Finally the teacher explained that the student needed to be far more specific. It wasn’t enough to merely acknowledge a problem. To solve it, the student first needed clearly define it. Was it a right hand fingering problem? Was it a left hand fingering problem? Was it a memorization problem? Until he did this, he was likely to keep repeating the problem. Short of clearly defining the problem, it wasn’t going to solve itself.
So this last week, where I tried to tweak the Mudarra Galliard up to 80, I also tried to drill deeper into the mystery of why anything at 80 or above wasn’t working. What I found was that I had to pay attention to more nit-picky things.
The Galliard has four separate passages with sixteenth notes. Each is different from the others. The first passage is thus:
The second sixteenth note passage is thus:
The third sixteenth note passage is thus:
Here’s the last sixteenth note passage:
This is an application of something I’ve learned to preach to my students over the years. I call this idea “micro breaks.” In it, the guitarist constantly tries to find moments within a difficult piece in which he or she can relax either hand. Rather than unthinkingly allowing tension to grow during a long performance, the player instead pins down every little place where either hand can release tension, however fleeting that instant of relaxation might be.
This is hardly a secret among good players. Some years ago I attended a recital by Raphaëlla Smits. During a particularly difficult piece, she came to a passage where she briefly played an E minor arpeggio on open strings. During this moment, she let her left hand fall away from the fingerboard and briefly stretched her fingers, as though relaxing her hand. The gesture was short and unobtrusive, so as not to distract the audience from the music. But to a player, the purpose of this movement was obvious: it allowed Smits an instantaneous break to relax her left hand. I’m willing to bet this was something she’d consciously practiced when learning the piece. I’d also bet that this was merely the most obvious example of something she does many times within a long and difficult piece.
During this project, I’ve occasionally been told that I think too much. “Let go,” I’m told, and just let let my natural instincts take over. But for one involved in remaking oneself, this is bad advice. When it comes to my playing as it is, my instincts are wrong. My instincts must be torn down and rebuilt.
Renovation is harder and more time-consuming than building from scratch. Boy, can I tell you a thing or two about that.
——[My next update will be December 19, 2011]——