The Journey of Rhythm

Introduction

Back in the Spring of 2018 I made a discovery. It was a paradigm shifting discovery. Musically speaking I knew what I liked and what I wanted to hear. There was one significant mar in my music making however. That was rhythm, and closely tied to it, pulse. The beat must be a constant and steady force behind all music even in the delicate and personal treatment of phrasing. It must still be evident.

To my astonishment there was a thing, in the cello world, called rhythmic playing. For my entire life my sole vision for music was that of sonorous melody. That is, make it sound as ringing and beautiful as possible. For years, I had become increasingly frustrated with my inability to play music together with anyone. It was always a frustrating exercise in counting and exasperating attempts to show the beat. Even when I recorded myself and tried playing along it was as if someone has altered the recording to make the counting and the beat off here and there, even erratic.

Background

(I have just laid my soul bare and admitted my failure on a public platform. Unfortunately I know all too well how many more superior musicians there are than me. It also has been apparent that many more musicians somehow “get it” in terms of the fundamental workings of music, i.e. one needs a reliable pulse, and to be able to show one’s intent in a coherent and obvious way in order to play with others.)

(It pains me to openly admit my rhythmic and metronomic shortcomings. I have been playing a cello since I was nine years old and began with violin at the age of five. While my playing and training are not so extensive as many fine players out there it is significant. My training includes a B.Mus. and M.Mus. plus a dozen music camps and other festivals. Not trivial, so I readily admit my own failure and to have missed the mark for so long.)

Discovery

In the Spring of 2018 was made a seminal discovery that has changed my whole concept of playing. Somehow I came across some videos of a cellist playing “The Chop”. While I had known of this technique for a while–I read about it in either The Strad or Strings Magazine some years ago–I never thought that the cello could do it. I do remember having a distinct feeling that it was too bad that the cello couldn’t do something like that, however.

Lo and behold, after much video watching and subscribing to online “Multi Cello Lessons with Mike Block” (good, good work, I appreciate this service!) I realized that the cello chop has been in development for quite some time now. I don’t know the exact dates but I would guess for more than 20 years (at least in an increasingly significant way) although not widely known nor accepted as a “real” way to play. In the classical world anything other than sonorous playing is generally looked down upon–even lots of 20th classical music is still shunned as non-music. I digress.

The Chop

This path has led me to a greater confidence in counting and much more exact playing. It seems that when I play I somehow have a greater command of the music. For once in my life I am controlling the outcome rather than hoping and praying for the best when all I got was a mediocre rendition with some fairly beautiful tones ringing here and there.

Thanks to “the chop” playing has become almost a genuine joy. There is progress and evidence of a steadier pulse. If anyone would like a reference to learning more please visit Artist Works and seek Mike Block.

Now I am more satisfied with my playing than ever before. It makes me happy that such a discovery could have such a profound impact on me as a musician. The video watching, the practicing, the note taking, the online video exchange lessons have all been well worth it. I only wish I had more of an outlet for the new found technique.

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