I totally agree with your view that vague advice about attaining speed such as just “play slow” won’t help the student. But I think you had bad luck or [little] experience with guitar teachers, because none of the teachers I’ve had would say only those simple vague words. All of them were very specific on what to work on during slow practice that would improve my technique when playing faster. Including breathing and several other things about body and mind attitude, besides obvious guitar technique such as good hand positioning, nail shape, and so on.I’d like to think the teaching described here is true everywhere. But my November 6 post also brought this reply:
One of the best unknown guitarists I have ever heard used to breathe so loud, but that guy could play like nobody’s business. He had a very relaxed, virtuoso technique. Does it really matter that he was a loud breather? I never cared. Perhaps some people are loud and can’t do anything about it? I have had my nose broken multiple times. I can’t deeply breathe without being loud.So on the one hand, the first reply says the things I mentioned in my November 6 post—among them, labored breathing as a sign of excess tension—are common knowledge. On the other hand, the second reply dismisses labored breathing as a sign of an underlying problem. It also encapsulates my argument that not enough is being said to those of us who lack right hand speed. There’s not a word suggesting that one should look for an underlying cause that might hinder right hand speed. In essence, one plays slow until one can play fast.
As for your blog, you mentioned it being pointed out that your fingers are more extended when alternating on a string. Your hand position was one of the 1st things many of us mentioned to you here. Your RH fingers weren’t curbed and didn’t move in a fist like motion among many other things.
These questions are straight forward.
How slow is slow? As slow as it takes to think about the next note. Thinking one note ahead.
How long should one practice slow? Until you can play the piece at a tempo where you don’t make any mistakes and can think at least one note ahead.
How gradually should one increase the practice tempo? See above and Slow/Fast practice. One measure/phrase, etc played perfectly slow, then immediately practiced at tempo.
And over four decades of playing, that’s not yet worked for me. Nor has it worked for many others.
Okay, I don’t wish to read too much into what may be an off-the-cuff response on an internet forum. I’ve no doubt that the guitarist who wrote the above quote knows physical and psychological impediments can hinder speed. (The guitarist who wrote this is both a teacher and an accomplished player.) But I wonder why he chose to refute my contention that labored breathing is a sign of excess tension. Is there really any argument about this? All things being equal, isn’t it obvious that one who’s breathing heavily is less relaxed than one who’s breathing normally?
Indeed, throughout my project and the discussions it has prompted, I’ve been surprised at some of the arguments against things I thought were common sense. It seems among some there’s a philosophic distaste for proscribing anything if a seemingly good argument, however tenuous, can be made for it. It’s much the same mindset that permeates American politics, in which it’s hard to argue against something if it’s portrayed in a positive light. “Pro-life” for example—who could be against that? Or “pro-choice”—who could be against that? Well, this isn’t so surprising, since everyone wants to cast their argument in the strongest possible way.
More subtle, however, is the notion that in proscribing a thing, one is necessarily less open-minded than one who defends it. Obviously every case must be judged on its own merits. But I reject the idea that because a thing is minimally defensible, it’s thus not to be proscribed. An open mind doesn’t mean one must accept every idea that washes up on the beach.
I’m sorry, but I can’t accept advice that’s never worked for me. Nor can I be satisfied with advice that’s good as far as it goes, but doesn’t go far enough. Something more is needed. That’s what I’m looking for.
——[My next update will be November 21, 2011]——