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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Practicing with a Cigarette and Blindfold

I must admit that, with over half a year invested in this project and not much audible progress to show for it, boredom is an ever-present danger. My last few posts on this blog reflect this—I detect in them little of the excitement that animates my earlier posts. But when all seems dark, I take comfort in this little couplet:

“When in danger or in doubt,
run in circles, scream and shout.”

The source for this is obscure, but it’s often credited to the United States Navy, circa WWII. That wouldn’t surprise me, as I first heard it from my father, who served in the navy during WWII. Whatever its true source, I’ve found it a useful response in many situations.

My scheduled video of Guardame at the end of this month is such a response. The reasoning harks back to my student days. When I was working toward my bachelor’s degree, I would sometimes find myself at an impasse where progress ground to a halt. I soon found that when this happened, a good strategy was to schedule a performance. The foreboding terror of stepping unready before an audience had a way of sharpening my practice sessions. Or as Samuel Johnson put it: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

So with my mind thus concentrated, Guardame las vacas dominates my one hour right hand sessions. No herd of cows was ever tended so faithfully as my right hand is now. After beginning with five minutes of finger push-ups, I go directly to every extended scale passage in Guardame, starting at a metronome setting where my hand feels comfortable. (Lately, that’s at about 60.) Then I tweak the tempo up and try again. When I hit a tempo where my hand starts to tighten, I slow down a tad and run repetitions there.

The “swing and miss syndrome” mentioned in my last post is still alive and well. It tends to happen as I move in to the third and fourth strings. All I can say is that I’m working on it. You’ll hear the result soon enough.

While arpeggios are more toward the back burner, I’m still giving them some time during my sessions. Here’s something that interests me. Doing the p, i, m, a, m, i arpeggio slowly, my hand feels just fine. As I slowly increase the tempo, however, my hand gradually tenses up. Eventually I hit a tempo of maximum tension, where my hand feels awful. That in itself isn’t surprising. but what follows is. If I further increase the tempo, suddenly my hand feels better—the tension dramatically decreases. Mind you, the control isn’t what it should be, and the rhythm gallops a bit. But the feel is good, and it seems just a matter of greater diligence to improve my control. I call it the “sonic boom syndrome.” I don’t really understand it fully, so I’ll keep tinkering with it.

Those of you who squinted at the dark gloom of my last video will be pleased to know that I just ordered a set of video lights. I guess I’ll now have to clean myself up before shooting a video. Sheesh, the things we do for art.

——[My next update will be July 25, 2011]——


louhern said...

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.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, Don't give up. The question you must ask yourself is: "From a musical point of view, has your performance of Guardame improved?" If the answer is yes, you have made progress, and have discovered that speed is not the only benchmark!