Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Biggest Cello Revelation of My Life

Earlier today I had a quasi-lesson with a cellist friend of mine who gave me some useful tips and thoughts on things I could do to refine my technique. While we were discussing things, it came out that he was reading this article: (http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/natural.htm) by Nicholas Anderson.

So let me interrupt myself right here and say you *need* to read this article. Yes, really you do - whether you're a professional, an absolute beginner, a teacher an advanced student, somebody with tension problems/tendinitis/carpal tunnel, or whoever you are, you need to read this.

I'm not going to tell you what the article talks about, because I don't want you to summary judge and go "oh, I don't need to read this". Instead, I'm going to tell you about the effect it had on my playing over the course of *one* day.

In the last week, I'd been practicing lots more and making some substantial technical improvement. Sunday, I went to a cello festival, which was both incredibly fun, and incredibly educational. I also went to orchestra & read the music almost the best I've ever read. Anyway, suffice to say, I played a lot sunday, played a lot yesterday and played a lot today. I was on the early stages of what becomes tendinitis and was trying to figure out where I can possibly fit in some time off (because I'm of course, behind in the music I need to learn).

So anyway, earlier today I started practicing for a few hours & reading this article, as well as trying out the method mentioned in the article. It's very clear from the article that Nicholas Anderson is a teacher - he teaches you very effectively through writing ... and that's not easy. Anyway, I'm not going to describe the actual process of going through the article, but I am going to tell you the net effect. Over the course of 3-4 hours of practice, I went from very tense playing that required a ton of energy to almost effortless, meditative playing with a complete sense of freedom and power while still retaining musical control. More specifically, I was able to play through the Haydn C 1st mov. and the Elgar 1st mov and Kol Nidrei & all sorts of other stuff, and maintain a sound and feeling I've never been able to achieve on the cello before, even with all the tons of weight and energy I put into my playing. What's more, the technical passages and all the stuff were easy ... I'm talking about the fast runs, the upper thumb positions, all that stuff ... effortless. I played in a way that I've only ever dreamed of playing. The only time I've ever come close to playing like this was in an Alexander Technique masterclass for a few seconds, and I wasn't in control of it. Tonight I was ... I was able to create the feeling of simplicity and ease, and I know I can do it again and again and that it will become a permanent part of my playing.

Everyday, I'm going to make this article and its method the focus of my cello playing/practice until it become intuitive. Right now, it requires concentration & it requires me to focus on the particular side of my body that I'm trying to improve. Over time, it will become the way I play the cello without even realizing it.

I've had various amazing teachers try to work with me on the things I managed to learn in just a few hours from this article. This was the first time I've ever really gotten them or been in control of it.

I really recommend you go print this article and work through it until you really understand and feel what it's talking about. It will make worlds of difference in your playing.

Oh, I should also add that by the end of the practice session, the signs of approaching tendinitis were all gone.


Steve said...

I haven't finished reading the article, but I definitely have experience with what you are describing. I have gone through two *major* technique reformations, just to be able to play in a relaxed way without stressing my joints. The second time I was reforming my technique was when I had just taken a long break from guitar, and I was wishing that I didn't "lose so much skill," AKA muscle memory. So I kept telling myself to just stay relaxed and play relaxed. Anytime I felt I was tensing even the slightest, I would stop and start over. From practicing that, this is now how I can not play for a few days and still be able to play mostly everything in my repertoire without struggling. I may lose a little bit of speed or endurance, but that is expected as those two things require constant maintenance at this level. This actually happened only recently, probably around the start of the summer or so.

Anonymous said...

Hey there, Mike! So glad you enjoyed the cello fest! I would also recommend the book "What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body" by Barbara Conable, which is an easily read and applicable anatomy book for musicians.
Great work! Enjoyed meeting and hearing you at the Yamaha Cello Festival - New York - Constance Barrett

Eveningprose said...

Stumbling on your blog and starting to read this entry, I knew straight away that the article you were talking about here had something to do with Margaret Rowell... I learn cello with somebody else who was a student of hers in Berkeley, and though I am no real musician and just a stumbling adult beginner, I appreciate and feel connected to the legacy that she left my teacher too. He described her as not just a teacher, but something more subtle and powerful--a healer. So it makes me happy to read how this article had a big effect on you, and and has left you feeling and playing better than ever!

Mike Lunapiena said...

Steve - yeah, it's amazing what happens when you make playing an instrument easy ... this is now becoming the foundation for my playing ... it's such a challenge, but such a great one!

Connie - thanks so much for the recommendation - I've actually got that book already & after my cello experiences in the last week or so, I've got to agree that it's the next step for me to take.

I really enjoyed meeting you to & it was a real pleasure getting to watching you teach. I learned a bit from it :)

Eveningprose - Thanks so much for stopping by! I'm looking forward to reading your blog. Margaret Rowell is really a pretty amazing person. I wish I could afford regular lessons, b/c I'd love to take lessons with a former student of hers.

Have you seen this: http://www.archive.org/stream/masterteachcellist00rowerich/masterteachcellist00rowerich_djvu.txt It's a great read and available in a ton of formats

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting :)

Daniel Levin said...

Thanks for posting this article. It is EXACTLY what I need right now.