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Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Flicker of Success

On Thursday morning, I was doing my 30 minutes of speed bursts as described in my last post. While doing this, my right hand felt very good about 15 minutes into the routine. I didn’t have a metronome handy—since I was still laying the foundation, I didn’t expect to have anything worth measuring. So I didn’t know exactly how fast my bursts were. But they felt pretty darned fast. Certainly faster than anything I’d ever done before. That afternoon, I had some time to kill between students. Curious, and now having a metronome at hand, I decided to see just how fast I could do a burst. Let it be written and proclaimed throughout the land that at 4:10 pm on February 10, 2011, my right hand hit a rest stroke alternation burst at 184. To share the news, I made an audio sample this afternoon. To hear it, click here.

Before we break out the balloons and party hats, here are the caveats. I can only do this after about ten minutes of warmup. Even then, it’s hit or miss. I tried to show one of my students that I could hit a burst at 184, but couldn’t do it. Now I know how it feels to hit a hole-in-one when no one’s around to see it. There’s more. I can only do the burst starting with my index finger. For some reason, starting with my middle finger doesn’t work as well. I can’t do the burst on treble strings. Apparently the different feel of the trebles increases the difficulty just enough that my hand can’t yet do on trebles what it can do on basses. (Weird.) And crossing from one string to another? Forget it. Finally, I can’t maintain this speed for anything more than a short burst.

So my 184 burst is like those particles that flicker in and out of existence at CERN. It’s all very neat to observe in the lab, but it’s too evanescent to use in real guitar playing.

Nonetheless, let’s step back a moment. Never in almost 40 years of playing has my right hand done this. Four notes per click at 184 with rest stroke? Never happened before. So things are looking up. In spite of all the caveats, no one’s gonna rain on my parade. Today I’m a happy guy.

So what’s next? I need to tinker with this burst to make it something I can produce on demand. Good technique should be reliable. Further, I need to be able to do it on any string, starting with either i or m. I don’t want a finicky technique that only works under narrow circumstances.

But damn, this is so cool to hear my old, slow right hand hit a burst at 184. I might spend the rest of the evening listening to that audio sample over and over again. Practice? I’ll start that again on Monday. By the way, during an internet conversation about my right hand project, I wrote that if I hit 144, I’d celebrate by running naked through the streets. This prompted the following reply from across the pond:

“I think a nice cup of tea and a large slice of battenburg cake is much more sensible.”—Paul Croft, England

If you ask me, the English just don’t know how to celebrate.

——[My next post will be on February 21, 2011.]——


Paul said...

Perhaps you're not familiar with English weather Tom?


Anonymous said...

I am one of lurkers in Acoustic Guitar forum. Just want you to know that I keep on following you progress.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom, I am another voyeur from accross the pond, an ageing beginner who has belatedly realised the importance of a consistent right hand. At my age, mere speed is unimpressive; you need sufficient to impart the musicality of the composer's intentions. Don't run naked through the streets, just keep calm and carry on. John Lancaster.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom!
Congratulations on your achievement! It's very impressive.
I have been following your progress as well and would like to share a couple of things with you (maybe more...) You can take it or leave it, of course.
1. If you are doing this as a long-term one-year project, I think trying for 184 is too premature. In fact, I would say it's counter-productive. By your own admission, you say you are actually not able to do it on certain strings and/or start with certain fingers. Therefore, your technique is not really improving. You are just playing faster.
2. The clarity of your playing at this speed is not very good. In one of your previous posts, you chose Grisha as a prime example of excellence. If you notice, when Grisha plays fast (and he can play at 270 when he's on) all of his notes are clear and articulate. This is also one of the attributes of Pepe and Angel Romero's scale technique that I like so much and sets them apart from players like ourselves. Also, if you notice that at the higher speeds their tone is not "choked" either.

I can go on and on. I admire your dedication but don't lose sight of your goal - If you want to improve your technique, you have to do it in smaller increments in order for your brain to start receiving signals and start learning the new processes. If you don't, you may be very well be on your way to a detrimental hand-injury.

My advice, finally: I think the speed bursts are good. But, it may be better for you to look for sustained periods of speed instead. Again, we are trying to improve our technique and not how many notes we can cram in one beat, right? So, now that you've done one month of preliminary assessment of your technique and know that there is an evenness issue with your strokes, let us now then start by playing eighth-notes at 80 (slower if you need to) evenly for 5-10 minutes at a time. Do that for a week, then move up slowly to 85, 90, 95, 100'll find different results with this, imho. Maybe then you can start with 16th notes at 40 and follow the same process.

Now, this is just all talking about single-string alternations. When you start string-crossing with actual scales, you'll probably need to go slower again...
I think your brain needs time to assimilate the new information so let it assimilate. "Never play faster than you can think" - Manuel Barrueco.
No, I'm not Barrueco :)

Best to you and take care of your hands.