Today I recorded some cello tracks for an indie film. They were nice, and lovely parts.

Sat in a recording room with the director and the composer watching over me and listening to every note. Thankfully I’ve been through this before, and know to take deep breaths, that every take isn’t going to be perfect, and to push through.

What you are going for is nothing less than the perfect take. That little bit of emotion that pushes the movie to the next level. And getting that is not going to be easy, even under the ideal circumstances (which may or may not ever be the case).

I don’t have much wisdom to pass along re: the perfect take. What I will say is that taking control of the situation on some level is essential. If your take wasn’t perfect, be the one to say it first, even if their ears hear it as alright. Go back and record it again. And again. It’s not like tape is being bought for each take. In the digital realm, re-do’s are a blessing for the perfectionist.

It won’t be perfect. But it will be yours. It will be personal, and honest. And that will give the recording you make something special, which is why you are there and not a synthesizer.

via CELLO. LESSONS! – Always press record.

I’ve always been the “passionate” cellist. Early on I probably leaned into the strings a bit heavily to overcome my lack of practice. I might have even used the “I am passionate” card as a justification for not practicing as much as I should have (I never practiced from age 13 until college, I would show up at the lesson and class and sight. I’m not proud).

I still am the passionate musician. My music requires it, and I’m more than happy to be that person. Um, you know, I’m still not the world’s most fantastic cellist in general, especially not technically, but I can hold my own. I have technique now, I get it, I work it. I practice!

But I BELIEVE in feeling and passion in music and I will until the day that I die. I can’t stand dry flat deliveries (hello most indie rock of the last several years).

And yet! And yet… I have noticed this thing that is important, and I have noticed it especially when I know I will have to get on stage and perform, and it is this: a little less feeling, a little less bombasticity (now a word), a deeper breath or two, and yes, a few more thoughts given to the angle of the bow and the curvature of the fingers really really helps. It makes the passion come through in a more sophisticated way.

via CELLO. LESSONS! – Once more, this time with less feeling..

Seth Godin is a universal delight. This is a topic I’ve been kind of obsessing over, whether it matters to please everyone (you know the answer).

Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone.Thats sort of like dividing by zero, though. Youll get no criticism, but no delight either.

via Seths Blog: The mathematical impossibility of universal delight.

There is no set career path.

You can blow up big and be gone from the scene in less than a year. You can trudge away for years and years and that does not by any means guarantee or even increase the odds of a “promotion”. You can start off playing punk clubs and end up at the county fair. You can become a huge hit only playing people’s living rooms. What that does to the psyche is simply that there is no career guidance that fits for every musician. There are very few things you can share with each other as musicians that sort of point to the “proper” way to go about being a musician.

The paradox of taste.

Most of the bands that I adore also have people who adore them, but were I to lift the needle off of “Baby Baby” and drop it on a song I will eternally love, say,  “Drunken Butterfly” I would likely be pummeled with scorn. Faces would contort. So that can be an odd feeling, knowing that some people love in a real way the music you make, where as others actually, sincerly, hate it. I imagine that is even more weird but probably less concerting the more popular you become.

The Endless Crescendo

Career wise and/or skills wise, there is never a point where you put up your feet and say “I am finally a ‘good enough’ violin player”. Inevitably there will be another goal to push through. You might play your dream show with your favorite bands and most likely that will inspire you to think “this is only the beginning”.

More of these to come. If you are a musician let me know yours.

It’s been a while since I have practiced Bach. It kept getting put aside because I had my own music to prepare and also because well, you know, I fell off the wagon.

Today I jumped on the wagon as it bounced and barely rolled along on misshapen wheels.

And I just had the simple revelation while playing that pretty much EVERY TIME I have sat down in my life to play a Bach Cello Suite thingy I have begun with the statement in my own head: “This is really difficult”.

I mean, it is difficult. But why state the obvious? Why make that the thing that begins every measure? I’m not saying that instead I should say “This is really easy”. If only. If only that were the magical cure to everything. I could get used to that.

I’m just saying maybe it’s time to acknowledge the intricacy, but instead of fixating on it, to keep in mind “let’s do this” instead. It’s a different mind set.

It’s more fun. And I played better. So. Time to try applying this in other areas of life I think.

One last thought… the other idea I noticed has lodged itself like a weed deeply rooted in my mind while playing is “other cellists can do this better”. Again. Duh. Yup. No argument there. So WHY fixate through every note on that thought?

The answer? No idea. But maybe just fixate on every note as much as possible. Not the idea that someone else can play it more rad-like.

Here’s the piece I play (and is standard repertoire) and this is most definitely not me, just one of the better youtube versions I’ve found:


The other day I had a freak out over my posture with the cello. Was my cello at the right angle? Was my posture producing the best sound? Was it what I was supposed to be doing?

Posture is… well… it’s the basic of basics with playing cello. You generate power in your bow arm, you encourage your fingers to dance rather than trudge, you can play for a long time without fatigue, you don’t develop tendonitis as easily, it’s the basic of the basics.

So how could I, after all these years of playing, be questioning the basics of the basics yet again? How could I not have this figured out yet?

At the time I chalked it up to being a bit frustrated with my playing as of late, not feeling confident with the music I was working on.

But I think now, a couple days later, that it’s because it’s ok to question the very basic elements of our endeavors, of our lives even.

How do you walk? What does your gait say about you? Is it good for your back? What does your smile project? How do you say your name when introducing yourself? How often do you tell those you love that you love them? Do you look into people’s eyes when talking to them?

These are the basics. And I think it’s important to return to them as much as is necessary. We are always re-learning the basics.

There is something so very critical about repetition to the brain. Repetition is my only rock-solid method to realistically and successfully take on big challenges. I also value repetition as a way to get the little but important things done.

I’ll get to how repetition applies to the cello in a few paragraphs but since I must not have read my last post (“get back to it“) and have been traveling recently and meeting lots of new people, I have a non-cello example that shows how valuable repetition is, it involves introductions and names.

I hate to admit it but I am terrible with names. It is such an awkward and lame trait to have. I think it is probably more common than is let on so I try not too feel too guilty about it. I try to cope or be honest. I have learned to say “I’m sorry, what was your name again?” within the early stages of meeting someone as opposed to having that mortifying moment of uncertainty upon meeting them a few months down the road.

It’s not an ideal way though. At this family wedding I recently attended I was swamped with dozens of new names to learn. A new friend was talking about how to remember names effectively and it works so well! You guessed it, repetition.

“When you meet someone, say their name out loud as many times as is natural in the course of conversation, try to say it at least three times. You won’t forget their name from there on out.” It’s like magic for me!

I should have known this. With cello and with life, repetition is the only way to tackle a large piece of music, to inspire a new piece to come about, to get past technique and into feeling.

I will post about my tried and true method: “How To Practice” in the near future, but, spoiler alert, the basic building block is repetition.

Take a new piece. Play the first several notes. Stop. Repeat. Move on to the next batch of notes (measures), repeat. Now go back to the beginning, repeat the first few notes again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It sounds tedious. But it isn’t. Repetition of small tasks is like having a 50 shelf organizing system in your closet instead of just a hanger and a hamper. It’s efficient.

So, if you are facing a monumental task: a speech, starting an exercise routine, learning a new piece, beginning an instrument, starting a diet, studying… I suggest breaking the big task down into tiny little pieces and running through them and repeating.

I know this is not the revelation of the century, in fact it’s really just common sense. But you wouldn’t believe how useful it has been for me to become aware of the value of repetition.

I’m starting a blog series called “Cello Lessons”. The idea is to take the lessons I’m learning by playing cello everyday and relating them to other aspects of life.

Having discipline is good, maintaining discipline is even better. I’ve gotten to a point where taking a day off of practicing cello feels like a vacation, especially if I am busy, or as is even more often the culprit I just don’t “feel like it”.

It’s fine to take a break from routine. I’m of the mind that if I need a break I need a break. I’ve had a lot of sessions that were just bad before I even started, and continued until any gains in technique and finesse were mitigated by frustration and impatience (more on this in another “Cello Lesson”, I also happen to believe there is a time to push through).

The problem happens when that day off turns into two, and then there is a big holiday or life just happens (as it tends to do) and now you’re into a stretch of non-action.

Getting back to it is the thing though. Today I’m getting back to it, truly kind of worn out from a long weekend and a hot long day. It’s the re-establishment of routine that matters. The question is, how to convince my wily mind to actually do it?

I tend to feel like I’m collecting feathers on a windy day, after a week or two of solid practice I’ll have a good collection and then a big wind and whoosh I’m back to where I started. There are probably other better metaphors*, building a sand castle right at the edge of the waves, painting clouds… whatever.

Really though there IS a gradual growth that happens, one that a strong wind can’t blow away.

I happen to believe that a day or two, or even a week off (if it comes to that), can be a good thing. I think the brain needs to process things. A great episode (from a fantastic show, on sleep kind of re-affirmed this for me:

What I took away from the episode is that there have been studies that imply that musicians in particular can benefit greatly by letting the music rest overnight and returning to it the next day.

I notice that when I return to playing after a week off there can actually be a fluency to the techniques I’d been working on. I actually can’t preach that this is due to my brain processing technique in the time off as much as that I am simply not as self-critical upon returning. I’m usually amazed that I can still play halfway gracefully. I’m not constantly questioning whether my elbow is moving in an elliptical shape or not. It happens on its own it seems.

So, get back to it. The pain of having to work your way back up to where you left off will not be as bad as you think. You might even be delightfully surprised that you’ve improved in your time off.

*(oh yeah, Sisyphus, there’s the better metaphor!