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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chasing Barrueco

I’ve adjusted my practice sessions to reflect my more quiet approach. I begin with five minutes of finger pushups. Then I set the metronome at 60 and begin playing i and m rest stroke quarter notes, having each finger lightly release immediately after sounding the string. I do this on all six strings. Then I do the same thing double time, playing eighth notes on all six strings. Then the same thing with sixteenths on all six strings.

After this, still with the metronome at 60, I very lightly play the Mudarra scale excerpt. First I do it in a normal tone color, near the right side of the soundhole. Next I do it sul ponticello. Then I do it sul tasto. For each of these repetitions, I aim to play cleanly and evenly. Someone listening should hear playing every bit as good as Manuel Barrueco’s. (Albeit slower and quieter.) If a repetition goes badly, then I start over with the three different reps. But I’m not allowed to bail out on a particular rep—if I make a mistake, I must first play through the mistake and finish the rep. Only after playing perfectly each rep at each different tone color can I then increase the tempo. And I increase the tempo only one notch.

Here’s my thinking. Light playing helps ingrain playing of minimal tension, but it’s inherently sloppy. On the other hand, controlled playing helps ingrain accuracy, but it inherently increases nervous tension. Thus, I’m trying to experience and ingrain the upside of each, while carefully rationing their downsides. Further, by requiring myself to start over when a rep goes bad, I’m dealing with the problem of playing under pressure, but in a small dose. After all, it doesn’t take long to play all three reps. So at this point, screwing up a rep doesn’t carry an overwhelming penalty. Obviously as I get better, I’ll turn up the heat and make the penalty for a mistake more severe.

I do this for roughly a half hour, seeing how far up the metronome I can get. Since I require perfection for each trio of reps, and I’m upping the tempo only one notch at a time (60, 61, 62, etc.), I don’t get all that far. (The best I did last week was 88.) So be it. I’m taking to heart the idea that speed can’t be forced. As one guitarist commented to me last year, one can’t make a plant grow faster by tugging on the roots.

Why the three different tone colors? Because the strings feel different for each, and I want to become comfortable playing fast rest stroke alternation at any point on the strings.

In the last fifteen or twenty minutes, I play four pieces:
  • Carcassi Op. 60 No. 7
  • Giuliani Op. 48, No. 5
  • Brouwer Etude 7
  • a bit of Recuerdos de la Alhambra
I begin each at a tempo at which I can play perfectly, from beginning to end. Again, my goal is to play as cleanly as Barrueco. If I do well at the previous day’s tempo, then I try it one notch faster. If that’s successful then it becomes my starting tempo for the next day.

After that, it’s on to right hand sweeps and rasguedos, followed by stretching.

All through the playing, I keep it very quiet, to emphasize a very easy feel. But if my hand feels good during a particular rep, then I don’t mind if my playing creeps up to a mezzo forte. I’ll continue practicing this way until at least the end of this month. Then I’ll evaluate how it’s going.

I can report, however, an encouraging development. Yesterday I was working with a teenaged student who has better rest stroke alternation than mine. We were playing though Drewrie’s Accordes, The Flatt Pavin, and The Galliard to the Flatt Pavin. (Yes, from “The Renaissance Guitar” anthology by Frederick Noad. I love that book.) Usually I have trouble keeping up with this student. But yesterday things went well—I didn’t struggle to stay with him. It was also good motivation for the student: what teenager wants to be outrun by a middle aged man?

By the way, in the photo above I’m pretty sure Barrueco is laughing because he heard I was trying to catch him.

——[My next update will be April 15, 2012]——

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