Where Off Road Biking and Cello Practice Intersect

mountain biking

Photograph: Jupiter images/Brand X/Alamy

As I continue to take cello lessons, I continue to find similarities in practicing the cello and practicing the drums set. As I work through the music for my upcoming concert, I am muddling through the correct notes and rhythms, but it’s taking a lot of concentration and I’m having trouble relaxing while playing. I’m also constantly worried that my bow is going to bump into the other cellist, and my paranoia is causing restrictions in my movement, creating a less than ideal sound on my cello.┬áDuring my last lesson,┬ámy cello teacher gave me a short lecture, comparing off road biking and cello playing, which, I’ll bet, makes absolute sense for any instrument.

Some years ago she took up off road biking as a hobby. At first, she was trying to control every motion, grabbing the handlebars tightly, tensing her shoulders, etc. One day someone finally told her to loosen up and let the bike do the hard work. She describes that when she did so, she learned what an off road bike was built for. It had specialized parts that took care of much of the movement she was trying to control. She was suddenly able to bike over obstacles she never thought she’d be able to handle.

My cello teacher instructed me to loosen up, let go, as she did with her off road bike – let the cello do the hard work for me. She reminded me that there is weight to the blow, and that the cello sits underneath the bow to support it. She reminded me not to try and control the physics, but rather to notice and work with them as I play.

This is brilliantly similar to how drummers approach their technique. I observe many beginner students holding their drum sticks for the first time with their index finger stiffly out in front of their grip, trying to point the stick into the drum head. However, drum heads are built to bounce, and drum sticks are weighted and balanced to fit in the drummers hands. When a drummer pulls their index finger into the rest of their grip, they may feel a little out of control at first, but quickly, they should be able to notice the bounce of a drum stick coming back from the drum head. They’ll learn to work with the motion, and that’s when their real technique forms. Playing becomes much easier.

My lesson this week reminded me that cellos are specially made for cello playing, just as drums are made for drumming and off road bikes are made for off road biking. I should try to stay loose while playing through each passage, so that I can be aware of the cellos role, and fly with it over obstacles I thought were beyond my skill.

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