Like an athlete on the DL, I have slowly been working my stamina up to where it was when I was in college. Sure, I’ve been playing 5 hours of lessons a day with my students and doing studio doubles, but unless the student is playing something monstrous like the Kodaly or the session is for John Williams (and unfortunately it hasn’t been), the playing is not too taxing. I have some symphonic work coming up in the fall and winter months, and I want to be able to practice, rehearse and play as much as I want.

Complicating matters slightly is the fact that I have a compound injury to my back that at one point forced me to take a semester off from the cello during college. So if I ramp up my practice too quickly, I re-inflict the whole shebang again. I always like seeing how other people practice, so here’s what I’ve been up to, and the results thereof.

Day 10:
1st finger vibrato across all 4 strings, 24 beats per bow, 50 bpm. noticed intermittent tension in bicep.
Popper excerpts (a few troubling measures in 17 and 23) at 1/4 speed. made it a breathing exercise.
Haydn D first movement 1/2 speed, run through, letting mistakes go.

Day 22:
Bought a foam wedge to sit on, immediate difference in weight distribution and instant improvement in rotator cuff issues in both arms. Had students sit on it, too. Was crushed that I left it at the studio when I went home to practice on backward sloping chair.

Day 35:
Open strings, string crossings with metronome, Piatti caprice, reviewed notes from 1994 Ron Leonard lesson. The guy is good. Noticed that I have less tension overall when temp in room is a little too warm.
Popper #30 run through for loose arm and simplicity of motion in shifts and extensions. Fit of giggles at the end. Heat going to my head.

Day 45: (this week)
After a 6 day trip, I come back to the cello and it is like a reset button was pushed on my flexibility. Skipped yoga practice and was served my ass on a plate: 40 minutes into the practice, I am feeling pins and needles down my left arm and pinky. Crap.

Day 47:
Had a fabulous night sleep (thanks to homeopathic MidNite…check it out if you’re a little wound up like me but don’t want the hangover from Unisom, etc) and got to practicing before breakfast. I made the cello my yoga and stretched my neck and hands while playing open strings and worked on slow, wobbly vibrato. I call this “unglamorous practice” with my students. It’s doing something purely technical that more often than not sounds terrible. For instance, the slow vibrato sounded like wom wom wom wom, and then wamma wamma wamma for much longer than it was charming. But after I had passed wamma wamma speed, I found an ease and lack of bicep tension when I hit wawawawawawa (full) speed. But I am positive the neighbors thought I had a malfunctioning weed whacker.

Day 52: (this morning)
Went on a hill walk/run and got my iPod on. I draw as much inspiration from pop music as I do from classical. Right now I am obsessed with the new Rilo Kiley and Feist albums. I take a hot bath, crank the heat, and do some of my newly discovered sauna practice, which includes:
Orchestral excerpts at almost full speed.
Spot work on Haydn D, first movement.
Slow run through of Bach 2nd suite’s gigue, evaluating new phrasing ideas.
After an hour, no pain, and I stopped early to make sure I had 3 more hours in me for my students.

There was a time when my arm would pack up after about 15 minutes. If the load is light, I’m good for hours and hours now. But I want to capitalize on the good fortune of being a cellist, and if I am asked to play a Mahler symphony in the afternoon and then Beethoven 6 that evening and then audition with a full movement of a concerto the next morning, I want my greatest concern to be what to wear, not whether I’ll need cortisone.

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4 Responses

  1. That’s the best written description of going from a ridiculously slow to a normal vibrato. It really does sound like wom wom wom, wamma wamma wamma, wawawawawawa! I’m stealing that. Just thought you’d like to know.

  2. This post was very enlightening. I’m starting to realize the kind of practice it takes for this…and it’s encouraging. I used to get frustrated when I can’t get something after a few tries but I’m starting to see that this all takes more than a ‘few’ tries 🙂

  3. Although I am well qualified to teach, I will always be a student of the cello, myself. I tell my students that the reason I can analyze and help correct so many issues is because I faltered just the same way earlier on. I owe it to them, and to the people I play with to constantly evaluate my playing and technique. Going back to fundamentals like super slow vibrato (to check for lumps bumps and changes in speed) or an etude at 1/2 speed is really enlightening, and I take what I notice about my own process and apply it to my students, and write about it in the book. It’s also a good ego check. Some cellists (fine cellists, I will admit) have an air of being “finished” with working on their playing. Humility, I find, always sounds better. 🙂

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