Cello Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music

As you progress through your music studies and start playing more challenging pieces, you have to learn new practice techniques so that you don’t hit a wall that prevents you from continuing to grow as a musician.  Below are some suggestions and practice tips that will help you develop a systematic approach to learning advanced music.

1.  Do Some Preparation Work
This can be done without your instrument.  You should look through your music and make sure you understand what all the dynamic and style markings mean.  Take note of how these markings help to shape the overall piece.  I think it’s helpful in your interpretation of a work when you understand what the composer was trying to convey through his or her use of musical elements.

You should also visually follow the flow and road map of the music as a part of your prep work.  Are there any repeated sections….any Da Capo or Dal Segno notations…..any codas?

2.  Efficient Fingerings Are Important
Before really digging into serious practice, I think it’s a good idea to read through the music slowly just to familiarize yourself with the notes.  Pay attention to note patterns/groupings and come up with a strategy for where shifts, extensions or thumb position should be used.  You can always ask your teacher for help if you don’t think that you can (or don’t want to) do this part alone.  When you’ve decided on the best and most efficient fingerings, make notes in the music so that you don’t forget later.

3.  Practice Smart (Not Hard)!
After you’ve gotten to the point where you’re comfortable with your fingerings, pick a very slow tempo and try to make your way through the piece from the very beginning while keeping the rhythm precise.  When you get to a passage or notes that you can’t play in tempo, stop for a few moments to practice just that section.  After you’ve worked out the kinks, start a few measures before the trouble spot and see if you’re able to play through without incident.  If so, then keep making your way through the music until you reach the next problem spot.  If you find that you’re still messing up on a passage, you can either devote more time to it if you’re close to making a breakthrough or mark it in your music so that you can come back to it later.  It’s probably a good idea to spend a few of your practice sessions just focusing on nothing but the sections that you’ve marked as problem areas.

Note:  You can also break the music down into smaller practice chunks such as 2 line segments or 2 measure segments if it makes you feel less overwhelmed to focus on smaller subsections. 

4.  Make a Difficult Passage More Difficult
This technique has worked wonders for me.  Sometimes I will double or triple each individual note (i.e. a quarter note turns into eighth notes or triplets…..an eighth note turns into 16th notes or sextuplets).  I also apply more complex rhythms without slowing the tempo or I’ll increase the metronome setting way beyond my goal speed.  This exercise forces your brain to work harder to adapt to the new complications which, in turn, makes the original notes on the page seem easier to play.

5. Use a Metronome
The metronome is a great practice tool.  Most come with a standard range of settings printed on the back for each of the major tempo markings.  You can use these numbers as guidelines to come up with the goal tempo for your song.  You can also use the metronome to help you remain consistent as you practice since it’s very common to unknowingly change speeds as you go back-and-forth between easy and difficult passages.

This device will help you gradually increase your technical proficiency on parts where your fingers have to move very quickly and accurately.  These technical sections in your music have to be mastered at a slow tempo first before increasing the speed.  I usually keep a running tally of conquered metronome speeds down the side of the page until I reach my goal tempo.

I hope that you have found this posting useful and interesting.  Thanks for reading!

You may also find these links helpful:
Music Terms & Symbols For Cellists
4th Position Cello Fingering Chart
3rd Position Cello Fingering Chart
2nd Position Cello Fingering Chart
KORG Digital Metronome & Tuner

I am a professional musician and music teacher.  For more information, please visit my website at www.AudreyWilliamsMusic.com.  You can hear samples of my music at Audrey’s Music Page.

How To Pick The Right Cello Size

It’s very important to pick the right cello size so that practicing and learning the instrument will be enjoyable.  The larger the cello means the larger the distance between fingered notes on the strings.  The wrong instrument will make it difficult to play comfortably using proper technique and hand positioning.

Cello sizes are notated as fractions.  The ones listed below are the most common, although, cellos can be made in many different size options.
 1/8 size,   1/4 size,   1/2 size,   3/4 size,   4/4 size

There are a few common methods used to determine the correct cello size for a student.

Using a Cello
This is a method to use if you have different sizes at your disposal that you want to try out.  First, you want to sit straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent at a 90 degree angle.  Release the end pin and rest the cello against your body in playing position.  While in this position, check for the following:

  1. Your left knee should be touching the curve below the lower bout.
  2. There should be a few inches of clearance between your shoulder and the neck of the cello.
  3. The C string peg should be near your left ear.
  4. The upper rim of the cello should be resting in the center of your chest (breast bone).
By Age
The age/size recommendations are based on the average heights and arm spans for each age group.
4-6 years old      —>  1/8 size
5-7 years old      —>  1/4 size
7-11 years old    —>  1/2 size
11-15 years old  —>  3/4 size
15 and Older      —>  4/4 size


Body  Measurements (arms/height)
I think that matching your specific height/span measurements is the more precise and best place to start. After consulting the charts below, the next step should be to try the suggested cello size in person to make sure that it really is the right fit for you.  These charts are from the website http://www.musicshowcaseonline.com.
Measurement charts show the most comfortable cello size based on three of your body measurements:  Height, Arm Length and Finger Span.
Cello Height Measuring ChartCello Arm Length Measuring ChartCello Finger Span Measuring Chart

You may also find these links helpful:
Music Terms and Symbols For Cellists
Vibrato For Beginning Cellists
Parts of The Cello
Parts of The Bow
1st Position Cello Fingering Chart

How To Handle Your Performance Anxiety

Most musicians who perform live in front of audiences will tell you that at some point in their careers, they have had to deal with performance anxiety and sometimes crippling stage fright. I had a very interesting personal experience a few months ago while performing background music at an event. These are the types of gigs that I never get nervous about, but for this particular job, I had a whole new set of custom arrangements that I had never performed in public before. Much to my amusement, I started feeling the little flutter in my stomach which is my tell-tale sign of performance jitters. It made me sympathize even more with what my students go through at every one of their recitals.

Below are a few tips and techniques that have helped me to effectively cope with and overcome the debilitating effects of performance anxiety. I’ve found that if I actively and consistently practice my set of responses to my anxiety, then I feel more calm and confident on performance day. I’m also less likely to have any memory slips.

Practice well and very thoroughly.
This should go without saying, but it’s very important to stress the significance of preparing and knowing your music well. If you come to your performance knowing that there are certain passages that you haven’t mastered in your music, it will feed into and intensify any negative nervous thoughts that may already be racing through your head.

Do a mock performance (or performances) before the BIG performance.
Gather your family, friends and strangers for a rehearsal sit in. Since everyone’s response to performance stress isn’t exactly the same, this would be the time to focus on how anxiety manifests itself for you:

  • Do you have excessive negative thoughts?
  • Do you have physical symptoms?
  • Are you panicked and looking for the nearest exit?

Don’t try to suppress what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to give a voice to your feelings of angst and pay attention to the physical sensations going on throughout your entire body.

Take the time to reflect after each practice performance.
Think back to how you felt before, during and after you played. Recap for yourself the thoughts that were running through your mind. It’s probably a good idea to write them down. I know that for me, things become more clear and real when I write. Try to relive the moment when your hands started to sweat profusely, when your stomach started twisting into knots, when you felt light headed or when you experienced any other physical ailment.

After you have given yourself the chance to revisit and digest everything that you thought and felt, try countering each specific negative thought with a positive, rational and healthy one. Keep doing this reflection exercise everyday until you have trained yourself to have a different, much better response to anxiety.

I hope that this blog has been of interest and/or helpful to you. I welcome any comments or other suggestions on the subject matter.

You may also find these links helpful:
Piano Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music
Cello Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music