Leadership, Gratitude, and Experimentation in Chamber Music

By Miranda Wilson

Today, during a chamber music coaching, I decided to stop micromanaging my students and let them figure out how to fix their intonation, time, and group sound themselves. I jumped in when needed, and when I wasn’t, I backed off.

I could do this because I trusted them and trusted myself. I knew I had taught them task mastery: of their instruments in their studio lessons, of the language of music in the theory classroom. Using a set of guidelines, it was now up to them to become their own best coaches.

Music Theory for Cellists Part Three: Compound Intervals

By Miranda Wilson

I love to begin a fundamentals workout with shifting exercises, since the process of getting from note to note isn’t necessarily straightforward.

In Cello Practice, Cello Performance, I wrote some exercises in shifting between first and fourth positions, and another shifting exercise dealing with octave shifts in a variety of fingerings. These exercises comprise part of my daily workout, and the purpose of them is to help me feel absolutely comfortable with the goals, mechanics, and success rate of shifting.

Music Theory For Cellists Part One: Solfege & Intervals Warm-Up

By Miranda Wilson

This is my first post in a projected series on learning and using music theory in cello practice. As well as my cello studio at the University of Idaho, I also teach a class in aural skills -- essentially the laboratory class for what students learn in music theory. In most theory methods, the material is taught in a piano-centric way, and I've been looking for a way to make it more applicable to the cello. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some exercises that "kill two birds with one stone" -- that is, teach the principles of music theory at the same time as getting a good cello warm-up.

Banish the Buckling Pinky (Bow Hand Edition)

By Miranda Wilson

In a previous post, I addressed the technical issues faced by cellists with "double-jointed" (more correctly, hypermobile) left-hand fingers. An equally common problem that you'll see on cellists with otherwise decent bow-hold setups is a hypermobile right fourth finger that "buckles" on the bow. 

This "collapse" isn't so much caused by the person's hypermobility, but by a misconception of what the fourth finger is supposed to do on the bow, in combination with finger shaping that places the finger on the bow in a way that's likely to cause buckling.

Long, Long Ago: Wisdom From Your First Cello Teacher

By Miranda Wilson

There are some things that are quite common in beginning cello pedagogy that I don't like much. The beginning bow hold with the thumb under the frog, for example, which teaches--for no good reason--a habit that has to be unlearned later. Another is the "left thumb as anchor," which teaches little hands to hit pitches chronically out of tune, and little ears to accept this poor intonation. I know why some otherwise good teachers are doing these things: because we all want to get a student set up with decent hand shaping so that they can advance to playing pieces quickly and not get bored and quit. But the fact is, poor setup leads to fundamental misunderstanding of how the body can be used to our advantage in playing the cello, and this in turn sets the student up for endless technical challenges later on. 

It's not all doom and gloom, however. When I thought back to some of the exercises I was taught as a child, it seems that many of them make a lot of sense, even if children don't know what they're doing them for.