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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Elusive Ineffable

That didn’t take long. After one week of my new approach, my right shoulder is starting to hurt. Oh well, game over. I’m closing down my right hand project and sleeping in an extra hour every weekday morning. Sorry to have wasted your time.

Okay, not to worry. I’m not giving up yet. In fact, I’ve been down this road before. The last time I tried reworking my right hand, I had put in the same amount of time when my shoulder gave out. And I was doing roughly the same thing I’m trying now: playing loud rest strokes to gain strength in my fingers. Back then, however, I was playing continuous alternation for sometimes ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch. This time I know better. So the soreness I’m feeling now isn’t enough to make me stop. But it is enough to make me reconsider.

Again. (Sigh.)

For the upcoming week, I’ll ease off speed and do alternation and arpeggios slowly. And I’ll try to turn the slow work to my advantage. I’ve long sensed there’s a delicate balance between tension and relaxation. When I play lightly, my hand feels great, but my rhythmic accuracy suffers. Conversely when I play harder, my rhythmic accuracy snaps into focus, but my tension shoots up and my speed grinds to a crawl. None of this is a revelation. But perhaps I’ve been going too far in one direction or the other, and need to find a middle ground that thus far has escaped my notice. It’s a theory anyway. Since speed is temporarily off limits, I might as well look into something else, however tenuous it may be.

Throughout this project, I’m struck by how often the things I’m doing and pursuing are so hard to describe. (It reminds me of the old philosophical conundrum: can you prove to someone else that you’re conscious?) The problem lies in describing what is, now and always, an internal state. I can assume what I feel is hardly unique, and thus familiar to anyone. But in the end, I’m always guessing and can never know if I’m getting across to anyone what I’m experiencing.

Some of the responses to my project, in fact, suggest I’m not doing a good job of describing why I can’t do right hand speed. For example, I’m still getting advice about how I’m holding the guitar. This is a matter I thought I’d adequately explained—certainly I know it’s not a factor in solving my problem. And yet the guitar position advice keeps coming. I’m particularly mystified by one who asserted that my shoulders aren’t correctly positioned. Try as I might, when I look at the videos I’ve posted, I can’t see how anyone would draw this conclusion.

If my project accomplishes anything, I hope it suggests how careful a teacher has to be when taking on the problems of another person. People vary in their ability to pin down and describe a problem. A student struggling to describe something unfamiliar and ineffable might draw a blank. Teachers must take care to really understand what the student is struggling to say. We tend to be enamored with our favorite insights. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of time-hardened bromides that have nothing to do with a particular student’s problem.

I don’t slight the difficulty of describing the ineffable. Obviously I haven’t entirely succeeded at it myself. But I rather like mixing the grand with the hum-drum. I’ve a philosophical conundrum to ponder as I tackle the more prosaic matter of building a better right hand.

——[My next post will be on May 16, 2011.]——

1 comment:

John Lancaster said...

I have been fascinated by your project since the start, and wondered where it would lead. I have long thought that to achieve an "effortless fluency" is more impressive than mere speed. I very clearly remember a quite famouse conductor forcing a flautist to play Bach's Badinage at a breakneck speed, which she could with amazing technical wizzardry, but it lacked musicality compared with her performance at a slower tempo. He became visibly angry when I queried his tempo! In fact "effortless fluency" often creates the impression of speed as the music unfolds, but more importantly it often reveals the work of art hidden in the notes. Do keep up your quest and I look foreward to finding you on the path less trod.