Monday, June 26, 2006

Played Sunday morning, and again in late afternoon ~30-40min. Very disjointed practice; all standard tuning, some Happy Chappy, Chasin', and Ten Penny. Not much accomplished. Felt very tired mentally.

From Object Oriented Design and Analysis course this morning: always find 4 possible solutions to a problem before choosing one. This has very interesting implications for guitar playing. Will begin to apply tomorrow to Cunla/Merrily.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

~55min, some simple arpeggio exercises and cunla/merrily. Played all the way through the arrangement this time.

Interesting essay from Australian Guitar Journal, which appears to be a classically oriented guitar site. Particularly thought provoking are some of the comments about interpretation:

"As soon as [young] players feel equipped to play the standard repertoire pieces, they listen to recordings of famous guitarists and try to copy them, regarding their interpretation as the "right" one. Often the difficulty of the pieces is underestimated and it is also not realised that parroting another's performance can hardly lead to musically convincing playing."

Here, here! The world of classical music continues to surprise me. I like to think there is a general consensus among good musicians independent of particular tradition that true music expression requires freedom within form. Looking in from the outside, classical music often has seemed to me very tightly scoped in its form -- sometimes too much so for my taste. But the first time I actually saw a classical performance (thankfully a good one, though I can't remember exactly what was played or who was playing it... violins were involved, I believe) the freedom aspect was very evident. It is the way such performers play that has inspired and informed my approach to the guitar, much more than the repertoire.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Words of Inspiration

Few people suspect what the study of an instrument demands. The public watch the music-miracle in comfort, never dreaming of the ascesis and sacrifices which the musician must perform in order to make himself capable of accomplishing it…

Don't you agree with me that there is in the world of Art today a great crisis which threatens the love of work, and that we musicians might set an example of morality in this field? It is impossible to feign mastery unless he who undertakes that adventure supplements the generous gift of the gods by the stern disciplines of lifelong practice.

But as for us pianists, violinists, cellists and guitarists – how many hours of pain and self-abnegation, how many weeks, months and years do we spend polishing a single passage, burnishing it and bringing out its sparkle? And when we consider it 'done to a turn', we spend the rest of our lives persevering so that our fingers shall not forget the lesson or get entangled again in a brambly thicket of arpeggios, scales, trills, chords, accents and grace notes! And if we climb from that region of technique to the more spiritual sphere of interpretation, what anguish we experience in trying to find the soul of a composition behind the inert notation, and how many scruples and repentings we have before we dare to discover what does not lie hidden in the paper!

-Andres Segovia

In some sense this is what I intend for this journal to be about. I want to keep things focused very specifically on my guitar life and those other aspects of life which I feel have some influence therein. It is intended to be both self-reflective, and a public record of the work and striving of a guitarist who is doing music solely for the love of music, and for the sublime satisfaction of perfecting an art (and in so doing to imitate some part of the Creator-image, which gives the Creator both pleasure and glory).
"Performance is inherently unlikely" - Guitar Craft aphorism

Lackluster renditions last night of Frenzy and Great is Thy. Upon reflection I have discovered the following (possible) explanations:

  1. We arrived at the space about 10 minutes before the open mic began. This was an inadequate amount of time to settle into my surroundings and properly warm up.
  2. I did not take the time to polish these pieces carefully prior to going out last night. In this case, doing this should have required at least 2-4 practice sessions.
Filed nails before leaving... got 'a' a bit too short. Just one more thing. The second comment about polishing a tune before performing it is worth a bit more discussion. It is a worthy and attainable goal, I believe, to achieve a reasonable sized set of pieces that are performance-ready at a moments' notice. There are no shortcuts, however. At this point I really only have a couple tunes like this (Fare Thee Well, Capricorn, ... ?)

Tonight I am taking off of practice. Will resume on Saturday.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tuesday: 20 mins scales in F major, one and two octaves (DADGAD). 65 bpm /4 was about the most I could manage. Working on /5

50 mins playing after dinner, all DADGAD. Cunla/Merrily, Last Pint, Kadourimdou, Great is Thy. Much better energy than Sunday. Had coffee around lunch time and green tea when I got home.


~90 mins total: right-hand four-finger patterns, two finger alternations on single string, string crossing. Worked on F major scales again, not as long this time. No big speed increase. Could divide the beats by five for maybe one or two times up and down, but it would fall apart after that.

Played County Down, Great is Thy, Capricorn, Rakkish Paddy, Cunla/Merrily, Kadourimdou. Pretty good energy. Afternoon coffee helped (~4pm) I think.

New strings (they always feel so good!) ~17mins to change

Thursday (tonight):

Going to Amazing Things. Trisha and Phil from my very first open mic are headlining. They are a terrific combination - beautiful harmonies. Phil is a Keaggy and Brooks Williams fan. So perhaps I will attempt a little Frenzy at the Feeder. Whatever happens, I think I would like to stay in DADGAD at least for my first two songs. Frenzy/Great is Thy + County Down?

Monday, June 19, 2006

No practice on Saturday. Two 25 min sessions on Sunday (in addition on playing in church). Both DADGAD: merrily/cunla and then The Last Pint. 30 min cardio and weights this morning (but no more practice until tomorrow). The heat and humidity are really aggrevating my tendonitis, esp. today in the left wrist. Will ice it this evening. I am looking forward to next week's training class at work as a welcome break to typing at my desk all day.

Discussion with coworker today: he mentioned athletic training where an athlete's movements are filmed and analyzed in slow motion to identify problems. His comment was that this information is useless to the athlete - there is an intermediary required to prescribe drills and exercises that can correct the flaws in technique. The formation of good exercises is a very significant problem for athletics and music. Perhaps I will try to read more about athletic training techniques like these.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Last night three 25 min sessions. All DADGAD:

1. Exercises and scales. Practiced all 6 four-finger patterns on open strings 1-4:
1. p-i-m-a
2. p-i-a-m
3. p-m-i-a
4. p-m-a-i
5. p-a-i-m
6. p-a-m-i
As well as 3-octave scales in D major, and single-string right hand alternations: (i-m, i-a, m-a)

2. Merrily Kissed/Cunla - not quite all the way through this one. All but the last page. This is an excellent exercise in hammer-on and not too complicated cross-string melody picking.

3. Kadourimdou - I usually start this one pretty slow and pick the tempo up as I warm up to all the stretches and position changes. Over 25 minutes this means playing it through about 4 times.

Concluded with Bensusan stretching exercise descending from 12th and 11th frets.

I think I will post scale fingerings in DADGAD inspired by Segovia's scales at some point.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Picked up practice last night after taking Monday off. No playing Saturday, light day on Sunday. Played two 25 min sessions. Standard and dropped-D first one - warm up with Segovia E major scale in 3 octaves, a little Bourree in E minor (JSB), Carcassi first study in C major (scales), then played Chasin' the Groove and the Bright Field. Went to dropped-D and practiced a few I haven't played in a while (they may make an appearence at an upcoming open mic): Far Away, Aguinaldo Jibaro, and Canarios. Nails are getting a little long, but I was getting strong tone from them, so it is a tradeoff I guess. Second session practiced Merrily Kissed the Quaker/Cunla and Kadourimdou about equal parts.

At the show I asked Brooks if he could play "The Drowsy Bee" but it is apparently out of the active repertoire. I want to find out from him (if you read this, Brooks, just post a comment!) how many pieces he is able to keep performance-ready. I have no idea what kind of goals to set in this area. I would love to learn The Drowsy Bee since it is in DADGAD and I have always liked it quite a bit (and hey, no one else is performing it!)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Backstage Pass

Warming up with Brooks backstage.

Experiencing a Zen moment.

"What is that mop doing behind my head?"

Earth to Tony...

The guitarist hard at work

The student and the master, jammin' it up
Well, I've survived my first "real" gig - another first out of the way! I was surprised and honored by how many friends and family made it out - some driving quite a distance. Thanks everyone!

Took half the day off yesterday to rest before the show. Pruned the house plants and watched a couple concert videos (Bensusan and Renbourn) for inspiration. It is amazing how as I perform more for an actual audience, I am perceiving more from watching these great players perform (at least I think I am). In particular one thing I have noticed is even guys like Pierre and John aren't playing everything spot-on all the way (which I knew before), but what I notice now is their reaction to little off-balance moments and lapses in concentration or precision. There are many ways to react to such moments. The easiest and most natural for me is to just get flustered and fumble for the last part I felt comfortable with. But these guys have learned (or maybe it is a natural instinct) to react very quickly and just keep going, find your center again, and play on.

My opening set last night seemed to pass by extremely quickly. There were a couple moments, in Great is Thy and County Down I think, where catching my balance again took a bit too long, but things mostly went according to plan. After playing four tunes, I was ready to make an exit, but Michael insisted I play one more! It ended up being the Rakkish Paddy - not one that I had expected to be playing, but it came across alright considering. Lost my place for a second at the end of the first loop in the B section (that little descending run), but otherwise it was ok. The audience seemed really into the material which I am grateful for.

One of my spiritual mentors back in Amherst was really into golf and he used to talk about how golf was 20% physical and 80% mental. I think performance is very much like this - there is a huge mental component in terms of letting go of the ego and not giving in to nerves before all that technique you spend so long building can really come out. Being in a situation like last night is really the best teacher for this. I am slowly "getting it" ;-)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Made the trip down to Virginia last weekend to see Shannon's cousin get married. We were both totally exhausted from all the driving, but I think I am finally making a comeback. Practiced two 25 min sessions on Tuesday, three last night. Tonight is a light night, just one 25 min session, and tomorrow is the big show!

A large number of folks have emailed asking for directions or how to buy tickets, or to say they will actually be there, so I am expecting a good turnout (Brooks alone packed the place out last time).

I am taking as much time off tomorrow as I can manage so as to be fresh for playing. I find that so long as I have been keeping up a regular practice regimen, the single most significant thing I can do to help my playing is just to not play for 2~3 days. Beyond that I think a little technical edge starts to soften. But it is not as bad as I would have thought, and at one time greatly feared. The six weeks I took off of playing during the season of Lent my senior year at Umass had much less of an impact than I had worried it would in terms of technique atrophy. I have found that certain things just take a long time to build up and you don't lose them too quickly. It is usually good to always have a mixture of long term (delayed gratification) and short term (instant gratification) projects (tunes) in the works.

I hope to see you at Amazing Things tomorrow night!