Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gaining more precision

For the longest time the Bach piece I've been working on has caused a touch of nervous anxiety.  Just the thought of picking up the guitar and starting to work on it would get me feeling a bit jittery.  It's such an undertaking.  And of course I really want to play it well.  No actually, that's not true.  I want to play it beautifully.

You see this is all very simple really.  My ego wants what my intuition instinctively knows to be truly false.  In other words: I'm not ready, I know it, but I wish I was, but I don't know if I'll ever get there.  So, I worry.  It's so hard to not make mistakes with this piece.  There's so many dang notes.  There's so many difficult moves to make.

In my desire to regain some sense of control over this entropy I decided to take several steps backward and my results have been encouraging.  I came across this video of Glenn Gould.  In the video an old childhood friend and fellow pianist talks of a unique technique they both learned from the same teacher.  With this technique the piano student taps the fingers of a relaxed hand to help train it to play. Using the opposite hand the student would literally tap the fingers of the other hand.  This to me seems like an excellent way to develop precise moves for piano playing.  You're not even moving the muscles of the hand actively, you're moving them from the "outside".  The reason to do this , to me anyway, seems that you're training the movements with absolutely no tension.  As soon as you start "trying" to play you're tensing your muscles potentially slowing them down and making mistakes.

In a way you're telling the hand what moves to make without the hand actually "thinking" about it.   There are several articles that go into more detail about why this technique works.  To me it seems obvious.   No tension is allowed into the hands while they play.

This reminded me of a technique I've used quite a bit of but have neglected lately.  The "touch" technique.  It's simple.  With your right hand you touch the string very lightly before you play a note.  The benefits of this technique I find to be invaluable.

Think of it.  You never play a wrong note with this technique.  You have to go slow enough that you touch the string first.  This trains precision, accuracy, and you have to absolutely know you're playing the right note before you play it.  Over time you've trained the movements much more accurately and with a minimum of muscle tension.

Try this:

  • No matter what style/instrument you play practice by simply touching your finger/pick (right hand for guitars, banjo's, mandolin's, etc.)  to the string BEFORE you sound a note. 
  • At first this technique forces you to go slow (a good thing) and allows you more time to get everything in place before you sound a note.
  • Over time increase your speed and you'll find that your picking accuracy will be much better.

Good luck

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