The first year of this project seems a blur of experimentation and unfulfilled expectations. Nonetheless, I’m optimistic for the new year. I can’t help it—I’m an incurable optimist. Which reminds me of the joke about the optimist who fell off a 100 story building. As he passed the 37th floor, he said to himself: “Well, so far, so good.”
Picking up where I left off, I’ve been running slowly increasing reps of the scale passages in the Mudarra Galliard. I start at a metronome setting of 50. I then creep up the metronome until I hit a wall. At the moment, that wall is in the area of 80. Encouragingly, however, on Friday I played the Galliard cleanly at 88, and did a passable performance at 92. Whether I could do that before an audience—or even for a video—is questionable. But progress is progress, so I’ll take it.
I should explain why I’m sticking doggedly to a single piece for so long. To me, it makes sense to have a piece so thoroughly familiar that the only problem with it is the problem on which I’m focused: right hand alternation speed. Nothing else about the Galliard is problematic, so it makes it easier to tease out whatever subtle things are preventing my right hand from gaining the speed I’m aiming for.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve decided to zero in on the following things during right hand alternation:
• Fingers should move very directly, both as they drive through the string and as they return for the next stroke. Under no circumstances should I allow the tension of the string to deflect my fingers from this direct flexion and extension. That means no sidepulls, and no riding along the length of the string.
• Take advantage of every opportunity for micro-breaks. Consciously release tension in my right hand at every opportunity, however brief.
• Be extremely precise with right hand string crossing. When crossing from one string to the next, be sure the finger is snug to the string on the very first note after the cross.
• Control anxiety as speed increases. I’ve noticed that when the speed goes up, so does my anxiety. I need to consciously break this vicious cycle. Tension caused by anxiety is just as real and debilitating as tension caused by bad technique.
• Don’t neglect left hand accuracy. When a left finger isn’t snug to the fret, it squeezes harder to avoid a buzzed note. That excess force can easily spill over to the right hand.
During every minute of practice, I want to work at deeply ingraining these things into my playing. If the first year has taught me anything, it’s that I must become a different person from what I’ve been in the past when playing the guitar. More of the same won’t get me where I want to go. I have to rewire myself both physically and psychologically.
I believe most people vastly underestimate how important and difficult this is. Imagine an emotionally unstable child trying to learn how to fly an airplane. You can teach him all you can, but in the end, you still have an emotionally unstable child flying an airplane. That won’t end well. The only way to improve the odds that the airplane won’t crash is to put someone else in the cockpit—someone older and more emotionally stable.
The old me has reached his ceiling on the guitar. So here’s to the new me, better than the old me. The only way to build a better right hand is to build a better man. And may he arrive soon.
——[My next update will be January 29, 2012]——