Scales, Études, and Repertoire

| posted in: practice 

Most of my summer was spent reviewing all the pieces in my repertoire. I started over again with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in Suzuki book 1 and worked my way through all the Suzuki pieces again. Also, I started over again in the Lee Études book with the first étude and replayed all of those. It was a good review. Some of the pieces came back to me immediately while others took more effort. Best of all I was able to see, feel, and hear a difference in my playing. If nothing else this was a good exercise for my ego as it allowed me to see how far I’ve progressed in the not-quite-two-years since I’ve started playing cello.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on new material again. New scales, new études, and new repertoire.


I now have nine scales (more or less) memorized. C:, D:, d: (all three), Eb:, E:, F:, G:, A:, and a: (all three, one octave only). Each night when I practice I warm up with scales, usually playing all of them. I try to vary the bowing speed and patterns used to play scales to keep it interesting. Lately I’ve been on a long, slow bowing kick, which really lets me hear the tone and helps me to improve my overall sound.

David has a drill he calls “finger patterns” that I work on after my scales are complete.  There are six basic patterns with a couple of alternate fingerings thrown in for good measure. The first pattern starts on the open D string, then has E, F, G, and finally the open A string. You play each note in time with the metronome starting with whole notes, then half, quarter, eighth, and finally sixteenth notes. I’ve struggled with sixteenth notes until quite recently; rigorous practice (i.e., every night for at least 15 minutes) has improved this immensely. With the metronome set at 60 the whole notes require careful bow speed so as not to run out of bow, and yet the sixteenth notes are still attainable.

For the most part I can now play all six base patterns up to eighth notes. Those patterns that have shifts in them tend to fall apart at the sixteenth note level. Hopefully another week or two focusing on this will improve those levels as well.

My new repertoire consists of Lee études 20, 21, and 22. 20 is very much in the vein of a Bach prelude, with slurs and some complicated chord-like finger movement for the left hand. 22 also is filled with slurs. In the Suzuki book I’ve been polishing off the Beethoven Minute. The summer of review seems to have helped this piece tremendously. I set this piece aside in May when we started the review, and at the time it was pretty rough. Now, three months later, it came together almost immediately. I’m actually able to play through it with relative ease and have started to add dynamics.

It has been a wonderful summer of cello for me, and I am looking forward to easing in to my third year of playing later this autumn.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Mastodon.