Total Pageviews

Sunday, April 1, 2012


No progress to report. No new insights to report. No new video to post. No nothing. Just a lot of quiet repetitions, grappling with my old nemesis.

Since I’ve nothing new to say, maybe I should try to describe exactly what it is that I’m trying to weed out of my playing. Try this. Stand and allow your arms to hang loosely at your side. With very little effort, swing them gently back and forth, as though they’re hanging from well-oiled hinges at your shoulders. This is your arms in their most relaxed state.

Now stop and tense your arm muscles as tightly as you can. Every muscle in your arms, down to your fingertips, should feel tight almost to the point of pain. Try to move your arms while maintaining this rigid tension. This is your arms in their most tense state.

The two states described above are opposite extremes: one extremely relaxed, the other extremely tense. Anyone can feel the difference. And anyone, of course, can see that extreme tension is a bad state to be in for playing the guitar. But distinguishing between these extremes isn’t enough for a guitarist. To reach a high level of playing, an aspiring guitarist must be able to distinguish between finer shades of tension and relaxation.

The problem is that those who don’t know this don’t know that they don’t know. Those who do know this either don’t know how important it is, or don’t know how to describe it.

Here’s an example. It’s an instructional video by a player who can do right hand speed far better than me. It’s a roughly 13 minute video, but I ask you to pay close attention to the part between 3:20 and 3:55—beginning where he says “It’s very important to feel the freedom of motion on the strings.”

The information between 3:20 and 3:55 is the most important thing this player has to say to someone like me who can’t do right hand speed. In fact, he could dispense with everything else on the video and describe in far more detail what he was talking about in those 35 seconds. I’m not saying that everything else on this video is unimportant. Those other things are important. What I’m saying is that those other things are already being said elsewhere, and they’re being said in a way that’s pretty well understood. The thing I’m centering on isn’t said often enough nor well enough. It needs more than saying—it needs to be shouted from the mountain top.

A crucial aspect of good teaching is this: what is it that should be emphasized? Many things must be said, but what is it that must repeated until it really sinks in? Touching on this, here’s something I sometimes say to students. There are two ways of knowing something. The first is “yeah, yeah, I get it—whatever.” The second way is “Oh yes! I get it!”

The first way is useless.

——[My next update will be April 8, 2012]——

No comments: