Practice can make perfect (but by God it can be boring!)


Ollie has started playing the ‘cello. Actually he started at the very end of last term so technically he’s been playing for quite a while but really he’s only had a few lessons. I was hesitant about the ‘cello really being an ex ‘cellist myself as I was hoping that the boys would pick something different should they want to play an instrument but no the ‘cello it is for Ollie. Maybe it has something to do with constantly being told to ‘mind Mummy’s ‘cello!!!!!’ when a soft football whizzes past my antique (1880’s) ‘cello. It sat in the corner seemingly doing nothing yet achieving a Godlike status for it. Or maybe he’s just found the instrument he really wants to play…

We have a ‘cello I bought for him at home though it’s a bit big so he’s having to play the awful, squeaky, nearly dead ¼ sized one I’ve hired. I hate it and it’s not really a good advert for the amazing sounds a ‘cello can actually make but I figured if he still really wants to learn to play after having this thing as a ‘cello then there really is some enthusiasm. He coverts his lovely larger ‘cello in the corner of the room and can’t wait to be just that little bit bigger. I have said that if he’s still playing when he’s a fair bit older he can have my ‘cello. Now that caused a sharp intake of breath and a ‘Oh WOWWW! Mummy!’ Like I said they are in awe of ‘Seymour’ (every ‘cello needs to have a name) so to be able to actually play and be allowed to play it must be really something.

He’s not bad for a starter. Okay I’m biased but I do have a professional opinion too that’s valid as I used to teach ‘cello. He has an amazing memory and can look at his music a couple of times and then just play it. Having poor working memory but a hugely developed visual memory really helps apparently at this sort of thing. There’s a problem with this though as he should really be looking at the music but that’ll come I’m sure and he’s not really doing anything I haven’t seen in beginners before. He makes a good sound, uses the full length of his bow and, generally, only plays one string at a time. He listens well and can hear when he’s gone wrong so it’s all good in the Leigh-Currill household when it comes to ‘cellos. I’ve played with him as there’s a teacher bit in his book which has a duality of feelings for me. I am so proud to play a piece of music with my son yet it’s still all a bit weird…

I don’t push him. Really I don’t. I’m not in the room when he practises as he needs to learn to practise without me but he’s very keen for me to come and listen to what he’s worked on. If he’s stuck I do help as that would just be mean if I didn’t. I have shown him how to practise as most children find this really difficult when they first start and think that practising just means starting at the beginning of a piece and then playing ’till you go wrong and then starting back at the beginning again. The beginning, you won’t be surprised to know, gets amazing but the difficult bit never gets any better. I asked him to focus on 3 bars (parts of the music) that he found tricky and to my surprise he hated doing this. He wanted to start from the beginning and we had an almost argument about it and he even sulked to his Dad about it later. Once he’d done the 3 bars I asked him to add on another bar which after a few goes he managed and whilst I was ‘bigging him up’ (or ‘pumping his tyres’ as Hubbie would say) he was still clearly annoyed at me.

When we talked about this later I said it’s always good to play through the piece you’re working on (or to the bit you’ve got up to) when you first start. It gets your arm moving and you are listening to yourself but then you need to spend a few minutes working on the bits that you find difficult. Once you’ve done this and made improvements finish your practice with a play through again. He perked up a little as I think he thought that practising meant you didn’t actually play and that’s all really that he (quite rightly!) wants to do.

Practising is boring. There’s no getting round that and to get any better at playing an instrument you really do have to practise. I didn’t do much when I was younger as I was very lucky that I could just play what was asked after a couple of weeks but this all came to ahead at music college when everyone else around was very much overtaking me. I chose to leave and don’t have any regrets but I do wish I’d really learned to practise when I was just starting out as I think this would have just become second nature to me and I may have gone further.

Ollie loves to play his ‘cello (even the squeaky awful one) and I have to say I love that. I don’t want to turn into pushy ex ‘cellist parent who sits on his shoulder watching his every move as I do believe he has to find his motivation from inside him rather than because I make him but he wants to share his learning with me as someone who has something in common with him and going by our past (me tutoring him due to his literacy difficulties) this more equal relationship is something that although has taken me by surprise I really quite enjoy.

I don’t care if he never becomes a soloist, never joins an orchestra or even takes a grade (though he’s so competitive that he wants to beat my distinction marks!) as long as he has a love of what he’s doing then that could take him anywhere irrespective of what I think. I’ll just carry on listening from the kitchen or computer and going in to help when I’m asked too…

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About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
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