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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Practicing Under the Drill

This was a surprisingly good week. First, I was able to pretty consistently hit the Mudarra Galliard scales in the 80’s. More importantly, I cracked 90 with a few good performances.

Part of the reason, I think, is that I’ve started to attack my lengthy warmup problem. As I’ve reported in the past, it takes far too long to get my right hand up to speed. So I’ve begun each session this week by trying to get my alternation speed up to 80 within ten minutes. I’ve long suspected that much of what we attribute to a need to warm up is actually more psychological than physical. In other words, instead of a physical warm up, I need to be quicker and more deliberate about snapping my concentration into focus.

Some years ago I got a glimpse into how quickly a concert artist can shift into performance mode. Before Jason Vieaux became as busy as he is now, I sometimes played duet gigs with him. One of these gigs was a summer outdoor party. Because we were background music and no one was paying close attention to us, Vieaux would occasionally cut loose and improvise rather than follow what was written in his part. Doing so, he’d sometimes flub a note or two—nothing horrible, but flubs nonetheless. After finishing one piece, he’d apparently flubbed one note too many. I heard him mutter to himself “okay, stop fooling around.” As we began the next piece, it was like he’d flipped a switch and gone into full-bore concert artist mode. Every note was clean, and every rhythm was crystalline. I recall thinking that this is what it’s like to play alongside a world class concert artist. (I also recall thinking that I’d damned well better keep up.)

Clearly, attitude is half the battle. So part of my practice sessions are now devoted to improving my attitude toward speed. Rather than viewing speed as a far-off goal, I’m instead cultivating the mindset that I fully expect to do this, and also that it shouldn’t take long to warm up my right hand. This by itself seems to be paying off right away. I’ll keep at it.

In keeping with my goal to change myself, I’m now experimenting with relaxation in situations other than guitar playing. This week I had two visits to the dentist. When the drill is bearing down into my back molar, my tendency is to white-knuckle my way through the experience. What better time, I thought, to practice consciously relaxing myself. While my success in doing this varied—I’m not intrinsically stoic—it’s in keeping with my gradually increasing certainty that all is one. What I do without the guitar influences what I do with it.

Yes, one can improve one’s guitar playing even while cowering in a dentist chair.

——[My next update will be February 12, 2012]——

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