April 5, 2020

Pulling Up The Slack

“Pulling Up The Slack” takes us to the furthest edge of our ability, as fast as we can get there!

The Basic Practice Approach (as found in The Principles) states, as Step #1: “Review and increase your understanding of what you are about to do, and how you are going to do it.” There is a world of meaning here, and I would like to take a look at a few of the applications and ways of understanding this directive.

We all need to realize that at any given moment, we are capable of being “more than we are”. If we knew how to have a certain totality of awareness of ourselves, then we would be able to, in every moment, see more than we saw before, and so, be able to be more than we have been before. This is true on every level of life, and of course, my favor­ite level, playing the guitar!

One of the important things I do with students is to show them how to pull the most out of themselves by getting closer to that “totality of awareness” I am speaking of, how to work with this awareness, and how to instantly (or at least in the course of the lesson) play at a level far beyond what they are used to. With new students this is done by giving certain critical understandings about the dynamics of guitar technique, as well as the dynamics of motor learning, and then directing a practice session in which these dynam­ics are respected, and worked with correctly. With experienced students, it is a matter of all of this also, as well as reminding them of things already “learned”, and helping them create a synthesis of all this material that sheds light on present playing situations.

I think of this as “pulling up the slack” in the student. In other words, the potential is already there, the student just does not know how to access it.

Use What You’ve (Really) Got

When we pull up the slack on something, say a rope, we are making it useful by getting rid of what is making it un-useful: extraneous and/or “un-integrated” conditions. We get rid of the extra length of rope, tighten and inte­grate its material and substance, and make it useful to our purposes by doing so. We can now transmit our power, and our will, to the rope.

Once we have done this, we have increased our power, because we have made something more useful and available to us. A person who can do this in all areas of life, is a person of power, and so, can a become a person of great achievement. They will be a person who has the ability to create change, because power is the ability to create change.

All of this is the forceful process of doing what I have stated in the aforementioned first step of the Basic Prac­tice Approach; making a conscious and deliberate attempt to “inventory” all recent experiences and insights based upon them, and then making sure that those insights are applied to the present moment of practice. This is a primary characteristic of a player who is going to become as good as they can be, as fast as possible. This ability, used habitually, is a primary characteristic of a great student, and ultimately, a great player.

...and Keep Using It!

When I pull up the slack on someone, it is always interesting to me that the potential to do these things was already there in the student, before they came to see me (it is amazing how much natural talent is out there). But, like most people, they did not know how to practice, and they did not know the mechanically correct way to go about doing various techniques on the guitar, and so the practice they have done up till now has crippled their talent, they cannot fully exploit their natural coordination, or flexibility, or whatever aspect of physical ability they may possess. When a dose of proper training is administered, the results are often instant and dramatic.

Once I have revealed to a student what their true potential is, once they see what can occur if certain laws of body/mind learning are respected, it is their responsibility to make these changes to their usual approach a permanent part of their practice approach. They must learn how to pull up their own slack, and prevent future slack from developing. In this way, we can develop talent, because talent is simply the tendency to do things the right way.

And that is where the wisdom of the 1st Step of the Basic Practice Approach comes in. This is the reason we do this step, the reason we bother to review and increase our understanding. We do this because we want to make sure that we apply all our recent insights, everything we have learned in recent times.

If someone is taking lessons with me, they are getting a very heavy dose of new understandings, as well as a deeper exploration and application of previous knowledge, in every lesson. It is their responsibility to make the greatest effort to retain every drop of it, and to use it as well. It is my responsibility to make sure they are doing this. When this is done, powerful and consistent growth is inevitable.

It is no easy task, but everyone can make a beginning, and everyone will find that it is worth doing.

Using A Practice Journal

Probably the most powerful way of doing this is to use a practice journal. I keep a notebook at my side at all times.  I write down observations and inspirations as they occur to me .The more I do this, the they occur to me. The more I do this, the more powerful the results from every practice session.

Also, constant review of old material, done with the awareness and application of all knowledge gained since the last time that material was played is vital. For instance, it is very common that I will make a new fundamental discovery about guitar technique, some new approach to doing something I have been doing for years, that is obviously superior and worthy of adopting into my technique. 

When playing previously learned material (and when you have been playing for 50 years, there is a lot of previously learned material!) I will constantly discover that new technical insights are not being used in my playing simply because I happened to become aware of them; they must be consciously and deliberately trained into the old music, the old movements. It is a constant process of pulling up the slack, integrating non-integrated elements and resources.

It takes constant focus and effort during practice, but it must be done in order to know that I am playing up to my highest potential. It is true for me, you, and everyone. If we are serious about ourselves as guitarists, we will make sure we are always pulling up our slack, by making this first step of The Basic Practice Approach a constant background theme to all our music making efforts.

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  1. I’ve been taking lessons from Jamie for a few years now. Last week she asked our class to pull up the slack on a piece called Menuett. I’ve been playing that song almost every day since I learned it a year ago and thought it was good, but once she challenged us to shape it and really think about how each note sounded, I realized all the little things I could do to make it sound better. pAfter a few days of working on those refinements, I love how this piece sounds and feel confident playing it for others. Thank you, Jamie!

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