As a cellist-teacher-publisher who has published over 200 books and one recording, I've definitely put myself "out there". This in turn means that I've opened myself up to any and all criticism (plus accolades of course).
But today, I want to focus on the criticism. Quite simply, some people give more helpful feedback than others. Helpful feedback can cause actual change. Give more of it!
Here are some things you can do to give better negative feedback:
This would seem to be a given. But no matter how upset you are, step back and ask yourself why exactly you are upset. It's possible that the situation can be remedied through communication. Getting upset is normal but it doesn't have to be the end of it; it's much better if it can be a starting place for change.
I am a real person and I am on the receiving end of all the comments. I do listen, I do read, and I do care. I want the books to help. At the same time, I know that there are tons of different styles of teaching and learning and there is no way my books will be helpful to everyone!
Oh, and if your order hasn't arrived, please let me know in a calm way. Dealing with irate customers takes a lot out of me!
Tell who you are, why you are upset, which product you are writing about. I can't guess why you are upset. You actually have to tell me. Using words. It doesn't freak me out to get criticism. It does upset me when people are angry and won't tell me why. That's because I care. See below.
Call for actual change
Yeah, that's a thing. Don't just complain unless you have a suggestion or a solution. This morning, I got an email that told me to "please stop writing such useless books." Lots of things in life might stop me from writing, but a comment from that gentleman (Mr. C) won't do it. Run through the scenario for a minute: I shut down the website business, take all the books off of Amazon and out of sheet music stores, buy back inventory from stores all over the world, and make them instantly unavailable. Stop writing The Two Octaves Book for Viola, Three-Octave Scales for the Violin, and more. All because Mr. C wrote and told me to stop.
But if you leave feedback with a suggestion for change, I love it! One of my favorites was a very kind teacher at an ASTA convention who used my Fourth Position for the Cello book. She asked in the sweetest way possible why my bowings didn't "work out". In the stress of getting the book to press, I honestly hadn't thought of it! I was so grateful to have the suggestion. Please send me suggestions like that!
Be flexible in your own mind
No matter how much you think you are 100% absolutely right and the other party is wrong, very few issues in music support such absolutes. Be open to other truths. For instance, I get some angry emails, reviews, and even postcards, giving negative feedback on the paperback binding of my books. I don't love the paperback binding but getting spiral bindings would force me to double (at least) all the prices and for most international orders, I would not be able to offer free shipping through Amazon. If enough people were willing to pay $20-40 for each book, I could do spiral binding. We would all have less more money and the printing companies would have more, but it is an option. And shipping to the U.K. would start at $22 per order (for one book). So instead of a $15 book, you would pay between $30 and $60. That's just one of the reasons for the binding.
Still, I'm open to new suggestions and ideas. I get quotes from new printing companies quite often. I want the books to be available to the most people for the lowest price possible. Sending me new ideas for how to do that would be welcome!
What I Will and Won't Do in Response to Comments
Write more explanation pages in the books.
Give a better idea of which books to play when.
At least come close to putting them in order of difficulty (I've been trying for 10 years!).
Put the title of the book at the top of each page (this was in response to actual helpful feedback!).
Keep looking for better binding options that still keep prices low and the books available.
Sell clips that help keep the pages open.
Stop hearing exercises in my head and writing them down at odd times, even though my family has politely asked for less of a glazed-eye look from me at times.
Stop writing (I've been asked to stop a number of times).
Stop publishing (I've been asked to stop a number of times).
Stop caring. I was born caring and I just can't stop. I really really want to make learning a string instrument a better process for you!
Change the binding. It would cost over $1.1 million dollars to have the books printed in spiral binding and I would have to rent a separate warehouse space.
Please write! I love to hear from you, whether positive or negative. Suggestions for future books are especially helpful. Other helpful emails include letting me know ideas for better ways of organizing the books or describing them, pointing out misprints, and suggestions for supplementary material.
From Klengel to Feuillard and Pais, cellists have been writing exercises for speed and agility. Oh, and the ubiquitous Cossmann exercise: start in 4th position on the A string and play 1434 (4x) 1424 (4x) 1323 (4x), then move back a half step and repeat, moving back and repeating until you reach open A, then go across to the D, G, and C strings, continuing the finger pattern until half position on the C string is reached.
I use these books for agility with my students:
And my sister uses these books with her violin and viola students:
But here is an exercise I've found myself absentmindedly warming up with before recent performances. After a long drive, with cold hands; here's how I get my fingers warm.
The Magic of InterLibrary Loan
It was a grey Thursday when I got a call from an unknown number. Listening to the voicemail, I heard that my interlibrary loan had come in. The excitement bubbled up in my throat as I got ready to head over (the library is about 3 minutes away). I have been looking for a book called "Pour Se Mettre En Doigts" by Jean Silvy for some time. Quite out of print is how I would describe it; the book is unavailable even from used sources. The Bibliothèque nationale de France informed me that they couldn't make a copy since it was still under copyright. My next try was the Free Library of Philadelphia's Interlibrary loan service, which can be amazing. I usually hear nothing from them until I get a phone call from the branch library saying a book has arrived for me. Giddy with excitement, I got the book home and opened it up to play and I discovered a short but stunning series of exercises. Silvy was apparently very aware of the time limitations cellists face; he dedicated the book to "those amateur and professional violoncellists who have just a few minutes to practice their instrument every day". At the bottom of each exercise, Silvy included a duration (for example: Durée 3 min. 40). But it is the exercises themselves that are the stars of this book. From finger agility training to scale shifting and a brilliant "interval training" exercise that takes you around the entire fingerboard, the book is a joy to play. I only wish that Silvy had been a little less "efficient" and had given us more; he clearly thought about cello technique in a unique and very special way. Please, Delrieu, bring this book back in print!
Thoughts on recording
Just spent the weekend like nearly every weekend this year: rehearsing and performing. Then this afternoon, Myanna and I edited the first track to our new album. This was more fun than it used to be (Alfred Goodrich, our sound engineer at Silvertone Studios has become a good friend), but also led to some self-reflection. How can we make better use of our rehearsal time to lead to better recording takes? The first track, which I am sitting here in the dark listening to, sounds beautiful, but it was a thorny process to get there and I really want to figure out how to be more efficient next time. This happened with my first recording (The Russian Cello): I had a major re-assessment about what I needed to do to be a better recording artist after recording and editing the first track. Training and rehearsing as a performer is so much different than training and rehearsing to record. I think it's a different way of concentrating; you have to distill what makes a performance special (feeling the music, caring about each phrase, making each note come alive) and yet behind everything you play there has to be a consistency and the very deepest level of concentration. So: free and emotive playing with the highest discipline behind it. I love recording and it's almost addictive, but it's never easy.
Anyway, weekend officially over and on to rehearsing, practicing, publishing, teaching, and sleeping tomorrow (in that order!).
Packing for the ASTA conference in Tampa next week. We will be exhibiting at Booth 421 and showcasing a number of brand new releases! As usual, all sale books will be 50% off and all regular-price books will be 20% off. Visit Booth 421 next week for huge savings on string books!
New page of free cello music
I'm excited to introduce a new page of free exercises and etudes for cello! (Pages of free violin and viola music are planned as well.) Starting with a beginning cello etude by Cuccoli, I added 4 practice variations in an easy-to-read format, making this a fun and helpful etude teachers can print out for their students. Adult students can also benefit from the specific work on cello string crossing.
The next free etude is one of my favorite studies from the spectacular Quarenghi cello method, written in a new format to be easier to read. The 92nd study of Quarenghi builds technique in quite a lyrical and beautiful style. This etude is centering and musically fulfilling and works on both shifting and string crossing for late-intermediate and advanced cellists. I can't get enough of it; even right now, close to midnight, I remember the sun streaming in earlier today as my bow ran over the strings and I heard the sounds Quarenghi believed would train true musicians.
Check out our free cello music page here and share with your fellow cellists or teachers and check back often for updates!
Placing the thumb on its side across two strings and using it as a note-playing finger (known as thumb position) is one of the defining skills of advanced cello playing. I typically start teaching thumb position when my students are comfortable shifting in first through eighth positions (Serial Shifting, The Shifting Book for Cello, Part Two, and Finger Exercises for the Cello, Book Three). They need to have learned Tenor Clef and should know their three-octave cello scales (Three-Octave Scales for the Cello, Book One).
Depending on the student, I will start with either Thumb Position for the Cello, Book One, or Thumb Position School for the Cello. I usually begin with Thumb Position for the Cello, Book One, which focuses on moving in and out of thumb position and teaches the notes one at a time, providing a simple introduction to the idea of thumb position. Thumb Position School for the Cello, on the other hand, is an in-depth study of the notes and finger spaces in thumb position, with exercises and short pieces in different keys.
Teaching cello thumb position involves a fair amount of specific guidance regarding thumb placement (I like the thumb on its side, across the A and D strings, with the knuckle on the A string and the side of the thumb next to the nail on the D string.) The wrist should remain straight so that the arm can help support the hand. Care should be taken to avoid strain and tension from a high left shoulder or from a bent wrist. Around 5 minutes of thumb position each day is sufficient time to build beginning thumb technique without overdoing it.
After students have studied some thumb position in the method books, I like to have them start studying pieces that use thumb position: Duport's Sonata in G major, Breval's Concerto No. 2, Vandini's Sonata in G, Senaille's Allegro Spiritoso, and Popper's Gavotte.
After some proficiency has been gained, books such as Thumb Position for the Cello, Book Two, and Thumb Position Studies for the Cello, Book One can be helpful in building further thumb technique.
Wonderful time at ASTA 2014!
Just got back from a terrific time at the ASTA Convention in Louisville, KY. What a wonderful time meeting teachers, talking about technique and study methods, and making some of our new releases available for the very first time. Double Stop Beginnings for the Violin and Double Stop Beginnings for the Viola were big hits, as were Second Position for the Violin and Playing in Keys for Violin, Book One. As always, the 50% off sale bins were the favorites, with books available for as little as $4! Back home, it's been a lot of fun going over the ideas we got from the conference and getting ready for next year in Salt Lake City!
Another great ASTA conference!
Just got back from the ASTA 2013 National Conference in Providence, RI. We had a terrific time exhibiting, meeting teachers from all over the country, and enjoying Providence!
We released a number of new books in time for the conference that are now available on the website. Double Stop Shifting for the Cello, Book One is one of my favorite new books for cello, presenting a series of short exercises that teach the intermediate cellist how to shift in double stops. The exercises increase in difficulty in small increments to provide the most solid foundation. The students who have played through this book now demonstrate a new fluency in double stop playing and shifting that is quite remarkable. Double Stop Beginnings was previously only available as an ebook, and is now in print!
Third Position Study Book for the Violin, Book One and Third Position Study Book for the Viola, Book One were published as supplements to the Third Position Method Books for Violin and Viola. These books focus on playing across strings in third position using short exercises and pieces.
And the highlight of our new releases is the long-awaited Treble Clef for the Viola! Violists can now learn treble clef note by note, with accompanying short pieces. Beginning with the notes in first position on the viola, the book progresses to treble clef notes in third and fifth positions. Check out more information on the Treble Clef book page.
Great ASTA Conference!
What a wonderfully inspiring conference of string teachers just finished at the 2012 ASTA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia! I got to meet so many wonderful, dedicated teachers and attend phenomenal sessions by Mark Rudoff and Martha Gershefski. Back into playing and teaching now, getting ready for the Philmore Ensemble May 5 concert, the end-of-the-year student recitals, and the upcoming Summer String Program. Playing Grutzmacher Etude No. 8 today, I marveled at the brilliance of the man. He finished his somewhat-grueling trill etude with a couple lines of natural harmonics! You have to play it to believe it, but he really knew how to work the left hand when he wrote that.
Cassia Harvey is a cellist, a cello teacher, and writes technique for strings.