Though we sometimes hesitate to admit it, even professional cellists and teachers have bits of technique that we develop “work arounds” for. It seems like forever ago that I developed one such habit to adjust for my weak left pinky (weakened from a nerve condition caused by tension and bockety technique) when it came to trilling between 2 and 4 or 3 and 4. I just assigned myself the label of unusually frail and developed very quick shifts and finger replacements so that there was no audible jiggery-pokery when a piece called for such a trill.

While my pinky (and yours) is indeed short, puny, and not as happy to do acrobatics as the rest of the hand, there is proof that it is possible to quickly, accurately and artistically move between 3 and 4. I have access to YouTube. I go check out performances. I know lots of ex-Schoenfeld students. I decided to reexamine my work around, and pulled out the Cossmann studies. For 6 days, there was no palpable progress, and I just tried to fight tension while letting the sound and evenness just sort of…happen. About 2 days ago, the thing started working itself out! After all of these years! It sounded nearly as good as a 1-3 trill after just over a week of concerted effort and 18 years of avoidance.

The moral of the story here is that there are good reasons to modify technique. Developing a work around so that your performance in an immediate concert is not a blight or injurious to your body is a necessity. But it is also crucial to continue pouring your efforts into standard elements of technique, even if certain areas mature far behind the rest of your ability. The cello is the ultimate demonstration of doing something that is wonderful even though it is very difficult. Take that philosophy with you when you realize that you have favored 2nd finger, or that you don’t vibrate well in a certain position, or that your bow does y or z when asked to do x.

If anyone has a specific issue they’d like to tackle, feel free to leave a comment and I can write a “prescription” for you: a 10 minute a day cocktail of etude recommendation, technical tip, and mini pep talk. It makes a fine New Years Resolution, you know.