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Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Procedure for Your Consideration

What follows is the procedure I worked with a few weeks ago. Before describing it, however, a reminder: everything begins with the exercise for recognizing tension that I described in my September 9, 2012 post. It’s also a good idea to review my September 23, 2012 post.

As you may recall, I was working with Bach’s Invention No. 8—more precisely, one half of my guitar duet transcription. Early in September, I decided to break it down and pay more attention to detail. So I started with the first sixteenth note scale passage:
I began practicing this passage by merely tapping i and m on the guitar soundboard, choosing a tempo at which I felt no tension in my right hand. (For me, this was at 60 beats per minute.) I made sure I did the tapping with the same right hand fingering I would do when playing this passage on the guitar.

After doing this three times, I then simulated the string crossing by moving my fingers to a different spot on the soundboard, precisely on the tap where my fingers would move from the fourth to the fifth string.

Let’s step back for a moment to explain why I’m doing this. Tapping my fingers on the soundboard removes the resistance of the strings. My fingers can easily do this—my a finger easily moves with m, and c doesn’t lock up. So my goal at this point is to model the easy feeling of alternating my fingers with absolutely no excess tension. Further, I asked myself this: if I can’t merely tap my fingers on the soundboard with perfect rhythm and ease, then what makes me think it’ll go any better on the strings? Rather, I should master right hand alternation in easy stages. Begin with the easiest thing, then move to things that are progressively harder. Also, throughout this procedure I stay at one tempo.

Back to work. When I can easily tap my fingers on the soundboard with perfect rhythm and ease, I now play the rhythm of the passage on one open string. (No left hand at this point.) This introduces the resistance of a string, so it’s a bit harder than tapping on the soundboard. Again, I don’t move on until I can play this rhythm perfectly on one string. And I continuously monitor the tension I’m feeling, trying to keep it as close as I can to what I felt when I was merely tapping on the soundboard.

When this goes well, I move on to the next step. Now I introduce string crossing by playing the following:
 Again, there’s no left hand here. And again, I continuously monitor tension to keep it close to what I felt when I was playing a single string.

Stepping back once more, the idea throughout this procedure is to use each step as a model to define the tension I’ll aim to feel in the next step. Playing a single open string should feel no more tense than tapping on the soundboard. Playing the open strings with string crossing should feel no more tense than playing a single open string. And so on as I continue to each new step. Breaking the scale passage into discrete and easy steps allows me to more precisely calibrate the tension I’m feeling. Again a reminder: I’m still at the tempo that I used for the soundboard tapping.

When I’ve mastered the open string crossing step, I finally add the left hand to the passage. Again, I continuously monitor tension to keep it close to what I felt in the previous step.

I maintain the same tempo throughout this procedure. Only when I’ve mastered the final step do I bump up the tempo. If I started at a slow tempo and feel very little tension in the final step, then I’ll increase the tempo by five (i. e. from 60 to 65)—if I’m working closer to the edge of my ability, I’ll increase the tempo only two notches.

Thus, I carry out the entire procedure step by step, one tempo setting at a time. When I reach my target tempo, I move on to another passage.

•                                    •                                    •

This basically sums up how I was working in early September. I’ll say more in subsequent posts.

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

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