Bow Hold Makeover

I frequently do mini bow hold makeovers with students. Sometimes the tiniest alterations make the biggest difference! In this case, we changed how the bow is involved with the cello and body.

In the top photo, you might be able to notice that the bow was being used like a sword is used. This student was one knuckle away from using their bow like a baseball bat. Oh no!

In the bottom photo, after the makeover, you might be able to see that this student's relationship with his bow and cello has now changed.

There is no longer a posture of ordering his cello to "stomp out" a sound. The change has now prompted him to *ask* his cello to release sounds.


Quote of the Week: Living in Process & Creativity

 "Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensively absorbed in the process and giving it form."

 "Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensively absorbed in the process and giving it form."

As students, we step into process by choice (wether we're aware of that or not at the beginning.) Regardless of what we want the product to be or when we want that product to come into fruition, we are in process.

To me, the juiciest part of process is curiosity. Curiosity has an element of care-free exploration and questioning that I have only learned to love from years of trying to learn things the hard way.

 Using an "open hand" to hold our process-encounters gives our learning room to breathe. While closing our hands with great expectations strangles the life from what we desire from the process. This doesn't mean we shouldn't have great expectations, but even those should have room to breathe to morph and change and grow to be larger than we initially imagined.

Metaphorically we can actually hear the difference between this tension-free mentality and vice grip mentality through our cello bow holds. I encourage you to experiment with this metaphor in your cello practicing this week or if you're not a cellist...

What else in your life needs room to breathe before it can grow?


The Benefits of Interleaving Practice Time

Is fluency a measure of learning? Should you practice the same thing over and over again for a certain amount of time? How much time? Are you a good judge of whether you've learned something or not? 

The Benefits of Interleaving Practice

From "One of the dilemmas facing a learner is the seductive nature of blocked practice. Performance improves fast and learning seems to be optimal - which is the reason why in many areas the idea of blocked practice - or focusing on one thing at a time - is so dominant. However, research has shown that the long-term effects of a more variable approach, where multiple things are practiced mixed together, are much more beneficial than blocked practice."

Watch Dr. Robert Bjork explain this further in the video below...

Your Practice Room, The Guest House

Our practice sessions invite us to examine ourselves. This is usually a pretty bossy invitation, as it's not always a choice to attend this self-examination.  

That being said, when we do make the choice to observe ourselves during a practice session, the experience allows us to deeply learn from ourselves. This self-observation has long-term results, but only if we're asking the right questions and holding ourselves open (and literally relaxed!) to allow whatever emotions and obstacles that arrive to continue on their way.   

The things that present themselves in a practice session are merely guests. If we are hospitable and provide boundaries to ourselves and our practice session guests, they will move on when they are no longer our guide.  who knows perhaps they will become good friends too.

The poem by Rumi seen below, is a beautiful picture of this...



A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi 

translation by Coleman Barks

10 Time-Saving Practice Tips for Cello (or any instrument)

We all have days when we need to make our practice really count more than other days. You may be racing the clock and have to pick up the kids from school, need to make dinner, respond to all those emails... The list goes on and on.

Believe me I've heard it all and know my own list of excuses like the back of my bow hold. Here are a few tips and tricks I've learned from my own practice sessions. (Now, to follow my own advice...) ;)

  1. Write down your top 3 goals. Seriously, get a pencil and write down specific and measurable goals for just this one practice session. Do you want to play through that tough spot 10 times "successfully?" Zone in on that Ab major scale? Master that one booger of a shift? Write it down.

  2. Set an alarm. You'll be able to devote more focus and less worry. How much time do you have to dedicate to practice today? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? 45? By setting an alarm, you'll be eliminating the distraction of feeling the need to check your clock (or your phone - which seeing those notifications could derail the whole practice session!)

  3. Warm up & stretch out. This ensures that our body is really ready to get to work. Go through scales. Play slow open strings while really focusing on the way it feels to play your instrument today. Some of my students have even reported that it helps to walk around their block.

  4. Take a deep breath. Really sense the air filling your lungs and release all the excess tension and stress you've built up (probably due to a lack of time!) Rest easy that you've carved out and made the following amount of time sacred. Leave worry outside of this period of time. Let yourself worry about it once you're done practicing.

  5. Turn off all ringers/beeps and distractions. There is no such thing as a facebook emerency. Twitter can wait. So can your emails. I've even been known to totally turn off my phone and computer, so there's no chance of an easy and quick way out of practicing.

  6. Use your pencil! You guys! If you don't write it down, your brain feels responsible for retaining that information. Every time! If you're always missing that one shift, notate it. If you forget that it's a 2nd finger, not 3rd finger during that one measure, notate it. If you forget the bowings, NOTATE IT! Writing it down takes less time than you think and it truly helps.

  7. Take a break & check in with yourself. When you "get into the zone," sometimes we forget to ask our hands how they're doing. Are you curling your toes? Is your back straight? Take another deep breath. Take a sip of water. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Need a granola bar? Check in with yourself and give yourself the gift of space.

  8. SLOW first. This is a tough one, especially if we feel our practice time is running out. But everything you play during a power-practice session should be played slowly at first and mindfully always. Take my word for it: the slower, the better. You can always play it fast later.

  9. Set your timer. Pick a phrase that needs a medium amount of work. Set your timer to 2-5 minutes. Repeat the designated phrase as many times as you can until the time runs out. Most of my students are always shocked by how many times they can play it!

  10. Cool down & stretch. This is a great way to ramp down from an intense practice session. It gets our mind adjusted to the outside world again. Prepare yourself to encounter all those emails. Relish in the notion that you really did accomplish something productive today. Did you reach the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the practice session? I think you'll be surprised.

Do you have any other time-saving practice tips to share? Any personal experiences with the ones I've already listed?

Happy Practicing!

Yoga for Musicians: a Collection from Youtube

I perused the interwebs and found you some gems...  Take a look below. 

In this interview, Mia Olson, a Professor of Woodwinds at Berklee College of Music, discusses her practice of yoga, the Yoga For Students class that she teaches, and the benefits that students report from taking the class.

In this second interview, Mia Olson, a Professor of Woodwinds at Berklee College of Music, discusses the benefits that musicians can gain from practicing yoga, and describes how to find a yoga style that's right for you.

Simple yoga exercises to stretch and relax the shoulders, warm up the muscles and nerves of the hands and improve core strength after long practice periods. Yoga With Fatima:

Yoga Stretches & Positions for Guitarists (and Cellists!)


(Oh! and here's a good article from Yoga Journal for you to read too...) 

April 13th and 14th: Yoga Celloship!

Here I am, crawling out of the abyss I not-so-lovingly refer to as "The Double Ear Infection Flu of 2013." That was a doozey... and time did not stop for this monster of a virus, because it's already that time of the month for you to RSVP to April's Celloship of the Ring. And this one's gonna be a good one! Yay!



I'm happy to announce that my favorite non-profit yoga studio, Samdhana-Karana Yoga is providing their core teaching staff to help us understand how yoga might be just the perfect thing to pair with the cello. I even hear rumors of the cello being used as a (gentle) yoga prop.

Yoga teachers Pamela Higley & Kate Fontana will reveal how yogic philosophy and movement just might enrich our performances and cello practice experiences. Please wear comfortable clothes. Don't forget your rockstop. And if you have a yoga mat hanging around, feel free to bring that too.

  • 2 Times to choose from: April 13th 2-4pm at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, Seattle OR April 14th 2-4pm at the Tacoma Studio location aka "My House"
  • Who: Anyone curious about how the cello could ever be integrated with yoga...
  • Cost: $10 for non-studio members (Please send me an email to reserve your spot.)
  • Here's the Facebook event.

Remember, if you are a current studio member please RSVP (either way, "Yes" via studio calendar or "Not this time" via email) so I don't freak out when I haven't heard from you.

See you there! Namaste.

The Music Instinct: Science and Sound

With the magnificent Steven Wilbur gracing us with his presence this Saturday, March 16th, I thought I'd share this lovely documentary (2 hours long!) on the Science of Sound and Song to prep us all for some math and science... Watch the full thing for FREE below!

The Music Instinct: Science & Sound by Elena Mannes

What stuck out to you? How do you notice your own response to the science of music moving your soul? 

Practice Tool: Don't Break the Chain!

[If you can't see the video below, click here.]

I was reminded by a couple students' cello lessons this week to share with you this fancy and not so fancy little tool/app/website/video concept called "Don't Break the Chain."

There are many reasons why I love the video above. One of which just has to be listening to a British accent. Duh. But I love this video because Charlie not only does a great job of introducing the concept of "Don't Break The Chain," he also reminded me how easy it is to overlook your successes simply because the process doesn't look like the product. So remember that. Inch by inch, everything's a cinch.

Because in 5 years from now, it's not going to matter how many hours you've practiced the cello. What will matter is how many days you've touched your cello and the steps (however small) you took to get there. 

I say this all the time...

It's not important how long you practice, it's how & how often you practice.

So Don't Break the Chain...


Don't Break the Chain is a concept that Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, created for his own use. (Thanks for sharing Jerry!) This concept totally supports cello practice and a bunch of other stuff too! did a great article on this productivity approach. They explain the basic steps as follows... (But be sure to read the whole article here as it's really helpful!)

  1. Figure out your goals. Start with no more than three, and add a fourth goal after three weeks if you can handle it.
  2. Set daily minimums for each goal. Things like "I will run one mile" or "I will put away 10 stray items" work better than setting a time limit.
  3. Set your boundaries and rules. Because this process expects you to work every single day, you have to figure out what you're going to do when you're sick, on vacation, or just find yourself in a situation where you won't be accomplishing your goal that day but don't deserve the punishment of a broken chain.
  4. (Download or print out a calendar for each goal and label it with that goal. I prefer a series of monthly calendars because there's more room to make a big X, but traditionally "Don't Break the Chain" uses one year-long calendar. Either way, put these calendars up on your wall where you'll see them regularly.
  5. (Use or buy a fat red marker, or any marker—the fat ones just make bigger and more rewarding Xs.
Transient is an online motivational tool (and FREE iPhone app!) based on the "don't break the chain" method that helps you stick to your good habits and break bad ones. Each day you complete a task you want to keep up, you mark it in your chains. The chain will grow longer with each day and soon your main motivation is to keep the chain from breaking. Your chains are shown visually with several great looking skins to choose from. Pretty cool!

A Practice Paper Chain For The Guilt-ridden...

Come on. I know some of you are thinking, "But I'm gonna feel terrible about myself that epic day that I inevitably do break the chain." So if that's the only thing holding you back, then by all means, avoid the guilt!


How 'bout making a paper chain?! You could even have different chains for each song you review! This way the goal is to just have a really long chain (without the guilt of breaking the chain.) Maybe if it gets long enough, hanging it around your bedroom or someplace that you can be reminded of how proud you are of your efforts. 'Cause you should be proud, really proud.

Remember that practicing an instrument has to work for you not everyone else too. 

These ideas might not work that wonderfully with your lifestyle... but do you have another method of motivating daily practice that works? Do share with us all in the comments below!

Happy Practicing!

Body Movement & the Cello: Pt 3 - The BrainDance

Please help me give a round of applause to Karin Stevens and Faith Stevens for opeing up the world of movement to us cellists this weekend. What a success!

As promised, here is the BrainDance material I wanted to share with you...

Anne Green Gilbert is the Artistic Director of the Creative Dance School and the Kaleidoscope Dance Company in Seattle. She's created this series of developmental movements called the BrainDance which is based on the the first year of life.

From her website: "As babies, we did these movements on our tummies and back on the floor. However, cycling through these patterns at any age, daily or weekly while sitting or standing, has been found to be beneficial in reorganizing our central nervous system. Repeating these patterns over time may help us fill in any missing gaps in our neurological system due to birth trauma, illness, environment, head injury or not enough tummy time as a baby."

Here's a lovely little blog interview with Gilbert from 2010 and an article from the Seattle Times too!

Karin and Faith both did a beautiful job of opening our chair-bound minds as cellists to the full span of movement that we have to offer our practice sessions. I was reminded many times this weekend of all the different parts of my body I've not been using to help play the cello. Yikes. [Example: My lungs' expansion & my thighs pushing down to the ground.] It was so wonderful to have those reminders.

The BrainDance Patterns

I would encourage each of you to create your own BrainDance to do before you start your practice session with the cello. And like we proved this weekend, these movements can also be done from sitting in a chair too! To the right, you'll see Mrs. Beasley from youtube introduce the following patterns...

    1. Breath: Take four to five deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth filling the belly, diaphragm and lungs. (Brain needs oxygen to function)
    2. Tactile: Touch all body parts in various ways – squeezing, tapping, slapping, scratching, brushing. (Bonding and sensory integration)
    3. Core-Distal: Stretch away from body center (naval) through fingers, toes, head, tail, and curl back to core center. (Relate to others and to self)
    4. Head-Tail: Stretch and curl head and tail (pelvis) together & apart, circle head & pelvis, wiggle spine. (Spine flexibility and neck strength)
    5. Upper-Lower: Move the whole upper body while stabilizing with lower body. Move lower-stabilize upper. (Articulate body halves and emotional grounding)
    6. Body-Side: Move right side fully while stabilizing left side. Move left–stabilize right. Track eyes right/left. (Articulate body sides and horizontal eye-tracking)
    7. Cross-Lateral: Move or connect opposite arm and leg, or cross mid-line of body in many different ways. Track eyes up/down. (Integrate brain hemispheres, vertical eye tracking)
    8. Vestibular: Swing, tip, rock, sway, and roll. Spin until dizzy (fifteen seconds), rest, and spin the other way. (Proprioception, balance)

    Other Interpretations of the BrainDance

    Enjoy the videos below! and have fun creating your own BrainDance for cello warm-ups! I might even post my own version on youtube soon... ;-)

    Working With What You've Got (& That's A Lot!)

    Let's go all the way back to square one for this one, which is often needed when we're working on posture related cello technique. I believe ALL my students (and in fact anyone) has what it takes to be a beautiful musician and cellist. This may sound hoakey but it's true and it comes out in the very tiny ways I approach my instrument and the ways I want my students to approach their instrument.

    My students are capable and resourceful.

    When it comes to the cello, they most certainly aren't handicapped, victims, or bullies. They already have what it takes to become the kind of cellist they want to become.

    From my experience both playing and teaching the cello, when it comes to inefficient cello technique, there is often a tie to the ever-popular and definitely not innovative "scarcity mindset." 

    Pictures Speak a Thousand Words

    As with most other methods of communication, body language speaks volumes. This is the reason why I don't just aim to fix someone's bow hold. I aim to improve the way they think about how their body interacts with the cello. Doing this empowers a student to improve their bow hold on their own in the future, without me.


    When I see what some teachers might call a "bad bow hold" I'm also seeing that this student is working with the resources they believe they are currently in possession of.  For example, when I see the bow hold on the left, I don't see a really difficult future-sautille. [Product-oriented] I see that this student is placing their body's momentum behind the bow, instead of towards/inside of the bow. [Process-oriented] This student is not exploiting the strengths they already have!

    Don't fight it.

    Working against what you have is also a way that scarcity eeks its way into body language. It's almost like saying, "What I've got isn't enough, so I'm going make it work, if it's the last thing I do!"

    (This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

    (This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

    Overlooking strengths and therefore using inefficient cello techniques make it easy to fall prey to a victim mentality, whether a student knows they're doing it or not. Especially as a beginner cellist, it's easy to practice with phrases like "Here goes nothing." or "I'm gonna make this hand/cello do this."

    Those are fine and good places to start, but how is your body underlining that kind of mentality on a daily basis? And ultimately, do you want to re-enforce (daily) the idea that you weren't enough or too much to begin with? or that you're too short, too tall, too young/old, too ______, to play the cello? I should hope not.

    I'm totally guilty these inefficient mindsets on a lot of levels throughout my personal life and within my approach of the cello. I'm way too familiar with them to ignore the signs. I can spot it anywhere. (Like I can spot a homeschooler a mile away!) and who knows, maybe I'm just unprofessionally projecting myself onto my students... (umm... self-judge much?) Woah. See how it snuck its way back in there?! It's wily. and it dies hard.

    A teacher/coach who can help you discover what you already possess and plan the right way to act upon this dynamic potential? I've been lucky and blessed to have several. I would be honored to be considered one of them and share the wealth like they did. 

    Because it's not about getting a bigger slice of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger slice. 

    Am I right? or am I right? ;-)

    Video: The Scientific Power of Thought

    Just a quick reminder that you don't need your cello in your hands to practice effectively! See the video below...