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.
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)
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!!