Know Your Notes
What is that?
One of the most important things you can do as a cello student in learning is really learn your notes. In the beginning, this can be a struggle, but I promise that it will increase the speed of your learning exponentially. The best thing is that you don’t even physically need to be by your cello in order to improve this skill.
Fingering means nothing
If there is one downfall of a lot of the beginning cello books, it is that they often list finger numbers for every single note of every single piece. This can be helpful for sure, but it doesn’t really encourage you to really learn that when the note looks like “this” then it is “this” note. I try to associate note reading to something similar to pictionary. Learn what a note looks like and what letter it is associated with. Eventually, you will see the note enough times that you will not have to think too hard about what the note is and what finger you have to us.
Read like a book
I encourage you to take any piece of music and try to read it away from the instrument. This means you are reading out loud what the note letter is. Be sure to include if the note is flat or sharp. I don’t think you need to say “natural” since I usually assume that is the default. Bonus points if you can even think of how the tune will sound and try to incorporate the actual rhythm while you are speaking the notes.
Please stop guessing the hard stuff
This isn’t only for beginner cello players! I have been finding that when tenor clef, and treble clef starts appearing in the music that students rely on “tricks” to help them read it. While initially this may help you identify the note, there is really no substitute for really knowing what the note is on sight. All these “tricks” adds time to figuring out what the note is and this can definitely slow you down. It is also because they forget how they had to struggle to read bass clef before so the idea of having to struggle with another clef does not sound appealing to them. Trust me though, practice reading these clefs and you will be able to learn music faster.
There are books that have special exercises to help read notes and rhythms better. (I’ve included in a list!) However, you don’t need anything extra. Try just reading the music you are currently playing, or about to play. Practice reading everything multiple times, and you will get better! Etude books are great because it usually involves a bunch of notes consecutively across large ranges on the cello. There are apps as well to practice music theory. However, don’t feel like you need anything extra other than the music you are working on.
Once you figure out what the note is, try just writing the letter down. Often you just need the starting note that is different and then you are good for the rest of the passage. You already took the time to figure out the note the first time, there is no need to have to struggle every time you read the piece of music.
I had to take courses in school that would drill in reading music and reciting the notes out loud. As much as they were a pain, I can honestly say I am a better reader of music. It is all about repetition, not only for your physical body, but also for your brain to process the information and learn to identify the notes on the page.
Challenge yourself today, and let me know in the comments below what piece of music are you practicing with?