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The Basics > Practice Theory > Creating Coordination with Coupling

Creating Coordination with Coupling



Creating Coordination with Coupling

Most people are familiar with the meaning of the word coordination, and we would pretty much agree that coordination is a good thing to have if you want to play the guitar! Coordination means to bring into alignment two or more “ordinates”. An “ordinate” is a specific point in space and, when it comes to the movement process of playing the guitar, it means a specific point in time as well. Finding the right ordinates, in space and time, and bringing them into alignment, is what practicing is all about. In fact, Eliot Fisk, one of the greatest classical guitarists in the world from a technical standpoint, has said “ I tell my students that the secret of great playing is timing. Just look at Michael Jordan play”. This statement indicates much more than the usual meaning of the word “timing” in music. He means the precise timing of all the movements that go into making each note. However, that tells us nothing about what those movements should be, or how to train ourselves to do the movements with the precision timing required. We can “just look at Michael Jordan play” all day long, but that hardly means we will play basketball like him at the end of the day!

So how do we train ourselves to move with coordination, to move in a way that  brings into alignment the various ordinates of a particular note? There are many parts to the answer, many of those parts are in The Principles. Right now we will look at a more advanced technique I call “coupling”. Coupling is the bringing together, into one playing moment and motion, of two or more events necessary to produce a note. It is done by intense focus on the tactile sensations of fingers on strings during the movement process, and this focus is reinforced during repetitive practice at various levels of speed, from no tempo to slow tempo to performance tempo.


Let’s make all this theory real by looking at an example. Here is the opening riff to Arlo Guthries “Alice’s Restaurant”. It is a traditional Travis style picking pattern on a dominant 7th cycle pattern in the key of C. I have detailed 4 places where the ease of playing will be greatly improved by “coupling” two events into one playing moment. The first two involve playing a note with one right hand finger while at the same time touching another string with another right hand finger. The 3rd one involves touching an unused string with the 4th finger of the left hand while playing a bass note with the thumb. The last one has the index of the right hand touch the 3rd string while using the thumb.


These moves have been discovered by a careful analysis of the music, and now must be trained into the fingers. Internally, we will focus on the tactile sensation which occurs at that playing moment, the feeling of the fingers actually touching the strings, and that feeling will be our experience of that playing moment when we play the music. 

Can the music be played without making these moves? Yes it can, but not by everyone. People with enough natural talent will often be able to overcome the extra difficulty of playing with less than optimal technique (until they try something sufficiently complex). By optimizing the movement process in the way we have, anyone can learn to play this passage easily, and those that could play it without doing these moves will play it even more easily, and the easier something is, the more our musical selves can come through the music.  Most importantly, by learning to think in this way, and practice in this way, anyone can continually improve the level of their skill, and master increasingly complex music, and as music becomes more complex, these approaches become increasingly necessary.

Always look for ways to streamline and optimize the movements your fingers make to create the notes. If you look (and if you know how to look) you will almost always find them. It will often involve the grouping together of two or more events into one playing moment, with one or more of those events serving the purpose of preparing for upcoming notes. The discovery of these events is achieved through an intelligent analysis of the music, and the combining or coupling of these events is trained into the fingers by systematic workups using the Basic Practice Approach.

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