Baby Step #1.

[This is the first of a blog series on Baby Steps.]

Today I gave a 3-note lesson. It was great! Not as boring as some of you may think, not in the least bit! Glenda and I were talking about baby steps. and 3 notes are the perfect tangible amount of baby steps to take in 30 minutes.

After years and years of driving her own children to music lessons, and now witnessing her grandchildren go to their music lessons, Glenda has taken the grand leap to give herself the time to take the music lessons she's always wanted! She played her first recital in December and played her "Twinkles" with a great twinkle in her eye! Way to go Glenda! Glenda has acknowledged that as an adult beginner she's got a long way to go before she gets to where she wants to be as a cellist.

But! Today she made the exclamation "I want to practice 2 hours a day." (Glenda, I will hold you to this desire, believe you me!) I admire her acknowledgement of exactly how badly she wants to be a better cellist and make the sound she hears from the stereo and inside her heart everyday. Acknowledging the desire is a great part of taking the steps to acquiring the skills.

So this morning Glenda and I sat down to our lesson and we began to talk about how we practice.
  • What does it mean to take baby steps in practice?
  • How can we divide up the songs we work on?
  • Rather than just narrow in on three notes and play them over and over (and over and over and...), how do we provide ourselves with the ladder rungs to play sounds that we long to hear from our cellos?
  • Is there a science, a set of rules to the deductive reasoning we use while practicing?
Today we worked on the first 3 notes of "Lightly Row." [A(0), F#(3), F#(3) --. ]

Baby Step #1 - Recycling your checklist: Playing a note on the A-string, the A in this case, does not just mean play A. Playing the first note of Lightly Row means thinking about all types of posture, bow hold, arm swing, prepping the 3rd finger (and 1st and 2nd fingers), flat wrist, curved fingers, sinking & weighty arms, and more! We start at the very beginning of the first cello lesson we ever had and press "play."

The recycling of thought on all your technique is crucial. It's crucial for a number of reasons. We don't want to train our minds to play something incorrectly. The more we practice an idea as simple as sitting at a 90-degree angle, the more innate it will feel as we move on to further baby steps. Eventually you realize that you don't have to go to that check point as often. But as you'll soon read in later posts, you do need to go back to them eventually, if only for brief moments.

I liken this step to "checking in on someone." Call them up. Ask how things are going. Listen. If they're doing well, smile. If they're doing poorly, listen. Empathize. Help.

I'm trying to do this with more friends and even with myself more often these days. I find myself saying in my life, what a lot of my students say in their lessons... "What?! How and why on earth am I sitting sideways?" "Woah. Why are my shoulders so tense?" Sometimes my physical body demands that I check in on myself. "What!? Where did this cold sore come from? What am I so stressed out about? Why am I craving so much sweet stuff?" or "Okay, I'm getting a migraine. What emotionally traumatic moment did I re-live 3 hours ago?"

Because Thought-Recycling is so crucial, this is where it's great to have a teacher. A great teacher, in my opinion, should always check in on their student regularly. "Oh, you still haven't memorized, 7 + 5, let's go back a little then. Before we attempt to swallow algebra." :-) I realize that I might sound like a broken record to some of my students. But! It's for your own precious good. You'll thank me later, I promise. To this day, I can still hear my first cello teacher, Myrna Trent, talk about curved fingers and bow distribution. (Thank you Myrna!)

Okay, back to Glenda's lesson. Playing the first note of Lightly Row has a TON of checklist items to go through. Glenda and I once wrote out a list of ~100 things she thinks about while playing the cello. No joke. Play that first note several times to allow your brain to go through each one. After you've gone through your checklist items and your senses are satisfied then go on to the next baby step...