Interdependence (1315 Hours)


Sifting through the detritus of 2013 and the wisdom imparted by successes and failures of the prior year, the month of January is usually one of reflection and sober optimism for growth, advancement, and in some cases healing.   In my case, this reflection took nearly the entire month of January, and finally resulted in a list of “cello resolutions” for 2014.  What took so long?  Well, my initial lists were bogged down with details and nuances that would have resulted in unfocused and unproductive practice sessions.  So in an effort to refine the focus of my studies, I narrowed it down to a scant 10 technical skills and 6 musicianship skills.   I tried to make it shorter, but alas, my ambition has once again outstripped common sense wisdom.  To simplify the situation, I decided to write out a short definition for each of these skills so they could be organized by shared characteristics for more efficient practice.   Perhaps not surprisingly, the definitions revealed how interdependent these skills are, so that a deficiency in one would lead to a limitation in another.   Likewise, improving in one area should create new possibilities in mastering other skill sets!   The skills are listed below along with the set of related technical & musicianship skills listed by number/letter in parentheses (). 

I have printed this list and put in the cover of my cello workbook, so I can review it before each practice session in order to plan my goals for that day.

Technical Skills:

1) Double Stops & Chords – Playing two notes simultaneously with good tone quality,intonation, and relaxation (2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9)
2) String Crossing – Switching between two strings while maintaining the contact point, tone quality, left hand position, and rhythm (4, 7, 9)
3) Finger Spacing – The ability of the left hand to feel the position of the notes before they are played (4, 6, 8)
4) Intonation/Relative Pitch  – The ability of the ear to anticipate the pitch of the notes before they are played (A, F)
5) Playing Faster – Increasing the tempo without sacrificing rhythm, tone quality, or musicality (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, F)
6) Relaxation – The ability to recognize sources of tension and then release it quickly, fully, and dynamically (A)
7) Rhythm, Counting & Timing – Giving notes their proper length according to the tempo and pulse (2, 6, 8, F)
8) Shifting – the ability of the entire body (mostly left arm) to feel the position of the notes and the distance between them along the string  (4, 6, A)
9) Tonalization – Manipulating the friction of the bow on the string via speed, pressure, and contact point to produce a sound as distinct as a human voice (4, 6, 7, A)
10) Vibrato – wavering the pitch of the note by relaxing the left hand as much as possible (3, 4, 6, 7, 8)

Musicianship Skills:

A) Confidence/Game Face – Believing in the ability to rise to a challenge, releasing mistakes quickly, focusing on the task at hand.  Keeping a poker face in the instance of performance mishaps.
B) Ensembles – Playing with other musicians while maintaining proper timing, intonation, tonalization, and dynamics (4, 7, 9)
C) Performance – Sharing current progress with an audience either live or via YouTube, once per month (A)
D) Analyze Music Theory of Bach’s Suites – Using knowledge of music theory & “musical geometry” to gain a deeper understanding of Bach’s genius and insight into how to play the Suites
E) Perform two movements of Suite no 1 – Learn the Minuets I&II and the Prelude from the first Suite with enough proficiency for competent performance (A)
F) Sight Reading – Being able to accurately render notes, in proper time, pitch, articulation, etc by reading faster than a given tempo. (4, 7)

I’ll be starting in a quartet in mid April, I’m currently working on the Bach Minuets I & II from suite no.1, and I will be posting a video in the next week or so from the end of Suzuki Book 4 (most likely Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste).  So I am well on my way to achieving my musicianship goals for 2014!  The technique goals are ongoing, and I’m sure I’ll be refining that list continually as the year goes on and my understanding of the fundamentals deepens.  

To all of my fellow musicians (and anyone who is trying to learn something new!) I wish you great success in the coming year!!



7 thoughts on “Interdependence (1315 Hours)

  1. GeminiCello says:

    AWESOME! All your goals are something that I want to eventually achieve in my own playing! 🙂

    Just wanted to share some tips on Goal-setting. 🙂
    There are a lot of Goal-setting acronyms out there, but I like using SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely. I worked for two companies who happened to use SMART and both companies sent me to workshops to learn about it so I could use it in my managerial positions.

    The most important is having goals that are Measurable. I discovered it’s “importance” when one of the companies I worked for set up Bonuses based on completing our quarterly goals. No bonuses for me if I created goals that were not measurable so I could prove that my team or I completed them! 😉

    Anyway, it may be helpful to make your goals more measurable? Just food for thought…

    Take for example Technical Skill 1. You may want to think about in what context is playing double stops important to you?
    I’m sure you can already play two notes simultaneously with good tone, quality, intonation and relaxedness since you’re a better player than I am! And yes, I can tell just by watching your video! =p. But I’m sure it would be more satisfying to play great double stops in a Bach piece as opposed to playing double stops by themselves during a practice session right?
    Also, if you play double stops with your goals in mind, how do you know if you’ve improved if you can’t make comparisons of your progress? Improvement is all relative anyway right?
    So having more than one data point for comparison is important. Find an “easier” piece with double stops and a more “difficult” piece with double stops. Or find an exercise method for Double Stops (like Rick Mooney’s) so you can track your progress.

    Another example of being more specific is Musicianship Skills A. How do you know you kept your “p-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face” during a performance mishap? 😉
    I know when I mess up I feel like it was the BIGGEST, most OBVIOUS mistake and am certain everyone noticed, but then am surprised later to discover that NO ONE noticed! How do you plan on being objective when your emotions and feelings are telling you something different? Also, do you have a way of practicing for performance mishaps?
    Perhaps setting the goal of making ‘X’ amount of videos and rating them with regards to whether you kept your poker face?
    Or put yourself in situations where you’re more nervous and prone to mistakes. Perform in front of friends and families, or have them try to distract you or something. Then rate yourself, did you keep your “p-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face”? 😉

    I think knowing HOW you plan on achieving your goals is more important than knowing what you want in the end, so being more specific will help you more.

    Sorry long message! I really want to see you do well because it’s inspires me to see other beginning adult cellists do well, and I like the fact that I feel like I have to keep up with you so I don’t slack off!!! LOL! 🙂 Btw, looking forward to you Bach Minuet!!! 🙂

    • This is truly excellent advice, thank you so much for bringing it up! Measuring progress on subjective artistic endeavors can be tricky, but I agree that every possible objective measure should used because without useful feedback, its hard to know whether you are making progress or even doing anything differently at all.

      I had originally wanted to make the goals explicitly measurable in this post (such as being able to shift accurately to within 5 cents of a note from first position to 8th position, in 19 out of 20 attempts, or for double stops: being able to identify all harmonic intervals within an octave by hearing them played simultaneously, and memorizing the frequency of the beats between consonant intervals) however, when I listed everything out, my goals list was several dozen items long. So I decided it might be more efficient, in the scope of a single blog post, to instead focus on a principles based list (like a mission statement), and then use that list to create exercises to reach a series of shorter term goals (say within a month) that were specific to the pieces I will be working on. This is pretty much the method for mapping my practice sessions that I used in 2013, though 2014 is shaping up to be a little more rigorous. I have already been scouting ahead to Suzuki Books 5 and 6 (because my teacher wants to skip over most if not all of book 5) so I can start mapping out these short term goals.

      I had planned to post the most useful exercises and the target goals for each one in future posts on practice that would accompany each performance video update. The hope with this approach is that the posts would be more memorable and relevant, and perhaps more easily accessible by someone just scanning this blog.

      As for the poker face issue? I use a large wall mirror that helps me control my facial expressions and gestures. It has helped to keep me from my glaring things like angry-turtle-face or slack-jawed mule, and my digital recorder has stopped me from humming along with my bow motions. But now I have a new “tell” as my teacher informs me, because I have started laughing every time I make an error. Good for the soul, maybe, but I imagine it’s quite distracting for an audience.

      Don’t worry about long comments, I find your insights to be incredibly useful and inspiring as well! I share the goal of uplifting and being inspired by fellow adult students, because it definitely spurs innovations an deepens understanding. This is pretty much the entire reason why I created this blog, because I realized the benefit of reading blogs (like yours!) and I wanted to do what I could to spread and grow the knowledge base and expand the boundaries of what people felt was possible regardless of age or background.

  2. Pascal says:

    Thanks for sharing. At 39, I just started playing the cello and I’m also interested in taking a “fast track” (I don’t have an as ambitious target as yours though). Your posts are very informative and your level of commitment is inspiring!

    Pascal (34 hours – one deliberate hour of practice a day)

    • Congratulations Pascal! When I first started 21 months ago, I had the vague goal of “going as far as I could, as fast as I could get there”. The 10,000 hour goal formed after I did a bit of research on the science of learning, and discovered more about the potential plasticity of the adult brain. After I decided that I wasn’t going to rule out “mastery” as a possibly, it just kind of became the logical de facto goal. As for fast-tracking, I think the shortest distance between “here” and “success” is by forming as few bad habits as possible. The “trick” is that you have to go at pace through the material that will still allow you to develop clean technique. One of the benefits of a good teacher is that they can help you differentiate bad technique from rough technique, and how to make mistakes useful rather than feared.

      • Pascal says:

        I spent most of my time since I started making sure that I start with the proper techniques (at least, not having very bad habits that are difficult to get rid of), focusing particularly on left thumb, bow hold, seating position and getting the right pitch (playing with a “drone” or with a pitch identification application on my phone) to ensure proper finger position. I also watched hours of videos on YouTube of people playing the cello. I have a teacher, but I see her only 30 minutes a week, so I found out that watching other people play and online tutorials to be very helpful.

        • Sounds like you are off to an excellent start! I would also recommend that you grab a keyboard app and use that in lieu of a tuner as much as possible and use a tuner mostly to check the open strings and to correct yourself. Tuners are a bit too passive for efficient ear training, and a drone is good for rough intonation.

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