My teacher told to me:

7) Take the thing you hate the most and make it your favorite.

You know that measure that twists your fingers into a knot, befuddles your bow or just sounds plain awful? Well meet your new best friend. Items that lag behind the rest of a passage don’t do so of their own accord. They happen because you go into avoidance mode or worse yet, bad practice mode. Bad Practice Mode happens when you go at a measure like you’re trying to knock down a door by running into it 20 times. You don’t spend enough time doing it to actually get through the door by brute force because you’re frustrated and exhausted. You also don’t realize that the door has a simple lock on it (from the inside, naturally) and you just have to know which way to turn it in order to open it up. So take an entire practice session and gently get to know the ins and outs of a particular problem. Experiment with every element of technique, asking questions like:

-Am I tensing?
-Is my shift the issue?
-Do I know what this is supposed to sound like?
-Am I pushing or pulling too much bow?
-Am I so anxious about my left hand that it never really feels solid?
-What are both thumbs doing?

That measure is an inextricable part of what you’re working on, so don’t avoid it, ever. Instead look it (and yourself) dead in the eyes and say, “Aha! You and I are going to be the greatest team! Why don’t we work together to make you a beautiful phrase and me a fine cellist?” It really is the upbeat humble spirit that greases the wheels of success in many endeavors. A lot of you are good at the humble part, to the point of being disconcerted. Work on the lightness, the beauty of the task, and you may again encounter the real reason we all do this difficult, magnificent thing.

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4 Responses

  1. Of the set so far, this one speaks to me the most. Ok, so now I have my New Year’s resolution: Upbeat humble spirit.

  2. Thanks for the great cello practice tips. I especially enjoyed #s 5 and #6. (Sightreading — yes!) I’ve set some New Year’s daily practice resolutions and blogs like yours provide helpful information and inspiration. Thanks for doing it.

  3. Hi Emily, thank you for all of the Cello mas postings! I found myself ruefully thinking about what I needed to change with my practicing (although because I love sightreading, I can claim that I do that every week…). and Thanks for your query about how I am doing with bow weight/pressure..I am now constantly thinking about how the strings feel when I’m playing (I think that was somewhere in your posts..maybe a subpoint about bow speed…)

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