Practice vs. Performance

Here is another great article by Noa Kageyama of The Bulletproof Musician where he comments on a study conducted at Yale about the perception of errors from the listener’s point of view. The bottom line is that even the most sophisticated listeners catch far fewer imperfections and wrong notes than we as performers think they do. During practice mode it is important to obsess, analyze, and refine our pieces but performance mode is different and it’s important to practice performance mode where you do not obsess about little imperfections but instead focus on what you want the audience to hear. Knowing about this study may help inexperienced and experienced performers alike feel a little less awful when missing notes on the concert stage.

 

Concert Preparation 101

Greater confidence leads to stronger performances. There is a great difference in the confidence of a runner who approaches the start of a marathon having done the bare minimum training and that of the runner who has trained with variety, intensity, creativity, and persistence (and supplemented that training with a healthy diet, careful recovery, and mental preparation).

As a concert approaches, vary your study approach, take notes, and explore as much as possible to gain a better understanding of what yields the best results on stage and what makes you perform at your best. Depending on how well I know the music, I may start preparing months ahead of time or a few weeks from the date. Here is a checklist of actions that start to occur during the preparatory stage that are true confidence builders:

  1. Warm-up with a focus on relaxation.
  2. Befriend your metronome. Play all your pieces at a very slow tempo (for example, the Allegro from Barrios’ La Catedral at 1 sixteenth note/second, or a tremolo piece 1 note/second). I pick a quarter of the program and make sure that by the end of 2-3 days, I’ve practiced everything at a VERY slow tempo. Manuel Barrueco thinks slow-practice may be the best way to practice.
  3. Build a list of troublesome passages or excerpts that do not feel effortless. Practice right hand and left hand alone going from very slow to as far beyond concert tempo for repetitions, practice in rhythms, analyze the space between notes, watch youtube videos of someone wonderful playing them to glean possible modifications, exhaust your resources to make the passages in question effortless. Before increasing tempo, try to nail 5 repetitions in a row. Keep a record of tempo and tally how many repetitions you’ve successfully done.  When focus fades, move on to a different excerpt or take a little brake.
  4. Record yourself. I’m not a fan of this but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to improve. If you truly want to assess what you sound like, it is necessary.
  5. Exit practice mode and enter performance mode by performing run-throughs. Play a run-through of each half of the concert at least once every two days over the course of the month preceding the actual concert. Two weeks from the performance, videotape the entire concert or perform it for a friend, a student, or colleague. Several full-length run-throughs always help to improve concentration. If you have time, experiment with performing run-throughs when you are tired, not warmed-up, or cranky. Perform it while the radio is on, perform it in the dark, etc… Learn to turn on your performance mode.
  6. Break up your practice into several sessions a day. For example, instead of one large chunk of time (9AM – 1PM), try 9-11, another session 1-3, and then another 9-10. Don’t go more than 12-14 hours without touching that guitar.
  7. Visualize the performance before falling asleep. Imagine the stage, imagine yourself on it, imagine every piece from the first note to the last. If you can’t ‘see’ what your fingers are doing, you probably do not know the piece as well as you think you do. If you have trouble visualizing, create a playlist of your favorite guitarist/s or of your best performance of the pieces and listen to it while you play along in your head. The music will serve as a bit of an anchor for your mind’s inner ear while you try to visualize along. Another technique is to watch someone play it and play along in your head.
  8. Meditate often. A simple focus on your breathing for 5-10 minute periods throughout the day is a good start. I’ll write more on this in the future, but as a long time practitioner of yoga, pranayama, and other modes of meditation, meditation is one of a few things that always improves my day and centers my mind.

Good luck!

 

Want Speedy Scales?

Want to feel more accurate when playing through your pieces? Want speedy scales? Want fluid arpeggios? Want to be a guitar superhero? Work on basic movements. Hard work on the very basic movements of technique allows an inner exploration of our limits and abilities while giving us a bit of a roadmap for quantifiable and steady improvement.

Below are some very basic right hand drills that find their way back into my warm-up and finger routines often. It’s not that I need to practice them much anymore but rather they allow me to continually refine the most important movements necessary for pleasurable music making. They also allow me to set both short and long term tempo and endurance goals.

Try going through each of these three drills with the suggested fingerings. If you are more of a beginner, spend time on the bold faced fingerings, if you are more advanced, go through all fingerings in search for what does not work well, then focus your energy there. Don’t neglect the basics, though!

Follow these guidelines:

  1. Use a metronome and start slowly (quarter = 50-60).
  2. Go through each drill at least 3 times (I do 5 if I have time) with each fingering. Increase tempo slightly for each one.
  3. Do not sacrifice clarity and movement efficiency.
  4. Focus on the quality of the movements and the sound.

Fingerings

Rest-stroke fingerings: immi, amma, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam

Free-stroke fingerings: immi, ammapipm, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam, pa, pami, pmi

For patterns involving three fingers play three repeats to hit all permutations.

Exercise 1

Technique Cheat Sheet 1.jpg

Exercise 2

Technique Cheat Sheet 2.jpg

Fingerings

Play the following drills using free-stroke and by relegating each right hand finger group across the three strings (for example, with ima, place i on string 3, m on string 2, and a on string 1).

Play each of the seven movements for at least 4+ repetitions or set a timer for 30-45 seconds.

All free-stroke: ima, pim, pma, pia

Exercise 3

Technique Cheat Sheet 3.jpg

Try dedicating 60 days in a row (or with as much consistency as possible) to these movements and you will see results. Also, if you want a simple goal. Try to get each movement up to quarter = 126 over the course of the 60 days. Or, shoot higher! Why not?

Left Hand Warmup: Slurs, Fixed Fingers, Open Strings, and Tunnels

Lately, when starting my practice I will start with an assortment of left hand movements. I go slowly with attention to the fluidity of the movements. While I do this, my ear starts to focus. The easy pace is ideal for adjusting tone and exploring left hand movement before moving on to arpeggios, scale fragments, and spots in pieces.

Here is a slur sequence I really enjoyed focusing on yesterday. It involves playing slurs with a pair of fingers, slurs to and from open strings, all while requiring the precise placement of the fingers to create tunnels so that adjacent strings remain unobstructed. Fun!

I immediately thought: BLOG POST!

Here’s the outline of the movement using fingers 12 but you should try all pairs (23, 34, 13, 24, 14). You’ll get more out of the exercises by repeated each slur many times and of course, play them across all strings and positions.

Method of Practice

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 2.jpg

Exercise 1 – Ascending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise.jpg

Exercise 2 – Ascending Slurs 2

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 3.jpg

Exercise 3 – Ascending and Descending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 2a.jpg

Exercise 4 – Descending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 4.jpg

Exercise 5 – Descending and Ascending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 5.jpg

Go give that left hand a workout!

 

Slow Practice

I often try to convince students to practice ultra slowly by using various metaphors. How much more would you notice if you were to admire a great piece of art for an hour instead of a minute? How would your thoughts change if you read a complex paragraph quickly versus reading it slowly and contemplating the meaning of each word and sentence as it related to the whole? If metaphors don’t convince them they can go read this fabulous article for pianists written by pianist Graham Fitch about the slow practice that I think is spot on!

Enjoying Ultra Slow Practice

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

 

Right Hand String Crossing Technique Tip

One aspect of Ángel Romero‘s edition of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is that every single scale is fingered optimally for string crossing so that almost always reaches towards a higher string when blazing through the scale passages (i.e. when going from string 2 to 1, it is fingered i m and not m i). And while you could employ slurs or shifts to maintain optimum string-crossing, if those solutions are not musically in the cards there is a finger standing on the sidelines waiting eagerly to help: a. Using a to switch from im alternation to mi alternation without skipping a beat is an important skill to develop for situations where you would want to maintain optimum string-crossing for the right hand. Here are a few exercises using a to develop this technique.

Keep the following points in mind when going through these.

  1. Maintain a steady metric pulse.
  2. Keep your tone consistent.
  3. Practice rest-stroke and free-stroke.

Exercise 1

Using a to switch direction.jpg

Exercise 2 and 3

Using a to switch direction 2.jpg

Exercise 4 and 5

Using a to switch direction 3.jpg

Go a!

Technical Workout for Classical Guitar – Level 1 – Base Building, Part 1 (video)

Here is the first of Six String Journal’s series of technique videos to accompany my recent workbook, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 1 – Base Building. This video corresponds to Left Hand Movements, Part 1.

This workbook is designed to help late beginners and intermediate guitarists develop a daily routine of movements to strengthen their technical base so that fingers can do their job properly when assimilating new repertoire (that was wordy!). Always go slowly with the most control possible. Think of it as writing a program for your brain with no bugs.