This is a question I frequently ask my teacher, my duet partner, or my husband, who always gives an emphatic yes, but he’ll be the first to admit that he has no musical ear at all.  What I’m really asking is do I still sound like a squeaky first grader?

I think there are many items which contribute to sounding more like an intermediate cellist and less like one in the begining stages of study.  Certainly intonation is important, as is having a lovely vibrato.  But one thing that seems to be more elusive to me is articulation.

From Wikipedia:  “In  music notation articulation marks include the slur, phrase mark, staccato, staccatissimo, accent, sforzando, rinforzando, and legato.”  More simply, articulation is clarity in the production of successive notes.  So it’s about playing the note in a certain way (short, smooth, loud…) that sounds… correct.  Of course, you say tomato and I say to-mah-to.  Or putting it another way, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I guess the same goes for listening.

There are certain things that “beginners” do that “non-beginner’s” don’t do.  One of these is a “zing” at the end of a phrase.  Yes, sometimes we get louder at the end of a phrase (think of endings to many symphonies) but often we’re getting quieter.  Think of it as you are speaking.  Your voice typically goes down in volume at the end of the sentence (unless of course, you’re having a discussion with your 16 year old about driving).   It’s so easy when you’re now changing bow direction and you’re on a down bow and you’re at the frog and WHAM it’s loud.  And you’re so happy you played the right note and you’re thinking about counting the rests and getting ready for the next entrance that you’re not…listening.  Thus the problem.

Or you want to get to the frog and you’re getting pretty far up the bow so you play that 1/8 note fast and long to get back to the frog. It sticks out and you didn’t hear it because you’re thinking about so many other things that listening is far down the list.

There’s no quick solution.  We have to practice listening to ourselves.  Maybe turn on that recorder.  Maybe just memorize a phrase (ONE phrase), then close your eyes, play it and listen.  I’m as guilty of not listening as anyone, maybe more so since I’ve had my hearing tested and it’s not 100%.  But I think it’s more that I’m doing the other things and putting listening last on the list.  It’s going to take practice, but I think it’s another skill that needs more attention.

3 thoughts on “But do I sound like a cellist?

  1. David B Teague says:

    The hardest thing I had to learn was actually hearing the good in my playing while being a kind, nurturing critic of what needs fixing.

    We have to listen critically and note errors but able to recognize and clearly articulate when we sound pretty good, and recognize that we do sound good much of the time.

    Evidence of sounding pretty good: I realize that “they” continue to ask me to play again and again.

    Evidence of improvement: My teacher, who pays few compliments, helps me recognize and fix smaller and smaller details.

    Get and use a recorder, and guard against the inner voice that says “That was AWFUL.” Instead, _kindly_ note what was good, and with greater kindness, write down what needs fixing and plan how to fix it.

    Thanks, Nancy. Your blog is always useful and encouraging.

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