Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bowing Backwards

Though most professionals are familiar with this concept, I have found that many students get quite far along--all the way to highly advanced levels--without being introduced to the idea of putting in bowings backwards into your sheet music.

Generally, one can proceed from the beginning of the music, putting in bowings which make sense musically and technically, as one goes along. But there are instances where it is imperative that one arrive at a particular bowing at a particular place; and it seems that, despite repeated erasures, it just can't be worked out!

In this case, the best solution is simply to put the bowing you want, where you want it. After that, work backwards, doing whatever it takes to make it turn out correctly. Will you have to do two up-bows before that desired down-bow? If it makes no musical difference, then do it! Will you have to break up a slur, or extend a slur to make the bowing come out right? Go right ahead!

The thought process here is based on prioritizing. If you feel, for example, that you need a strong down-bow on a note marked sforzando, but worry that you have to break up a bowing before that in order to come out on a down-bow, then what you are really doing is compromising. You're weighing your priorities, and saying that it would be nice not to break up the previous bowing, but it is imperative that you end up on a down bow on that strongly accented note.

Sometimes it is easy to work in reverse!

Try it, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Asked for it #1

I received this request:

"I'd be interested in your thoughts motivation and guidance for musicians who started as kids but aren't good enough to play professionally. Not all of us give up our instruments when we leave school, but being an adult amateur (and not a beginner) is a weird, tiny niche. For example: finding other musicians (especially accompanists at this level, choosing how much of the "traditional" repertoire to study, how much money to invest in a very expensive hobby. Thanks for any ideas you might have!"

This is a hard question to answer, because a lot depends on the level at which the performer plays at, and the location. So, I'll do my best!

First of all, no matter your level, I'd suggest taking lessons. If you're an intermediate player, now's your chance to move up to advanced repertoire. If you are already an advanced player, taking lessons will help you address weak areas, and polish up the good ones! I always have two or three adult amateurs in my studio, and they're great to work with, because they have a lot of drive. So get yourself a good teacher!

Next, if you are upper-intermediate or advanced, see if your local orchestra has any openings. Give them a call to see if and when they have auditions. Your teacher will help you prepare for this. The problem here, of course, is where you live. In many parts of America, at least, there might not be an orchestra for miles and miles.

If there is a college music school relatively close-by, another thing you can do is to call the department and see if there is a community division. A community division is a non-credit area of the music department, designed to serve kids and adults who do not wish or are ineligible to receive credit. You may find that there are ensembles at the school, or chamber music instructors, and even opportunities to perform!

Finally, I'd like to address the money concerns. Yes, purchasing a good instrument and bow, and taking weekly lessons or coachings can add up. But you have to remember that you're doing your hobby because it enriches you. There are hobbies out there which are FAR more expensive, so just setup a budget and do the best you can!

Keep up the good work--get a teacher, and go scout out those playing and performing opportunities!

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sock It To Me!

Hello passive readers!

I don't know if there would be an interest in this, but I would like to see if you have specific areas you'd like me to cover! Up until now, I've simply posted on whatever topic I thought might be useful. Perhaps you have some things you would like me to discuss.

Do you have a technique question? Stylistic question? What to do if you're traveling with your cello? Why is Beethoven so difficult?

Let me know by replying to this post!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Almost in Tune"

I know it is tough to face this fact, but face it you must: There is no such thing as "almost in tune," any more than "almost pregnant." You either are, or you aren't.

Break out those tuners, ladies and gentlemen! Take your time to get it REALLY in tune!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Tao of Cello, and "Nothing Bows"

From Lao Tsu, Chapter 48:

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.

I'd guess at least half of what I do to help my students with their techniques is to realize this ideal. They are so filled with muscular tension, that they're getting in their own way. I'd like to give an example of one exercise I use to help with this problem. The exercise is called the "nothing bowings."

The goal is to guide the bow across the string as physically economically as possible (dropping the tension). Start by ensuring your posture is balanced, and your muscles are relaxed. Your right hand is on your right knee, holding the bow.

Now, take a truly deep breath and pick up the bow. Begin to breathe out, without holding back, and gently bow up or down across a string. You should only do ONE bow, for about two or three seconds. Then return your hand to your right knee and rest. What should it feel like? It should feel like nothing! If you felt any tension, clicking in your tendons, or gripping, try doing the motion, but without the bow.

Take a few seconds between bows, or you'll hyperventilate. But do these bows on all strings, for about 10 minutes. After a few weeks, you'll be able to do this while varying dynamic, length of time in the bow stroke, and amount of core.

This is just one of the exercises I use in my studio to help students actually incorporate relaxation into their playing. Try it!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Black Friday!

For thousands of musicians in America, we welcome Black Friday! 'Tis the day to let everyone else go face the surging crowds of shoppers; and the time for us to enjoy a complete day of quiet reflection and practice!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Is it Illegal to Perform from a Photocopy?

We have been ingrained with the appropriately moral exhortation always to perform from an edition of the finest and most scholarly sheet music. Certainly, learning a piece from a photocopy of a poor edition is counterproductive. Yet these days, I almost exclusively use photocopies of music placed in a binder.

"Whoa. Isn't that illegal," I somehow am able to hear you asking?

The answer is no, if you do what I do.

The purpose of copyright laws is to protect the composer (and publisher) from losing money. If you composed a piece and sold 10,000 copies, only to find later that 100,000 photocopies of your work were in circulation, you'd be upset. You'd be upset for two reasons: 1) You are losing royalties, and 2) performers don't respect the idea that your work is your intellectual property.

But back to how I approach this: I do indeed buy the best possible edition of the work I wish to perform. But then, I photocopy it, punch holes in it, and put it in a binder. Why should I do this? The first reason was given to me by David Finckel. He said that over the years I might come up with many different interpretations of the same work--with different bowings, fingerings, etc. Why not keep the original "clean," and just photocopy that clean part every time I want to look at the music in a different way?

The second reason to photocopy the music, punch holes in it, and then place it in a binder is this, in one word: portability. Having all the music you need for your recitals in one binder centralizes everything, and even offers peace of mind--because you know that everything you need is in just one place.

So, photocopying sheet music which you have purchased is actually a very good idea! Just don't "share" it with others. If you do that, you're breaking the law, and also cheating the composer.