Back for more, eh? Here are some additional questions from the Q&A on Twitter:
Oh, oh, can you explain the false string thing? I’ve yet to change mine, but your recent experiences are making me nervous.
A “false” string happens when you play an open string and the pitch goes up as you apply more pressure and speed. It’s a function of over-flexibility: usually this occurs in the latter days a string’s life, after having been tuned and retuned and played a bunch. Sometimes, though, you get a baddie right out of the bag. Think of it this way: if you can play the theme from “Jaws” without using your left hand, your string is false! The most vexing thing? No returns on false strings. What a money pit.
How to sharpen your critical listening-to-self-playing skills?
What a fabulous question. The fact that you’re even asking is an indicator of critical listening, although perhaps I like the idea of “analytical listening” more, because it suggests looking for solutions along with evaluating the causes of problems. Semantics, shemantics! I’d offer 3 thoughts here:
1. Have a sound in mind first.
They call this audiating, a.k.a generating the desired pitch and sound inside your head before you play. It’s surprising how efficiently this works because you’re more likely to produce the tone you want if you plan it out first, and also because deviations from this goal have something to stand out against.
2. Trust your technique.
I know that you (and most of my readers) are conscientious practicers. You keep your technique in mind, work through passages slowly, repeat things a million times. All of that focus is what I call “the heat of battle” where not as much of your internal CPU is available for deep listening because you’re working your butt off to accomplish the other goals. At some point, see what happens if you shift your attention from meticulously accomplishing a phrase to just listening to the tone coming out of your instrument. Some people close their eyes and focus on their center. Others pick a gaze point, like you’d do in a balancing pose in yoga. For me, a weirdo, I kind of breathe the piece- it’s hard to explain, but it might be described as being aware of my entire body and imagining that the sound is coming from me, not the cello. The gist of the whole thing is letting go of the “practicing” mentality and moving into the “playing” frame of mind. Then, if you hear or feel something that hits you the wrong way, you can go back into the heat of battle for a while to fix it.
3. Set yourself up with a string of performances.
Nothing like the terror of performing in public to turn your ears into crap-detecting bionic MegaEars®. The practice in the days and weeks leading up to a gig naturally heightens awareness of the sound you’re generating because you know they’re going to be listening. This is especially true of small chamber music groups. Get yourself into a string quartet or trio and watch how your ears’ attention bounces from the ensemble sound to your own sound to wherever the melody is and back. Performing is good for so many reasons, and it’s one guaranteed method to amp up your ears’ sensitivity.
“Mile-long” shifts: your approach?
I generally fake an asthma attack or phone call when I’m asked to shift over a sixth.
Ok, not really, but I appreciate the question. Some tips:
1. Know where your first finger is going, even if it’s not the finger that will be playing the note. It’s your true indicator of position and distance traveled. Sure, we’ll hear an octave from 4th finger D on the A string to 2nd finger D up in, what is that…9th position: but the first finger travels from B to C#, doesn’t it? Work that fundamental, underlying shift first.
2. Practice the shift up and down, using slurs, with a metronome. So if you’re going from B to G, you’ll go B G/G B over and over again. The metronome hems us in intentionally, and will be the first to let you know if something is wrong with your technique.
3. Hear the sound in your head first. Just like what I was telling Owly.
4. Move with a singular, purposeful motion. Watch the way Stjepan or Jackie or Yo-Yo shifts. It’s like there’s a little marker on the fingerboard so they’re guaranteed to hit the thing, right? Move like you’re swinging a tennis racquet or golf club: one motion, one gesture, that’s it. If you miss it, then fine. Stick where you missed and say “higher” or “lower” as a correction for the next attempt. It keeps your practice clean, and at the end of the day you should have three piles of notes: those that were flat, those that were in tune, and those that were sharp. Which pile is bigger? That guides your practice.
5. Don’t freak out. They’re just notes. Moving from here to there. Be Joe Cool and not only will your shifting improve, but there will be one less miserable and edgy cellist in the world. How could that be a bad thing? 🙂
@CelloMike wins a prize for asking the following:
Why is the rum gone?
Ok, why does everyone look at me when the booze is out? Why?!?
What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
A pilot, or maybe a geologist. I thought about the CIA as well, but I think that may have been from reading too much Tom Clancy as a kid.
What does happen in the afterlife anyway?
Not sure. I’m happy to wait a good long time to find out!
What if I’m a mermaid?
Then we know where the rum went, you saucy wench!
And @lhbflute asks:
What’s your favorite color?
Hmm. It varies. I love wearing yellow, and red is a good go-to. Lavender is always nice. Um. This is a hard question!
The mailbag is always open, and I love hearing from you. Hit me up on Twittaw or drop me a line here, and I’ll do my best to answer in kind.