straight-forward. I just need to remember to play the recurrent F#'s (noting that I've actually been in the key of G since measure 11.) I might play a G MAJ scale from open G to D on the A string a couple of times to get the finger patterns set, but will leave repetitions of the notes until later in rhythm study.

Rhythm is the biggest problem in this section. Taking Ms. MacKinnon's advice to heart, I need to figure out how to practice the rhythm without having to also think about the notes and the bowing. So I'll start with testing away from the cello. Can I say the rhythm with the metronome? I'd start with a tempo under performance speed, but fast enough to get the character of the piece. 72 bpm (quarter note) is good. Although I usually use the word "trip-e-let" in my head when I am reading triplets, when it's really tricky I revert to food. So quarter = "prune", 2 eighths = "jel-lo", and an eighth note triplet = "pine-ap-ple".

Step 1: MM=72 practice going back and forth between foods OUT LOUD. So, prune, prune, jello, jello, pineapple, pineapple, pineapple, pineapple, jello, jello, prune, prune, etc. Mix 'em up; try to trip yourself.

Step 2: MM=72 Say the measures OUT LOUD: one-two and jello jello |prune pineapple pineapple pineapple| pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | jello jello jello jello | jello jello jello jello | pineapple pineapple pineapple pineapple | If I can't say it from the notes immediately, I'd write it out like this and just read it to the metronome. If I still can't say it out loud, I'd slow the metronome down enough so that I could.

Step 3: MM=72 Say the measures OUT LOUD while clapping at the same time.

Step 4: MM=72 If this was really hard or I really wanted to be obsessive, say the measures OUT LOUD while clapping the rhythm AND walking around the room (or marching in place), one step per beat (quarter note.) [You might think this is silly, but IT WORKS. Both your rhythm and your coordination will improve.]

Step 5: Play the rhythms on the cello, using open strings only. Play the triplets on open G and everything else on open D. Or pick another pattern. Do this until I can play it correctly 3 times in a row (or pick another target.) (Optional: say the rhythm out loud while playing. Personally, I would do that only if I couldn't just play it the first time.)

At this point I should have the rhythm down pretty well. I might test it by playing the notes in rhythm but NOT playing the slurs and NOT playing the string crossings in m. 29-30 yet. For these measures I might just double the lower notes of the two (also a good fake if I need to play the piece with someone before I've worked out those string crossings.) I'm still concentrating on the rhythm.

Next it's time to look at the bowing problems. But not tonight. This post is long enough, and I still want to practice.


PinkFluffySlippers said...

Lots of food for thought (and practice) there. I like the idea of walking around the room to the beat. I notice I have trouble just foot-tapping to keep the rhythm sometimes.

Incidentally, playing along with your recording was easier for me than playing with the metronome alone.

Gottagopractice said...

More fun, too, I hope (grin). I don't know what exactly it is about having a second part - I always feel like I play better, too. And it's one more way to keep things honest. You can skip a measure with the metronome, but not when you're playing with someone else, recorded or otherwise.

Guanaco said...

I like your approach to this. I haven't really figured out a way to talk in my head while I'm playing. My head is usually full of the notes themselves - along with my critical analyzer yelling at me for how poorly I'm playing those notes. :(

Your method of speaking the rhythms out loud with the metronome should help me imprint these patterns without having to worry about the notes.


cellodonna said...

One problem at a time ... certainly a good approach, as is focusing on a few measures at a time.

What a great idea! ... placing a post-it to cover a section to stop the temptation to continue on. I will certainly adopt that one.

Since you mentioned that you've "spent a good part of the past year learning and trying to apply ways to practice more efficiently", I highly recommend a useful and practically written book by Stephanie Judy called "Making Music for the Joy of It" especially aimed at adult amateurs. It's chock full of tips, ideas, and strategies for effective practice.

Gottagopractice said...

Hi Guanaco, that's something I learned in piano class. It was really hard to talk and play in the beginning, but externalizing the voice seemed helpful for subsequently internalizing. And you can only think one voice at a time - another tactic for squelching that critical guy.

Cellodonna, I'm currently on my second copy of Judy's book. I "terminally loaned" my first to a friend (grin). Funny though... when I read it last I wasn't focusing on the practice advice. I'll have to re-reread it.