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Sunday, July 24, 2011


New York City Mayor Ed Koch had a habit of asking his constituents “how am I doing?” It’s a good question for anyone trying to improve. And it’s a very good question for musicians trying to improve their playing. Trouble is, I’ve no idea how to answer it right now. Part of the problem is that I’m not even sure I’m at an impasse. Maybe I’m progressing at about the right rate for someone of my age, physical makeup, and background. My glacial progress might be the nature of the beast I’m trying to tame. In which case I just need to stay on task and be patient.

Then again, lemmings stay on task.

For the upcoming week, I’ll continue preparing for a video performance of Guardame. After that, I need to reexamine what I’m doing and make sure it’s getting me somewhere other than over a cliff edge.

In my last post I described my “sonic boom syndrome.” That brought forth the following comment:
“I know what you mean about that sonic boom. I compare it to walking vs. running. You can attain a maximum walking speed, but if you need to go faster, you have to run. In a run, both feet are off the ground at the same time. A fast walk can actually be faster than a slow run, but a slow run can feel awkward. Maybe that explains why your hand felt better when you increased the speed.”
I hadn’t thought of it in exactly the way you describe, but it’s close. Rather, I’ve thought of it as analogous to a singer transitioning between chest voice and head voice. Your analogy might be more apt. But the problem is essentially the same: learning to do a seamless transition between two physical states. Or maybe I’m using two states—a good one and a bad one—where only the good one is needed.

As I said, I’m at an impasse. Or not.

On a more positive note, I’m currently reading a book on cosmology. It’s “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene. Usually this stuff goes way over my head. But the author explains things well, to where I almost understand what he’s talking about. In one chapter he explains how, in an infinitely large universe, everything inevitably repeats itself. So somewhere out there are identical copies of everyone here. Not only that, but these identical copies may well play out alternate realities. So in one place, you’re huddling in a cardboard box cooking a rat—in another place, you’re in the wine cellar of your mansion mulling between the Château d’Argadens Bordeaux Superieur 2006 or the Lacrimus Crianza Rioja 2006

I’ve heard this theory before and always thought it a bit tetched. But after reading Greene’s lucid explanation, it seems plausible. So it’s possible that somewhere out there another me is ripping through a rest stroke scale at 184.

That’s nice to know.

——[My next update will be August 1, 2011]——


Steve Bondy said...

I feel your pain. Looking over your posts, I can tell your approach is intelligent and thoughtful, but it doesn't seem to be particularly fruitful yet. A couple of random observations:
-One doesn't accelerate the growth of a tree by tugging at its branches. I think the speed bursts are not helping you at this point. They may later, but for now I think you need weeks away from speed work, and rather just concentrate on ease and mechanical fluency.

-While my scale speed is not in the GFA winner category, when I work at it, I can play 16ths in the 140-150 range. I had a hard ceiling of 120 for years, and it only went away when I stopped working for speed, and concentrated instead on simplicity in movement and proprioception, eliminating all extra tension. ALSO, when I first found I had speed I didn't have before, I could only play things fast that musically required it. Scale runs in Invocation and Dance and the Aranjuez come to mind. This being said, I wonder if your very analytic approach needs some tempering with some meter, agogic and musical inflection. Perhaps some of the Tarrega single line studies?

good luck,

Steve Bondy

PH said...

On the point about a seamless transition between two states, you may find benefit in thinking about overlap between two distinct modes of operation instead of a fixed point of transition. For example, a man can sing a melody in his normal or in falsetto, but in practice chooses one or the other depending on the musical line that is to be taken. The same idea could apply to the right hand across a range of tempi: choose the mode that fits the line.

Anonymous said...

Hey, have you considered getting yourself some private lessons? I know you already have a degree and all, but I don't see anything written about you consulting with another guitarist at or above your level to see if he can diagnose you better than you can diagnose yourself.

Also, have you considered a comprehensive strength training program which includes hand strength training on Captains of Crush (or similar high-quality grippers)?

I think the role of domain-specific physical strength is often overlooked for musicians.