In praise of a click-track…

I’ve had a great break over the silly season (apart from getting stung by a sting ray, but that’s another story. Very painful. And yes, I stepped on it. No, I didn’t see it.), and didn’t play the cello at all.

I always find it hard coming back to practising, physically. My finger-pads get sore. My right arm tires. (I know, precious little apple blossom I am.) But it’s often an exciting time, musically. I am fresh, and eager to try out some new ideas.

This year was no different. My first concert is a solo cello concert, and I’m playing a Bach Suite to start it off. I’ve played this suite for years – it’s hard not to just go-through-the-motions with it. So I tried something different. I practised for two days with a metronome clicking beside me. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s a gadget to keep you playing exactly in time. You set it to click to a prescribed number of beats per minute, and then you play over the top. It’s not actually as easy as it sounds. They seem to always speed up in the hard bits.)

Playing with one of these is strange. I feel a bit strait-jacketed, and it requires discipline, but I was eager to see how the experiment turned out. Here’s how it has changed with the Allemande – one of the movements in the suite.

I never really ‘liked’ the Allemande, probably because I thought I never really thought I played it convincingly. I tried to play it beautifully, sure, and I sort-of hoped that Bach’s genius would carry me through), but I never really knew what to do. For some of it, yes, but not all of it.

So I found a click speed that worked, stripped all the bowing and ornaments out and pulled it apart. Then I put the bowing back in – only if it worked in time. Then I put the ornaments in in the repeats – but only if they worked in time. It sounded odd, and I felt hugely restricted, but wanted to see where this might go. Yesterday it felt less restrictive, but still odd. 

This morning less odd. 

I have just tried it now without a metronome. And I have it! It feels dance-like, with a few spaces. The repeats are different, so it’s interesting. It’s still beautiful, but today, for me, utterly convincing. And it has the most excellent sense of phrasing.

I can’t help but think Bach would be pleased.

Let’s hope it feels like that tomorrow….