Teaching Philosophy

Playing a musical instrument is one of the most complex human endeavors, requiring complete involvement in all three main aspects of human action: physical, intellectual, and emotional, in a balance that is constantly adjusting. Ignore any one element, and your performance will be incomplete. One must always strive to employ all three elements and it is a teacher's responsibility to guide a student through this process.

Teaching Strategy

  1. Identifying and guiding the long-term career and artistic goals of the student. The goals should be realistically based on:
    1. Individual artistic needs.
    2. Student potential.
    3. Student commitment.
    4. A broad cultural and social context

  2. Developing a plan to achieve the long-term goals. The plan includes:
    • Acquiring a comprehensive cello technique.
    • Gaining knowledge of musical styles. The cello teacher should encourage and contribute to the student's musical development in a broader sense (including history, theory, analysis, performance practice, etc)
    • Gaining professional experience: performing solo, chamber music, and orchestral repertory, and/or teaching.
    • Developing work ethics: regular practicing, good work habits, preparedness, and punctuality.
    • Assisting with the purchase of instrument, bow, and accessories (as needed).
    • Career advancement tools (recordings, bio, resume, photos, newspaper articles, etc)
    • Participating in competitions, festivals, masterclasses, and lectures.
    • Attending concerts.
    • Becoming familiar with the bibliographical material: cello curriculum, repertory, methods, books, and periodicals.
    • Physical exercises to support cello playing (stretching, strengthening, conditioning).
    • Understanding career options.

  3. Developing medium-range goals (6 months – 1 year). The repertory:
    • Will assist in the development of a complete technique, in a gradual manner.
    • Will be varied in the analytical approach:
      • Scales, arpeggios, double-stops, technical exercises
      • Studies (etudes)
      • Concert repertory (concerti, sonatas, suites, short pieces)
      • Orchestral repertory
      • Chamber music repertory
    • Will be stylistically diverse, from Baroque to modern.

  4. Short-term goals (1 week – 1 month), adjusted to the academic year.
    Through the process of working on a piece, one employs a variety of learning and practicing techniques, which should continuosly be reassesed. Early in the cycle (semester), there will a preponderance of certain elements, such as:
    • Specific techniques: bow arm and left hand
    • Learning new music
    • Elements of harmonic/formal/stylistic analysis
    • Practicing techniques
    • Memorization techniques

    Later in the cycle, other elements will be emphasized:
    • Preparing for the performance
    • Artistic projection
    • Physical endurance
    • Sound projection
    • Memorization
    • Balance in the ensemble

Lesson Plan (Concise)

  1. Introductory Conversation
  2. Tuning
  3. Technique (warm-up, intonation, specific techniques, flexibility, strength, spatial orientation on the fingerboard, tone production, etc)
  4. Repertory (text, style, phrasing, sound projection, tone quality, etc.)
  5. Assignment

The student should be playing between 60% and 90% of the lesson time. Discussions should be clear and to the point. The teacher should be able to demonstrate passages on the cello.

How to Practice

  1. The practice routine (should be kept flexible)
    1. Stretch: 1-2 minutes
    2. Warm-up exercises, technique (scales, arpeggios, drills): 20-30% of your practice time
    3. Studies, chamber music, orchestra repertory: 30-40% of your practice time
    4. Pieces, concerti, sonatas: 30-40% of your practice time

  2. Practice stages
    1. Develop and maintain your technique (always in a musical context) – this is a component of all practice routines.
    2. Read new material, decide on fingerings, bowings. Should be dome as close to tempo as possible, even if playing is not accurate. Should not take longer than 1-2 practice sessions for new material.
    3. Repeat the patterns you established. Spend time on those that give you more trouble.
    4. Practice the act of performance. Practice the memorization. Let go of your inhibitions, take chances, be creative, go for it.

  3. Practice Hints
    1. Practice regularly – consistency is more important than a lot of practice at random intervals
    2. Be disciplined – go through your routine, no matter how little you practice
    3. Set goals – work on specific issues, or specific passages
    4. Think – apply your mind to what you are doing. Practice thinking patterns, not finger patterns
    5. When you start, set time limits. "I'll practice today for 2 hours."
    6. Take breaks. Take a break at least every 50-60 minutes.
    7. Practice slowly. For some passages, one must play slowly up to 80 % of the spent.
    8. If it hurts, stop. Make changes.

  4. Practice techniques for studies and repertory
    1. Play once through the whole piece or a large section. Evaluate what went well and what needs practice.
    2. Go back to the beginning. Repeat trouble spots: a passage, a measure, a shift, a chord, an arpeggio, a sustained bow, a long breath, etc. This is like brain surgery and certainly very tedious.
    3. Put the detail (the passage….) in its context. Play it starting 1-2 measures before and plus 1-2 after. Evaluate. Whether the passage is solved or not, go on, but remember it. Come back to it the following practice session.
    4. Cover as many details as possible.
    5. Play again through the whole piece (or section). PERFORM IT.

  5. Some practice tricks
    • practice passages with various rhythms
    • practice passages on different strings or in different registers
    • practice from very slow to very fast (using the metronome)
    • practice in the dark
    • record yourself and listen
    • for strings or piano, some passages can be played as double stops or as chords
    • invent your own variations

  6. The Daily Practice Chart (as I see it)
    Age If you want
    to be OK
    If you want
    to be good
    If you want
    to be great
    6-10 yo 20 minutes 1 hour 2 hours
    10-14 yo 45 minutes 1 ½ hours 3 hours
    14-18 yo 1 hour 2 hours 4+ hours

    If you have unbelievable talent, you can reduce the time by half.
    If you don't get it very easily, double the time.

Cello Curriculum

One of the measures of a good teacher is the knowledge of the repertory and the guidance of the student through the it in a gradual, logical, and individually tailored way. A comprehensive Cello Syllabus can be found on the Internet Cello Society website, which is also an excellent resource for many cello subjects.