Practice

Presence on Stage (Part 5 – The Breath) – by Ruth Phillips

The Breath "The bow must be a living thing at all times, and all living things need to breathe" - Steven Isserlis, cellist. For me, the breath is the thing that binds all of this together. No-wonder it is at the root of so many spiritual practices! It is inspiration and expression, tension and release, taking in and letting go, expansion and contraction. It is not ‘ours’ though it passes through us, and it connects us with ourselves, our bodies and the audience. With all living things. The ocean breathes, trees breathe….It is everything we are and everything music is. When we are aligned and in harmony, we feel as if we are being breathed, just as we can, in performance, feel like the music is playing us. Working with [...]

By |2018-09-16T15:11:40+00:00September 16th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Teaching, Performance, Playing Healthy|Tags: , , , , |

Presence on Stage (Part 4 – Presence) – by Ruth Phillips

Presence "The mind in its natural state can be compared to the sky, covered by layers of cloud which hide its true nature." – Kalu Rinpoche   Once we learn to generate movement from our core and not interfere with it, once we start to follow rather than control the music, we experience an extraordinary new space. Presence. Like a city dweller suddenly finding herself under a huge desert sky, for some this space can be terrifying. What do I put in it? Who am I in it? In fact, it is there we find connection. With ourselves, the music and the audience.   Thought “In order to really be, you have to be free from the thinking… Non-thinking is an art and, like any art, it requires patience and practice.” [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 3 – Non-Doing) – by Ruth Phillips

Non-Doing The tennis player observes the ball as it leaves his racket and completes the trajectory he has sent it on. He is no longer ‘in control’ of the ball but rather relaxed, alert and watchful. Primed for the return. Once we have learned to initiate movement from our core, we must then practice not interfering in it. For those of us who have learned that playing is all about control, holding and doing, this is quite a challenge, and yet this is what allows us to replace fear of being out of control with freedom and ease.   Gravity “When the abandonment to gravity comes into action, resistance ceases, fear vanishes, order is regained, nature starts again to function in its natural rhythm and the body is able to [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 2 – Power vs. Strength) – by Ruth Phillips

Power versus Strength ‘When you have attained complete relaxation, you are able to be flexible and agile in your movements.’ - Zen master Yang Cheng Fu “To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension….There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.” - Vanda Scaravelli -  Awakening the Spine. Building strength through force only promotes the shortening of muscles as they contract, causing fatigue and strain. That strain goes against rather than with our body. Developing power is another matter entirely. Power is a natural state. It involves movement generated from our core, a great deal of relaxation and a [...]

Presence on Stage (Part 1 – Introduction) – by Ruth Phillips

Introduction Many people ask me on Breathing Bow retreats if stage presence is something we can practice, if it is possible to find a way to be exactly where we are - in a concert hall with an audience right here and right now, about to share what we love? I believe that the answer is yes. Musicians’ preparation on a concert day can range from taking beta blockers to eating bananas. However, as soon as we are on stage we feel fear. Fear of losing control or mental focus, and above all fear of judgement. Our muscles contract, our heart rate speeds up, we go blank, our bow shakes, we sweat….the list of symptoms for ‘stage fright’ is endless and for many of us, coping with them simply isn’t [...]

By |2018-09-14T13:57:00+00:00September 12th, 2018|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Performance|Tags: , , , , , |

Practicing, Some Practice Advice (Part 1) — by Michael Haber

I've written this brief essay for purely selfish reasons: I like to see my students improve. When they do, I feel happy, they feel happy, I go home for dinner a happy man. What follows is intended to help you organize your practicing, and your thinking about your practicing, in an effective way. Your progress, mine too, depends on the quality and quantity of this work. It's also intended to encourage you to practice, period. Not all of my students are always inclined to work as well and as much as they should. I should confess from the beginning that I have always loved practicing. It is the royal road to instrumental mastery and the incomparable satisfaction of playing music as well as it deserves to be played. I have [...]

Conquering Coordination Through Broken-Rhythm Patterns — by Grigory Kalinovsky

Reposted from Strings Magazine. One of the most common problems encountered by string players in virtuoso pieces is the coordination between the bow strokes and the left-hand fingers in fast running-note passages (passages consisting of mostly the same note values), especially when the majority of notes are played with separate bows or with a few small slurs thrown in. Examples of these types of passages abound—they include sections from the Finale movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto in D minor, several episodes and the entire coda section of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, the majority of the Allegro movement from Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro, and many, many other pieces. Without proper coordination training, playing these passages can create a feeling of the two hands “chasing each other”—and getting tangled up [...]

By |2018-09-02T04:37:22+00:00June 14th, 2017|Categories: In the Practice Room, Self Discovery, Featured|Tags: , , |

Setting Goals — by Jonathan Thomson

"The well-prepared marathoner looks after every detail of proper physical and mental training, nutrition, hydration, clothing, and equipment." — Amby Burfoot (running guru and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon) Photo: Meb Keflezighi, who in 2014 became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1982 This attention to a wide range of details occurs over months of training, all with the ultimate goal of running 26.2 miles. Musicians should train for performance the same way runners train for marathons: with great organization and structure. Marathon training plans are highly detailed, with specific goals for each day. All facets of daily life become focused around achieving a personalized and realistic goal. This goal is set for one race, and is based on previous experience and current fitness. Both running [...]

Rule #2 — by Jonathan Thomson

The previous post introduced the concept of Rule #1 (Never Stop), which trains the mind for performance by teaching it to stay focused, even after mistakes. Simulating the timing and continuous playing of performance is a crucial experience to be repeated many times during training. Through Rule #1 practice, we get important feedback about our technical preparation, stamina, and memory (if applicable). Rule #2 is the necessary counterpart to Rule #1: Rule #2: Always Stop! When you are practicing, you must not allow any mistake, uncoordinated motion, scratch, or squeak. If you practice with mistakes or undesirable tone, you are teaching your muscles "this is how the piece goes," and establishing bad habits. The next time you get to the same place, you will make the same error! Instead, start again from [...]

Rule #1 — by Jonathan Thomson

I can still vividly recall the lesson in high school when I first learned of RULE #1 and RULE #2. Somehow, though, I am still unable to impart these crucial principals upon my own students with the same gravitas as my teacher did then. These two general guidelines shaped the way I learned to focus my practice time and prepare my mind and muscles for performance. The more I study about how we learn, and about strategies for mental preparation—things like "chunking," myelin, meditation, visualization—the more I realize how valuable these two simple "rules" have been. We must practice not only for technical mastery, but also for expression. We must imagine future performance scenarios in the practice room. Putting the focus on communication provides the goal to work toward, and the [...]

Sports and Cello: Starting the Discussion — by Jonathan Thomson

  We see the dramatic moment in sports all the time: with the game on the line, a player steps up to shoot the game-winning free throw, kick the field goal, or take the penalty kick. Make or miss, social and news media chatter about these moments for days afterward. Documentaries and TV series offer detailed views inside the lives of athletes and behind-the-scenes depictions of how teams practice and communicate throughout their seasons. An athlete's comments on any issue can reverberate through our society for weeks. Sport is everywhere—it is unavoidable. Though many musicians and teachers may see it as a competitor to practice time and music's place within the culture, athletes and musicians share many common experiences and can learn from each other. While athletes personal lives are [...]

Teaching at Cello: An American Experience — by Mark Summer

As a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet, I am grateful to Paul Katz for asking me to contribute to CelloBello. As a conservatory-trained, improvising cellist, I hope I can bring a unique perspective to this forum with thoughts on performing, teaching, and traveling with my cello. This past summer I enjoyed five days of intensely rewarding teaching and performing at the summer music program, Cello: An American Experience. The program attracted 18 young cellists from around the country, and is held at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, 44 miles south of Minneapolis. Left to right: Avery Johnson and Mark Summer My introduction to Cello: An American Experience began with a Facebook message sent to me from the director, and my old colleague, Anna Clift. Anna [...]

Stage-dreaming — by Mickey Katz

A few days ago I was on the Symphony Hall stage, playing Brahms’s A German Requiem in concert.  While playing the second movement, I started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner the following night. The last time I cooked it, I thought, it came out a little dry. Maybe this time I should… But wait a second, I was playing one of my favorite pieces in one of the world’s best halls, with a great orchestra and a great conductor, how could I not be completely absorbed in what I was doing? Was I the only one on stage whose mind was wandering, and if not—did anyone in the audience notice? I was aware that I was a part of a great concert, and the audience [...]

Competitions ≠ Success: A Student Perspective — by Lev Mamuya

Not all competitions are created equal. There are good ones and bad ones, and good and bad reasons for entering. Many kids are raised to be competitive, both musically and in school. Kids can feel pressure to do competitions from parents, teachers and peers. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking success can only be measured by winning competitions and that a career in music and admission to a good school are impossible without numerous wins. Competitions are good for many things, but they should not define success. They often consist of just one performance, on one particular day; success is something you achieve over many years through work and dedication. Since most competitions, at the most, will be three rounds over a short period of time, [...]

What’s the Passcode? — by Brant Taylor

In the reader chats I've hosted on this website, certain discussion topics make frequent appearances.  One of those topics, a question I hear often from students and other amateur musicians, is: "How do you practice?"  It's easy to see why.  The assumption is that professional musicians must be great, or at least successful, practicers, and that insights into the habits of accomplished musicians should provide valuable information about how to improve and make the best use of practice time. While I am always happy to share information about my own practicing, I always make an important qualification: practice is a personal thing.  There is no one way to practice, no secret passcode to gain entry to the clubhouse of good cello playing or success in the music profession.  You must [...]