Looking back, I find it telling that Colin Davin, a virtuoso guitarist to whom I talked during my brief infatuation with speed bursts, had little to say about bursts, other than that he’d never done them as a way of increasing his right hand speed. Perhaps he intuitively knew what I was about to learn the hard way.
So I soon soured on speed bursts. I now regard them as a potentially huge waste of time. Certainly they can be a false path for those who are trying to develop fast alternation for extended passages. But let’s not toss the baby with the bath water. Speed bursts are a useful weapon in the guitarist’s arsenal, provided we’ve a more nuanced understanding of their pros and cons.
For one thing, speed bursts can go a long way to convincing one that speed is possible. That’s no small thing. If my fingers have never hit alternation at 184, then I’m unlikely to really believe I can do it. A quick success with speed bursts can buck up one’s confidence. Having hit 184 in a short burst, one begins to believe, and believing is essential to doing. After all, if I don’t believe I can do something, then I’m already halfway to not doing it. For this alone, speed bursts can be an essential step in the right direction. But one must clearly understand the limits of bursts. They’re not a silver bullet. If I falsely believe that extended right hand speed is merely a slight rejiggering of speed bursts, then I’m doomed to a future of hit or miss right hand alternation.
While bursts are limited in what they can do toward building right hand speed, they have good musical uses. I’ve noticed this as I’ve worked with the following passage:
By the way, you may notice that in the previous paragraph I airily mentioned practicing the scale at 120. Your skepticism is understandable and duly noted. I’m also aware that I’ve not yet described how I’m currently practicing. That will come in due time. Suffice it to say that, for now, I want to see how this pans out before I’m willing to believe I’m on to something.
A year and nine months of dead ends will do that to you. But at the moment I’m having fun. By the end of the month, I hope to have tangible evidence of progress.
——[My next update will be September 24, 2012]——