Updated: Nov 2, 2019
I meant to start this series about a month ago but I spaced and forgot about it. I'm going to start a weekly practice log where I will talk about what music I am working on, my practice techniques, and share my breakthroughs as I go. My goal is to create a reference that can be used by myself to see my progress and by others looking for ideas to improve their practice time.
Everything here will be pretty stream of conscious and I am going to make one post at the beginning of the week and update after each practice session.
1. Scales: C# Phrygian, Eb Major, G Hungarian minor
Goals: Improve intonation, tune ear to intervallic structures beyond those of regular major/minor scales
I had a friend call out scales so I wouldn't play my usual ones. Played around quarter note = 80. Kept drifting sharp on the Hungarian minor and the three consecutive half steps forced deliberate finger placement.
2. Bottesini 2, Exposition
Goals: Run without stopping, contour
Worked two or three spots but I mostly spent the time running this one in prep for a recording I will be making this week for a festival. Developed a short exercise to address bad shifts in measures 39-46. Tempo was significantly more consistent than it ever has been. Feeling pretty pleased but I didn't get the quality of run-through I initially wanted.
3. Heldenleben, 40 and 51
Ran both with the intention of not stopping and not deviating from the tempo I started with. I have a terrible habit of losing focus when I play and the first thing to go is my tempo. I spent a minute or two centering myself with tempo and rhythmic clarity being my number one priority. Also did "vomit" exercises to address a few large shifts and made sure the accents in 51 were visible in the strings' vibration.
Today's session was really productive and I got a lot done.
1. Scales: F Major, A minor, B Major
Goals: Good intonation, relaxed shifts, continuous vibrato
I was playing in an unreasonably cold practice room today so I spent longer than usual playing scales. Didn't do anything too obscure, just a selection of "normal" scales in various rhythmic configurations, bowings, patterns, etc. Quarter note = 112. I try to change tempos and do different routines every day so as to avoid getting into ruts/ passive practice. Met my goals for intonation, relaxed shifts, and continuous vibrato.
2. Vincent Persichetti, Parable for Double Bass
Goals: Read it down
This is one of the pieces I will be performing at my graduation recital at the end of the year. My only goal was to read it down so as to develop some familiarity with the harmonic language and rhythmic structure. I set the metronome to quarter note = 60 and stumbled through everything for a good 15 minutes or so. I think most of the rhythms of this piece will be pretty manageable but playing them accurately with all the string crossings, register changes, and character shifts is going to be difficult.
3. Symphonie Fantastique, Mvt 2
Goals: Clean up string crossings at the beginning of the movement
I was really dissatisfied with how I played the few lines of this movement yesterday. Squeaky, strained string crossings and poor tone in the crescendos. I generally feel like good tone is one of my strongest attributes as a player so spending a few minutes working on this section seemed wise. Distilled the opening arpeggios to open strings in rhythm to focus on bow planes/usage. Once I got accurate crossings I added in the dynamics and then the left hand. I also worked on barred string crossings by sliding the barring finger over to the next string. I will make a video demonstrating this in the future.
4. Heldenleben, 9 and 78-79
Goals: Run excerpts, density, good time
I spent less time on 78 than 9. Both excerpts require awareness of bow usage and initiation of sound from large muscles. Most of the time I spent on 78 was just making sure I budgeted the length of my bow appropriately and that I played all the accents where they were written. For 9 I did several exercises to warm myself back up as I was fresh off a break and the room was freezing. I broke each of the triplet arpeggio figures down so that I would play the long note then add each triplet division individually. I did this to guarantee that the moving notes had the same density as the held notes. Slower bow at rehearsal 10 helped keep things in time and clean sonically. I played this excerpt for Chris Finet last week and he reminded me to follow the contour notated by the slurs and pay attention to a few smaller details I was glossing over. I'll write out a couple of the exercises I did and post them here later this week.
5. Bottesini 2, Exposition
Kind of a repeat of yesterday... worked a few spots but my run-through wasn't great, probably because it was the last thing I hit and I was tired. I did work on that perilous section at mm. 40-46 and it sounded the best it ever has. I just had to remember to play with the appropriate contact point. I did this exercise to work on intonation at the end of measure 45, too.
My schedule every Wednesday is packed so I usually don't have much time to practice. I do, however, have two hours worth of lessons and a rehearsal so I can post what was covered then instead.
For my lesson, we ran two of my Heldenleben excerpts and the Bottesini exposition.
1. Heldenleben 51
Overall positive comments and I enjoyed how I played. Good tone production and intonation. I cut a few long notes short due to bow changes that I wasn't paying enough attention to so I will work on that in my next practice session. The other comment regarded the recurring three accented quarter notes. I bow each one down-up-up but I have been struggling with inconsistent articulation on the up-up's. My professor suggested I think of the three notes as "pull-shove-shove" instead of "down-up-up." This was immediately helpful.
2. Heldenleben 9
Similar comments to 51 in regards to strengths. I was happy with how relaxed I felt when playing, especially given I played without a warm-up. I might have been a bit slow but whatever. In an effort to give myself more to latch on to rhythmically when I start the excerpt, I was asked to play the long note each as separate triplets, then finish off each figure as written. Example:
3. Bottesini Exposition:
Possibly my best performance of this piece. I think I rendered the character of the piece well and I enjoyed how I sounded. I also did a much better job of managing nerves than usual. Main comment was that I sometimes let the grace notes interfere with rhythm. We also spent time finding places of rest in each line that I can use to mentally reset when playing. Excited to continue working on the rest of this piece after I record my audition tape on Sunday.
Did two shorter sessions today instead, one for 20ish minutes in the morning then another hour and a half in the afternoon.
1. Ein Heldenleben, 8 before 16 to 2 before 17
Goals: Play with mute, sound adversarial, make sure opening arpeggio is in tune
*allmählich etwas fliessender*
First time practicing this excerpt with a mute. I use a wooden mute which changes the response of the instrument and helps contribute to the darker, distraught character of this excerpt. It tightened up my instrument so I had to put a bit more weight in the bow to get the sound moving. Worked the G minor arpeggio at the beginning for 25+ minutes using different combinations of drones, bowings, and shifting exercises. Maybe overkill but it sounds really good now. This kind of deep, extensive work is something I have been doing a lot more of recently and the results have been highly tangible. I spend less time (mindlessly) running music and more time developing practical skills to hold on to when I perform. I played this excerpt for both of my practice sessions today.
2. Ein Heldenleben, 40
Goals: Tempo, dynamics
Not much to say on this one. The Gb Major arpeggio was, perversely enough, more in-tune than the G minor one starting the last excerpt. Tried to render the change from p to ppp and forced myself to not crescendo as I ascend the arpeggio, no matter how tempting it may be.
3. Vincent Persichetti, Parable for Double Bass
Goals: Learn rhythms for the first 4 lines
This was somewhere between being significantly easier and significantly harder than I expected. I have decided that the only way for me to learn this in any reasonable amount of time is to take it 3-4 lines at a time each day. Rhythm is my first priority, bow/bowings second, and fingering/intonation third. I am confident in my ability to play this piece in tune, less so in time. The first 4 lines are at a comfortable tempo between 63 and 69 bpm, so I set the metronome to 60 again and got to work. 80% of the time I spent on this was devoted to the third line. As you can see below, I got rid of the left hand and reduced the line that was giving me trouble to a LONG series of rhythmic exercises on one note, one measure at a time. It was boring and time-consuming but by the end of the session I had given myself so much to hold on to that I was able to add the left hand in tempo without any problem. The list below isn't even comprehensive- I left out a lot of the permutations I did for the sake of space and I even broke things down to half and one-beat long chunks. Definitely going to revisit this section again soon.
Weird schedule meant weird practice time. My day was long and my practice time short but I got to sleep in so I can't complain.
1. Symphony Fantastique, Mvts 4 and 5
This was all I worked on today because I had a rehearsal so I wanted to spend time on the trickier sections before playing with the orchestra. Yay irregular schedules. The first spot I worked was the dotted eight figure in the 4th movement. I started by playing each note individually as quarter notes to get the pitches then I added the correct rhythms way below tempo. Notched it up then went back and added the bowings (we are doing some strange bowings, not by my choice) below tempo and repeated the process. I view this excerpt (140-151) as three sections, two of which are identical minus three notes. Doing so simplifies learning and helps mitigate the blindness and fumbling that comes from focusing on each individual note when played at tempo. It's also helpful to use the notes on the first on third beats of each measure as landmarks/reference points.
The other spot I worked on was the Ronde du Sabbat in movement 5. Tempo and intonation were both good but the quality of my bow stroke was lacking. I realized I was forcing the sound so I tried to relax my bow arm and find a better contact point. Unfortunately, my practice time got cut short when I was working on this section but I at least walked away with stuff to contemplate for next time.
Tomorrow is the final day of running Heldenleben and Bottesini before I record my tape.
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