Final Stempie Post



With some trepidation for the safety of the cello making a cross country trip,  I decided to continue the chain of goodness that Shirley started with me by gifting me Stempie back in June of 2009.   Stempie arrived safely in Oregon, and thanks to the people at David Kerr vioilns, both cellist and cello are looking great.  I hope to hear and see more good things from Stempie, since I know he’s in good hands.

Picture used with permission.

SW with cello

Stempie’s New Owner, Sara Whatley of OR

So, this happened


Picture of my hand

I was reaching into my basket to get some scissors when my LH 3 chanced upon my five blade razor, facing up. It took about an hour to stop the bleeding, and after that it’s been too tender to play with, although I’m going to try again with the band-aid on it.

Why do I encounter such mishaps.  ADHD plays a role, sure.  But, would a real cellist take such a risk with his or her hands?  On the bright side, there is time to type this blog, and I’ll be doing some stuff with open strings this week, and maybe a few position pieces where I can possibly work around not having to use 3.   It might even force me to be creative about devising alternate fingerings.  I’d never really put thought into how fingerings worked.before, just assuming that so long as the fingerings I was given worked, I’d just use them.

Did you ever have an injury situation to work around?  How did you approach it?  And for those of you who make open strings practice part of routine, what do you typically work on?

[update; teacher suggested extended position exercises.  Good thinking!]

Anyway, I expect all will be playable by mid to end of week.  Just a bit discouraged though.

PSA – be careful with those hands, people.

Lesson update – when we’re 95% there for 4 weeks in a row


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Basically, got the “get out of my own head’ lecture – left hand is in good shape for my etudes – just need to relax and use slighter wrist motions.  Just enjoy the right arm and focus on what it’s doing.

Stop doing entire playthroughs – play the scale transitions with the measure after, then stop.  Jump to the next set and its next measure, then stop.

Start thinking about phrasing, so things aren’t boring.  Still, I’m amazed at how much juice we squeezed out of #12.

For #13, phrase to emphasize the top and bottom of each run, and solfege them.  Make sure to de-emphasize slightly the notes leading up.

May Time

Make sure the notes marked for three beats actually get them.  I also need to make it more dance like and less lurching.  He asked me to walk around the room to the beat of the music, which certainly made me think of the music in a different bodily way.   It was hard!

Beat Subdivision


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I’m starting at the very slowest metronome setting and trying to practice subdividing a beat into 4 equal parts.  What I’m finding is that when I try the 1-e-&-a subdivision, I’m still rushing the first half of the beat.

Also, on A melodic minor, having trouble confidently reaching fifth position with 1. It’s something i used to do naturally, so I suspect it will come back.  But I need to practice until I can’t miss it.

Holy bleep, it’s been 5 weeks, or Playing the game of Metronome

Has it really been 5 weeks?  The summer is just flying by.  One highlight of July is that I recently got to visit  Andy Fein in St. Paul, who let me play his top of the line cello. Just to have a chance to experience what the next level might sound like was quite motivating.  I lack the words to describe the buttery sound that cello made, and I’m sure I didn’t come close to getting all I could out of it.    I had bought a bow from Andy some time ago, which I am still using, and really enjoyed meeting him in person.

Anyway, this is beginning to sound like a free ad, so I’ll shut up, but I am grateful to him for showing me his studio and trusting me with his instruments.


Returning to PA :

Lately, I’ve been working on the following pieces

  • Schroeder, etudes #12 ( Lee op 70 No 4) #13 (Lee Op 70, #5).
  • Mozart, May Time – working my way back through Book 2
  • Scales – Susan Brown scale book. C major and A Melodic minor.   The latter was more ‘shifty’ than I remembered it pre-accident.

I’m amazed at how much mileage my teacher helps me squeeze out of each etude – even when I think I’m done with it, I see there is far more.   Lately, the name of the game has been metronome. When I can keep tempo, I notch it up and try again.  When I fail, I drop it down two.   My range on #12 is supposed to be 69-84, and now I can handle 76.  one thing we’re doing is marking the beginning of every beat of the music in tricky passages (tricky sometimes means ‘easy’ – where I stop paying attention because the section is very scale-y).   This helps me know, in the absence of a teacher, if I’m hitting the beat on each click.

Continuing to review

I am working on double checking my intonation on scales,using a tuner to see if I can spot the trends where I go off.  I also am practicing without the tuner and really working on trying to audiate as much of the scale as I can.

To this end, using a mirror or iPad camera to keep an eye on my left hand – watching for microcrawls, unneeded finger shifts, keeping 4 near position when I extend back for Bb or Eb.

Other than that, quiet summer.  Outside of cello, have begun looking seriously into kayaking as a hobby.

Second Position

Being in tune within second position is giving me fits. Mostly because my pinky goes awol and then I can’t get 4 right.  I could just sit and focus on this all week and not do anything else.  I played my Whales song with a tuner today, and I start off well, but even without shifting again, I am drifting out of tune.  This  is the number one most immediate problem to solve.   The first problem is, when do I start seeing problems.  And then zoom in on it.

So, Today I put the bow down and just worked my left hand.  I also listened to C and G octaves over and over.  I’m going away for the weekend to have a break from this circus I call my life, and we’ll see what we sound like when I return.

But Nancy is right. I have the right to complain my ass off because I know I’m never going to quit, and what sounds like complaining on the surface is really just an attempt to identify so that focus on development areas.   I have always taken the long view; that I am studying cello so that I can always have something to do in retirement (as well as today) and somebody with whom to socialize around music.

Growth Opportunities (translation: serious butthurt)

I practiced many hours this week, but apparently not in a way that was helpful.When it came time to perform today, I really had things messed up.  Here is a list of problems and possible solutions we came to.   Finally, I’ll end with some good news.

Big news is that I am using a new cello now – an Eastman 205.  Very warm sound, but still bright enough.

First, the bad news

  • Whale Song: Mooney – Position Pieces: Hand drifting south on subsequent shifts to second position.  Keep left hand position constant.  Try to keep fingers actually in place on momentary crossings where I have to return.
    • Instead of playing the music as written, when there is an opportunity to test against an open string, play that double stop instead.
    • Take up the harp – all pizzicato on open strings.
    • Use the mirror to watch my left hand.  I bought a mirror, but having trouble installing it because I think there’s concrete behind these panels.  Might just get a free-standing mirror as Nancy recommended.
  • Schroeder – # 12
    • Still rushing the beat
      • Need more practice splitting the beat – used kinesthetic technique of beating hand against both leg and hand to create eighth notes out of a quarter
      • Slow down
      • Quit Playing Cello
    • I think the piece is actually in good shape, despite the rhythm problems, which we will work on.
  • Scales
    • Play more legato – instead of playing true quarters, I was playing dotted eighths, followed by a rest
    • Start mid bow for now
    • Consider starting at 16ths, and working my way back to wholes rather than the other way around. I forgot why we said to do this.
  • Arpeggio Studies – Susan Brown, 2 Octave Scales
    • I couldn’t remember the notes, with the exception of the major arpeggio
    • After playing C major scale, I’m supposed to do these arpeggios in this order. Note each changes by only one note.
    • I couldn’t do a single one right, except C major, which I have a good feeling for.
      • C minor (C-Eb-G)
      • C major (C-E-G)
      • A minor (C-E-A)
      • F major (C-F-A)
      • F minor (C-F-Ab)
    • Make sure I can do this without memorizing (and thus avoiding looking at the music).
    • The stand light is my friend.
  • Still debating whether to do my shifting practice with or without tape markings.  I’d prefer to avoid them, but a second position tape marker might save me some time in learning the tactile distance.  I think though, it creates too much temptation to avoid solving problems.
  • Orchestra Performance
    • Know a piece well enough to look up at the conductor while playing and return and not get lost.  Include this in my practice, next time I’m in New Strings Ensemble.

The Good News

  • Teacher is optimistic we can make a great deal of progress in a year, once we fix up these foundational issues.
  • My feelings aren’t really hurt, despite the title.  I took up cello to both learn the cello and learn basic music skills and theory.  I’m learning them now.  The amount of detail we covered was impressive.
  • I now have one performance under my belt!  I can now say I’ve performed and carried my weight.  Those who followed my blog know I once sat in my son’s orchestra for a summer. That doesn’t count.
  • Half position shift while keeping 4 in place was in good shape.

How not to make a recording

Today was the cello day from hell.

I often ask myself- why do I not keep my promise to put recordings up here?  Partially because I hate how I sound, and I make a recording session into a multi-hour ordeal, wasting my time colossally and possibly repeating mistakes.

I know all the nice cello things to say about process when somebody is frustrated.  They didn’t help me much, largely because I was guilty of the “4th graders can do it better” conundrum.

What I actually need to do, while i am in the process of getting things right and learning the notes, is to record like I practice – get small sections down, do exercise creation and record those as well.  Each gets its own little snippet.  Also, set a limit for the number of takes you will tolerate before giving up.  Never do more than 5.

Here’s what I learned from recording the Minuet #1 from Suzuki Book 2

1. The shift to second position also involves a string change.  So, left and right really need to be coordinated.

2. Focus on the notes, not the fingers. I know what it should sound like.   If I think only of the fingers, I may go to the wrong string.

3. Articulate the first measure- all three notes.  Same in third.

4. Pay attention to phrasing, but that comes after I feel that my fingers know where the notes are.  There I can pay attention to the four bar phrases. I’d like to know more about how understanding the structure of the piece helps me play better.

5. Do not take first position for granted.  Keep a handshape, and stay consistent with it.

6. Slow down and listen.  Don’t just get through it.   Nobody can hear on a recording that you “nailed that shift” – they just want the piece to sound good.

This is just a first attempt – parts are good, and parts are really g-d awful. But we’ll chronicle the progress.


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