Even the creative genius may suffer fears, doubts and vulnerabilities. Teaching must inspire, motivate, impart high ideals, and help each to discover and trust their unique talent and strengths. – my wonderful teacher, Paul Katz
Q: Before we begin, are you accepting new students to your private cello studio in Plano / Richardson, TX?
A: Absolutely! If you are looking for a cello teacher in the Plano, Richardson, North Dallas area please send me a message, or call me at 214.609.5155 and we can set up a trial lesson.
You’ve been teaching for over a decade, so let’s talk about your teaching . If you have a new student walk into your studio and you notice that she/he is particularly tall or particularly short. Do you teach him or her differently?
It’s crucial for me as a teacher to adjust my teaching method and approach to each individual student. It is my job to guide students to find the most natural, healthy and comfortable way to play the cello, and to help them find their own “voice” of musical expression. The end goal is that the basic physical & mechanical principles fit together organically with each student’s unique physiology.
How do you approach teaching intonation?
The ultimate goal should be to play with a high level of intonation, there is no perfect intonation– and to be able to do so in a very natural, intuitive way without needing to think about it.
It is very important to understand that there are two major skills that are necessary to have a high level of intonation, and in our practicing to know exactly which one you are working on at any given time!
First, the ear (the inner ear, or “the mind’s ear”) — No music can take place without hearing it first in the inner ear of your mind. This requires that you have actually decided on how you want any note to sound, and refined your inner ear to remember it. Basically starting a never ending cycle of listening and refining.. Great performers do it intuitively, but it can be practiced and developed by anybody.
Secondly, the hand shape and muscle memory built into the hand. Practicing or playing with an unbalanced hand shape makes it very difficult if not impossible to play with a high level of intonation. It is simply remarkable how easy it is to blame our hands for not being ‘trained’ enough, when really they can’t think for themselves, and are just following the imprecise instructions our ears are sending. In my experience, the hands are always just a step behind our ears! So listening with a conscience really is the key.
Scales are certainly emphasized in your teaching. Was there somebody in your own background that instilled your enthusiasm for scales?
Absolutely, for that I must give Richard Aaron the credit. His focus on the fundamentals really helped me to build a solid technical foundation. I find the biggest challenge when teaching technique is to make sure that there is a specific goal in mind. Far too often we cellists practice technique without having a clear idea of what we are trying to accomplish. One of the central goals of early cello lessons, or cello lessons of any level, should be to master scales, arpeggios, etc., at a high performance level with clearly defined sound qualities and tempos in mind as the end result- and to do it with ease. I very much stress the importance of performing technical exercises as if they were music.
What do you do when a student has a tight and nervous vibrato?
The first thing I do is have them play without vibrato for several weeks. If a student has a habit of doing vibrato with the wrong biomechanical movement, he/ she has to forget everything and relearn new feelings and functions from a clean slate. It’s important for a student not to relate their new vibrato to the habit they had before.
Poor vibrato can stem from many causes. There may be too much rotation in the wrist, or possibly the left bicep is too tight. Every cello student is different. One person may learn how to do it properly in half an hour, while another may take six months to successfully change the habit.
How do you approach the Right Arm?
One of the highly desired qualities of a skilled cellist is to create a beautiful sound. It’s imperative for a cellist to have a full, resonant sound, that can project in a hall. This requires that we have power in our playing.
I like the image of taking the bow in the hand like a tool, and at the frog finding the feeling of simply resting on the cello. This natural arm weight, and the relaxation necessary to have it provides the free resonance, and the flexibility the body requires to perform at a high level. At the tip we need to compensate for the weight lost by pronating the arm as we go further to the tip of the bow, of course shorter cellist would have to pronate more than one with longer arms like myself.
How do you teach a cello student to bow without over-pressing?
I teach them to listen to their body, to how they actually sound and to watch how the string behaves when played with different tensions. We need to become aware of when the string vibrates the widest and most freely and to notice how it sounds at that moment. Sometimes having a student deliberately over-press is helpful to define what we don’t want to do.
How do you help students get the most out of their practice sessions so that they don’t just mindlessly repeat things over and over?
One of the central parts of studying music, and one of the first things I do with a new student is to teach him or her how to practice. I usually see a student for only one hour per week, so it’s very important that he/ she make the most of the fifteen or twenty hours per week that he/ she is on their own with the cello.
There are endless methods of practicing, but essentially, at the end of a successful practice session one should have made many many small to large decisions as to what one wants, and trained ones hands to better execute those sounds.
Do you encourage your students to think, and to engage their analytical side when playing?
If you are referring to the actual playing/ performing of the cello, no. I think the ideal way to play an instrument is like a gypsy musician. They usually have no formal technical training to speak of, but somehow they are able to do amazing things intuitively. In the end we all need to do less analyzing and talking and to just find the simplicity that is within us all!
How does one attain this? We are trained for decades to be mindful of the smallest details in our technique. How are we to all of a sudden forget all that and just play?
It isn’t easy, but it should be our goal.
Your students do very well in competitions. How do you accomplish that?
I’ve been fortunate to have talented students, Haha.. For me competitions are a necessary evil. They provide a concrete goal for a student, and can be wonderful motivation to work hard, which is certainly good; but I am careful to emphasize that there are much more important reasons to play music than simply to ‘beat’ others. It is human nature to work harder when competing with others, so I try to harness that nature in my students.