Monthly Archives: August 2010

And the ear shall lead them

The fingers, I mean.  I haven’t written a cello post for a while, and I’m in a writing mood, so here goes.

You can’t play (well) what you don’t hear in your imagination.

This is probably the single most overlooked fact of string-playing life.  Many teachers don’t talk (enough)about it or hammer it in enough.  Some, it seems, assume that students do hear things.  Maybe those teachers have “great ears” and automatically hear thing themselves.  Some (inexperienced) teachers may not realize how important it is because they haven’t discovered it for themselves.  We might call it the deaf-leading-the-deaf syndrome.

The movements we make on the cello are visible.  The finger tip goes to the right place, and the right note comes out.  So much of teaching focuses on what the student and teacher can see.  Where things go and how to get them there.

A cellist sits in front of you me.  I whisper in her ear.  She plays just one note.

You listen. Was it the right note or a wrong one?  Did she play the note I asked for?

There’s no way for you to know.

We repeat the experiment.  This time, I hum a pitch into your ear before she plays.  I didn’t tell her what to play, I hummed it to her, it turns out.

Now you know if she plays the intended note or not.

You or I sit behind with our cello.  There’s a note, or a series of them on the page.  In high positions.  In, perhaps, a clef we haven’t quite learned to read.

We deduce where our left fingers probably should go.  We put them there.  Something comes out.

Is that really it?

We don’t know, because we don’t know how it is supposed to sound.

As a teacher, I see this a lot.  It shows up often in passages that have chromaticisms (notes outside the key) and modulations (changing keys) and are written in clefs (tenor and treble) and positions (especially higher than fourth) that are unfamiliar to the student.  The fingers may be in the right general vicinity, but a quarter or half or full inch makes a huge difference.  Emphasis on huge.

I used to tell students where to move their fingers.  Now I first make sure they now what it’s supposed to sound like.  It’s quick to diagnose;  just try singing it.  If you can’t, you aren’t hearing it.

What I like to do is to have the student go to the piano, play the notes and sing along, and then go back to the cello.  Most of the time, voila!–it’s cured.  The fingers magically go to the right place.

The ear has led the fingers.  It has taught the hand where to go.

It also works to play it on the cello for the student, but going to the piano is especially useful.  Using it makes clear that it’s an aural thing.  There’s not question that by watching the teacher’s hand, the student has just figured out better where to put hers or his.  It also shows the student that the process can be done without the teacher.

When I was sixteen, I found I played better and more in tune after I’d listened to a recording, especially one by Rostropovich.  It didn’t last all that long, this “Rostropovich effect,” and it puzzled me.  What I understand now is that I was imagining Rostropovich, hearing Rostropovich in my inner ear for a while, and that not only energized me but had me hearing, had my ear guiding my hand.

So that’s my cello advice for today.  Make sure you hear it before you play it.  Cello playing works a lot better when you do.



Filed under cello playing, inner hearing, intonation, Rostropovich, Uncategorized

How to extend Iphone battery life: don’t use it.

When I logged on to WordPress this morning, my eye was caught by photo promoting this post on extending battery life in “smart” phones.

Last summer, after I was given my first (and so far only) Iphone, I was dismayed to see how quickly the battery ran out.  Then John, my former brother-in-law, told me that if I turned off the 3G function (and he was kind enough to show me how to do so) the battery would last longer.  I’d thought something was going wrong with the thing. Over the last year, I’ve gotten used to turning on the 3G only when I really need it and then turning it back off again.

The gist of the article is to put the phone in airplane mode when possible, text instead of calling, don’t listen to music or watch videos, keep the screen off, shutdown apps running in the background, the GPS function, etc.  In other words, use it as if it were just a regular old mobile phone. Disable everything that made you want to shell out the money for the phone and the data plan.

Later today I’ll take a train from Cold Spring, New York into Manhattan.  I’ll be with my ex-wife and kids, so I’ll have people to talk to.  Otherwise, it would be great to surf the web, read email, watch an episode of something or part of a movie.  And then I’d get to New York and not have much battery left.  I wanted an Iphone so that I wouldn’t need to carry around an Ipod and a phone.  In order to do that, and really take advantage of all the Iphone’s capabilities while being away from a charger, it seems like I need to buy a portable charger. One more thing for the pocket.

The joke is on me, isn’t it?

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Where are we going?

Man, have I been going through a lot of stuff.  Maybe you have, too.  Seems like when I talk with someone honestly, we all are.

Took my mother to deposit some checks into her savings account.  On the way, she asked three times what we were doing.

I took most of July “off” from helping her.  Since my father’s death in January, it’s been a second job.  (Two people have now given me the book The 36-Hour Day, about caring for a loved one with dementia, so I guess I should read it.)  A wonderful young woman appeared in our lives and I’ve been able to hire her to spend time with Mom.  Not that I have been entirely absent;  just was able to take a trip, and to not go over every single day.

Now I’m enjoying being with her again.  And am off on another short trip, with my son and ex-wife, to visit my daughter in New York for her birthday.  When I get back, a focus on places that might be good for my mother to live in;  I think she needs not just more care but especially more community than we can give her.


I used to have a website, an Eric-Edberg-the-cellist promo website, and a separate blog.  Then, when the website got screwed up, I combined them here.  That’s made the blogging thing a bit confusing.  Is it a self-promotion blog?  Is it a bare-my-soul blog?  Is it a commentary blog?  I’m interested in so many things–music, classical music revitalization, spirituality, theology, religion, politics, LGBT issues.  “Successful” blogs seem to have a primary focus.  I’ve been doing some private journaling, which is great.  One doesn’t have to put everything online.  And yet there’s something wonderful about the conversation a blog can be part of.

All of which is to say I’m in a process of letting what form this wants to be in reveal itself.

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Filed under Dealing with dementia