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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Extended Lite & Speed Bursts

Slow and careful practice is fine to a point, but I can’t learn speed slowly. To get speed, I have to do speed. So speed bursts, in which I’d lost faith months ago, have nosed their way back into my practice sessions.

I begin each right hand session with five minutes of finger push-ups. I still believe finger strength is a necessary part of improving my right hand. That means finger push-ups—along with sweeps and rasgueado—will stay in my right hand sessions. Then I begin what I call my “extended lite” work. In this, I lightly play i and m rest stroke alternation on one string for extended passages. (You can see samples of this on my September 3 video.) The light playing ensures that my fingers move correctly, without my a and c fingers locking up as they would if I played harder. It also ensures that i and m snap smartly through the string, with no sideways deflection caused by pushing hard against the string’s tension. As I’ve explained before, I’m ambivalent about this light playing. I eventually want to be able to alternate quickly at any dynamic level. But for now, it’s essential that I ingrain good and relaxed movement of my fingers.

I do extended lite for about twenty minutes, frequently stopping to rest my right arm. After this, I move on to very short speed bursts, beginning at 120. Here I play at a more normal dynamic level. But I’ve added a wrinkle that I hope will better sensitize me to excess tension. I’ve noticed that when I do speed bursts, they almost always sound like this:
 ...getting louder through the burst. This, of course, means my hand tenses up through the burst, something I want to avoid. Thus, I try to maintain an even volume through the burst, or even decrescendo—then my hand won’t tighten up. So this is what I’m shooting for each time I work on short bursts. If I can gradually eliminate this tight sensation, then I hope eventually I’ll be able to double or triple the length of these bursts. This would bring me closer to extended alternation up to 184 with a relaxed hand.

When I first began doing extended lite work followed by speed bursts, there was always a clear distinction between the two—one felt completely different from the other. That’s not good. But over the last week, I’m feeling more of a segue between them. It helps that I’ve lately been able to begin my extended lite work at 92. By the end of it, I’m at 112, which isn’t far from the 120 tempo at which I begin speed bursts. More and more, the feel I have at the end of my extended lite work is similar to the feel when I begin my speed bursts at 120. This is exactly what I’m aiming for. As much as possible, I want my hand to feel pretty much the same at a wide range of speeds. Only at the extreme limit of speed would my hand begin to feel tight.

I’m still better at speed on basses rather than trebles. But the third string is starting to feel a bit more hospitable. I’ll keep at it.

On the bright side, I’ve breached several more barriers during the week. On Monday morning at 8:39 I hit a short burst at 192. (Yes, I really did write down the time. Humor me.) Five minutes later I hit a short burst at 200. By the way, 200 is so damned fast that after I hit the burst, I sat quietly wondering if I’d really done it. It took me a minute to convince myself that I’d actually done a burst at 200. Maybe I need what they have at hockey games: a light and klaxon that go off whenever I accurately hit a high speed burst.

And on Thursday morning at 7:58, I hit a short burst at 208. Hey, since my metronome only goes up to 208, maybe I can declare victory and close down my project.

On the bad side, I may have to delay my promised end of September video performance of the Mudarra Galliard. The problem right now is that there’s almost no spillover from my technique work to my normal playing. What I can do in the laboratory doesn’t work in the rough and tumble world of real playing. For the moment, I’m okay with that. This new approach seems to be getting somewhere, and I’m willing to change the game plan and ride it wherever it may go.

But I’m determined to prove I can hit a short burst at 200. So that will be my new end-of-the-month video goal.

——[My next update will be September 19, 2011]——

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