How Learning the Cello Helps My Design Work

Five years ago, I impulsively took up the cello. It’s a complicated instrument and not easy to learn. But I’ve always admired it’s sound so I made the commitment to give it a try and I’m still at it today.

The benefits of learning and playing an instrument are numerous. According to an article in Inc. Magazine on the topic, they include strengthened memory and reading skills, superior multi-sensory skills, increased blood flow to the brain, increased energy, reduced stress and strengthened executive function.

Personally, I believe it’s benefitted my design work in the following ways:

Physical Rest and Reset

I spend hours each day scrutinizing objects on a glowing screen. Stepping away and shifting focus to developing my ear and fine motor skills allows me to rest and recharge my eyes, stretch my wrists and fingers, and shift my posture so I can return to my desk chair physically recharged.

A Brain Break

When facing a challenging project, my mind keeps working at it even when I step away from Creative Suite. Picking up my cello forms a hard stop. Playing a stringed instrument as an amateur requires focus. Multi-tasking means finding the right finger positions on the strings while finding the right position, speed and pressure with the bow. You cannot stew over a complicated layout or brainstorm campaign ideas while trying to play. Or at least I can’t. After focusing on the notes, tempo and dynamics of a piece of music for a while, I can return to a design project reinvigorated and ready to focus. And sometimes with a new approach to a problem that has dogged me.

Persistence & Patience

Learning to read music is like learning a new language. It’s incredibly satisfying to look at a new piece for the first time with no idea what it sounds like and slowly translate the notes into sound – and eventually through practice, a pleasing sound. Playing the cello has increased my patience and persistence. I know I won’t play it perfectly the first time, but if I practice and put the time in, I know it will get better and better. Additionally, developing persistence and patience has directly benefited my troubleshooting ability with technical issues – especially working in complicated Wordpress websites and with video editing software. And it’s helped when working on html/CSS.

And finally,

It looks good on zoom calls.

My cello sits behind my desk within range of my camera. It’s something out of the ordinary and sometimes it’s a nice ice-breaker to chat about with clients. I’m shy and rarely play for anyone besides my instructor and my dogs. At first, the shyness extended to talking about it but it’s something I sink time into and I’m proud that I’ve made it my hobby. The time I spend learning the instrument definitely provides benefits beyond the sound it produces.

What My Camera Saw

For the past week I've left my house around 9:30pm and head to a park on the edge of the neighborhood in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Neowise comet in the northwestern sky. Unfortunately on these outings, the most I saw was a tiny, unfocused smudge - through binoculars. So when a friend invited me along for a nighttime photography session up at Loveland Pass, it sounded like a golden opportunity to hopefully see the comet a little clearer.

We drove up 70 and got off before the Eisenhower tunnel, climbing higher and higher on the roadway. At the top was a crowded parking area and crowds with cameras trudging up a steep, rocky trail on a treeless mountainside. We grabbed our layers, packed our gear and started the climb. About 300 yards up, we stopped at at mostly-level outcrop and set up our tripods. We checked our settings and waited for it to get dark.

As the sun set and the moon rose it started to get cold. So cold in fact that I had to pace to keep warm. When that failed to offset the uncontrollable shivers, we hiked halfway down, where the wind was less bitter and the cold more tolerable. We reset up our equipment and scanned the sky. Then saw nothing.

Eventually my friend noticed a smudge below the lowest point of the big dipper. (Despite wearing my glasses, I couldn't see it.) We pointed our lenses at the area and snapped pics. The preview screen in the back of my camera lit up and there it was! Dead center in the night sky! My silly human eyes were no match for the light sensitive technology of my little Canon Rebel T6i. We snapped away for over an hour then pivoted to capture a few shots of the milky way before packing up.

I'm not going to lie - I was dissappointed to not be able to see it with my own eyes, but am in awe of what my camera could see and capture. Plus I learned alot about photographing the sky at night.

A Marriage of Typography and Architecture

On a recent visit to the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum, I noticed some stunning “new” signage – 3-D Letters set out from the heavily angled walls, which labelled the entrances to galleries. (I place “new” in quotes because I have no clue when the signage went up, as I hadn’t been there in a while.) They were quite simple – white letters in a san-serif font, set in title-case – however the shadows created by the lighting and angels was very dramatic, and complimented the architecture of the building perfectly. They look almost as if they sprouted organically from the wall. It was the perfect marriage of modern architecture and typography.