Friday, May 04, 2007

Cello lesson 5/3: Yo Yo Diet

I have been focused on learning some new bowing motor skills, and consequently am feeling less well prepared for lessons. That may also be due to a decreasing practice phenomenon, between frustration that nothing feels right at the moment, and the need to spend some of my time learning trio and orchestra repertoire. And I wasted a lot of time this week reviewing old repertoire and playing things I can already read. I think I needed a confidence boost.

In any case, we again spent three quarters of the lesson working on my bow hold and mechanics. The scale was a combination of F minor and major, and my exit assignment is to limit my scale practice this week to slow linked half notes with four short notes at the extremes before the bow change, with no metronome. Focus on using the whole arm to move the bow, extra push from 3 and 4 at the tip, the way the thumb bends with the bow changes.

We moved on to Bach, a new movement today. T- asked for the Courante. Fortunately, I did read through that several times this week. Unfortunately, I'm still playing with a different fingering and bowing each time, not sure how I want to do this. So I basically massacred it, wrong notes, inconsistent bowings, irregular tempo, lots of pauses while I figured out what to do next. Ugh.

One of the most difficult things for me at my present level of development is playing music I can't play yet. I know that sounds like a big "Duh!," but what I mean is music I can't read easily. At my advancing age, I have yet to figure out a reliable way of learning something I don't get on the first reading. After yesterday's lesson I think what I need is the Yo Yo diet.

As the story goes, Yo Yo Ma learned his first Bach at the age of 4, with his father teaching him one measure per day. That's pretty much the way my lesson went. After that gruesome read-through, we went back to the beginning and worked on the first measure, plus the chord at the beginning of the second. My assignment is to go forth and do likewise in the practice room. The process will be something like this:

For each measure + first note of next measure
* Decide on the fingerings and bowings
* Play through No Tempo with all notes equivalent until the fingerings work
* Isolate problem shifts, chords, fingerings and practice separately if needed, then reincorporate
* Play through at very slow tempo with metronome with fingerings + bowings
* Isolate problem bowings, bow distribution, and string crossings if needed
* Slowly increase tempo to a moderate rate
* If it's not coming easily, invent different ways to play the measure (double stops, rhythms, etc.) to get the necessary repetitions. No beating head against wall!
Next measure

At some point, I'll need to apply the process to phrases, and then sections. The hardest part, as always, is to fight the urge to pretend I can play it and mangle it in chunks I don't know yet. The other variable I haven't figured out is what review to do on a day-to-day basis, and how quickly to progress.

As painful as this was in my lesson (I felt so inadequate), I left feeling optimistic. I'm sure I can learn one measure at a time. Now I just need to lose the expectation that I will be able to play this movement by next week. It's got to take the time it takes.


Elaine Fine said...

I really enjoy reading about your cello progress (and I know that I should be practicing myself). I thought that I should let you and other cellists know about three really lovely cello pieces I just heard today on line written by Roger Bourland (on his blog that I imagine that you and your cellist readers might like.

gottagopractice said...

Thanks for the tip...

Anonymous said...

Hi GGP, you made me realize that's a major blocker for me too. There's easy-to-read music, and then there's anything with tricky rhythms or tenor/treble clef, which I have to approach measure-by-measure. I guess there are two choices-- stay in the comfort zone or stick it out through those tough pieces, a little at a time. Ok, I'm motivated to practice now!

cellodonna said...

"Isolate." That's a good practice technique. My teacher always tells me to identify a problem and break it down into its simplest form.

gottagopractice said...

Hope your practices are going better than mine are right now, PFS <g>.

And cellodonna, for me it's the "identify" that's the hard part of the equation. I can be so oblivious.