The other day I was working with a student that was learning a banjo piece(yes I can play that too). While he was playing, a lot of the slides and bends were playing havoc with the music causing him to have problems with his timing. He was making too much out of them. It was as if he was saying’ ” ok there is a bend here, so I’m bending the daylights out of this note.” I told him to take them out. He looked at me like I was insane.
As I was trying to explain to him why, I remembered something Manuel Barrueco said in a master class, ” Technique should be invisible.” Meaning you should not notice the virtuosity of a player; well the virtuosity of the player should not take center stage because they are playing music. There are some great players out there and to me the best players are fantastic. I do notice one thing. They make it look and sound easy. Countless times I have gone to see a band and noticed the guitarist did the same lick or trick over and over. All I start thinking is , “Ya I got it. you can do that.”
As our lesson progressed I said, “You should not notice the bend”. I know it is supposed to be there but I shouldn’t notice it. If I notice it, it’s too much. It’s like garlic on a pizza. If you notice the garlic then you have too much, but if it wasn’t on the pizza, you would notice that it was missing. It’s the same with bending, sliding vibrato and speed. It is the spice you add to the notes, it’s not the notes.
That is what is meant by saying, “Technique should be invisible.” A guitarist bending, sliding or breaking the speed limit should not take away from the music. It’s like a figure skater. They can launch themselves off of the ground and spin in the air 3 1/2 half times. Try that in your kitchen. You never really think, wow that is some great leg strength because it is part of a move. Same with an acrobat at the circus. You just see the show. They don’t show you how strong they are because their job is to do something else. The strength makes it possible but it is invisible.
What does that have to do with slides and bends and the like. Too many times students see that in a tab or music and spend too much time on it. Yes they are hard to do and should be practiced but they should be practiced to a point of anonymity. That is what makes them good. So what next? Take them out or start without them. You can always put them back in later. If you can’t play it without them then you won’t be able to play it with them. Just remember, too much garlic ruins the pizza.
It’s a new year and I’m sure you are thinking about what to do with your guitar playing. Learn more songs? Take lessons? New equipment? More books? I have a question for you. What about your practice habits? How are they? Do you practice? What do you do with your time? Is it organized? As a teacher, this is the most misunderstood part of progress in my studio. Many times a student will tell me that they can’t seem to gain the progress they hope to even after a year or so of lessons. Here are some ideas that will hopefully elevate some of the stress and start your year off right.
What is practicing? I tell my students that It is a critical thinking activity not a physical activity. This is where the confusion starts. Too many students play something over and over in the hopes that it will improve. This usually doesn’t work and frustration will start because progress is not being made. This is making practice a totally physical activity. There is the act of repetition in practicing, but repeating for the sake of repeating is a like a dog chasing his tail. I call this an infinite practice loop. You just keep playing the same thing over and over in the hopes that it will get better. This is where critical thinking will transform your practice time. You need to have an idea of what is working and what is not. What you can do well and what you can’t do well.
Start with playing something. How well did you play it? If you are not sure, record yourself and listen to it. Be specific and easy on yourself. This is critical thinking. Did you miss any notes? Are there spots that are harder than others? Is the rhythm bad? This list can go on and on. In my experience, really great players are very specific with their critical thinking. They make comments like, ” My arm twisted when I shifted.” Or , ” My fourth finger is not quite making it to this note.” These are very descriptive and constructive comments. They don’t make general comments like I’m not feeling it or that stinks. They can tell you what note they missed or what rhythm they missed. By not being specific you are being counterproductive because general comments don’t give you something to improve upon. They leave you feeling empty and helpless.
Once the specific flaws are noted, its time to get to work. This is where a sheet of paper is greatly helpful especially if you recorded yourself. Write them down. I missed a note here. I can’t play this all the way through. I slow down here…so on. Once you have a list, decide on one flaw. How are you going to solve that problem? What is the plan? Think about it. How are you going to get from where you are now to where you want to be? Once you have an idea, sketch it out. What to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so on. Break it down into steps that you can accomplish in one or two practice sessions. If you can’t get it done in one or two days, it’s probably too much. Now you have a plan something to follow. To quote NFL football coach Herm Edwards, a goal without a plan is a dream. Till next time.