Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday - Played for the first time at the TCAN open mic in Natick. I got there right as Oliver, the sound man, was ducking out for a minute to pick up some dinner, and since there was no one else in the building, I had to wait for a few minutes. I was glad to have arrived as early as I did; plenty of time to get acclaimated to the space and warm my fingers up. My guitar strings were a bit dirty from this weekend, so that threw off my right hand a little, but it was mostly fine.

I played County Down and Great is Thy Faithfulness. Oliver did an amazing job on the sound - it was the best I have ever heard from on stage! They have these really nice studio-quality instrument mics, so that certainly helped. My rhythm was a bit off, and I goofed up the descending run with harmonics at the end of Great is Thy, but I was able to carry a good energy for the most part. At least on County Down... one guy I talked to afterwards said he thought the second piece I played was 'too boring' for the open mic crowd, but others said they liked it! I thought it did not 'swing' like I want it to, but I figure, it's ok. Last night was mostly about playing in a new place and working on performance nerves. I was expecting my playing to be a bit sloppy, but I still hate that it was.

The other performers were very good - there were a few other instrumentalists (guitar), both fingerstyle players. TCAN seems like a really good scene and I hope to visit many times again in the near future.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sunday - practiced for a long time (1.5~2 hrs) standard tuning, drop-D, DADGAD, the works baby. Tuesday ~40 min DADGAD, Wednesday ~50 min DADGAD, Thursday decided to take off of open mic because tendonitis was getting bad. Then Thursday afternoon, at the gym I overworked my right arm, so it is pretty sore at the moment (like I just got 3 tetanus shots all at once).

While I'm injured and not making much progress at the moment towards acoustic guitar virtuosity, I'll share a few thoughts on sustainable practice and injuries. Turn the clock back about 7 years... college senior Tony has just discovered fingerstyle guitar and alternate tunings and is going nuts practicing Bach, Michael Hedges, Phil Keaggy tunes and all kinds of stuff. But I've got a problem: I want to play this stuff now, and it takes a while to build the technique necessary to play this kind of material. Result: I practiced continually, often way after pain in my wrists and hands has been telling me to take a break. Often, I'd become angry that I couldn't play what I wanted to, and practice through the anger, tensing up and using way more pressure than needed to form chords. As a result, by spring 2000, my wrists were a mess, and I had a deep sense of failure and dissatisfaction with my playing. So, even though I am not Catholic, I decided to fast from all guitar playing for the season of Lent.

A couple of things came out of this fast: first, I had a chance to re-evaluate the maniacal importance I was placing on being an impressive guitar player. It gave me a chance to re-discover music in a sense. And I was surprised by how well my memory and technique survived the six weeks of rest. This was key in allowing my mind to relax a little about keeping up a crazy practice regimen. I read about Segovia, Bensusan, other amazingly great players and how they practice six, seven hours each day. There are a couple of important points to call out here:

1. They don't also work a full time job as a computer programmer (which I do, and which alone and take a real toll on the wrists)
2. They probably didn't wake up one day in college and say, from now on I will play the guitar for seven hours a day (in other words, it was probably not a cold start like I attempted)

As a result of my foolishness and the nature of my day job, I still need to constantly balance my desire to play guitar endlessly and the physical limitations with which I must come to terms.

I never play my guitar when I am angry now. Never. There is no excuse for this; one must have inner peace of mind in order to make music (even angry music), and not injure themselves.

At a party a few years ago, I met a guy who was training to run a marathon. He told me he had a specific schedule that took up him and down on different days in terms of mileage. The schedule also had days of rest. A typical week might look like:

day 1 - 4 miles
day 2 - 6 miles
day 3 - 4 miles
day 4 - rest
day 5 - 5 miles
day 6 - 8 miles
day 7 - rest

Day 6 is always the most mileage - eventually it is a full 23 miles. And the total miles per week goes up and down with a pattern similar to (though not exactly the same as) the pattern within a single week. Fascinating I thought - here is a strategy that exercise science has come up with to deal with the problem of ramping up to an event that requires extreme stamina. So I decided to apply it to guitar practice. I simply multiplied the miles by 10 minutes (or 15 or 20, whatever) and there is how much I practice each day.

Recently (since this August) I have been undisciplined about keeping this schedule, but I have mostly stuck to it for the past several years. I still don't quite know how to integrate performances into it (there is a kind of energy that takes over when you perform that allows you to go much longer, but afterwards I am pretty tapped).

Anyone reading this is welcome to post a comment and share what your practice strategy is.
I look forward to hearing about it!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thursday 9/7 - played at Amazing Things open mic. There were a lot of people there to perform, so we only got one song a piece. I played a medley of The Voyage to Ireland and the Rakkish Paddy. It was shakey for a number of reasons: 1. I have not played these two for people very much, 2. It was a larger crowd than I've been used to, 3. the stage monitors were really hot, especially in the high end. Dan and I were the only two who played for round two, which meant I closed out the evening to a much smaller crowd with County Down. You need to play a piece 6 times before you own it, supposedly... at any rate, County Down is in that range and it really is starting to feel comfortable, so I guess the key is to keep playing those pieces that give me trouble!

Met an unbelievably good pianist named Don. What fluidity and grace on the keys! I look forward to seeing him play again on Thursday nights.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Thursday - played at Amazing Things open mic. Last two times (this week and two weeks ago) the turn out has been quite small, but the atomosphere has been great; there is a real sense of community and an artistic sensitivity to this crowd. I played Kadourimdou and The Day after the Feast/The Voyage to Ireland medley, plus Frenzy at the Feeder for the bonus round. Here is the breakdown:

  • Kept messing up the beginning bass riff! The transition between just the bass line and bass+chords continues to give me trouble. It is a much different way to orient the left hand and this definitely needs work
  • This time the 7/8 section was relatively smooth. Now I just need to work on all the other difficult bits!
  • The triplet based riff in the transition from the A section to the B section in particular, as well as the two fast descending runs (/6 and /5) need work, as does the fast scale section at the very end
  • A little bit slower tempo was a great help in establishing and maintaining the groove during this tune. Overall, it seems I am making good progress on this tune.
  • First of all, good response from the audience I felt on this medley. The first song was rougher than the second, for sure. Much attention and control is needed to maintain the correct timing with all those arpeggiated notes that just sort of hang out there. Practice it slow? I don't know what the correct approach is here. Perhaps the metronome...
  • Voyage to Ireland came across better than expected for a first time performance. The ornaments need some work, but I think I was struggling with the super-light gauge of my new strings and that did not help. I should study more variations for this tune.
Frenzy at the Feeder
  • It is hard to tell from behind the main speakers, but this one suffered perhaps most of all from the lack of tone in the lighter strings. The first string was 'thwacking' and 'plinking' a lot. Other than that, the tune went pretty well, certainly much better than the first time I played it at Amazing Things. Parts that need work are the 5 fret pull-off riff that appears before and after the B section, and the section with all the fast four note pull-offs towards the end. I should slow this part down and work on getting all the notes to sound out with clarity.
Not sure what the status of the DADGAD cedar/rw guitar expedition two weeks from today is...

NPR had an interesting piece on designing the space of the home to fit the needs of one's individual personality. It made me think on what makes a space good or bad for practicing, jamming with other musicians, performing... Perhaps I will try to dig up some writing on the net on this subject. I can't be the first one to think about this!

With Cunla/Merrily now committed to memory, my guns are now trained on Hymn 11.