Technique: Octaves for cellists

Seth PW 2

Cellist Seth Parker Woods on overcoming the fear and finding joy in octave practice

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The very mention of playing in octaves is enough to elicit a terrified response from the majority of cellists. Arguably the phrase ‘never practise in a state of fear’, which is often used by teachers in various guises, is especially applicable to octave practice. It is a mantra that is important to impress on students as they start to engage with octaves, otherwise a frightened state of mind will adversely affect their progress in this area. We have to help them learn to practise octaves calmly and analytically, then perform them with confidence.

It is not difficult to detect a student who is scared of octaves; there is a general physical tightening-up that affects intonation. This is often caused by mental catastrophising about the spacings and fear of being judged, resulting in a toxic spiral. So, instead of being present in the moment to listen, their focus is not only negative but also not in a relevant place.

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