At some point it becomes apparent that what makes players special actually has little to do with how many black dots they can play and everything to do with how those dots are played.
The misconception is that truly making music, exposing your innermost feelings, is reserved for a certain level of musician and for a certain level of music. Students often feel that there will be some line written in red or a bell that will go off letting them know that “now is the time”. In reality, that time is now.
As early as possible I like to begin to play duets with my students. One of my favorite moments is when I put a piece of music that they have not seen in front of them, and they not only actually play it, but now they are making music with another person. From there we begin, learning that making music is far more than producing notes.
I believe that there are layers to practicing and I suggest that we begin working a piece from the bottom up. Nothing important stands without a solid foundation. Technique is the key to freedom and it is the concrete in our foundation. Practice must include dissection, inspection and understanding of the technical aspects of each piece. However music always has to be a thing of beauty and technique always has to be in service to that beauty.
Too many times I have sat in an audience listening to progressing cellists use whatever techniques they had gathered in an attempt to play difficult groups of notes in a difficult piece of music. There was no feeling, no beauty, only a collision of notes played with fear, followed by disappointment and some relief when it was over.
It is a mistake to believe that all success comes from the left hand. Bow movement and sound point are crucial to creating color. These should be introduced early and used at all levels.
Moving someone and truly making music cannot be achieved solely by mechanical means. Like in so many areas of life, muscle and elbow grease are self defeating.
I ask that students work on the bones of every piece, scale, etude. When that knowledge is solid the cellist should let go of the idea of playing just with their fingers and begin to play from their gut. I want them to tap into the emotion that sits in the puddle somewhere deep inside of us.
True beauty is never determined by what you play - but always by how you play it.