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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Busting on Bach

If I’m going to beat something into the ground, then let it be Bach. More than most composers, Bach has a way of making hard labor worthwhile, however relentless it may be. I can tolerate anything so long as the result is a better ability to play something by Bach. He had the inscrutable ability to transform musical elements into something unprosaic. In his hands, scales and chords no longer seem the hum-drum ingredients of mindless drilling. Rather, they become the finely wrought beams and girders of a grand edifice.

It’s a good thing, too, because my project isn’t getting any easier.

When I play scales, there’s a curious disconnect between what I feel in the moment of playing and what I hear as I listen to a recording. As I play, my whole body screams that it’s too fast. Yet when I listen to a playback, I’m struck by how slow it sounds. Apparently relativity is more than a description of physics. Consider a car on a racetrack: in the driver’s seat is a NASCAR champion, and in the passenger seat is a Nervous Nelly who’s terrified of speed. When I’m listening, I’m the NASCAR driver, perfectly comfortable with the pedal to the metal. But when I’m playing, I’m the Nervous Nelly frantically begging the driver to slow down every time the car moves faster than a crawl.

I need to gradually trick my body into feeling comfortable at faster tempos. At the moment, however, my body ain’t buying what I’m selling. So on it goes.

Over the last week I’ve begun my practice sessions with quick staccato alternation. The tempo isn’t fast—I begin at two notes per click at 55 and gradually work up to 80. What’s fast is the exchange between i and m. There’s nothing new about this. Many guitarists recommend this for developing fast alternation, and I’ve done it before myself. My rationale is that light playing, for all the real good it does, isn’t enough. Light playing by itself fails to develop the quick snap and strength I need to drive a finger directly through a string at speed. So for now I’m walking a tightrope between the lightness needed for ease and the strength and quickness needed for controlled speed.

Below is a video progress report. The piece is Bach’s Two Part Invention No. 8. (I intend to record this with a young student of mine later this summer.) I warmed up for about ten minutes, then turned on the camera and did three takes. The video below is the third take. The metronome is set at 90. I’d be happier with 100, but the Nervous Nelly in me won’t yet allow it. Two things bother me. First, there’s a bit too much scraping on the wound strings. Second, I don’t like the looks of m—it sure looks like it’s pulling to the side as it plays.

But enough about me. Judge for yourself.


Steve Freides said...

How is your guitar tuned?

Anonymous said...

When can we expect ur next post