Making "Hard To Play" easy to play!
In “The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar” I stated that the average player whose common experience is to struggle with various difficult passages in the music they play, looks at a great player and thinks (perhaps only assumes unconsciously) that somehow they have managed to overcome those difficulties. That is not the way it is. Great players do not overcome difficulties, they have learned how to transform those difficulties into easy, flowing, and comfortable movements.
This ability to transform difficulties is truly a magical power. Imagine you had the magical power to make any object weightless. Someone watching you pick up a car would think you somehow were strong enough to do what they found impossible.
Of course, unknown to them, you would not be dealing with what they would deal with in trying to pick up a car. That is what it is like. It is technique, refined, intelligent, effective technique that is this magic power that transforms difficulties into easily performed movements, resulting in beautiful and inspired music.
A great player has learned, either from outward instruction or inner intuition, the Laws of operation on their instrument. And you can rarely tell what they are doing by looking at them, because most of what they are doing is invisible.
The "Secret of Good Playing
Everyone is always looking for the “secret” to good playing, although few seem to find it. There are “secrets” to good playing. Those that know them often don’t know they know them, and make only clumsy and half formed attempts to convey them. At best, they may point you in the right direction, but cannot take you there.
All of the secrets of good playing come down to one thing: they enable us to more fully optimize the movement process we use in playing. Appreciating what this really means is important. Learning to do it for yourself is essential if you are to be a good or great player. Every time opposing dynamics are reconciled, we have learned a new way of optimizing the movement process, and we move more in the direction of skill. We achieve fundamental, vertical growth in our playing. In practical terms, it translates into superior sound, and an ease of playing that is evident to player and audience alike.
I will tell you, with my characteristic humility, that I have become an expert in this process! I am constantly discovering new ways to achieve movement in the direction of skill, and the process seems endless, as do the rewards of it. There are innumerable ways of doing it, and the more difficult the music, the more the need for it. Some styles of music do not present a great variety of opposing dynamics to be reconciled. Blues, for instance, uses a discrete set of movements that produce the basic licks of the style. Once those movements are mastered, there is no need for formal practice in the sense of acquiring new technical skills, there is only the need for continuous musical development, which comes through actual playing. Other styles are “practice intensive” because they are comprised of a much greater number of movement combinations, rather than mostly set patterns. This is one of the reasons why classical guitar is probably the most demanding style, from a technical point of view.
Examples of Optimization
Let’s look at some examples of this optimization process. In this fragment from Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird”, we arrange our finger movements in such a way as to maintain the heavy arm (see Chapter 4 of "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar") during movements, thus employing the passive resource of weight to bring force to the strings, rather than the active resource of muscle contraction.
By keeping certain fingers down until other fingers have made string contact, we are able to keep the large muscles of the shoulder area relaxed, instead of having to support the great weight of the arm. This principle, used throughout our playing, will make an incredible difference in the ease and flow of our playing.
For many people it is a revelation that we must, especially in complex music, work out our fingering, sometimes writing in the fingering for almost every note. There are systems of logical fingering we use for both hands, and the study of my "Classical/Fingerstyle Course" will make you very familiar with them..
After figuring out the best fingering to use, there are hundreds of subtle ways of using those fingers that make things easier to do. As you study each one, and use it, it becomes a comfortable and natural part of your technique. Your fingers just begin to behave this way, to a great extent, on their own. Playing popular fingerstyle pieces like “Blackbird”, becomes extremely easy to do.
The indications of finger behavior above streamline and optimize the the movement process in this relatively simple passage. I say relatively simple, but I have seen far too many students struggle with what should be easy to do.
Finally, understand that any great player is, to a greater or lesser extent, doing things this way. They make it look easy because it IS easy when we have learned how to optimize the movement process. The opposite of skill is clumsiness, and with some music, you can get away with clumsy a little more than in other styles.. But a great player, in any style, is never clumsy!
Watch my student Jody play "Blackbird" using all the above tips..
The Joy Of Playing Wonderfully Well
It is such a wonderful feeling to play music after the physical barriers have been removed. I believe it is one of the most sophisticated mental/physical/emotional and spiritual activities that human being can engage in. And the urgent desire to do so by so many people has always amazed me.
It is an urge of an absolutely addictive quality, and I frequently get students who have been struggling for entire lifetimes to gain this ability. They have all gone down one of the many dead end roads out there.
There is a different road to go down now.
There is a higher education available to all players now. Careful study of any of the resources offered by Guitar Principles will give you the ability to optimize the movement process your fingers must perform in all the music you play. You will be a better player, making better music!