Cello lesson: composing 101

Fucking awesome lesson today!  It’s been two weeks since the last one.  I was depressed as fuck last week…  Anyway.

When Luna (new nickname for my teacher, from her BBS handle back in the day — we were on the same one in the early 90’s) got here, she told me as we were setting up that my ability to play by ear is “superb.”  She tried teaching a couple of her other students (almost all of whom are farther along in the Suzuki books than me) to play by ear, and the results were pretty bad.  She said a couple more complimentary things, I forget what, but I thanked her and couldn’t help grinning like an idiot over the compliments.

We started with the C arpeggio from last week.  Then we did 1.12 “Andantino” again; I’ve been doing this one for a few weeks because I’m having a really hard time doing staccato, but today she taught me a visualization to do for the bowing and it helped a lot.

The real fun started when she had me play “Away in a Manger,” which is what she’d taught me by ear last week.  I had completely forgotten it but figured it out again in one go.  Then she asked about my playing along with recorded music.  I told her I’d learned Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song,” which she’d never heard. So I played the recording (the Live Seeds version, which is my favorite), and as she listened she started figuring out the tune herself.  The thing is, though, she wasn’t doing what I was doing, where I’d been playing along with the vocals.  She played the bass part.  Then she started explaining how a lot of pop/rock songs are predictable, and it wound up turning into a discussion of music theory and 1-4-5 chords.  She told me that with my ear I should be good at composing.  She wants me to compose a bass line for next week’s lesson, and then she’ll improvise over it.  Then she had me improvise over a bass line she played.  It was really, really simple stuff, her playing the lower two strings very slowly while I tested out what sounded right on the upper two.  It was delightful, actually.  And she wants me to be the one playing over my recorded bass part next week.  So I’m composing a two-part piece!

Then we went back to the regular lesson stuff.  I said I was having trouble with the etude #7 she’d given me (photocopied on loose paper, not Suzuki).  She started playing through it, and about 8 notes in I told her to stop, because that’s where the problem was, because it sounded so fucking dissonant.  Her (paraphrased) response: “It’s your ear again.  Etudes are purely technical; you’ll have to grit your teeth and bear it.” She had me play some of it, and I got it.  It still sounds dreadful, but now that I know it’s supposed to sound that way, it’s easier.  And actually, my bowing overall suddenly became better.  A couple of months ago I wrote about it was like having a switch flipped in my brain that suddenly made me sound a million times better.  Well, the switch flipped again mid-lesson and I sound even better.

We ran through 1.13 “Rigadoon”, my first vibrato piece.  She seemed surprised at how well I managed the vibrato, and that a couple of the notes were “beautiful.”  It’s the first time she’s ever told me something I did sounded beautiful.  My silly grin came back.

At the end she made some remark about the #7 etude, and I said that the Suzuki etudes were easier, because they’re more melodic.  I played it through a couple of times using the sheet music, then started playing it by memory and she immediately commented on how much better I sounded.  She had me do it with short double notes (two for every one in the book) and she told me that sounded even better.  She’s decided that I need to do as much from memory as possible from here on out.  So I think that before I play a piece I’m familiar with, I’ll skim the sheet music to make sure I remember it and then focus on playing without it.  I can totally do that.

So yeah, another great lesson.  Oh, and I sent Luna to YouTube to look up Lindsey Stirling and songs from Steven Universe.  Hope she likes both!

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