Archive for the cello Category

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.

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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… 🙂

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.

Measure 10: Practice Havens

Posted in cello, favorite practice location on July 31, 2007 by cellomuser

I have come to the conclusion that I do not like the room in our house that I practice in. It is the same room that my server, several laptops, the printers, and our telephony base station reside in. It is distracting. I would not mind practicing down in our family room, but it is really an extension of the kitchen – which is my wife’s haven and the central hub of our home – especially when our son and his friends are running in and out. Next logical choice is our basement- but it is cold down there and I would probably have to re-tune the strings anytime I took the cello out of the basement.

My favorite practice locations have been the music school on campus that my lessons are at. I like to get there about 45 minutes before my lesson and have a room all to myself. The sound bounces off walls and actually makes my tone sound better then what it really is.

Anyone have any practice location tips or oddities they want to share?

Measure 8: J.S. Bach

Posted in Bach, cellist, cello, suites on July 18, 2007 by cellomuser

This past Tuesday evening I meandered on into my cello lesson to find my cello instructor “playing around” with Bach’s Cello Suites. “Playing around” for her is where I would like to be maybe 7-10 years from now. Anyway…

So our lesson started with a very intriguing discussion about Bach, some history, and the Cello Suite music itself. I am not well versed in music history – but I love history – so it was well worth the entire 30 minutes we spent talking about Bach along with my instructor performing pieces and parts of the various suites for me.

Probably one of the more interesting tidbits of info she passed on was that there are no original autograph manuscripts of the Cello Suites. The Cello Suites as we know them today are compilations of editions from six other sources as well as some hand-written sources from Bach’s second wife. Don’t worry – this is all up on the Wikipedia link as well. There is also a theory from an academic somewhere that Bach’s wife may have composed the suite.

We spent the last 15 minutes of the lesson playing a Dotzauer duet exercise and performing some bowing / tone exercises.

Finally, I pre-paid my instructor for my final three classes that I will have with her- plus a tip for all the great lessons we have had since April of 2007. She is / was my first cello instructor – sounds humorous. Anyway, my final request of her was to recommend some other cello instructors there at Ohio State or here in the Columbus, OH area that are willing to work with adults and continue what she has started with me.

Given my military background and constantly seeing people come and go – I never get emotionally attached to people – outside of less then five folks that I consider my best friends. However, I am sad to see my instructor go off to Florida to graduate school. Given her success thus far, I do anticipate hearing her name in coming years as she establishes her credibility as a professional cellist.

Measure 3: Finding Something Positive, Even During a Storm

Posted in cello, storm, train wreck, worthwhile on July 5, 2007 by cellomuser

This afternoon I went on my third run for the week. At this time of the year in central Ohio, pop-up storms are somewhat ordinary. As someone that likes to run and still has a Marine mentality in terms of doing things that most people would not think of – running in the rain is no big deal. However, I am not a fool – so I will usually check weather.com to see if there will be hail or lots of lightening. Luckily, today there was no hail or lightening – so off I went. It did not start raining until about 1.5 miles – a nice casual rain – hard enough to cool me off, but not hard enough to feel uncomfortable (whipping wind / rain, road streams, etc..). Then at about the 1.75 mile mark, I saw nothing but a wall of white. This was a fairly fast moving storm with gusts of 25-30 MPH, so I decided to keep on going hoping it would blow by before I got to it.

Well, the white wall of rain decided to stick around and I ran .25 miles in the worst rain band I have ever been exposed to directly (with the exception of two hurricanes I have been through). It seemed like the longest quarter mile. However, somewhere in between the wind gusts, lots of rain, wiping water from my eyes, and looking to make sure no cars were going to run over me, I could hear my feet splashing the water while coming in contact with the pavement. Now this was no great sound by any means, but it was consistent, a steady rhythm, and comforting to have something to focus on amidst a lot of other distractions.

This whole experience reminded me of my cello practices and sometimes even my lessons. There are some days where it sounds like a train wreck – but yet there is usually something that I hear or feel that makes it worthwhile.

Measure 2: My Tools

Posted in cello, Dotzauer, Finale, OSU, Suzuki on July 3, 2007 by cellomuser

My journey into the world of cellos started out sort of rough. I was referred to a local violin shop called “The Loft Violin Shop” here in Columbus,OH regarding cello rentals. There were some really nice folks that took the time to give me a tour of the cello and get one in my hands before I went out the door. They also referred me to who would be my first and current instructor who just graduated The Ohio State University – School of Music; (where I currently attend the Fisher College of Business).

While waiting for lessons to start, I managed to break the A string by over tightening it (us Marines are use to printed instructions on the tools and weapons we are given). I also purchased a beginner’s book called “The ABC’s of Cello – Book 1” by Janice Rhoda. At this point, I had no clue about playing other then I knew if I tightened the bow up and attempted to create friction between the bow and the cello strings – some sounds would be emitted. I wish I would have recorded them because they would make great effects for train wrecks or crashes. Anyways, I had my first lesson and that is when I went from clueless to clueless-but-enlightened.

My instructor was obviously not turned on by my first book. She immediately recommended Dotzauer Method 1 (Dot for short in this post). Now Dot can be very intimidating for someone who is beginning the cello and not read music in like 21 years. However, I have to admit that the Dot book has been very good for me. Even though I am only on exercise 40, the exercises are awesome – especially the fingering exercises. As my instructor has pointed out to me, some of the terminology in the Dot is somewhat outdated and to master every exercise would take hours of practice per day (a luxury I do not have).

About three months into my lessons (one school quarter), my instructor had me get the first two books in the Suzuki series. I do not know if this was because I was not progressing fast enough or because I needed some balance. Regardless, a few weeks into the Suzuki book I am on the Rigadoon piece and hoping to move beyond it this evening.

I usually get between 30-90 minutes per practice session. I try to warm up by doing non-book exercises, some scales, some book exercises, and then some actual pieces in either the Dot or Suzuki books.

My cello is a typical beginner rental cello – Sam Shen (SC 150), a cheap – yet effective bow, and a carrying bag (resin, dust cloth). I spent a few bucks on a tuner because my ear for pitch is better then my playing abilities at this point. Finally, I have a MacBook Pro with Finale 2007 on it to enter some of the Dot exercises into it so I can play some of the pieces that have an accompanying score. Oh, I also have a keyboard (Casio Wk-1300) that a friend loaned to me so I can play some of the songs without Finale.

At some point I will connect the keyboard to Finale. For the time being, I am more focused on getting the right tone out of the cello and nailing down my fingerings. While I have realistic expectations on what my goal state cello expertise will be, I think I have unrealistic expectations on how fast I should be progressing. So I am currently struggling with focusing on the basics vs. getting to goal state faster.