15 Fingering Variations for A C D E sul D at the Shoulder
On Monday morning I woke up feeling exhausted and groggy, a hangover due to all of the emotion and tension surrounding the Presidential Election. I knew that I needed to get a good practice session in before I started teaching lessons in order to get my brain and body recalibrated. Practicing musical instruments is my meditation. Music is my Religion. It’s my mental health practice and how I perform works of good and service to my community. Normally when I sit down in the Practice Room, I start creating. It’s an improvisation that stems from a simple idea – usually some concept/technique that I need to work on – and then it grows organically from there into an exercise or system which I can play around in. I’ve been doing this since I can remember practicing. Starting in grade school, I’d always sit down, improvise and just explore the instrument and technique. It makes the Practice Room fun, creative, and exploratory – I highly encourage you to try it!
The resulting meditation on Monday is this new fingering exercise for to work on the evenness of tone and intonation no matter which fingering you may choose for a series of notes in a given passage. In this example I chose a few notes on the D string, which transition from the neck of the instrument to just over the shoulder [ A C D E ]. It’s a transition of technique that cellists are required to do often and something that I have been focusing on in the past few years. I want as many tools in my technique arsenal as I can collect to help me conquer the geography of this tricky section of the cello. There are immense possibilities of fingerings due to the overlap of neck position chromatic hand shapes and diatonic thumb position (& shoulder position) style hand shapes combined with the physical barrier of the instrument’s shoulder force us to choose when and how to transition between fingering styles. It’s an exercise in possibility.
Each line in the sheet music is progression through a system of fingering for the same notes A C D E. There are 15 fingerings here for you to try.
It’s hard for any Classical musician to show imperfection to the outside world, when the genre is so incredibly strict about presenting your highest level of playing possible. But social media to me is an opportunity to share our Process and Practice with each other. I love the sound of other people practicing. One of my favorite things to do in college was just walk by the practice rooms to hear people working on spots. Sometimes I’d politely pop my head in to ask about what they were working on. Everyone develops their own unique methods and techniques of practice, which I find fascinating. I’d love to see more people sharing how they Practice on social media, instead of only showing their most polished clips!
So in that spirit, here’s an Instagram post that is was my first full, continuous run through of this new exercise. It’s by no means perfect and it’s certainly not meant to be! It’s my starting point with a new exercise that I’ve just created. In this clip, I’m Meditating as much as possible, not thinking or trying, just observing. I do this to get out of my own way and simply notice what my natural tendencies are for these shifts. Which fingerings come easy? Which shifts am I missing? Is it just one finger in particular that is the problem? Or is it one position as a whole that isn’t locked in? I just want to collect the data, without judgement. Then from this initial run, I know exactly what to work on for the rest of the week as I practice this exercise. I can really target specific positions and fingerings based on what I have observed about my natural tendencies.
This meditation/practice concept should be used often as a way to separate your emotion and potential frustration from your playing. We need to be able to fail over and over and over and over again in the Practice Room. It needs to be a safe space for errors and “mistakes”. It’s precisely the mistakes that arise which become of value, because the mistakes let you know what you really need to work on. It takes the guess work out of the equation.
So fail, observe, and make small incremental changes in order to improve your playing (and mindset!). Once you nail it, keep on repeating it for consistency, accuracy, expression and muscle/spatial memory.
I’ll be updating with a couple of different versions of this exercise. For example, alternate bowings, different expression prompts, doing it in the same position but on the A string, etc.
Try out this new exercise and let me know what you think! Which fingering was the most helpful for you? Which was the most natural for you? Which did you struggle with the most? Have you noticed any tendencies about certain fingers or positions and the accuracy of your intonation?
Hopefully you will learn a little bit about your own playing this way! Happy Practicing!
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