Posts Tagged ‘boulder cello lessons’

The Responsibility Never To Be Bored

March 20, 2017

by Rex Weston

Instructor of cello at The Lesson Studio

I think of the cello as the best toy ever. Part of that is the flexibility of the instrument – it can be used to play any genre of music: classical, folk, bluegrass, celtic, rock and roll, jazz, hiphop. It can make a wide and lively variety of sounds, and it can take up many roles: bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, folk guitar, fills, harmony, and melody.

And there are a lot of fun things that happen when playing. The act itself should be physically pleasurable – as far as the brain is concerned, playing a difficult passage is as stimulating as skiing a difficult mogul run. Playing an instrument lights up an EKG like a Christmas tree.

Making great and weird sounds is fun. Playing a tune is fun. Improvising is extremely satisfying. Playing music with other people is great fun. Being swept away by playing great music is one of the high points of anyone’s life. Writing and improvising music are totally engaging.

But the most important part of the cello for me was the end of boredom in my life. I learned that if I was doing anything, and I was bored, that I needed to STOP, and figure out how to make it interesting. That it was absolutely my responsibility not to be bored. When practicing a piece, the moment I checked out with boredom meant I was no longer learning anything. That I might still be making sound on my instrument, but it wasn’t doing me any good at all, because my brain wasn’t focussing on what I was doing, and that made practicing pointless.

Now the typical response to boredom, and the one I was trained as a kid by television to do, is just to switch channels. The problem with this is that it is the opposite of productive, and just leads to a life of channel surfing. The productive way to deal with boredom, is to analyze the problem and find a way to make it interesting. This requires creativity.

Let’s take a simple problem in practicing a difficult passage in a piece of music. Playing the passage over and over usually doesn’t help. That is because the brain has checked out in the process – if it isn’t interested it won’t help you out. Doing the same thing again and again – sorry, but your brain has left the building. So the way to get the brain back in gear is to look at and play the passage many different ways. Playing the passage in different rhythms is a good start. After one has played the passage in a jazz swing rhythm, a salsa rhythm, a reggae rhythm, a waltz, hiphop, a march, playing the passage straight becomes suddenly simple. Basically you have to have fun to learn something. And the chances are that if you are not having fun, you are not learning anything.

This obviously applies to the rest of your life, too. Instead of checking out when being bored in a classroom, the new response is to look for something in the subject that is interesting, and explore that aspect in depth. It is called self-directed learning, and is the only way we really learn anything that makes a difference. It works in your job, and it works in your life.

Multi-tasking — Good or Bad?

November 2, 2014

Elizabeth LaManna, Cello Instructor at the Lesson Studio











By Elizabeth Avery LaManna

Is the mind able to be ‘present’ and focused on more than one thing at a time?
What does it take to play an instrument and make music?
Where is the focus and where is one ‘present’?

It seems to me, Music Making is an extreme multi-tasking activity. Yet to be a part of the music magic you have to stay focused in a zone separate from the multi-tasking demands.

That means your practice has to really be productive. All the little parts of playing the instrument need to become natural, accurate, automatic and reliable – ie – the means of making your music are second nature. And all those little individual parts need your complete attention in practice, one at a time. Practice becomes so much fun when attention and intention are clear and defined. Repetition is only valuable when the task is being well defined and executed.

So make your practice a time of clarity when you seek and drill carefully. Take the challenges in such tiny bits and slowly practice so that you can master the tasks you set before yourself. You will find success and things will stick with you and become your foundation.

Remember, in practice you are always an artist at work.

Janos Starker and Learning From Giants

July 2, 2013

by Keith Thomas, Cello instructor at The Lesson Studio

Janos Starker, renowned cellist and teacher, passed away last week at the age of 88. I doubt that any performing cellist today has not been touched in some way by this giant. I first encountered his teaching as a young student learning the Bach Cello Suites for the first time. I played his fingerings and bowings (largely) without really knowing the man. He was, arguably, the most influential pedagogue of the 20th century, holding a professor position at the University of Indiana Bloomington for five decades. His methods are used in private studios and universities across the world.

At 15, he made his name performing this piece, the Kodaly Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello. That astonishing fact should give you an idea of his technical genius from an early age. Watching him perform the same piece as an older man, I’m struck by the total mastery and ease with which he tackles such a monstrous piece, and I consider it like a man and his old friend having a conversation. Look again at his performance: look at his face, fully focused and concentrated (and almost bored looking); look at his arms and wrist, relaxed to a ridiculous degree; listen to his ideas, how invigorating and interesting they are.

Which brings me to my point: there is an amazing value in studying pros. I’ve learned so much from listening to great performances from cellists, violinists, singers, flutists, and almost every other type of musician. Our ears are so spectacular that they can tell our bodies what to do intuitively. If I want to play with the color and character of Maria Callas, I need to listen to her singing and try to match it. If I want to play Kodaly like Starker, I ought to study his efficiency, his bowings, his fingerings, his musical ideas, his coloring, etc.

There’s a treasure trove of musical performances on YouTube. If you’re performing a piece, listen to it first. Then listen again and again, from different performers. It will ingratiate the music into your heart and you’ll feel more comfortable practicing and performing it. Listen and look; they’re the two biggest tools we have to have more fun practicing, and more success performing.

Keith Thomas, Cello Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Keith Thomas

Nurtured By Love: Reflections On the Suzuki Method

May 2, 2012

By Alexa Massey, Cello, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

The Suzuki Method is a rich musical philosophy based on the life work of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. As I come close to the end of my first year of studying Suzuki Pedagogy at the University of Denver, I have found myself reflecting on several significant points of the Suzuki method which have not only nurtured me as a person, but also shaped me as a musician and teacher.

The point that has affected me most deeply is Dr. Suzuki’s emphasis on talent being nurtured and created rather than inborn. Even growing up doing the Suzuki Cello books, I had not internalized this part of Suzuki philosophy until recently. Many people feel quickly discouraged and give up at endeavors at which they don’t immediately display exceptional “talent.” Suzuki inspires a pro-active sentiment, and makes me realize that my weaknesses are due to lack of effort, consistency, and/or lack of correct environment and instruction, rather than due to an inborn lack of ability. Dr. Suzuki has also made me take a second look at my apparent “talents”—and made me realize that my strengths are not due to a magical, inborn ability within myself, but rather the day-to-day conditions and priorities of my life, opportunities I’ve taken advantage of, as well as years of guidance from excellent teachers and constant support from my parents. It is these factors that have led to my success. Suzuki’s philosophies are motivating because one cannot feel hopeless about him or herself if they really put this principle into action every day of their lives. He teaches us that, “only through action can the power of the life force be displayed. Ability develops through practice.”

Dr. Suzuki’s work with disabled children has been especially moving to learn about. His “unorthodox” methods and relentless personal creativity show that, with effort and dedication, even a very young blind child can become a musical virtuoso, such as his Teiichi Tanaka, whom he describes in detail in his book Nurtured By Love. Dr. Suzuki’s dedication to this child helped him establish a way to express himself, build his self-esteem, offer him a social outlet, as well as give him opportunities to shine and touch people with his music through performance. I’m sure that his childhood and life were greatly enriched by music. Through his work with students such as Teiichi, Dr. Suzuki teaches us, “any child is able to display highly superior abilities if only the correct methods are used in training.”

While Dr. Suzuki turned out many talented young students, I believe that his method develops sensitivity, discipline, endurance, and a beautiful heart because of his belief that every child can. If music was treated like an exclusive “club” that only the elite or genetically pre-destined could join, then he would be building a foundation built on ego and personal insecurity. It would not reap true art. Because of his faith in all children, this philosophy instills real self-esteem and fine character that is not based on a child’s achievement, but rather the inherent worth of their soul and their infinite potential. His philosophy creates children with strength and humility of character. Dr. Suzuki lived the principle, “character first, ability second.” Dr. Suzuki teaches us to, “never loose your humility, for pride obscures the power to perceive truth and greatness.” By believing in the potential of every child, he was coming from a place of humility, greatness, and strength.

The world of music is so much more than a hobby or afterschool activity; it is a way of life, and something to keep the spirit alive in a world that will always have darkness.

Conversation with Yo-Yo Ma

October 16, 2011

by Alexa Reeves Massey, Cello Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Alexa Reeves Massey, Cello Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Alexa Reeves Massey

It was a vivid day for a number of reasons. Not only had I been anticipating seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform the Haydn D Major Cello concerto with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for weeks, but my teacher had acquired back-stage passes for him and his students to meet him after the performance.

Then a turn of events occurred. The day before the concert, the Twin Towers fell. I was in 8th grade and remember not fully understanding the impact of it until the following day in Denver, when my Mom pointed to the Sears Towers on our way to the Boetcher concert hall. As we looked up at the Sears Towers, which looked rather large to a small-town girl like myself, she explained that the Twin Towers were several times as high and wide as those buildings. This July, I visited ground zero in New York City, and the air felt thick with the loss of a decade ago. The surrounding Wall Street Buildings are still heavily guarded, and my heart pounded as the countless news images played through my mind of people running for their lives from the area I was standing.

Of course, Haydn D Major, an up-beat, joyful concerto, was no longer appropriate for the concert. An hour before the performance, the program was changed from Haydn to the Elgar Cello Concerto—one of the most soulful, heart-wrenching pieces of music ever written for the cello. This is also the work that inspired me to stick with the cello when I was young—I saw it performed at the age of ten, and I knew I would never quit the cello after seeing the true magic this instrument could create.

Most events were cancelled after the attack, but the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma continued on with the concert with an altered program as a tribute to the lives lost.

After the concert, Yo-Yo Ma spoke with my cello studio, and I will always remember the wisdom he imparted. He discussed the tragedy of the previous day with us, and I was struck by how gracious, generous, and completely humble this man was.

He went on to discuss cello playing with us, and said that practicing is about quality, not quantity. He said that some days he practices for five hours, other days he will only practice for five minutes. If you aren’t having a productive practice time, you are most likely just reinforcing bad habits. He also discussed the importance of having a balance of the three ways to practice. Those include:

1) Practicing by yourself

2) Practicing with others (rehearsing)

and 3) Imagining yourself practicing.

I remember being surprised by number 3 on his list. It seems silly, right? But it has been scientifically proven that the brain forms the same neural connections by imagining yourself doing something as actually performing the task. He said, “Just because your cello is in the shop is no excuse to not practice!” This piece of advice saved my music career in college—I was injured and the time I could practice was very limited. But I learned to practice in my mind, and work out fingerings, bowings, and other musical ideas before even touching my instrument. This is a great way to give your body a rest, or prevent injury, and still improve musically.

Yo-Yo Ma was a child prodigy, performing in the White House for President John F. Kennedy by the age of five. However, in college, he studied Humanities at Harvard University. Yo-Yo Ma stressed the importance of learning about the world. He said to develop yourself in many areas—to learn about history, humanities, art, and math & science; being a well-rounded person is as important to virtuosic musicianship as are practicing your scales and etudes. You can’t be a truly mature artist unless you are educated and aware of the world you live in.

As well, he said that he is always pursuing new musical interests. Yo-Yo Ma has largely popularized the cello because he doesn’t just play standard works—he is continually pursuing new projects, playing music from different cultures, and learning, growing, and challenging himself musically.

“When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.”

Yo-Yo Ma

The Easiest Way to Practice

March 12, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

I promise there really is an easy way to practice. You don’t always have to woodshed those runs or burn those shifts into your muscle memory. Even get at this: you can practice without having to even get your instrument out of its case (sorry for you vocalists and pianists out there that I’m excluding by saying that). Sometimes you just can sit back, relax and listen. No really, I am completely serious in saying this. No metaphorical speaking here. Listening to music can help you become even more expressive and musical when you play. Anything and everything can help you learn about musicality and that is a absolutely wonderful base that anyone can build off of.

Listening to music can help so much especially with younger children. When I was growing up, I remember listening to Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev and just anticipating the portrayal of the bird because I knew one day that was the instrument that I wanted to play. Once I got my first little Gemeinhardt student flute with the curved head joint and was a master player of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells” my mother bought three flute CDs. From that point on I was convinced that I wanted to be James Galway, but without the beard. Of course, at that point in time I also wanted to an astronaut, ballerina, vet and firefighter, but a girl can dream, right? Anyways, I had that exact sound of what I wanted to sound like cemented into my memory and it set a definite goal for me. Think of that, an eight year old with a goal: pretty epic.

Listening to recordings of a piece you’re working on can help with phrase direction and knowing what exactly you want to do with everything the composer has handed you. It can also help with tone color, style, tempo, and rhythm. It can also help by helping you decide what you do and don’t want to do. Listening to music that isn’t your specific instrument also is very helpful. Bach cello suites, Stravinsky ballets, Wagner operas, African drums, French flute music, Japanese Folk music, and all kinds of chamber ensembles from string quartet to who knows what are just a few that you can choose from. YouTube has so much but while there is lots of good, there is also lots of bad. Libraries are great places to find CDs that you can check out listen to. Also, Naxos Music Library is a great way to access all kinds of music. There is a subscription fee, but if you are a CU-Boulder student, you can access this for free on campus. ITunes has a broad range of all kinds of music as well as your local Barnes & Noble or Borders book store. So many options are out there and just so you can have an easy practice day.