The Terrible Twos (1563 Hours) – Video Update.


It’s hard to believe that this month marks TWO YEARS of playing the cello, and yet somehow the more I play, the more I feel like a beginner. Perhaps that is why I haven’t been able to post much of anything useful lately, because I am starting to get to the point where I realize the extent of how much I don’t yet know! During the last few months of my lapse in posting, I have been working hard on some fairly technical pieces: Two movements from the first Bach cello suite, Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste, Saint-Saen’s The Swan, and Faure’s Bercuese Op 16. I have also been drafting a few somewhat technical posts that I’ve been trying to condense into their most digestible and useful elements regarding the known science on bow technique and the mechanics of string vibration on the cello – this one will take a while longer to complete because the physics is heady stuff indeed. I also have another post in the works where I’m attempting to refine the essence of what I’ve learned over the last two years with my four stringed companion into a list of practice focal points, so look for a post in the next week or so on that topic.

As for now, after reviewing my blog and deciding what needed the most attention I noticed how shamefully anemic the video section has become. This is mostly because I am loathe to post anything before I feel like it’s spent a sufficient amount of time in the oven. The pieces I am currently working on will likely take years to become proficient at playing, but after a few months of living under that shadow, I realized that my perfectionism was undermining the point of this blog: which was supposed to be a transparent investigation of the process of learning cello as an adult. As a compromise, I resolved to post a progress report video of the “easiest” piece that I am working on at the moment, the Bach Cello Suite Minuets I & II. Just trying to play through the repeats of this 4+ minute song with a blinking red record button is an taxing exercise in focusing, so I am beginning to see why the strain of recording an entire Suite would be a true mental and physical endurance test. However, what is probably one of the more frustrating aspects of recording is knowing how much better you can sound when you are relaxed and no is listening! Yet, as an aspiring performer there is no escaping that facet of musicianship. I have spent enough time as a musical hermit, and I have resolved that I will share what ever I can as freely as I am able.

Please feel free to share any comments, insights or tips. My ego isn’t nearly as important to me as learning new things!

Bach Cello Suite no 1, Minuets 1 & 2:


11 thoughts on “The Terrible Twos (1563 Hours) – Video Update.

  1. MJ says:

    Very nice playing on the Bach minuets 1&2! I have been learning cello nearly as long as you and am just working on those myself.

    Very good intonation, very good rhythm and tempo, very good bow angle, speed, etc. The things a listener might take for granted, but that I know take work to make habit.

    I am right there with you as far as wanting to relax more, and then playing up to my “nobody’s watching” ability. Hopefully that comes with the confidence of improved technique and familiarity with the piece(s). I’m speaking for myself here.

    I have a tendency to let my left hand “scrunch” together in between playing the notes, and if I may, it looked to me that other than your envy-inducing nice long pinky, perhaps you do as well? I couldn’t really tell, and it may be moot as you were certainly playing in tune. I mention it only as a possible source of tension. Please ignore if it’s not an issue for you, of course.

    The only other observation I would make is, are you breathing between phrases? I know…there is so much to think about already. For myself, I pencil a “comma” above the staff in places where I want to remember to breathe. Sometimes I sing the piece to determine where a natural breath would be.

    Really, really nice playing, and bravo to you for recording yourself (which I know from experience is nerve-wracking, and in my case, humbling) and especially for sharing the video and your journey. Bravo! Well done. Thank you.

    • Thank you MJ for your kind words and gentle insight. You’re right on the money, because my teacher’s priority after reviewing this piece was on inserting “breaths” to emphasize the phrasing. Remembering to actually breathe is just as important, because I tend to forget about the need for oxygen when focusing this intently. This of course adds to the tension as my muscles get even stiffer from a lack of O2. You have a very good eye and a good ear. Congratulations on making it to the Bach suites, BTW! Please let me know how your progress with it is going. I would love to hear any insights you might have on practicing them.

      • MJ says:

        Although I do read music and work with my teacher on tricky aspects of my community orchestra pieces, I am on the minuets in Suzuki book 4, not quite ready for the suites just yet. So I don’t want to come across as a (faux) expert by any means. I only mentioned breaths for you because, you were playing so well that I was wishing that you could enjoy it more. For myself, I find that the breathing helps me relax a little. I was recently at a meet-up chamber music group and there was a professional cellist there also (talk about feeling intimidated!). I was surprised when she took in a HUGE breath at the beginning of each phrase. I think that chamber groups do this as a sort of downbeat signal, plus of course it help with phrasing. But I certainly acknowledge that the flashing red light can make us forget to breathe! I am holding your performance in my mind as the standard to which I aspire. Thank you again for your bravery and hard work in posting! Looking forward to what comes next.

        • psoucy says:

          Funny, cause two weeks ago, I went to a Stephane Tetreault performance (also to see and hear his $tradivarius cello) and while the concert hall was very small and intimate, we could clearly hear Stephane taking deep breaths from the balcony before each phrase. He was playing duo with a piano. Speaking of Tetreault, I really love this recording by him and Capucon of a Shostakovich Prelude:

  2. psoucy says:

    Glad to see you post again, you are one of my inspirations 🙂 Great playing and recording, not easy to perform 4 minutes, so easy to want to stop and start over when a passage does not sound as good as your best. Hope to play that well in.. well some 1400 hours of practice.

    Pascal (150 hours)

    • Thank you psoucy! It has been quite a bit of work just to get it to this stage in the process. When I first started playing cello, I basically had a “tin ear” and two left hands, so anything you see on this blog is well within the realm of possibility for anyone with an excess of free time and passion for practice.

  3. Stephen Chalmers says:

    This piece will improve if you memorise

  4. Martha Doran says:

    Do you have any videos posted for us to learn from?
    Just curious.

  5. I think you’re right that deeper familiarity can help both expression and tone. Once we get the formalities and introductions out of the way, it becomes more like a pair of well worn shoes or a soft old t shirt, almost like a second skin. We can move about inside them more freely without chafing against the rough edges.

    It’s been almost a year since I posted this, and while I haven’t practiced it regularly, I suspect I could play it a bit better now. Maybe I’ll post a progress video in a month or so to show the differences?

    Right now I am working on the Allemande, which is my 4th movement of the 1st suite. My goal is to learn the whole first suite by the end of 2015. Once I have them all, I might try to perform them all at once to test my stamina 😉

    • Stephen says:

      Hi folks
      I was not meaning to be harsh. I love to see a budding cellist😇. I thought the post was put up for honest, helpfull opinion. In my view internalising a piece is a wonderful help.
      I myself am working on the same pieces over here in New Zealand and you definitly play them better than me!
      Ps I play a 3/4 German cello because it feels more cosy. Any one else do that?
      Cheers Stephen.

      • Thank you Stephen, yes all comments are welcome here. I am looking to improve, and all insights are appreciated regardless of current skill level. Many of the people I play for are not even musicians and they certainly have provided some extremely useful feedback. If you would like to play a piece and post it, I would be glad to help in any way I can as well. Btw, my teacher plays a ~7/8 custom cello, and she sounds amazing on it.

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