Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another book excerpt

Here's a section on knowing where the fingers go.  Mucho importante.

 

 
Fingerings require vast amounts of memorization.

         The amount of memorization involved in learning fingerings is tremendous.  Do not underestimate it.  In fact I believe that you need to develop a profound respect for the amount of information needed to be stored and recalled to play music.  Even at the beginner level.   Perhaps especially at the beginner level when everything is so completely new.  
         Here is a version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (Figure 3.1).  Arranged for a beginning piano student.  Let’s take a look at the details of what it means to memorize all the details of where your fingers go so we could get to where we could play this little piece of music.
         Let’s start by analyzing the song’s structure.  The song has a phrase that repeats three times over the course of this arrangement’s 12 measures.  With two of those phrases repeating in exactly the same way.  This cuts down on the amount of memorizing we need to do.  But there’s still the challenge of memorizing everything in order and remembering when each phrase is played. 
         Even taking into account the repeating phrases that’s still quite a bit of information to recall.  For measures 1-3, 5-8 and 13-16 (which are the same) that’s a total number of 22 movements including both hands.  Measures 9-12 also happen to have 22 movements total.  Add in measure 4 with its 4 moves and we’ve got a total number of 48 movements.  They all need to be memorized in sequence and coordinated perfectly between both hands or the music won’t sound right.  
         48 movements in sequence might not seems so bad with so much repetition going on in Ode to Joy.  But, you also need to account for which finger is playing which note.  We’re not playing each note with only one finger.  We’ve got (presumably) 5 choices on each hand.  This helps to add to the confusion.  Let’s assume that the thumb plays only and all the C notes in this song.   Ok, one less thing to remember.  This helps to cut down on the confusion but this isn’t always the case.  
         Let’s look at a song with a few more notes in it to help illustrate this point.  Old Joe Clark (figure 3.2) is an old folk tune that’s been around longer than anyone can remember.  It’s often taught as a beginner song to beginning fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin students.  This arrangement for guitar consists of an A part which is played twice and a B part which is played twice.  Each part contains approximately 46 individual movements.  That makes 184 movements total since each part is played twice.  Both the A and B parts have several measures that if not identical are closely related.  This will make the song a bit easier to remember.
         However even taking into account the repetition in the song we need to memorize everything in sequence and pay attention to the subtle differences between the phrases.  They may be similar but each phrase contains important differences that bring out the song. 
         Look at it this way.  What if I asked you to repeat a series of numbers that followed the sequence 345676543345676555534?  It makes my head hurt just to look at it.  Even worse, what if you had to recall each number (in sequence of course) with a specific combination of movements that required both hands (as required of guitarists) to work in unison to recall the number?  That sequence of numbers I wrote happens to be the first four measures of Old Joe Clark written numerically. Only the first 4 measures.  21 moves out of 184 we need to recall.  And this is a beginners tune.
         That might seem kind of difficult to remember all that especially when both hands (or feet, or mouth) is needed to remember each number.  That basically doubles the amount we need to memorize.  So really instead of 184 the number of moves is more like 368.  See what I’m getting at?  BOTH hands together.  Mess up a combination of hand movements even slightly and the music is botched.  I like to belabor this point because I feel that it’s an often overlooked aspect of music education.
         Of course memorization does not take into account the physical side of playing a music instrument.  Getting an instrument like a violin, guitar, or saxophone to sound good can take years of effort. Tone production is an entirely different but equally important aspect of practicing.  And what about emotion and feeling in your playing?  That’s a whole other aspect of practice.  And sight reading, and tab, and music theory. 
         Whew!  Feeling a bit overwhelmed?  It’s easy to feel that way.  Try not to.  Practice can encompass so many things so let’s focus on one thing at a time.  (As you always should with music practice.)

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