July 31, 2015
Mastering the Cello: Practicing & Technique Tips
Mastering the cello is a process which takes years. If you’re new to the instrument, or have a child that’s interested in picking it up, it’s important to understand that from the start. However, with hard work and dedication, it can be done. In this article, we’ll discuss some techniques you can adopt which will help you learn to master the cello.
For any musician, regardless of the instrument, practice is the most important element. If you’re a beginner who is looking to master the cello, the first thing you should do is establish a good practice routine. By this, we don’t mean that you just practice with your cello for a certain amount of time, four or five times a week. Establishing a good practice routine means setting effective practice habits that will contribute to your success with the instrument. Those who practice consistently but do not establish a constructive routine may become discouraged because their skills don’t improve much over time.
Determining the best time to practice with the cello is different for everyone. Ask yourself, “do I feel freshest in the morning or at night?” Practicing with your instrument after a long day at school or work may not enable you to practice with the energy you need. If you find yourself tiring quickly during practice, a good technique is to split your practice time up. Give yourself a break. Dragging yourself through a predetermined amount of time won’t help you much if you’re not able to commit the necessary energy. Once you’ve found a good time of day to practice, work on being consistent. Try to practice at the same time five to six days a week. For beginners, this may seem like a lot, but over time, as your skill with the cello improves, you’ll be much more comfortable with this schedule. Remember: learning an instrument takes time; it’s important not to let yourself get discouraged. Picking the right time during the day, or splitting up your practice sessions is a great way of making the most important element of learning the cello more comfortable and more beneficial.
Another thing to remember is that the length of time you play when you practice isn’t important. It’s more important that your practice time is beneficial. If you practice with the same music every time, or follow the same banal practice ritual every time, you risk the temptation to let your mind wander. Practice requires focus. One great technique for making your practice time count is to change up the music you’re playing so you’re constantly engaged. It’s good to come back to pieces you’ve practiced in the past, but it’s not always helpful to stick with the same piece of music until you feel like you’ve mastered it. You might find that moving to something else before coming back allows you to develop your skills more, and more quickly.
One great technique for improving the quality of your practice is to pick the right location. You don’t want to practice with your instrument in a room with a lot of potential distractions. For example, if your computer, TV, video game system, etc. are in the same room that you practice in, you might be more inclined to cut practice short, or skip practice altogether. If you’re serious about mastering the cello, limit the potential distractions in the room where you practice. To this end, it’s also a good idea to silence your phone (or even turn it off), and let your friends and family know that, while you’re practicing, you should not be disturbed.
If you’re trying to set the best habits while you’re practicing with your cello, you’ll want to make sure you have all the accessories you need. It’s a good idea to get a music stand to hold your music where you can see it while you practice. It’s also a good idea to purchase a good seat, so that you can make sure you’re practicing in the proper playing position and not establishing a poor form. Having the right accessories at hand is important, and can improve the practice experience.
Take Care of Yourself
While proper care and maintenance of your instrument is incredibly important, it’s also important that you take care of yourself. If you want to get the most out of each practice session, you’ll need to make sure your own physical needs are met. Drink some water, eat some fruit, dress comfortably. These are all common-sense techniques for making the most out of your practice time. Preparing yourself physically before you practice will allow you to concentrate more easily. Playing the cello is not a passive experience; it requires focus, strength, and energy. Because of this, many music teachers recommend that you do some stretches before you play. Doing stretches will prevent any playing-related discomfort, due to tendonitis or carpal tunnel, that can develop over time.
If, when you’re practicing, you find a passage to be especially difficult, it can be a good idea to isolate that passage and work on it specifically. Working on one small section at a time, slowly, can allow you to learn a particular technique and helps avoid reinforcing a mistake. It doesn’t help you to learn and grow as a cellist if you just play through the hard parts, in favor of getting back to the easier passages. Take the time, slow down, and work through any difficulties you discover.
If you’re practicing and something just doesn’t feel right, it may be helpful to record or film yourself. Doing so will allow you to see what’s causing the feeling, and may help you figure out some areas of improvement. Isolating problem spots and understanding what makes them problematic for you is a great technique for learning to understand the instrument, as well as the way you’re playing it.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
The greatest technique for mastery of the cello is to remember to enjoy yourself. Play songs that you like, relax from time-to-time, and appreciate your growth with the instrument. Learning to play the cello is not a punishment, and if you remember to enjoy yourself, you’ll find that it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
Want more information about the cello? Check out Common Problems with Cellos (& What You Can Do) and Cello Rosin: Everything You Need to Know.
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