Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Counting reps

I got a new toy just before my big computer crash, when life as I know it got much more difficult.

Yes, it's an abacus. Did you know that there are two kinds of abacuses (abaci?)? This is referred to as a Chinese abacus, which has rows of 10 beads. The Japanese abacus has a divider, with 5 beads on one side ("earth") and 2 beads on the other ("heaven"). I know this now because I borrowed a book from the library to learn how to use the Japanese model, having never seen one before I went shopping.

I am not using my abacus for calculating, but for counting. Repetitions. While practicing. Before I got it I was using a handful of jelly beans, which I moved one at a time from one side of the stand to the other. I found I also needed a little flag, so I knew which side I was moving toward. I suppose I could have picked up the whole pile and moved it to the "starting side" before I began each set of repetitions. But the most complicating aspect of counting with jelly beans was my strong desire to eat them. Which meant I had a steadily decreasing number of repetitions available.

One could argue that there is no need to count if you are simply repeating a section until you have played it correctly x number of times. While that is fairly simple to keep track of in my head, a book I read recently (it's in my stack of new piano music) recommended physically moving something to count, not purely for the keeping-track-of benefit, but also because the act of moving it requires you to reset your hands, and by extension your mind, before you start again. I think the author was on to something.

Today I learned segment C2 in my Bach invention at one session, then put it together with segment C1 in a second session. I have been using the metronome specifically to fight my tendency to vary the tempo wildly depending on how hard the lick is, and Joshua was right on when he called me out for not sticking with it. SOoo I slowed way down to 8th=56 and practiced in rhythms, using only the long-short and short-long variation. Wow, you really have to know the next note coming when you are in the long wait period at that tempo. Can't rely on muscle memory. Then I played it 10 times at 72, concentrating on improving the legato-ness in the phrases.

Here's today's work. I'm really quite pleased with the result. And somehow counting with the colored beads on the abacus increases the fun-ness of practicing.

C2 at 8th=80. Still not quite on the beat.

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C12 together in long -short rhythm at 8th=56

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C12 in short-long rhythm at 8th=56

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C12, first rep at 8th=72

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C12, 10th rep at 8th=72.

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I think I'm staying with the metronome better, but did you hear any improvement in legato?


Anonymous said...

Well done. You were, I think, keeping with the metronome much more in the final example. There was still a slight feeling of driving with one foot one the accelerator and one on the brake, if you see what I mean! However, don't take that as a criticism, as I thought it sounded good. I thought the legato sounded good all along, but, yes, even better in the final sample.
By the way, I looked it up, and the Oxford Eng. Dictionary says it is 'abacuses'!

CelloGeek said...

Hi CelloDonna, you're very brave to post your practice audio files. I don't know that I would be so brave! The last audio file was definitely the one that most closely tracked the metronome. One of the tricks I have used to smooth out my playing (both on cello and piano) is to practice sections deliberately with syncopated rhythm and/or accents - the opposite of legato - especially emphasizing the 'and' or weak beat of the phrase. I play around with putting the emphasis on different pieces of the phrases, and then finally, go back and play it legato and in rhythm. I don't know if practicing like this would help you, but this technique has helped me smooth out many passages in many pieces. Nice work with the piece!

Gottagopractice said...

Rallentando, the accelerator vs. brake is an excellent description of the way I felt playing that excerpt.

Cellogeek, reading so many blogs while watching scary videos seems to have left you disoriented as to place, but thanks for the reminder about stressing accents. I had a brain cramp when my other duple rhythms didn't work well with mixed note values.

I find the process of learning a piece to be fascinating. How interesting would it be if we played everything perfectly from the start? So thank for the compliment, but it's really not bravery that permits me to post practice clips, but a desire to share my delight in learning with others.

Gottagopractice said...

Oops, my bad. It was Cellochick watching those scary videos!