I spent last week at SCOR camp.  String Camp On the Road as I like to think of it, also known as String Camp of Rochester, as the home base is Rochester, NY.   If you live in the USA and you haven’t experienced a SCOR camp, you are missing an opportunity unique to amateur adult string players.  If you don’t live in the USA, come on over!

In addition to SCOR camp, I had several out of town SCOR friends at camp and rehearsals and concerts for 3 orchestras.  It was a busy week and I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t even take my cello out of the case yesterday.  Well, a little ashamed.

One of the many excellent sessions at camp included “Understanding Learning”.   The basis was that adults do not learn the same way as kids.  I think we all know this intellectually, but there are a few ideas that are worth drilling.   My favorite was in the “Knowing vs. Doing” section.

We are smart.  We are grownups.  We understand the premise of how playing a string instrument works.  What I fail to remember is that playing the cello is a very physical endeavor.   I am working with an older body.  There just isn’t the flexibility of an 8 year old.  My third and fourth fingers haven’t been trained to stay rounded and after 50 years, they do not want to start doing so.

My brilliant brain understands the idea of shifting.  It’s really not that complicated.  My body, however, needs a lot of repetition to remember what it takes to make that shift.   So while “a lot” may mean 10 times for an 8 year old, it means hundreds of times for a 64 year old.   As we learned at SCOR, skill repetition is not for your brain.  It’s for your body.  Of course your brain understands it.  Your older body needs more training.   Skill training is for your body, not your brain.

So while I may never coax my third finger to be rounded, I can practice that octave shift so many times that my arm (not my brain) has learned exactly how far it needs to go before I land my fingers on the string.  I stop thinking about it and let the physical process do what it has been trained to do.   That is Doing, not Knowing.

5 thoughts on “Cello Overload

  1. Peter Wauters says:

    Of course! That’s what practicing is all about. It’s physical training, pure and simple. The late Janos Starker (one of my personal heroes) developed his “organized method of string playing” around this idea. There are some great videos on Youtube of the master himself explaining his method. (also on the importance of posture and relaxation) — The more “cerebral” aspects (interpretation, the 1001 musical choices) can only come into play once the technicality has become more or less second nature.

    And that’s why we practice and practice and practice… slowly (but surely!) getting closer to the point when we can (almost) stop fussing about shifts, intonation, bow control to focus entirely on musical choices. It’s an illusive goal: sometimes it’s within reach, sometimes it seems unattainable…

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