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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another Week, Another Infinitesimal Sliver of Progress

The longer I do this, the more clear it becomes what I’m up against. The excess tension that steps in whenever I try right hand speed is a familiar enemy now, down to the finest detail. I can, for example, say at what speed it first appears when I try extended i and m alternation. (Up to 84, everything is okay—after 84, things fall apart.) When doing a six string descending scale, I can say exactly where it feels bad, and exactly where it feels good. (On the second and third strings, my fingers hang up—on the fourth through sixth strings, my hand feels much freer.)

What I hope is that understanding the problem in finer detail will mean coming up with better solutions. Take, for example, the hang up on the second and third strings during a descending scale. I noticed I was blending two different string crossing techniques during a descending six string scale: at the beginning of the scale, I’d pivot from the elbow alone, but as my fingers came through the second and third strings, I’d then cross from the elbow and shoulder. Maybe, I reasoned, this is unnecessarily complex. So now I’m simplifying the crossing by moving from the elbow and shoulder throughout a six string scale. We’ll see if this pays off.

My progress, as always, is glacially incremental. I’m trying to extend the length of my bursts. I’ve found I can fairly consistently play the last three strings of a descending scale cleanly at 120. This, for example, is getting pretty reliable:
So that’s something. Above 120 is still a problem. But remember that my interim goal is reliable scales at 120. If I can establish a foothold there, then maybe higher speed will be within my grasp.

I begin each session with five minutes of finger push-ups. Then I set the metronome at 84 and do extended alternation on each string individually. After that, it’s on to this at 84:
If this goes okay, I bump up the tempo one notch at a time. (For the week, I found I could hit it in the mid 90’s before my hand tensed up.) After that, it’s on to the exercises I described in the beginning of last week’s post. Sometimes I stay with this until it’s time for sweeps, rasgueados, and stretches. Other times I’ll do five or ten minutes of arpeggios, tremolo, and cross-string trills.

•                              •                              •

One interesting tidbit came up during the week. On Tuesday, my right hand session was awful. Indeed, it was so bad that I quit early in disgust, omitting the fifteen minutes of sweeps, rasgueados, and finger stretches with which I normally end a session. Thinking about it afterward, I realized I was unconsciously reacting to an unpleasant phone call I had to make later that day. It was one of those things I had to do but would rather not. It became clear that this impending unpleasantness infected my attitude toward practice. In fact, after this bad practice session the problem unexpectedly resolved itself in a way far better than I’d hoped. And sure enough, the next morning my practice session was more productive and pleasant.

This reminded me once again that a positive attitude is vital to practice. I can’t let myself get thrown off by the inevitable problems of day to day life.

•                              •                              •

In my October 9 post, I referred to some left hand positioning advice that I found indefensible. As I mentioned last week, this caused a surprising discussion. If you wish to follow this discussion, you can find it here.

——[My next update will be October 31, 2011]——

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