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Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Quiet Week With Joe Friday

Over the past month or so I’ve come to accept that progress will be much slower than I’d hoped when I set out on this project. But now I wonder if progress is happening right before my eyes and I’m too jaded to see it. In my May 1 video I could play rest stroke alternation no faster than a crawl. Yet two and a half months later, I can reliably do this roughly three times faster. So fixated am I on my goal—still frustratingly far off—that I’ve overlooked the fact that my rest stroke alternation speed has tripled in less than three months. Geez, Moore’s Law has nothing on me. The obvious explanation for my failure to notice this progress is that since I started from a crawl, three times faster than a crawl isn’t all that noticeable.

But progress is progress. Henceforth I shall revel in my victories, however small they may be.

I spent much of my one hour right hand sessions working on a condensed version Mudarra’s Galliard:
As Joe Friday might have said, “just the scales, ma’am.” By the way, in the above example I left out the cadenza I’m doing at the end. Let’s just say that, until I post a video, it’s my little secret. But I’m sure you’ll find it deeply moving.

Although I don’t like doing it, I played rest stroke alternation very quietly this week. My reason for this is thus. When my fingers meet no resistance, they move perfectly, with no excess tension at all. Only when meeting the resistance of the string do my fingers begin moving badly. The higher the volume I try to play, the greater the tension in my hand—the greater the tension in my hand, the more my inactive fingers tend to lock up during i and m alternation. So my approach this week was to play at a volume where my fingers move easily, and see if that easy movement becomes ingrained enough that I’ll later be able to increase the volume with no ill effects.

As I said, I don’t like doing this. I’ve heard guitarists who do speed by playing lightly. To my ears, it yields a dinky little sound that I find tentative. But I’m hoping that as an easy movement becomes ingrained, I’ll gradually be able to ramp up the volume and keep the easy movement.

T’was a strange week. I began it with little hope that I was getting anywhere, but determined to soldier on. Early in the week I would start each i and m alternation session at about 60, and then nudge up the tempo until I hit a wall. By Friday I found myself hitting 80 with a fair degree of confidence, although my right hand tension felt dangerously close to locking up. But I did hit a few clean reps at 80. Nothing comfortable and reliable yet, but the fact that I could do it at all was encouraging. Curious, I then tried to play Carulli’s Fandango, which I’ve had on the back burner. At a tempo of 100, it went better than I expected. I was so pleased that at the end of the week I contemplated rewarding my right hand with a doggie treat.

I still think it won’t be until the end of September before I’m ready to play Mudarra’s Galliard at a performance tempo. (And I’d prefer a tempo of 104, rather than the 92 I mentioned last week.) But after a summer of discontent, I’m beginning to feel some of my old optimism creeping back.

Maybe I can pull this off.

——[My next update will be August 21, 2011]——

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