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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Simplicity Begins as a Very Complex Thing

Play and release is my new mantra. This week I spent most of my 30 minute i and m alternation work on this:
On each m stroke, my middle finger immediately releases back to its relaxed position, poised near the string and ready for another stroke. Why so many m stokes compared to i? Because m is the problem finger, not i. All week I did this no faster than a metronome setting of 80. No speed bursts. Okay, I tried a few on Friday, but the horrid results sent me scurrying back to the slower speed. My goal is to deeply ingrain this new and relaxed feel, so that when I speed up, the relaxed feel becomes my natural response.

Judging from my previous posts, you might assume that alternation is all I’m working on. But I’m still doing 15 minutes of arpeggio studies. One of the pieces I play is very familiar to classical guitarists, Mauro Giuliani’s Op. 48, no. 5:

Another is Ferdinando Carulli’s Fandango, Op. 72, No. 3:
...which I like because it offers a variety of basic right hand movements and is fun to play. I also add a little more concentrated work on alternating between i and m-a:
I do all this very slowly, with a lot of prepared stroke. About a month ago, I noticed that when I do an arpeggio in which a plays after m, a tenses as m plays, probably because it wants to go with m. So during arpeggio practice, I’m paying close attention to keeping a very relaxed as m plays. By the way, the irony that a wants very badly to move with m during arpeggios but not during i and m alternation isn’t lost on me. On my hand at least, the ring finger is one very mixed up dude.

I’m still doing 5 minutes of right hand sweeps and rasgueados. And I’m also still ending with 10 minutes of stretches for both hands. Since I’m doing very little speed work this month, my right shoulder feels great.

Now to address some comments and questions:
“I don’t know your entire history so maybe this question has already been answered: since the a finger follows naturally with m, what did you do in the past to get away from that?”—Rick
“I’m most definitely missing something. You are saying that, for you, when m plucked, a did not follow? Really? The m & a fingers are tied together by tendons.”—ES, Pennsylvania, USA
“Someday you are going to listen me and get it in few days. It’s just
a matter of time. Independence of fingers is not moving one finger with or against another finger, it is the ability to move one finger while the other is completely (whatever that means) relaxed. If you learn to relax the a finger while m is flexing, it will naturally move along with m.”—KM, Alabama, USA
I sense a whiff of edginess in these comments and questions. There seems an honest incredulity that what I’m trying to accomplish should be so difficult and takes so long. After all, doesn’t a naturally want to move with m during alternation? So what’s the problem?

As a prelude to a reply, let’s try a thought experiment. Assume that 200 classical guitarists are following my little project. And imagine that, instead of sitting at our computers scattered about the world, we’re all sitting in a recital hall, with me on stage fielding questions about what I’m doing. (Okay, to make it worth your while, I’ll treat everyone to dinner at Olive Garden afterward.)

After hearing me expound at length, someone in exasperation asks: “Geez, Tom, how hard can this be? Just move a with m and be done with it.”

Miffed, I reply: “Okay, everyone come on stage and play a two octave scale cleanly with i and m alternation at 180, moving a with m. I’ll give $100 to each person who can do it. Those who can’t will give me $25.”

Can we all agree that I’m likely to come out ahead on this bet? (Don’t worry, I’ll spend my winnings on the dinner at Olive Garden.) So if what I’m trying to do is so apparently simple, then why can’t most of us do it?

The answer, in short, is that speed complicates what should be a simple thing. If I slowly play a few notes with m, a will easily and naturally follow. But i and m alternation isn’t a series of slowly played notes. What happens easily and naturally at a slower speed doesn’t necessarily happen at a high speed. For many guitarists, high speed alternation becomes very problematic. The easy and natural movement of a with m goes right out the window.

Virtuosos make the destination look easy. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get there.

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

1 comment:

John Lancaster said...

Hi Tom,
I find your journey exceptionally interesting. As a self-taught beginner (aged 67!), I have encountered all the problems you describe and can feel your highs and lows. I have built your exercises in my warm up exercises and can already see the benefit. My playing is still rubbish, as we say across the Pond, but its more fluent and musical rubbish. Your experiences are perhaps more relevant to beginners than to performing artists who have already developed their style. But what do I know? Keep up the good work, I will follow your progress closely.