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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Light Speed

This week I stayed true to my determination to play quietly. To be honest, I don’t much like it. The guitar is an intrinsically quiet instrument. It makes sense to to play out, getting the sound across the lip of the stage and into the audience. As a public speaker, I’ve never been one to mumble and stare at my shoes when addressing an audience. My desire to be heard carries over to guitar playing. So playing softly all the time goes against my grain.

And that’s precisely why I should keep doing it.

To be clear about something that’s gradually come into focus during this project, I’m more inclined to lean toward directions in which I’ve never before wanted to go. More and more, I’m starting to see the first year of this project as a debunking of things I wanted to believe would work. Speed bursts, for example, are something I wanted to work. After all, I’ve often seen them recommended by players who can do speed well. And they appeared to offer quick results—remember, at only one month into this project, I could hit a burst at 184. Ultimately, however, I found speed bursts to be a dead end. They aren’t the same as a sustained fast scale. The feel for one simply doesn’t work for the other. I’m not saying speed bursts are useless. They’re great for tiny kernels of speed, and certainly they convinced me that I had the potential to succeed in learning to play fast scales. (By the way, that’s no small thing.) But for sustained scale passages, speed bursts just didn’t get me anywhere. So I dropped them, and had to find another path.

And thus I went, shedding ideas that didn’t pan out, as a snake sheds skins that no longer fit.

Having started a new path (again), I’d like to see preliminary evidence that it’s a promising path. And I believe I’ve found it. One thing became clear during the week: playing lightly made it easier to notice the internal tension that hinders my right hand speed. Subtle twinges of tension that flew below the radar when I played with greater force now stand out in sharper relief. Here’s a way to think of it. Imagine standing on a busy city sidewalk during rush hour. Within all the noise from cars, trucks, and people bustling about, imagine that somewhere close by is a cricket chirping. With all that ambient racket, you’re unlikely to hear the cricket. But now imagine you and the cricket are in a sealed and soundproof room. With all the distractions removed, the cricket is easy to hear. Playing lightly does something similar for me.

It’s too early to know whether this will pan out or is another dead end. I’ll stay with it for at least a few more weeks.

——[My next update will be April 1, 2012]——

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