Sunday, September 19, 2010

The missing piece

I've been working on playing longer and more difficult pieces of music in last year or so. As my technique has improved so has my desire to play songs that always seemed out of my reach. Also, It seems much of what I write is often harder than what I can play. Maybe that's a good thing. In practice, I've bumped into many walls that seemed like I may never get over. I've got over some of those humps but it has sure taken a while to get there. Looking back I realize I made quite a few mistakes along the way and could have got better sooner with different approach. Oh well. That's what this blog is for, to help you learn from my mistakes. So dig this.

Any given piece of music is going to have parts that are harder than others. Maybe you're having trouble with just a couple of short parts that you can't seem to get right. To play those parts you will have to improve. Can you? Or do you just keep running up against the wall. Sometimes the solution involves finding a missing piece. A new way of looking at playing the song. If you're stumbling over one or two parts (the hardest parts maybe) of a song run through this checklist.

  • Are your fingerings the best they could be?
Go back over your fingerings. Are they the most efficient? Do you have them memorized? These points are crucial. Before you hope to play anything you've got to get your fingerings down.

  • Have looked at the problem in a new way?
If your fingerings are okay you should look for new solutions. Perhaps you're carrying tension in that part of the song and you need to slow it down a bit. Sometimes the solution could be a slight change in the position of your hand or arm. Maybe you need to place a little more emphasis on a particular move to get it right. Look closer at the details of what you are doing and you'll see possibilities you didn't know were there.

  • Everybody makes mistakes
I've seen some incredible musicians make mistakes. All of them. The harder a piece is to play the greater the likelihood of a mistake. How bad do you need to play it perfectly? If the answer is real bad, then you need to solve the missing piece. This is the final link in the chain. Without it the music could stumble. But then, everybody makes mistakes.

Finding the missing piece is often a matter of persistence. You look at something for long enough and you'll start to see things you missed before. As the Jazz/Bluegrass banjo player Pat Cloud once told me at a workshop, "Practice trumps all."
Hope it helps.

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