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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Most of my right hand practice is on Guardame. I’m still planning on a complete performance for my next video update. Since I want to stick with a “warts and all” approach, I’ll do an unedited performance. So I’m practicing a lot, as I don’t want to slog through an endless sequence of takes to get one acceptable performance.

During my right hand alternation practice, I’ve repeatedly encountered the same problem: the swing and miss syndrome. In this syndrome, one of my right hand fingers—usually m—either barely glances the string or misses entirely. I can overcome this by playing louder, digging into the string with more pressure. But this slows me down and ramps up the tension in my hand.

Further, I’ve found I can no longer do speed bursts. Remember the 184 burst from my February 12 post? It’s gone. Obviously it’s gone because I haven’t practiced it. I’d become suspicious of speed bursts, thinking they might be reinforcing a movement I can’t sustain for anything longer than a burst. But now I’m reconsidering. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, speed bursts may be the worst kind speed practice, except for everything else I’ve tried.

What I’ll try now are sessions of loud playing alternating with sessions of lighter speed bursts. My hope is that, driving from the two extremes, I can gradually meet in the middle, integrating forceful control with the lightness of speed. I doubt that either approach by itself will work without the other. So it’s both ends to the middle, and the devil take the hindmost.

Gradually a crucial question has coalesced. In an experienced player, what does it take to ingrain a new way of playing? Ironically, when trying to ingrain a new movement beginners have an advantage over those who’ve played a long time. Beginners are a blank slate, starting from zero. As an experienced player, however, I’m starting from less than zero. I have a wrong movement deeply ingrained by decades of playing. My right hand is like the teenager who already knows everything, and woe to anyone who tries to tell it something different.

In a bit of serendipity, I’ve just started reading a book that lightly touches on this very question. The subject—memorization—is a bit different from what I’m working at. But in essence the author, Joshua Foer, asks the same question that I’m wrestling with. Can an average person, with the right practice, develop a skill far beyond what he might at first consider possible? The book is entitled “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.” In it, Foer chronicles his journey from an average guy who can’t remember where he put his car keys to becoming the United States Memory Champion.

Hey, maybe someday I’ll win the GFA competition!

And there you go again with the giggling.

——[My next update will be July 18, 2011]——

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