The problem with getting new orchestra music is that I tend to want to listen to the piece before I start learning it, or along with learning it, so that I have a feel for the music.  Actually so I can try to put some musicality into the learning process while I’m struggling with notes, shifts, extensions.  You know, the usual parts of celloing.   However, while I am getting the concept of the music, I am also getting the tempo.  And when that tempo is say, q=130 (Brahms “Tragic Overture), I want to play it at that tempo.  Of course, not right away!  I’d like to start at around 110.  OK, when that doesn’t work, 100.  

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work either:

This is one of the parts that just doesn’t work for me at 130,120 or even 100.  But what does help, for me, is to isolate this section, one of the “challenges” of the piece, as I have here.  Only looking at these 4 measures.  Then, once I’ve worked throught all those extentsions and shifts to make it playable for me, find my metronome and turn it on a LOW number.  NOT 100.  More like 70.  And even then I don’t play all 4 measures.  I work on the first group of 4 notes.  Then I may work on the middle group of 4, working my way to the last 4 notes before I put it all together.  Slowly.  It’s tedious, for sure, but here’s what we all know deep down:  If you can’t play it slowly, you can’t play it fast.  

That is, if you intend to play the correct notes!

Happy Celloing!

5 thoughts on “Where is that metronome?

  1. David B Teague says:

    Thanks for a great post! Thanks.

    I’m with you about listening. It helps a lot to listen several times, without the part. I can still hear the rest of the orchestra when I look at my part for Beethoven Symphony #5.

    Then I listen with the part in hand, air bowing and singing the part. Next I isolate the difficult chunks and set my practice tempo to 60. What note subdivision set to 60: half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth … depends on the level of difficulty. That will tell me what to do next. With you, I work out fingering,* which involves analysis of the musical ideas and a choice of how to address the motive in the most musical way consistent with my technique level.
    * If you are interested in a little of what “work out the fingering” means with the bass in 5ths tuning: My string length is in the neighborhood of 40+ inches. Then I have to decide whether to use fundamental Simandl 1-4 whole step, or use a pivot when 1-4 is a minor 3rd, or use a rotation (equivalent to the cello extension, when 1-4 is 2 whole steps (1 whole step 2 whole step 4). If the tempo allows, I usually try to shift instead of rotating.

  2. David B Teague says:

    I have to ask where you put this on the cello.

    On my bass, and in my head I started on the A string. (minor 3rds) 1 4, 1 4, 0 3, (major 3rd) 1 shift to 1,
    (change to D string) 1 4, same pattern and move to the G string; same pattern,
    change C string, 2 4, 14, 1 ? etc The last interval is a major 3rd, but I won’t know what to do there until I see this in context.

    On my part I will usually underscore a down shift finger number and overscore an up shift.

  3. Hi David, sort of similar structure: On A: 1 4, shift (-1) 1 4, 0 3 1, shift up to D fl 1, on D string 1 X4, shift (-1/2) 1 4, shift (-1/2) 1 4 2, shift 2 to A- 1 (on A fl), on G string 1×4, shift (-1/2) 1 4, shift (-1) 1 4, shift (-1) 1 4, on C string 1×4, shift (-1/2) 1 4, shift (-1) 1 4, shift (-1) 1×4. As you can see, it’s complicated because the shifts change, either 1/2 or 1 step, and the 1-4 is either extended or not. There is no set pattern which is why it’s so CHALLENGING for me.

    • David B Teague says:

      This is a mess. Thanks for an interesting puzzle. I wonder if the bass has to play that … I’ll look on IMSLP…

      I’ll play it on my bass exactly as you have suggested above then analyze again. When I have a fingering question, I ask the friendly cellist what she (or he) would do. Then I try that. I was playing the Trout at chamber music workshop and couldn’t make one of the variations go. I asked the cellist, then, easy….

      I thought it might be easier for me, but after looking again, is isn’t. I thought this was same pattern on each of the A, D, and G strings. Nope. After the A string, the mix of major and minor 3rds gets messy. I’ll analyze this and return.

  4. David B Teague says:

    Brahms was kind to the basses. We don’t have to play that. Contrary wise, we don’t get to play that. And after Beethoven, that’s just a little disappointing. I assure you there’s hard enough stuff in his Symphony No 2. that I do have to play this Fall.
    I’m going to learn the lick, the 2 measures before it an the 2 after, at tempo. He said, full of hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>