Finding it difficult to structure your cello practice?
Practice is the element of playing a musical instrument that’ll help to make or break you. That’s why we have now produced these specialized tested piano practice recommendations that you have to learn included in our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Cello’ series.
How Come Cello Practice So Difficult?
Practice. If you do it regularly enough, you’ll become great. Everyone knows this. So just why is practice so difficult?
Motivation is a vital thing. Without motivation, you will not force yourself to return to the instrument every single day. How can you get motivated?
By winning. Yes, that’s what I said. Winning. You’re in constant competition with yourself, so when things go perfectly, you really feel like you are winning. When you’re in this state of mind, it is very easy to practice. It’s the circle of life – winning much more will give you far more motivation, and that means you practice more. Practising a lot more usually means you win more, thus it will give you far more motivation. Which goes on and on exponentially.
Therefore if it’s that easy, how come practice still so hard?
The answer? Because it’s not that easy! Just practising isn’t adequate. You might practice for five hours a day and never progress.
If it’s not the amount of practice that puts you on the circle of life, precisely what does?
Practising for 15 minutes daily, focused, beneficial top-quality practice is far more effective than ten hours of vague, ‘auto-pilot’ practice.
So all you need is good quality practice for you to jump aboard the circle of life train?
In your dreams! It is never that easy. Merge quantity and quality, and you’ll finally become a first-class passenger.
Stay with me to learn how to get your first-class ticket, and how to continue on the train so long as you want…
Structure Your Cello Practice
Do I Need To practice for more than an hour?
15 to 20 mins is a great place to start, and probably not any longer than 45 minutes each time. After this time frame, all of us human beings have a tendency to zone out – and then the practising becomes less productive. As a rule of thumb, when you experience your awareness waning, stop. Become happy that you just showed up to your practice session, and don’t fear how much time you practice for.
How often must i be practicing the cello?
This one is a straightforward answer – practice every day. This way, you’ll turn your cello practice into a habit. A concise, concentrated day-to-day practice is far more advantageous than twice every week for one hour at a time. And try to remember, if perhaps you’re wondering “but how can I spare the time to accomplish 20 minutes per day? !? ” – just steal some of your time and efforts from social media over to the cello. We all do, after all, dedicate on average 142 minutes on social media on a daily basis!
When should I be doing my practice?
It makes no difference whenever you practice, simply just providing you do practice. Try out developing a fixed schedule for yourself vs. simply being ad-hok. Observe which solutions work most effectively, and stay with it.
Cello Practice Top Tips
1. Eliminate All Interruptions
It is your time and effort, and you absolutely do not want anybody troubling you. So ensure that you turn off your tablet, laptop, watch, and even more importantly cell phone, to become as focused as you possibly can.
2. Ensure That You're Comfortable
As you’ll be playing for many hours and many years to come, it’s really vital that you are comfortable. The more comfortable you happen to be, the better you’ll perform. Stress is always our enemy, and so make it out of your practice room.
3. Set Yourself Goals and objectives
Focus on an outcome. And to get this done, you’ll need to set yourself some objectives. ‘Mini-Goals’ are better than one big goal…
Perhaps Monday you’ll study the 1st 12 bars/measures. Then Tuesday you’ll study the last twelve. Wednesday can be the complicated bit in the middle. Thursday could be reminding yourself of everything you’ve learnt so far, and Friday could be trying to perform the portions with no sheet music (from your memory). Whatever you have to do, establish your targets in writing to make them happen. When you achieve your ultimate goal, celebrate! I would recommend an excellent box of chocolates…
4. Say Howdy To Bad Habits
No-one is perfect the first time. Consciously understand that until you have repeated a section a couple of times, you will make some mistakes. Become as methodical as possible resolving these errors, because if you don’t, you will find undesirable habits begin to slip in.
When you see a terrible habit appearing out from no-where, say a nice big HELLO to it. Then swat it just like the most irritating fly.
The same goes for correcting specialized troubles with stuff like posture and your technique. Though it takes longer in advance, it’ll pay out dividends at a later time and will save you a lot of time.
5. Keep It Unique
Perhaps you have driven to a place, and once you arrived, you had virtually no recollection or recall regarding the trip. You drove completely on ‘brain auto-pilot’. A similar thing can happen when practicing the cello.
When you play the very same thing, time and again, you will not advance. You’ll lose interest. Your motivation will vanish. But do you know the solution? Alternating your practice techniques!
This could be as simple as having fun with your eyes shut. Accomplishing one hand only. Missing out every other note. Skipping every note that your thumb plays. Playing everything really gently, or perhaps extremely loud. The list is endless. Become creative. And whatever you decide and do – don’t ‘just’ perform the same thing again, and all over again, and again…
6. Educate Yourself To Learn
Most of us learn best whenever we have somebody over our shoulders, providing us with their comments. Sadly, unless you own Amazon, you’re unlikely to be able to afford a private cello teacher 365 days per year. But Mr Bezos is able to keep his squillions because we do not need them. We have our own personal teacher inside us.
First of all, quickly learn how to hear. A lot of people fail to remember to actively listen, but it’s the easiest way to transform your playing.
Secondly, we are living in an age where one can produce a reasonable recording of your own playing with just your phone. So get it done. Watch it back and self-critique. Keep doing this until you improve.
And even if the world’s most wealthy individuals wanted to hire my personal instructor, they couldn’t find the money for it!
7. Don't Start out At The Start
You read a book, you locate page one. It’s totally normal. You play a piece of music, you begin at the beginning. Yet again, absolutely normal. But with regards to practicing, it’s not a great idea. You’ll end up being phenomenally proficient at the initial few notes, and pretty dreadful at the rest. So change it up. Get started at the end, or possibly halfway through. Then tomorrow, opt for another random place to begin your practice. But whatever you decide to do, don’t always start at the beginning!
8. Omit The Simple Bits
It can feel great to play parts we know well. On the other hand, if that’s all that you ever play, you’ll have half the piece to a great standard, but the much harder half will be a failure. And yes, you’ll naturally be attracted to the straightforward parts, which often leaves the troublesome bit out in the cold. All alone. Shivering for some warmth and love.
Think logically now; which elements should you learn first? Yes, that’s correct. The tough elements. The straightforward parts will sort themselves out.
Go on then! Uncover those challenging elements…
9. Try Something New
Sight-reading is a wonderful exercise to round off your practice with. There’s no pressure to perfect the piece, and it can be a lot of fun too! Additionally, it lets you test your cello playing skills out on a totally different piece – or even a different style.
10. Use And Abuse Your Metronome
Your metronome is there not as your enemy, but as your good friend. So remember to use it!
For faster, difficult sections, fix your tempo at half of the ‘target’ tempo. Practice the part each day, and each and every day increase the speed by 5 beats (BPM). You will have so gradually increased the tempo, that before you expect it, you will be at full speed.
And right here is a bonus word of advice – always make an attempt to overshoot by ten percent. If you want to be at 150bpm, be sure you can play it at 165BPM – that way 150bpm will appear to be easily manageable!
11. Treat Yourself
Did you notice in point number 3 that I described a treat? Well, I feel it’s extremely important I’m talking about it twice! Remember to treat yourself…
When we do any form of exercise, we are always told to warm up properly before we begin. The same applies to playing the cello!
Most people assume that the way to warm up as a musician is to start with scales. And whilst scales are important, there is so much that can be done even before this.
As cellists, we use the whole of our upper bodies, so it is a good idea to do some simple stretches and exercises before we begin. This will not only prepare your body for the upcoming session but will also build muscle and stamina, helping to prevent injuries later on.
- Shoulder rolls are a great way to loosen the shoulder joint. Try raising and lowering your shoulders as well as rolling them forwards and backwards.
- Full arm swings get the blood flowing right through your whole arm. Swing each arm in a full circle, backwards and forwards.
- Rotating the wrists can be helpful too as we use this joint a lot, especially in the right hand.
- Create a fist with your hand and then release. This can help build up strength in your hand muscles.
There are plenty more exercises that could help you. The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), has a whole range of resources available from stretching exercises to performance anxiety – I’d definitely recommend a visit to their website for more ideas.
Cello Practice Bonus Tips
If something is not working, try to isolate the problem and then experiment with different approaches.
For example, if you are playing a loud passage and are getting a harsh or scratchy sound, try using less bow weight and/or moving closer to the fingerboard. If you are playing a more melodic passage but it’s just not singing enough, try experimenting with different widths and speeds of vibrato.
Often a lot of issues can be easily resolved with some simple experimentation. You will soon find an alternative that better matches your aim. Make a note of what you changed to achieve this – that way you can be sure to get the new result again next time!
2. Review and plan
Once you’ve reached the end of your practice session, it is a good idea to reflect on what you have just done.
The “What Went Well” and “Even Better If” method (or www/ebi for short), is a good way to celebrate your accomplishments as well as to reflect and evaluate. Refer back to the EBI when planning your next practice session. You could even use your EBI as the main goals for the next day.
3. Make Your Branch Stronger
The brain learns every time you choose to do something new. It creates a neuron, similar to a little branch of a tree. Every time you repeat precisely the same thing, with absolutely no differentiation, that branch gets a little more robust. If you do the task enough times, in the very same way, that branch becomes a solid arm. This is basically the stage where your mind and body can just do something ‘without thinking about it’.
Conversely, every time you alter a little something, a whole new branch is made. If you play the same passage of music four times, and every time you use a different fingering or are not completely consistent, you’re building four tree branches.
So is that a concern? Of course! A branch is a choice. Whenever you come to a performance and reach the relevant part, if the brain has a choice of various different neurons to select from, it might opt for the completely wrong one. It could possibly select the one that has a mistake inside. For once, the choice isn’t a good thing. If you have one neuron which is correct, the human brain offers no choice – it offers only one solution – the best one.
So don’t leave things to chance. Be consistent. Master things slowly and effectively. And constantly perform things properly again and again.
3. Recommended Reading
Here are some great books that really helped me when I was starting out and I regularly recommend them to students to this day.
Music Practice: The Musician’s Guide to Practicing and Mastering your Instrument like a professional
I also highly recommend you include How to Read Music in 30 Days in your must-read list. If haven’t already read our guide on How To Read Sheet Music, then do check that out as well.
Cello Practice - Summary
If you’ve learnt one thing from all of the above, it needs to be the following:
Practice is the most essential factor in understanding a musical instrument. Do not leave it to chance. Develop a practice procedure. Mix it up. Print off this article and keep referring to it. And be sure you treat yourself…
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