Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chord etude

Every once in awhile I think it would be great if my cello teacher, all-knowing and wise as s/he is, would know exactly which etude or piece of music I should be working on at any given time to maximize my potential as a 'cello player. Alas, I've had enough experience to know that, helpful as 'cello teachers are, they aren't omnipotent, and so occasionally I pull out an etude (less often a piece) that is really speaking to me at the moment, usually because it appears to my less-trained eye to focus on some skills that have been lacking while playing recent repertoire.

A couple of weeks ago I pulled this one out, an etude in chords and bowing variations. It seems that every piece of music I face lately has broken chords in a variety of bowings, and is supposed to be played at a speed that I just can't get to because, well, I'm just too awkward. This is #68 in the A. Schroeder Vol I, and #26 in the original Dotzauer Book 1. I remember T2- demonstrating the bowings to me a couple of years ago, but the chord transitions were still beyond me then. It seemed to me I should be ready to try again, and now I really need those skills.

This is what I have learned so far. Before going on to the bowing variations, it's important to master playing the chords as chords, and the best way to start is to break them into groups of two: two lower notes, then two upper notes. I was skeptical at first that this was necessary, but realized as I practiced this way I was training my eyes as well as my fingers. These are the important points that either T- pointed out or I discovered with practice:

Keep the chord ringing during the bow change. There shouldn't be a big gap between chords, and to do this you "cheat" by moving the bow away from the double stop and onto just the middle note just before the bow change. To get the large motor skill, I set the metronome on 60, 4 beats/chord, playing the lower notes double stop for 2 beats, the upper notes double stopped for 1 beat, then the middle note into the bow change for 1 beat. Next, I played the chords as half notes with an eighth note middle note transition, finally dropping to the single note transiently into the chord change.

Know where you are going, and how you are going to get there. I have a whole 'nother post to write about this, but at the most basic level and for purposes of this etude, you need to know which position you are in, which position you are going to, and how you are going to manage the shift to get there. When you notice a rough transition, stop, figure out how you are going to shift, then "double mint" it, going back and forth between the chords until it feels easy.

Read ahead. That's essential for knowing where you are going. I discovered that the most efficient way to do this was to read half of the chord at a time. Since you are breaking the chords, read the lower half of the next chord while you are playing the upper half of the current one, then the upper half of the current chord while you are playing the lower half. This organizes the left hand into two moves: shift to the hand position to finger the lower two notes, then add the finger for the upper one.

This has been very productive work. Not only can I (finally) play this etude, but I was inspired to drag my 1st Suite into my lesson, where I had an excellent session applying these chord ideas to the Prelude. T- was so pleased with my progress he assigned the Allemande for the next week. It's nice to revisit something I did a couple of years ago on a new level, plus that gives me more time to learn the notes in the 2nd Suite <g>. I feel like I'm making a couple of steps upward off of this long plateau. Thank you, Mr. Dotzauer.

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