Both last week and this week my lesson focused on solo literature and not on orchestra pieces. It was a refreshing shift in focus. At last week’s lesson I played through the first movement of the Bréval Sonata, something I haven’t played since June. We also looked at the first three Lee études again, with an emphasis on increased velocity. And David introduced me to the Allegro movement of the Marcello Sonata.
While I didn’t practice the solo literature much this week I did have some time to refresh the Bréval and to work on speeding up the Lee études. At my lesson yesterday we played through the opening section of the Marcello Allegro, worked on speeding up Lee, and looked at some of the stickier bits of the Bréval.
##Bréval I haven’t lost much of this piece in four months since I practiced it regularly. In some places I think my technique has improved as a result of the orchestra work. The danger here is trying to play the piece rather than practicing the “black spots” as David calls them. I need to set aside my completionist nature and work on small sections of the piece. In some cases these sections will be a handful of notes, in others a measure or three.
##Marcello After last week’s introduction to this piece I worked on the first line or so, but not very much, and without much focus. Yesterday David and I spent a large portion of my lesson focused on this piece. I have a better grasp of the right hand movement now, and I can play a recognizable version of the opening. The movement is almost entirely eighth and sixteenth notes which will give me an opportunity to work on the coordination between bowing direction changes and finger changes.
##Lee I’ve played through the entire Lee book, but I never achieved “performance” tempo on many of the études. David wants me to work my way through the book again, this time focusing on speeding up my technique. The second étude is slightly easier than the first as it isn’t built around slurs, so that’s the one I picked to work on. We started at the end of the two-line piece and worked backwards measure by measure. Once I was playing the entire second line I remarked that I could feel the tension and tightness in my left forearm. David had me continue playing while watching me from different angles. He discovered that I have developed a bad habit with my left thumb.
He wants me to have only light contact with the tip of my thumb against the neck of the cello, and then only on the left side of the neck (from the players perspective). I have slipped into a posture that has the meaty part of the pad of my thumb against the neck (collapsing the shape of my hand), and the contact point is the middle or right side of the neck. Also I am using finger-to-thumb pressure to stop the strings rather than pulling with the large muscles in my upper back and shoulder.
So. My practice focus for the foreseeable future is to play with the correct left hand shape and placement. David wants me to envision holding a porcupine in my left armpit, and keeping a un-squished grape between the tip of my thumb and the neck of the cello. Unlearning a bad habit is never easy, but his discovery of my left arm/hand posture is the key to unlocking faster play I think. Muscles that are unnecessarily tense limit movement and speed.
My practice focus will be split between solo literature and orchestra pieces for the next three weeks. I don’t dare set aside the orchestra music or it will immediately start to suffer. My thinking is that I need to play each piece at least once every third (if not every other) day. Mixed in with études, Bréval, and Marcello, I’ve got plenty to work on and keep me busy.