How Much Practice?

Is it better to be one of those people who is able to practice 8 hours everyday? How much practice is enough practice? As many of us teachers say, it is often more about quality not quantity. For those who practice a ton of hours every day, it isn’t continuous, and you can often find a lot of these precious minutes going to waste from “auto-pilot”. This great article from the Bulletproof Musician explains in more detail about having a different perspective about practicing. It isn’t just endless repetition, but rather every note is being purposefully thought out and played. It isn’t about ripping through beginning to end of a piece, but isolating sections and getting them to be just right. Learning to focus and concentrate for short bursts of time will be more productive than endless hours of repetition. (It is difficult trying to get an Asian mom to understand this~they want 100+ times and perfect every time~but that is another article)

Try giving yourself a limit. Reachable goals in short spans of time. (like 10 minutes- 30 minutes) Then move on. I think with that kind of specific playing and limitation concentration will make one focus better and moving on will keep you from getting stuck on any one passage. Go read this article! It has great insight!

Scales-Do a deer…

Scales are part of the basics for almost any musical instrument. However, you will often get groans and cries of “This is so boring!” I always tell my students, ” If you can play scales well, you can play almost any note there is in a piece of music.” Scales are any series of notes in ascending or descending order. Sometimes it can contain both ascending and descending parts. There are many different types of scales but the one that I mainly teach is the Heptatonic (7-note scale). A point of reference might be from the movie “Sound of Music” where Maria teaches the kids to sing a scale using the syllables “do-re-mi”. Feel free to look up more info on scales if you really want to dive into the mechanics, history, and the different types of scales!

I used to teach scales just starting with one octave. However, with one recent little student, without telling her position numbers or anything, I just directed her to use her ear to match my notes and I taught her a G Major 2 octave scale no problem. C Major is easy to teach right away using 2 octaves. I hold off teaching scales with extensions until my student is fairly consistent in closed hand positions. (aka no stretching). If a student is fairly comfortable playing in closed position I would start with half position notes (extension backwards)  to expand the list of scales. Playing along with students teaches them to use their ears while learning scales honing their abilities to listen and match good intonation. Scales don’t have to be a boring chore. You can set goals for speed, or intonation, or create other challenges for students. I recently joined in a piano scale challenge. While piano is not my main instrument, learning the scales really helps a lot with dexterity, feel, and knowledge of geography of the keyboard. (The prize is VIP seating at a movie night with snacks! That inspires me!)

For my own studies I run through all my 2 octave major and minor scales in a circle of fifths format. I like running through them in that format because it maintains the relationships between the different scales. While cellists should learn all 4 octaves, I find running through the 2 octaves daily helps to loosen up my fingers and is practical especially if you are running short on time. There is no shortage of scale studies books, but the two that I use regularly for my own practice and for teaching are Julius Klengel Techinical Studies and Mark Yampolsky Violoncello Technique . Klengel is great for basics on scales and arpeggios presented in a concise and simple format. Yampolsky is for those who are ready to dive into more in depth study. It explores arpeggios, double stops, chords, as well as bowing and rhythmic variations to name a few. You will really know your scales after plowing through this book!

So when was the last time you explored your scales? How many octaves do you feel comfortable playing?

Chairs

Probably one of the most important things a cello player has to think about is what to sit on while playing. Usually you don’t have a choice and have to take what is available. The best you can hope for is something that does not wobble and has no “arms” to get in the way. (So sadly that comfy lazy boy chair will not work.) It is usually the hardest to fit the young cellists, because they are constantly growing and some children begin when they are quite small. I have found that the IKEA Mammut chairs are a great starter for small children. As they get taller you can add some foam layers to make it taller. I have seen there are fancy chairs specific for musicians that can change height, but I do not know that is really necessary. I would test out a lot of chairs to see which one feels the best.

Ideally you do not want your legs to bend past 90 degrees when you are sitting down on the chair. The feet should be flat and firm on the floor and encourage the student to sit towards the edge of the chair to help with good posture. Try to avoid chairs that have a downward slope towards the middle or the back because this can often cause back aches and have the balance shifted in the wrong direction. You should be able to stand up easily from a sitting position on the chair. (no wiggling!)

Benches can be a great option because this would also keep a player from leaning back into the chair. Players often find piano benches a great fit because they are cushioned, often adjustable, and flat. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have access to one that is adjustable and not susceptible to loud creaks.

I am lucky to have a Wenger chair to sit on which is commonly used in a lot of schools. However, for years I just used a simple folding chair with padding from Target and I would add a cushion to give it some height. Many people I know just use chairs with flat seats from IKEA, or simple dining room chairs.

At the end of the day you have to find a chair that fits you and your cello the best. You do want to try to recreate the same feeling every time you sit down to play your cello. However, unless you carry around your own chair everywhere, you have to be prepared to sit on just about anything.