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Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Little Specificity, Please

Until I began this right hand project, I’d never before kept a practice journal. One reason is that it too easily becomes an end in itself. As in “my playing didn’t improve today, but I got some really good material for my journal—hey, maybe I can turn it into a screen play!” Further, even though I’m now keeping a written journal, I almost never read it. In fact, the only time I read what I’ve written during the week is when I’m writing a blog post, as I’m doing now. Otherwise, I’ve little idea what I wrote, say, three months ago. And really, why bother? After all, every time I begin a practice session, my playing emphatically tells me what needs work.

Nonetheless, occasionally I can learn something from going back to read what I’ve written. Sometimes it’s not what I’ve said, but rather what I haven’t said. Consider, for example, the entries for the first week of May:

May 2: Finger push-up 2 minutes.
May 3: Hold hand into the string. Play hard!
May 4: (blank)
May 5: (blank)
May 6: Fandango at 50.

These aren’t the entries of an engaged mind. They suggest a lot of finger wiggling with nary a thought behind it. This won’t do. So from this day hence, I’ll either formulate new and precise questions about my playing, or be busy trying to answer them. Toward the end of this week I decided to set a quota of three good questions per week. I then wrote down some questions. After writing them down, I realized I had four questions instead of three. I then wondered if I should set a quota of four questions. When I realized this was a fifth question, I ditched the idea of a quota.

This is how progress happens.

To be serious, all practice is problem-solving. And the problem should be specifically defined. “I want to get better” is nice, but ultimately worthless. Hey, who doesn’t want to get better? But as a practice goal it’s too vague, offering nothing in particular to work on. Specificity is the soul of good practice.

So here are two questions I wish to answer:

• When I begin playing at the beginning of my morning session, my right hand feels awful. My rest stroke couldn’t accurately hit the side of a mountain, much less a guitar string. After about five or ten minutes of playing, things improve. But I don’t believe my right hand technique should start from zero every time I begin a practice session. So I need to experiment with how to get my hand working well as quickly as possible at the beginning of a session.

• Lately I’ve noticed noise from the string below the one I’m playing during rest stroke alternation. For example, during a passage on the second string, I hear faint but clearly audible sounds from the third string. I don’t think it’s from my a finger accidentally hitting the string. (In fact, a is slowly getting its act together.) Rather, I suspect it’s from i and m bouncing off the adjacent string as they return to the string they’re playing. Curiously, I’ve never had this problem before, and I thought I’d had them all. Oh well, a new problem gives me another reason to get up in the morning.

This week should be a bit of a hassle. I broke a good portion of my i nail. Of course, this happened right before a wedding gig, and I spent most of the gig working around the broken nail. By the way, it wasn’t a priest who presided over the wedding, but rather an actor playing a priest. The wife of the actor told me this—I replied: “what, Rowan Atkinson wasn’t available?”

I’m shooting for a full performance of Guardame las vacas at the end of July. It’s coming along nicely. During the week, I played it alongside the student I mentioned in last week’s post. Right now, we’re about even on the first variation. But I know the subsequent variations better than she does, so I’m ahead there. Give her a bit more time, and the competition will be closer. I’ve warned her that I’m not giving up without a fight. I’m working hard at this, and she’ll have to work at it to surpass me. It’s the wisdom of age pitted against the potential of youth.

Oh for heaven’s sake, stop giggling.

——[My next update will be June 27, 2011]——


thomascamarda said...

Starting cold was never anything I was ever fond of, so placing rasgueado at the head of the line as the first thing to do is a great way to warm and limber up the right hand. Some learn varietal flamenco strums, but for pure physical practice I find tremolo rasgueado a good way to go. IMAEP with p as an upstroke and a goal of of a continuous roll gets my right hand warmed before I start any kind of flexor rest or free strokes. I do this on a cheap guitar and forcefully with each finger stroke and try to keep the fingers flicking from a finger pocket to aid in the force of the stroke. As the small extensor muscles of the fingers become stronger the stroke becomes a bit lighter and a bit quicker. One can do this with a metronome but the metronome trains stress as much as anything else and, I think, is best used to measure progress in speed from time to time. Varying rhythmic patterns, dotting, accenting etc. with different fingers are all useful variations. After having done this for a few years bursts became unnecessary.

PH said...

In case you don't read GSI, here's a link to a video discussing pre-playing warm-ups. Very interesting and yes, it does get the blood moving :o)