A Package From Lulu

Posted in beginner, cellist, cello, cello blogosphere, worthwhile with tags , , , on December 29, 2010 by cellomuser

I started this blog post on 3/22/2010…

Today I received a package from the online book publisher Lulu.

For about the last 30 months I have had the pleasure of reading the writings of Ms. Emily Wright (Website, Blog & Twitter). What attracts me to Emily is her ability to inspire and communicate in a genuine manner – once in awhile to the extent of wearing her emotions on her “Internet“ sleeve. That said, I have come to really enjoy and respect Emily not only as a ce <- this is as far as I got on 3/22/2010

Fast forward to 12/29/2010….

…not only as a cellist but as a fellow human being as well.

Inside that package from Lulu was Emily Wright’s book, A Modern Cellist’s Manual.

A Modern Cellist’s Manual is an absolute must have – period. Let me share with you why…

1.    Modern. Yes, the same word that is in the title is a reason to have this manual. I began learning the cello as in adult back in 2007. Although I had some very good student / instructors the first two years, I was very disappointed by the lack of modern non-instructor technique aids. Let’s be honest, the Suzuki books have horrible pictures and illustrations and other sources of instruction include expensive subscriptions to various musical magazines, hunting down articles on the Internet, or reading very old opinings of past famous cellists (like reading the King James Version of the Holy Bible).

A Modern Cellist’s Manual is as modern as it gets. It is well written. Well written in the sense that it is easy to read and comprehend; unlike some rigid academic guides. The structure of the manual is well thought out, starting with basic form and progressing into moderate levels of technique.

2.    Pictures. Yep, lots of pictures – and in color too! Most human beings alive today – that live in a modern society – tend to be very visual both in how we perceive and how we learn. The pictures and illustration overlays in A Modern Cellist’s Manual clearly support the concepts and techniques being presented in the text – in great detail.

3.    Comprehensive. In my opinion, A Modern Cellist’s Manual easily covers all the instruction I paid for in the first two years of taking lessons (once or twice a month) – plus more. In no way am I suggesting that my first instructors were negligent or not knowledgeable. But I really wish I could have had a comprehensive manual to aid me in my journey. As a beginner adult, taking those precious five or ten minutes of down time to read a manual to reinforce some of the concepts being taught by my instructors would have been helpful; A Modern Cellist’s Manual fills that gap.

4.    Practical. My son recently started playing the cello. He is in middle school and they have a string ensemble (bass, cellos, violas, and violin). I was somewhat shocked that he wanted to play at all, let alone play the cello. The night he decided to play the cello – he had his first lesson; parts of the cello, how to properly sit (yes, he slouched), how the cello makes sounds, etc. At the end of the lesson I handed him my copy of A Modern Cellist’s Manual with homework to just read the section on “Body Concept & Positioning”.  I could tell he was mildly annoyed that I reminded him a few times on sitting up and keeping his back straight – so by reading the manual it not only reinforced proper technique but also conveys to him that me correcting him is not just Dad being a prick- but trying to help him. For what its worth, his ensemble instructor has complimented him a few times on his form…

In closing, A Modern Cellist’s Manual is worth every penny spent to purchase it. However, please note that the manual itself will not make you a better cellist. It is not a replacement for practice and does not replace the discerning eye of an instructor or trusted adviser that can see the things you cannot. It is an aid to include in your kit to learn and reinforce cello technique. By purchasing Emily’s A Modern Cellist’s Manual , you are empowering yourself to become a better cellist and supporting a musician / artist that has great passion for the cello, making music but more importantly, teaching others. Thank you for publishing the book Emily – I look forward to others.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 by cellomuser

Tonight (3/16/2010) is my first practice with the local community orchestra. I attended a practice back in late February to get a better feel for the group, follow along by reading some of the score, and gauge my confidence level in being able to play with this group of musicians. I walked away from that practice ready to tackle the world. Everything just felt right – a perfect opportunity to play music. The conductor was happy to have another cello player come on board – for a grand total of two cellists.

There are two pieces of music we are practicing:

1.    Viennese Sonatina No. 6 in C Major: I. Allegro; Mozart. You can get a look at the score here (the PDF file will not allow for printing or local “save as”).

2.    Saul, HWC 53: Symphony; Handel. I really like this piece. It is very lively. There are alternating melodies between the various string sections. If there is one instrument I would love to hear played with this piece, it would be the harpsichord. The facility that is hosting the orchestra has a harpsichord and the conductor can play it; but I do not know if he will play it as part of a performance. Some more information about this piece of music can be found here and here.

There is one musical term I needed to quickly learn about and that was “tutti”. Its placement in the score was right after a section marked “solo”. Tutti means all or together. Thus, this is where the rest of the group all plays together right after a solo section. This is yet another example of how playing with a group expands both skills and knowledge of music.

For anyone that cares to learn a little more about the community I live in – here is the Wikipedia overview.

I look forward to sharing more about my community orchestra experience soon!

A Grinch Smile

Posted in cello, cello blogosphere, confidence with tags , , , on February 24, 2010 by cellomuser

Wow! It has been about 9 months since I last published a cello blog post. It is reasonable to infer that during those nine months there has not been significant cello activity for me. Lessons came to a halt in June 2009 due to my instructor going home for her college summer break. The second half of 2009 was crazy from a work perspective; some of it brought on by me and some of it the result of keeping my employer happy. All of this resulted in me spending less time practicing my cello – let alone playing with others.

I have not been entirely “happy” over the last few months – a music / artistic type of happy; though I am not naïve to realize that it probably spills over to other parts of my life.  While it is easy to take more of a pragmatic approach to analyzing this sense of unhappiness, like paying for a cello I am not using as much as I should be, or realizing the benefits of investing time and money in lessons for little gain; I think there is an underlying psychological issue. I keep thinking back to an “Organizational Behavior” course I took three or four years ago at “The” Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. I think we spent a total of two hours covering “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” (MHN from here on out).

As I reflect back on almost three years of learning the cello, I can loosely map my journey to MHN.

I chose the cello because I needed a non-computer hobby that allowed me to get back in touch with music and hopefully allow me to socialize with other musicians using a language that is not spoken but demonstrated through passion, skills, and reverence.

So how does this map to MHN? (For any psychologists or music education gurus I beg your pardon if I am misapplying MHN in this manner… but it makes sense to me…).

Physiological: The basics or bare essentials. I rented a cello. It came with the tools I needed to get a tone. You can’t play music without some type of instrument and tools to make it function. While sheet music is not necessarily a bare essential – it is if you are not gifted to make music on your own (like me). So, I think of it as a bare essential.

Safety: For me, safety was taking lessons. Improving my skills to a point that I could make a half decent sound on the cello, demonstrate some technique, demonstrate music reading skills, as well as play music pieces.

Up to this point, I would submit that I am already seeing evidence of the higher levels of MHN; esteem and self –actualization. However, there is a gap…

Love and Belonging.

My favorite part of the journey over the last three years was when I could play with others. It seemed to be the difference between a good lesson and a bad lesson; as well as few opportunities to play with our church band (albeit a genre of music – contemporary Christian – that does not lend itself well towards a beginner cello player). The reality is that I have not been playing with others as much as I need and want to be. When you are not taking lessons or you are not skilled enough to quickly improvise music based off guitar chords – you do not get to play with others.

So, this uneasiness has reached a boiling point. I was hoping to get over to DC in early March to take a lesson with my web 2.0 friend Ms. Emily. All in the hope that it would be the catalyst I needed to get back into more intentional practicing but also to meet someone that is far more passionate about the cello then I am as well as very accomplished. Well, due to family obligations – like our son’s birthday – this opportunity was squashed. Next, while recently shoveling snow with a neighbor after a winter storm that dropped nine inches of snow – I learned of a community orchestra that was being started in the town where I live. You know the Christmas story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”; specifically the older animated show where at one point the Grinch gets an evil smile that seems to take like 20 seconds to fulfill? Well, that is the smile that came across my face when I heard about the community orchestra.

At this point, I am now left to have to make a decision. Do I investigate the local community orchestra opportunity and see if it can fulfill MHN’s “Love & Belonging”? Or, do I tuck my tail between my legs – admit / accept defeat, and keep on coming up with easy excuses to not intentionally pursue playing music on the cello?

Stay tuned… 🙂

Lesson Notes – 6/13/2009

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2009 by cellomuser

L and I are starting to have more regular lessons. My lesson on Saturday marked the 3rd lesson in about 7 weeks – which is pretty good for us. So where to begin…

We started out by me playing “#15. Allegro” from the Applebaum, Chamber Music for Two String Instruments (Book 2). This piece of music has been one of my “focus hard on” pieces for the last seven weeks. I have made a lot of improvement, but there is room for more.

The take-aways for this piece were:

1.    Practice at a faster tempo. L wants to me be able to play this song at around 120 beats per minute (3/4). I had been practicing around 88 or 90 beats per minute.
2.    Around measure 16, there are four measures of string crossings; three eighth note slurs per measure. I need to make sure to make my sure my bow is placed in such a way on the string that is in the middle of the bow and only use about 3-4 inches of the bow per slur. Another aspect of this section of the piece is to make sure my bow is some tilted toward the string I am crossing over to.
3.    Be mindful of the accents. (sigh).

The next piece was “Japanese Garden” from Mooney’s Position Pieces for Cello. This particular piece is focused on 3rd position, with string crossings between the A and D strings and a few shifts back to 1st position. I did pretty good on this assignment. However, I think the tempo listed in the book is slow – so it sounds boring. However, L has a remedy for that – more on that later. The primary take-way for “Japanese Garden” was to make sure I slightly shift my bow closer to the bridge when I am playing in the 3rd and 4th positions.

L assigned me a new piece from the Applebaum book; “#13. An Episode” by Beethoven. Unlike “#15. Allegro”, “An Episode” is very legato like and has a lot of slurs, some of which contain string crossings. I have not yet put this into Finale, so I do not know exactly how it –should- sound – but it should be a lot of fun.

L wants to start spending some time working on vibrato. This is new territory for me – from a formal instruction perspective. In my opinion, vibrato is one of the “it-factors” when it comes to really appreciating great cello music as well as watching people do vibrato. All of us “young” cello players experiment with vibrato – so to be formally trained on this technique is awesome. Plus, L warned me that some of the exercises will drive my family crazy – which is always an added bonus.

Practice Summary – 5/11/2009

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2009 by cellomuser

Overall Mood: Eager

Length of Practice: About 1 hour

Number of Interruptions: 2; one from my son and his friend – related to BB guns; the other from my wife regarding dinner preference.

Warm-Up / 20 minutes: Scales. C Major – two octaves, G major – two octaves. One Octave scales on all strings (0-1-3 / 1-3 / 1-2-3).

Primary Focus / 20 minutes: #15 Allegro from the Applebaum book. Focused on staccato and “sweeping” bow movements on some of the slurs. The metronome is my friend on this song.

Secondary Focus / 20 minutes: Gavotte (J. B. Lully; Suzuki 3, piece 4). This has some 3rd position sections on it. This song is fun because there are some trills in it. Overall, it is a fun piece to play with room to incorporate some of your own musical interpretation.

Cello Muser SitRep (Situation Report)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 11, 2009 by cellomuser

My cello blogging has taken a hit thus far in 2009. However, my online interaction with other cellists has actually increased – thanks to Twitter. There have been a few regular readers of my blog that always left insightful and encouraging comments and now, they are on Twitter. Unfortunately, they have to put up with my non-cello Tweets. Regardless, I hope for continued interactions with @EmilyCello (The Stark Raving Cello Blog), @gottagopractice (If At First You Don’t Succed…), and @eKimOng (Temporary Insanity…). I enjoy reading your tweets and blog posts. Maybe our cello paths will cross some day.

Here are some quick updates:

Years Playing Cello: Two. Yep, I just crossed over my two year mark. I made a lot of progress in the first year and not as much between year one and year two. 2008 was a very busy year for me professionally. In addition, there was a six or seven month gap in lessons. I have taken a few lessons in the last six months – but not with the frequency I would prefer. Anyway – I am enjoying every moment of the cello and in about 11 months – I will own my cello.

Challenge 1: One of my biggest challenges right now is relaxing and moving with the music and the cello. Apparently I am robot-like and my instructor feels it is limiting my progress. I agree with her. Sometimes it just feels so technical that “flowing” with the music is an afterthought.

Challenge 2: Confidence. I would characterize my confidence with the cello right now as being like a child that just started treading water in the deep end of the pool. They know enough to stay afloat – but they can be erratic at times and when in doubt – quickly go back to the side of the pool or back to a depth they can stand in.

Lesson Result Notes from 5/9/2009. (Yes, I started this blog post on May 6th).

Note 1: Playing Staccato. About 10 minutes of my lesson this past weekend was spent on staccato technique. I was over emphasizing the staccato accents in one of the pieces I am working on from the Applebaum book. What I took away from L’s feedback was that the staccato accent can be achieved with just the slightest pressure of the bow hand. I was executing the staccato accents in a very inefficient way with too much bowing arm movement. L’s method was far more subtle, fluid, and the accent sounds far better. Now I just need to practice it like 3,000 times.

Note 2: Focusing. I asked L that we only focus on one or two pieces of music. It is not as though L is assigning me too much work. The problem is me – I love to play numerous pieces. The problem is that I am not mastering any of them. So, I encouraged L to be more assertive about coming to the next lesson prepared to show off at least two pieces of music. I need that cloud hanging over my head – it will help me in two ways:

1.    Prioritize practicing.
2.    Give a sense of accountability.
Note 3: Shifting. Shifting continues to be a weakness. I do not mind the shifting book we work out of – but I need a simpler way to work on shifting. So, I asked L about this and I am going to work on shifting via simple one octave scales per string and then two octave scales over two strings. I like scales for a few reasons:

1.    It is easier to focus on technique and pitch because you know what the scale sounds like.

2.    Since scales are often part of a warm-up routine, you can achieve two things – warm-up and work on weaknesses.

That’s it for now. I will try to be more intentional about cello blogging. Thanks for your patience.

Cello Lesson Recap (from 2/13)

Posted in cello on February 22, 2009 by cellomuser

“L” and I had a lesson back on 2/13. It was our first lesson since mid-November of 2008. After the holidays, my practice routine stopped – not completely – but enough to where I felt I was not making improvements.

I often try to find analogies to explain what learning and playing the cello is like. The most recent one that came to mind is how a computer operates. A computer is comprised of hardware, an operating system and software applications. When we click on an icon or instruct the computer to do something, it often appears that the computer quickly performs what we told it to do.

However, anyone with a computer or information technology background knows that how a computer operates is not as simple as clicking a button. A computer is executing thousands of instruction per seconds – continuously monitoring for inputs and delivering on its output commitments.

Playing the cello is not that much different. Even though you do not have to do thousand of things – what seems like all at the same time – there is the concept of constant checking of things you need to be doing while you are playing.

1.    Am I holding my bow the right way?
2.    Is my bow positioned correctly?
3.    Am I applying enough pressure to the string with the bow?
4.    Am I tense?
5.    Is my left hand curved?
6.    Is my tone OK?
7.    and the list goes on
8.    and on
9.    and on…

This cyclical mental checklist should not be considered a bad thing – it is a reality.

Up until 2/13 – I apparently was under the impression that I did not have to apply to much pressure to the strings with the bow. I know I have been told to do so – but for whatever reason(s) – I have not been doing so. So, that is something I am working on in the two weeks between lessons.

A few other notes from my lesson:

1.    More shifting exercises; primarily focused on 4th position.
2.    Shape of my left hand, ensuring my thumb is not too tense and that I do not apply too much pressure to the neck of the cello.

“L” recommended that we start playing more together as part of our lesson. We are starting with the book titled “Chamber Music for Two String Instruments” (Book 2) by Samuel Applebaum. L’s book probably dates back to when she was in 5th or 6th grade. The pieces are primarily different types of dances and are not overly difficult. I think I have mentioned to both L and on the blog before that I enjoy playing with another person – so I am glad she is willing to incorporate this as part of her teaching me.

That is it for now – I am off to go practice for an hour or so.