9 tips to practice less and still get better

Okay. You’ve been playing now for about half a year to a year and you actually practice every day. Maybe you even do much more than that and even practice for at least one or two hours! And you’re still thinking about giving up the cello so that you can (again) concentrate on the other things that are just as important to you. But then this wish comes up again – you would like to play with people somewhere, finally in a small amateur orchestra or a band!

But until you are so fit on the cello, it will still take a long time, you think to yourself. Two years at least. And you find it so difficult to invest the time now every day to get there. You’ve already invested so much, put so much time into it, sacrificed so much! And sure, sometimes you hear that. Things are going pretty well. But then there are days when you think “I’ll never make it! At some point my fingers have to know where they belong! And now the fourth finger on the G-string is wrong for the thousandth (!) time (!)…” Although you’ve been teaching for a year now. And you still haven’t really got a grip on the thumb pressure…

Hold on! Take a breath!

And let me tell you: you are amazing, you are GREAT! Now look where you’ve already made it to: you’re here, you play the cello! Isn’t that great?

Remember, you were also one of those who come to me every day and say: “Louise, I wanna learn the cello! But I’ve never played an instrument, I don’t have any plan of music”! Or “Louise, my cello hangs on the wall and gets dusty!”

And you know how much actually lay between you and your dream. You wanted to finally start playing again or to learn it in the first place! From scratch, from the beginning. A total layman. Or someone whose playing skills cast only ghostly shadows. And you did it. You got over the first hurdle by not telling yourself all those stories about “too old for it” or “lack of talent”.

So pleeease, honour your efforts! And I mean that seriously: be proud of yourself. Because you can be proud, I am proud of you. My passion for the cello started when I was a child and at the age of eleven I already knew exactly that this was going to be my profession. But I don’t know if I would have the drive, the courage and the endurance to take up something like playing the cello again in adulthood, alongside family, children, career and all sorts of other important things in life, if I hadn’t learned to play it. And that’s why I admire you for doing exactly that and setting yourself this goal. I admire everyone for it! And I have great respect for you.

And you know what? Exactly because you are so serious about it – because you have already shown that music, playing the cello, the desire for self-realization and development through music is so important to you – that’s why I want to help you. Yes exactly, I want to help you! Because I can hardly bear to see someone who wants to learn so much, who struggles so hard on the cello, willing to invest so much. And in the end, they achieve nothing. And I’ll be honest with you, I never really wanted to teach. I never really enjoyed teaching, because in the beginning, when I started to teach alongside my studies, I taught children who were condemned by their parents to play the cello. Because the siblings play an instrument. And then they can make music together. But sometimes they didn’t want to do that at all. And so, for example, the youngest daughter of a family of doctors, to whom I always went home, first hid under the bed when I arrived. And then I had to make an effort to lure her out of there again, which is why I came up with so-called “muffin compositions” – sheets of music that we paint with muffins on them, which she likes to eat. That turned me off quite a bit. Although, retrospectively, I find it hilarious…

In the meantime it’s completely different and I feel it’s my responsibility and part of my calling to give you everything I’ve found out and learned for myself. So that you really have it easier. I personally enjoy seeing how this works with my students and how they blossom. Afterwards there are people who have completely outgrown themselves and play their favourite pieces! Even though they didn’t have a plan at the beginning and didn’t think they were capable of it. Because I want to create world peace and I know that happy, satisfied people are the key 😉

Tip #1: Practice properly

Many people, and maybe you’re one of them, just sort of practice. That means they invest a lot of time and effort, but nothing really comes out of it. And no problem, I used to do the same! My grandfather, who came to our house once a week unannounced and usually early in the morning to get me out of bed and “check” my pieces, has burnt into my brain every time how important it is to practice properly. Honestly, I couldn’t listen to it then. I practically anticipated those words in his mouth. But today I am grateful for it, so grateful! In this article, I’ll show you how to practice “right”. Be sure to print it out and hang it on the wall in front of you or even better: put it on your music stand! So that you can see it again and again and burn it in your mind just like it was burned in my head.

Tip #2: Practice mentally

Yes, you heard right – in memory, so to speak! And there are several ways and techniques how you can do that. Mental practice is very effective! Because our brain can distinguish between “real” and “fictitious”. This means that when you practice mentally, i.e. mutely, inwardly, the same brain areas and muscle groups are activated that you use for practical, active cello practice. This is especially helpful, if you don’t have a cello because it is your vacation and you’re on vacation (the cello usually doesn’t fit into the car when you go to your mother-in-law, even if she would have liked a little serenade).

Mental practice is all about connecting with your instrument in your mind, in your imagination. Head cinema, then. But in the right way: neatly, purposefully, structured and organized. And watch out, that costs a lot of brainwax. So be careful not to distract yourself again and start thinking about something else, because you want to get better! And I’m just showing you a technique that will make you better without the cello, so to speak the slimming capsule, where you can still continue to eat! So use it. If you want to learn more about mental practice and get to know special techniques for you, just sign up for an online cello session (here’s the link), I’ll take a personal look at you and your playing.

Practice Tip #3: Analyze your pieces
How do you want to become better if you don’t know what you should do or where the problems lie? Take an inventory and go through your entire warehouse, so to speak. Just take a look at everything from the bottom up! Most of the time we can’t see the forest for the trees, or we forget why we are practicing what exactly there in the first place. Answer the following questions:

1. What are your pieces?

2. Why are you practicing them? Do you want to play them or did some teacher give them to you?

3. Do you have a little technique or warm-up program? If so, which one? If not, why not? If “I’m not enjoying it” – why not and how could you enjoy it a little bit and get new results?

4. why do you play the cello and what exactly is your goal – until when? If you don’t have a goal: why actually not?

5. what exactly are the problems when playing, what bothers you?

6. at which points in the piece do you always get thrown out or lose yourself and what is the concrete cause for this?

If you take this tip seriously and really work on it with a pen and a piece of paper, you will find out a lot of new things. Take the results and bring them to my group! I will help you to solve your problems.
Tip #4: Write down ‘everything!
I had a boss once who always said, “If you write, you stay.” And so it is. You don’t have any set fingerings in your grades? No wonder the hard parts are always mumbled! A tennis player plans his serves with millimetre precision and I also use techniques that “time” my difficult changes of position to the second and thus secure them. Use colourful, soft, erasable (pencils) to draw circles, lines, numbers and other aids in the notes! You can divide your pieces into patterns and thus recognize what occurs twice or more. This way you save time when practicing and always practice the parallel passages at the same time.
Tip #5: Upgrade your mindset
There are several means for this, e.g. you can get a really good coach, a psychologist or mental coach. There are also simple techniques that you can use yourself, such as simple “journaling” or really good motivation videos or books that build you up. I myself have never done this or only for a short time, but I know a few good things on the market that I find recommendable. The important thing is that it works for you. It is always about one thing: getting out of this so-called suffering or drama spiral in which you beat yourself up or unconsciously blame people and circumstances for your results. You have no choice anyway! Life is happening now and no matter what you do – either you do it right or you leave it alone. If you play the cello and want to improve yourself now, dissolve everything inside you that is hindering you – no matter what it is! And no matter how – just do it.
Exercise tip #6: Fitness exercises
My first teacher told me as a child to do push-ups when I complained that I didn’t have that much stamina (I was totally flat every time I played a piece through completely). That didn’t help me at all and I’m not talking about that here! (Although I would generally highly recommend that you pay attention to your physical fitness).
You need good, practical finger exercises for your left and right hand! Many advanced students who come to me don’t have such a thing and don’t know them either. In my Online Master Class for beginners I show them to you in detail and since they are recorded on video there, you can watch them again and again – it’s just divine, do it! Or come to my advanced program “Cello Secrets”, you will find them there too. You can use these exercises at any time, free from cello and bow. At dinner or in the office. Easy.
Tip #7: Train your ears
You have to sensitize your hearing or train your acoustic perception. If you don’t do that, you’re one of those who don’t even notice that you’re playing dirty and that the notes on the fingerboard sound too high or too low. This is not a bad thing! You can also just start to train this “muscle” and it will get better. Listen to good music, listen to it consciously, listen when people are talking to you and above all stop turning on your TV, headphones, car radio etc. too loud all the time. This is a creeping killer for your fine, sensitive hearing, which, unlike the other sines organs, must absorb all stimuli unfiltered. Many adults don’t know this and already damage the ears of their children and wonder why they don’t hear anymore. 
Tip #8: Make an exercise plan
Less is more! Just do it – keep it simple. You only have 10 minutes a day right now? Do your finger exercises! You have half an hour? Perfect! Use a little mini-technique program to warm up your fingers and hands. Then work on your program specifically and in small portions. Get creative and invent a way of working that suits you and that you enjoy. You can divide a difficult piece into individual bars for individual days. You can record yourself on video and thus improve your self-image. You can work on one or more pieces at the same time. There are no limits for your path.
Tip #9: Take a break
I’m sure you’ve had this before: you haven’t practiced and your teacher complimented you anyway, because suddenly things are going better… It’s the same with sleeping: we can play a few nights, but when it becomes permanent, our system fails and we don’t work properly anymore. Playing the cello too. If you’ve been overdoing it for a long time, don’t be afraid (!) of a break. You’ll quickly get back in with your plan and most of the time it’s actually better afterwards – at least if you don’t take a break all the time – because what you’ve learned has “settled”. With sick children the mechanism is the same. Often they have grown quite a bit or become “more mature” after the illness.
Have fun practicing!