To expand our technical capabilities on the cello we do our warm-ups regularly, work on difficult etudes, and choose challenging pieces. These are great ways to progress to a higher experience level on our instrument. However, let’s not forget that the purpose of learning the cello is simply to make music, and we don’t have to be Rostropovich before we can do that! Here are some ideas that can help you expand your musical enjoyment.
- Review a piece that you learned a while ago or play a new piece that you now find easy. Assess the character of the piece and see if you can infuse the piece with its inherent emotion(s). For example, if piece is a dance, try to make the piece lively. Determine whether the piece is full of joy or sorrow and try to convey that character.With an easier piece in hand, imagine yourself as a painter selecting the medium, subject, composition, and color. As the musician, your palette consists of such items as dynamics, tempo, rhythm, and the level of emotional intensity. Your musical choices communicate meaning to your audience.
- A first step often is to follow the basic dynamics prescribed by the composer (e.g. indicated fortes and the pianos). But we can do more to make our performance meaningful.
- Within a general dynamic we can “follow the line,” growing a bit louder when the line goes higher in pitch or softer when it goes lower. Sometimes we might purposely choose to do the opposite. Following the line has the marvelous effect of grouping notes together; instead of playing unrelated notes you gather them into coherent gestures.
- Not all notes are created equal. One way to add meaning to our music-making is to bring out the important notes. Contrary to what one might initially think, dissonant notes generally are the most interesting. Try to bring these out and gently resolve to consonant tones.
- Tempo another important choice when making music. The same notes can be played at different tempos to create different effects. The composer gives us a general tempo indication but we as the musicians must choose the specific tempo that expresses the appropriate feeling. Much like how a sentence spoken with different inflections can convey different meanings, slightly different tempos can set different moods. Carefree can become agitated. Melancholy can become grieving. The choice is ours.
- The composer specifies rhythm but the musician decides the nuances. Ritardandos can be big or small and can change the overall character of a piece. Making a ritardando bigger in some cases can change the character from serious to cute or from strong to grand. Another great way to shape music is to use rubato (where appropriate), taking some extra time at the beginning of a measure but making it up later so that you arrive at the next measure on time. This allows you to bring out important notes or shape the phrase with tempo fluxuation.
- Varying the intensity of a phrase can give shape and meaning to a string of notes. We can add shape by adjusting tone: Go closer to the bridge with increasing bow weight to add urgency or move closer to the fingerboard with a lighter bow to add sweetness. Likewise, we can adjust the speed of our vibrato to shape our phrase. Maybe play a dissonant note with a wide, fast vibrato, slowing down the vibrato as the music becomes more consonant. We can also adjust the articulation of notes. Some notes (e.g. the beginning of Saint-Saens’ “The Swan”) grow slowly, blooming into a warm sound. Some notes (e.g. the beginning of the Dvorak concerto) pop out suddenly. These are some of the many tools to aid us in varying intensity.
- Play with others. Enjoy the challenge and the joy of collaborating with other musicians to bring music on the page to life.
- And finally, play for others! Take a little risk and share your music. Remember that when you perform, what’s most important is the messenger, not the message. It’s who you are being when you perform that is the gift, not the accuracy of the notes.
Enjoy making music!
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