Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cello lesson 4/12: Intonation Day

Today we did a lot of work with only a little material. I started off with a play-through of Bach 2nd Suite Prelude, en route to working on the Allemande, but got side-tracked when the opening phrase was just awful. So we stepped back and spent the first half of the lesson on my Cossmann warm-up, only the A string. Skills we worked on:
* Know which position I am in at all times.
* Know what notes I am playing. Further, know which accidentals I am playing (Eb vs D#, for example) and adjust intonation accordingly. And even further, do this by ear, and not from the page.
* Play slowly enough that every note is in tune.
* Play quickly enough that my hand is fluid.
* Use exaggerated rolling motion of the forearm to enhance balance and relaxation of the hand with each note change.

I was pretty well warmed up after that, so played the Prelude. While happy that my fluidity is better, I was frustrated that it is still more "square" playing with an audience than playing at home. I was even more frustrated that my intonation was just off, and I seemed powerless to fix it while I was playing. Guess that's a side effect of tuning my ear.

So for the rest of the lesson we focused sequentially on the first two measures, taking the following steps:
(1) Play the notes of the measure at no tempo, tuning each note and paying attention to the finger motions required to play each note exactly in tune with the maximum efficiency of motion and optimal hand position.
(2) Play the notes in rhythm but at a very slow tempo WITH the metronome, fighting the urge to stop and fix notes one at a time. If a note is out of tune, play the excerpt again and fix it then. If you can't, revert to step 1.

The key to this exercise is hearing which notes are out of tune and remembering which notes you need to fix at the end of the excerpt. That was a struggle for me. T- advised working with a small enough number of notes at one time to make that possible, gradually increasing the size of the excerpt.

It is so frustrating that I can easily hear which note someone else plays out of tune, and I can clearly hear my own intonation at a slow enough tempo, but my ear can't seem to play in tune at normal speeds. But I was really getting excited about the possibility of improving that, especially while doing Step (1) and observing my finger motions. T-'s point was that working this way could easily fill 5 or 6 practice hours a day, and he wanted to hear no more complaints that I can't figure out what to do with my practice time .

And we never got to the Allemande.


Guanaco said...

All along I've been assuming (hoping) that one day I'd get past my intonation- hyper-critic issues and be able to focus on other things. I also hoped I'd be able to get past that "I play that so much better at home" problem.


Jason Heath said...

I just discovered your blog, and I'm having a good time reading about your cello experiences. Great writing!