Featured Cello Lesson: Blowing Bubbles!

Breathing: "But I've been doing this since birth!"

Breathing is one of the most valuable skills I've acquired as a cellist/vocalist. It relaxes nerves, releases energy into the cello, provides smooth calm muscles, and gets much needed oxygen to the brain. (and I'm sure much more too!)

This weekend, I took a trip to the nearest dollar store and picked up some bubbles. Best idea I've had in a long time! Not only is this just a really fun thing to do. But I found this to be a great way to "get outside your head stuff" during a lesson. We were literally outside. [Bonus: The weather must've been the most gorgeous introduction to October I've ever witnessed in the NW!]

I had so much fun, you might find me at a park, just blowing bubbles sometime this weekend...

The Depth and Length of Your Breathing

Above, you can see how the breath of my student, Rohan, was changing the bubbles. We experimented with all different types of breath combinations.

  • Slow and Shallow
  • Big and Fast Release
  • Long, Deep, Sustained
  • Short, Fast and Abruptly Cut
  • etc...

There might be times in your repertoire where those are necessary. It's important to be able to maintain flexibility so that you're not limiting your musical options just by a "I've never done that before" limitation. If you experiment with the number, depth, and length of your breaths then you can truly have the freedom to choose whichever you think fits the song the best.

Breathing Between Phrases

Another activity Rohan and I did, was this: hold a prepared cello posture ready to start the song, take a deep breath, blow one set of bubbles, play the first musical phrase, FREEZE, blow another set of bubbles, play the second musical phrase, repeat this process until song is over.

This really helps to musically punctuate each phrase, as well as promotes healthy amounts of breath between the phrases. Both are great to have.

The Timing of Your Breath

In Mindy's lesson yesterday, we focused on the timing of when to start the song. She and I have talked about the importance of breathing already so I thought I'd refine the concept. 

It's best to start the song not when your body is tense and completely full of air. You want to push the your body to relax and then start the song. That way, you still have air left to give the song, but you're not forcing it out of you nor starting the song with a tight chest. (Great advice Steve Balderston, Thanks!)

I use that trick all the time when I'm on the stage - especially when I've got a hint of stage fright or a case of nerves.

Practice Game: Bouncing with the Flow

Grace and I have been working on fluidity, musicality, and flow of her musical phrases recently. I have to credit David Evenchick for this idea. He's my brilliant Suzuki teacher trainer.

Check out the video below... (Click here if you can't see it.)

What I love about this exercise is that you are forced to feel (with your WHOLE body) when the flow is hindered by the ball. This also requires that you fully understand how to subdivide each  bounce evenly.  I also love that this exercise/game is not limited to just the cello. Feeling the flow of your music like this can be useful for any instrument. 

Possible Modifications...

  • Listen to the Suzuki CD while bouncing a ball. Try to keep up with it!
  • Try this with ANY piece of music: Pop/Rock, future repertoire, review pieces, etc.
  • Bounce twice as fast/slow.
  • Little brothers and sisters will love to join in on this one.
  • Go outside and get some fresh air!
  • Toss it up in the air, instead of bouncing on the ground. How does this change your flow?
  • Try different balls. Basketball? Super Bouncy Ball? Whiffle ball? Which ones work the best?
  • If your natural instinct is to catch the ball from underneath, twist wrist and throw down, try switching that up. Instead catch from above or from the side.

Happy Bouncing!

Success! 1st Celloship of the Ring!

@MusicUnboxed (3 cheers for music education in NYC!) asked via twitter what was entailed in a "Cello Play-In." I'm happy to explain but let's get first things in order...

Renaming it to "The Celloship of the Ring"

...just because I'm super cheesey like that... aaaand who doesn't love puns?!

(notice the SAHWEET bumper-sticker on my student's music stand, "I *heart* CELLO")

My cello student Jessie & I

My cello student Rebecca & I

As we sat in a circle (get it? "the Ring"? Ha!) we spent the 2 hours yesterday afternoon as follows...

  • Tuning. Duh.
  • Playing a few silly but intriguing cello group games that I've collected from other teachers. Some inspired by, fellow Suzuki cello teacher based out of Los Angeles, Carey Beth Hockett
  • As a group, we played through some pre-selected songs starting at the beginning of Suzuki Book 1. Students in more advanced levels got to sight-read the cello accompaniment parts
  • The last half-hour or so we bounced around opportunities for each student to feature a piece of their choice and offer to have the others either listen or play-along. 

Some things I loved about this...

  • Totally laid back. Which is way more my style than recitals. (Don't get me wrong there are some really important skills to gain from playing recitals, but they aren't as fun all the time.)
  • Sitting in a circle really takes the "wielding of power" out of performing for a group. Think Knights of the Round Table. It worked great.
  • All levels of students were involved. Pre-Twinklers to Book 4 were represented yesterday. Some teachers have several group lessons available for each "level" of student, but for a myriad of reasons I think it's really good to include all students.
  • Everyone got to meet each other! I've struggled with how to introduce the community aspect of playing music to my 1-on-1 students - this solves it wonderfully! Music as a group is always way more fun, in my opinion. Always.

YAY! It was a huge success! So glad that those who showed up got to experience the fun. I'm brainstorming of ways to make the next one even better... Got any suggestions?

Practice Game: Parental Warning Tickets

I sent the following practice suggestion to a parent/kiddo practice team who were having a rough week last week. (Come on, you KNOW we've ALL been there, regardless of how old we are!) It comes from the book "Helping Parents Practice" by Edmund Sprunger.

Designate 4 "Parental Warning Tickets" for use during one practice session. During that practice time, anytime the parent says something critical (in a very polite way, of course) the kiddo takes a ticket. Once the four tickets are used up, the parent can only make positive comments. This is a great tool for making practice a little "nicer" on particularly tough days. When she's taken all 4 cards, the parent is only allowed to give compliments on their playing. Which building upon your strengths, as we also all know, is still really helpful to the learning process.

If you try it out, let me know how it goes, even if it flops.

[You can get a poster version of the image above by clicking here!]

Practice Games for Rhythm!

"Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up! It's bobsled time! Cool Runnings!"

That quote/scene goes through my head (and almost out my mouth) everytime I encourage a student in a cello lesson to "feel the rhythm." And if the quote does slip out my mouth, it's usually received with a really strange look. There aren't many kiddos with a strong background in 1990's films. 

Rhythm is a strange bird.

Some teachers like to present rhythms by doing fractions, which is undoubtedly an important skill to learn. But head knowledge usually does not equal feeling it in your soul. Rhythm is all about flow. So if you and/or your child are working on a tough rhythm and can't quite "get it," don't give up on excellent execution of it, but ease up on the pressure to perform and focus more on the flow of the phrase. Rhythm will come. 

Practice Games for Rhythm

"Foot Thumping"  This is a classic one that most musicians, including myself resort to when a tricky rhythm pops up. Play the song on your instrument while thumping your foot on each beat. Violinist, violists, and the like can actually walk around the room, stepping on each beat. Cellists are at a disadvantage here, since we're glued to our chairs. [Warning: Conductors detest foot thumpers so don't make this a habit.]

"Rhythm Bouncing" Listen to or sing the song or rhythm while bouncing a ball on each beat. This really helps to subdivide the space/time between each downbeat. Adults shouldn't ignore this one, it can actually be quite tricky! It's great way to incorporate more listening into your practice. Extra Challenge: Try bouncing the ball on the 1st and 3rd beat, and taking a step on beats 2 and 4!

"Blind Rhythm Review" You'll need a partner for this one. Without the cello (or other instruments), clap/tap/snap out various review songs. Try and guess the song without the pitches! This can also be modified for a group lesson: Sit in a circle and pass the rhythm around by tapping it out on the back of the person next to you. Once it comes back around, see if it's still the same rhythm. It's like "Telephone" but with silent rhythms.

"Syllable City" Match up words and phrases to songs or difficult parts of a piece. Be sure the words truly match up with the beat though. Which rhythms would match up to the following phrases? "Apple Pie... Apple Pie..." and "Mola-sses. Mola-sses." and "Lollipop. Lollipop."