10th Year Anniversary Edition:
I’m revisiting some of my best old posts on playing guitar. Enjoy!
In this post, I’m elaborating on a useful metaphor I used in my last post. Simply put, it’s this: “Practicing is Editing”
FIlm editors, as far as I can surmise, put a lot of careful work and thought into transitions and connections. Every moment needs to connect flawlessly and effectively to the next.
On the classical guitar, you need to spend a lot of time connecting the parts of your piece together. This is a very specific mode of practicing that you need to enter quite often: I like to call it “working on connections,” or just “connecting.”
As you are playing through your rough draft, start out with getting smaller snippets–musical phrases—into focus. Then work to connect the smaller phrases into larger sections. Look, listen, and feel for places that don’t sound like you want them to sound—glitches, slips, mistakes. The ones you notice are the connections that you need to fix.
Don’t just go back and play them once or twice and convince yourself that you’ve dealt with them. In this mode of practicing, you are not allowed to gloss over something if you notice it.
Here’s a key piece about how to effectively fix these mistakes and turn them into solid connections:
Be sure you go back far enough.
Mistakes have their seeds before they actually fully blossom. Your brain is always looking a bit ahead of itself, aiming forward, as it were, when you play. If you miss a shift, or play a wrong note or go to the wrong chord, there will inevitably be a place somewhere before that..a few notes earlier, a measure earlier, or so….where your brain starts to trun in the wrong direction. Often there will be a fingering, or a thought, or a fear, that is preparing the way for the mistake, and “causing” it.
- Helpful Hint: for a lot of mistakes, you’ll notice that as your body anticipates a difficulty it starts to tighten up in fear. You might get a feeling in your gut or your chest, a sort of “oh no, hear it comes.” Where does this happen in the piece? That’s a good place to look for the seed of the mistake, and ultimately, you’ll find that fear point relaxing itself and you’ll know you’ve got this one handled.
So every time you want to fix a mistake you need to go back far enough to really fix it, usually a bit further than you think you need to go back, and make sure the seed of the mistake has been dealt with as well.
- “Working on Connections” is an important practicing mode
- When you’re in this mode, stop soon after you notice a mistake that you want to fix
- Go back a few seconds and find where the “seed” of the mistake is
- Figure out what to do to fix it by playing through it several times: Ask questions like: “how does this feel?” ” “what’s going on here?” “what’s causing this?”
- Plant a new seed: change the fingering, change your intent, play it slowly enough that the mistake doesn’t happen, relax from your fear or tension
- Repeat this new connection until somehting “clicks.” Until you feel a little “aha,” a surge of “that’s it!” energy. Then repeat it again if this feels right.
- Don’t overdo it. Trust your brain’s ability to create these kinds of connections. It gets pleasure out of overcoming difficulties, solving puzzles, and that pleasure is a sign that it’s learning to do something in a new way. Relax and move on to the next splice.
Do you have any questions about playing classical guitar that you’d like answered?