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Why Can’t I Improve?
I have been struggling with this for a long time
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
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cid
June 3, 2020 - 8:35 am
Member Since: December 26, 2018
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Why is it that I do not seem to be able to get better with my cello? I am inconsistent, but, never get a good clear cello sound. I know what I am to do, I can do it during lessons, albeit scratchy and not very good, but after my lesson it goes downhill, very quickly. I am really getting disappointed.

I am really thinking that one issue may be that I did not get a good foundation with my first cello instructor. It was really bad. Plays lovely, but does not know how to teach.

The issues were that she did not work on basics with me: bowing, intonation, expression, no music theory at all, no scales because she did not like them, no exercises to promote good bowing or intonation, etc, just did song after song in Suzuki books (and she was a trained Suzuki teacher). Because of this, I know the basics, which makes it hard to advance.

I know where the notes are, bow hold, I can read bass, tenor and treble (alto, also), My knew instructor is really patient and encouraging. I know I can do this if I can go back and do the basics again, basically start over with bowing, fingering, etc to get the proper techniques. I have been going back to Suzuki 2 and working on three songs on my own, but that takes away from time on the lesson material. 

My idea is to ask my instructor to slow down. Ask to use the songs in book 2 to let me get my bowing perfected (I should be beyond the scratchy non-cello sound if I am doing Bach Bourrées, I would think), my intonation, etc. I have a hard time doing the two together. Fighting with the Bourrées does not help. So many string crossings, shifting, etc. I know how it is to be done, with simpler pieces I can somewhat do it, but I am not quite ready or able to put eighth notes, string crossings, shifts, etc together in a more advanced song. Out the window.

He knows that I can, and I know I could if I did not have songs at the level of Bach, as much as I love them. I feel like there is a big gap I am missing from when I got lessons from the first instructor to my current instructor. The first one had no structure or instruction, just song after song. I can’t help but think, that even though I had instruction before my current instructor, a lot of what should have been covered during that first instructor period was not covered. I did not know what I was not taught because I did not know what I should have been taught.

My plan, at Friday’s lesson is that I am going to show him the songs I am working on in Book 2. He is not a Suzuki fan, and neither am I, but there are some good songs to learn from in the books. I am going to explain my issue with bowing. I have been trying to get the scratchy out and get an actual cello sound, but that has made it worse and I have lost the proper bowing techniques completely. I feel like I am doing it wrong now, I had to adjust my hold at the knees due to the issues that are still ongoing, and that has not helped with technique, but I am trying to do it the normal way and ignoring my knee, but have now forgotten exactly how that is. 

It is so frustrating. I can hear the clock ticking. No not THAT clock. That clock is long gone. 😂 I can feel it only getting harder as the age and joint clock ticks. That might be part of my issue, but I think that the main issue is that there is a big chunk I am missing between the instructors. There are things that should have been honed with the first instructor that were ignored. Because I had had lessons before, the basics were assumed to have been taught. I did not know what I did not know. I know how these songs are to be played, I cannot get the technique to actually play them correctly.

I think that songs with “fewer notes” and less speed would allow me to pay more attention to bowing, help me remember more of the piece so I can prepare for the coming notes, get used to it, etc. Then when the bowing and cross strings, and preparing for the next notes becomes natural, I can move to more advanced pieces.

When I see these advance songs, it blows my mind. I know that I am not ready for pieces full of slurs, eighth notes and shorter, etc. I can shift, and understand that. I am not accurate, but getting better. Confidence is an issue, but the lack of confidence is due to really not being ready for those songs, I think. 

Any thoughts? My instructor is very good and patient, and very good at explaining with the songs and scales we are doing, but I don’t think I was clear in what I know, other than I had so many lessons before him. He really enjoys teaching and is excellent at it, I think that I am either not as quick as younger students, and/or I am lacking a lot of in between instructor info and technique. It may be that I am expecting too much at this point? I would like to get a piece down to where I am proud of it, it sounds like a cello, no scratchy bow, before we move on. 

Viola Time! 

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Gordon Shumway
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June 3, 2020 - 10:19 am
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It seems possible that your are going too fast. You say "go back" to Suzuki 2 and "your tutor may need to slow down".

Like I said in my mojo thread, I found my mojo again playing Dancla's easy and melodious stuff, for intonation and tone-control. You could get the viola version of that and transpose down an octave (it might be in IMSLP. There might be a lot of stuff in IMSLP you could use, for viola or cello. You were asking about books in another thread). And if you know it's your tone, just spend time at home on nothing but tone. It only has to be 10 minutes a day. Practise all your scales slowly for tone and intonation.

One possibility is that the music you play demands a lot from your left hand (I think you are already aware of this). That, my teacher's explanation has it, detracts from your brain's ability to control your right hand, and losing control of that may be your problem with tone. I assume you are not playing a left-handed instrument.

Going back to basics then is recommended by Suzuki, and it's not a bad idea.

Andrew

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GregW
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June 3, 2020 - 10:27 am
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Sounds like youre just getting a little frustrated.  Hang in there youre probably about to make some head way on progress.  But you know, even stepping back to something you thought you had a handle on might not be a bad idea either. It could be you just need a short break from practicing new stuff.  Id most certainly share these thoughts youve posted with your instructor.  He would be able to give better insight.  Also I wouldnt dwell on the previous instructor..its water under the bridge now and doesnt help to ponder on what ifs.  Dont beat yourself up!  

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Ilona
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June 3, 2020 - 10:37 am
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My teacher always reminds me that learning is not a straightforward process. You never progress steadily higher all the time, but there are always points along the way where progress seems to stop.

I think it’s a good idea to slow down and even go back if you feel like it. I sometimes do exactly that if I feel that I'm lost with my bowing techniques. I go back to easy songs where I don't need to worry about shifting etc.

Another thing that my teacher always reminds me: open strings. So boring, but it is where the clear, non-scratchy sound is born. It’s so frustraring to go that level 0 when I have thousands other things I want to learn on my mind.

I know I'm expecting very much from myself. My progress has been extremely fast in this year, and I know it will not continue forever. I have to get used to it that sometimes I really need to slow down, do the basics correctly and carefully, so I can then reach even higher.

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Peter
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June 3, 2020 - 10:49 am
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I've never laid a hand on a cello but I have lots of learning and instructional experience; what you're going through is typical and need not be a cause for despondency or alarm.

Much of the foregoing from the other respondents is sound: there will be times when you feel like you're losing what you've learned, and soon enough there will be a resurgence. We have an expression in the UK, "I've forgotten more than I know."

Happily, it's all still there in your synapses and once the current rest period has lapsed, you'll move on. Enjoy the simpler elements of your skill for the time being, and try to push the boundaries every so often, but not too frequently. Make good, but not so often.

Peter

"It is vain to do with more that which can be done with less"  - William of Ockham

"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in" - Frederick the Great

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cid
June 3, 2020 - 3:03 pm
Member Since: December 26, 2018
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Thank you all. I feel better, now. The encouragement was "priceless". I just did my cello. I played for 2 hours. I did make some changes.

I played some bowing exercises from an Alwin Schroeder book I have. I also worked on the scale my instructor gave me to do two weeks ago. I did not skip it last week, I ran over my 2nd finger left hand with my sewing machine needle the day before my lesson. 

After that, I got out my Suzuki book 2 and worked on a song, paying attention to intonation and watching my bowing.

After all of that. I got out my Bach Bourrée I and II. I started with Bourrée I. We are finishing that one up. I am supposed to smooth it out, it is far from smooth. I paid attention to how I was bowing and my elbow, arm, while doing so. I noticed the cello felt a little off.

I extended the pin and angled the cello out more so that it was not as perpendicular. I have seen it played like this, but I did not go to the extreme. It was much more comfortable that way. I adjusted my end pin stop strap to keep that position the next time.

My Bourrée I ended out the best I ever did after a few times through, and picking spots I noticed needed extra work. I then did it again to make sure it was not a fluke. 

I then turned to my Bourrée II. This one is not as difficult bowing, or fingering, but does shift down the D string more, so notes I normally finger on the A string are almost all done on the D string. I love shifting! It was much much better, too. I went beyond the section where I was to stop, just to familiarize myself with that section. There is even more shifting on the D in this section, based on the fingering in the Bach Book. I wanted to see if I could figure it out correctly, so I penciled in string and finger notation, to compare to what my instructor says Friday when we continue with it. Sometimes he changes book notation, too. I didn't want to get too used to wrong fingering and string use, so, I didn't spend much time on it. 

Anyway, I think my playing/practice time went much better today. I felt like I made some progress. Most, I believe was from the encouragement and comments in the replies, thank you all very much. It was extremely encouraging and helpful.

Viola Time! 

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cid
June 3, 2020 - 3:40 pm
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Oh, Ilona, I forgot to mention, I did spend about 10 minutes of just doing open open string bowing to pay attention arm movement, wrist movement, angle, etc. It actually helped me remember to pay attention to that when doing the songs. Hopefully, this will continue.

Viola Time! 

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Ilona
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June 3, 2020 - 3:44 pm
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cid said
My Bourrée I ended out the best I ever did after a few times through, and picking spots I noticed needed extra work. I then did it again to make sure it was not a fluke. 

I then turned to my Bourrée II. This one is not as difficult bowing, or fingering, but does shift down the D string more, so notes I normally finger on the A string are almost all done on the D string. I love shifting! It was much much better, too. I went beyond the section where I was to stop, just to familiarize myself with that section. There is even more shifting on the D in this section, based on the fingering in the Bach Book. I wanted to see if I could figure it out correctly, so I penciled in string and finger notation, to compare to what my instructor says Friday when we continue with it. Sometimes he changes book notation, too. I didn't want to get too used to wrong fingering and string use, so, I didn't spend much time on it.   

I’m starting to practice Bourree I and II by Bach too! I tried Bourree I and it’s not difficult at all, I think I will like it. I haven’t looked Bourree II so much yet, so can’t say anything about it. But in my book there is no fingering tips at all, so I have to figure them out myself and I’m little worried about it. 🤔

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cid
June 3, 2020 - 5:01 pm
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@Ilona 

The Bourrées from which suite? I am doing the Bourré I and II from Suite III. Suite IV has a Bourré I and II also. The Bourrée I in Suite IV does not look as hard as the Suite III Bourrëe I, to me, but the Bourrée II looks harder in Suite IV than the Bourrée II in Suite III.  

I am working from Bärenreiter's Bach Six Suites for,Violoncello Solo. BWV 1007-1012. 

I think you are farther along than I am.

The practice session I had today helped out a lot.

Viola Time! 

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Ilona
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June 3, 2020 - 5:07 pm
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@cid 

Bourrees from suite 3, same as you 🙂

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cid
June 3, 2020 - 5:11 pm
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My issue is coordinating the bowing and fingering. It bugs me because I how to do the fingering, but keep messing up. 

Viola Time! 

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cid
June 7, 2020 - 6:13 pm
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Okay, so I had my lesson on Friday. I had much more confidence and still do. Posting my questions here, even if just to post my thoughts on my lack of confidence, and not really expecting a response, really helps, so thank you all. Some times, verbalizing (or writing down) the frustrations really helps. I am back on track. 👍

Viola Time! 

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