Friday, July 13, 2007

Building, Rebuilding and Maintaining Long Sets for the Guitar

I've visited this topic before, but have continued to develop my methodology, and so a revisit is in order. This is another in a series of posts in which I have developed my approach to using the metronome to deeply memorize pieces and improve my technical execution of them.

Basically, the technique is to play a piece along with a metronome starting at the fastest possible velocity (Or, slightly faster than the performance speed), and then gradually slow the piece down each time through until you are playing it at half the velocity you started out at. This is far more difficult than it sounds: The first time you try this with a memorized piece it will fall apart long before the half-way point is reached. This is because the individual finger movements are not memorized on a rational level. This is the wrongly-so-called phenomenon of "muscle memory," which is in fact, subconscious memorization. Through successive attempts, however, the technique will be mastered, and eventually you will be able to go through the process in a detached manner while daydreaming. When you have reached this point, the piece will not only be profoundly and deeply memorized, but the choreography of the individual finger movements will also be worked out with great precision. At this point, each finger move will be in the conscious realm, and then the piece is really and truly memorized. There is no better technical practice regimen than this: Scale practice is a waste of time in comparison. In other words, if you only do one kind of technical practice, this is the one to choose.

Recently I have finished re-memorizing all of the pieces I wrote back in the 80's and 90's. This process took me thirty-four months. During that time, I assembled a set around those pieces - as they re-accumulated - with two other categories of works: Minor pieces by other composers (Traditional classical guitar stuff), and crowd pleasers from the twentieth-century rock and pop traditions. Now, I am memorizing the pieces I've written since Y2K, and so I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel vis-a-vis catching up.

Here is my current set:

*****

I] Irreducible Sonatina: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

01] **(120-60 @ 2/4) I: Sonatina in A Minor
02] **(110-55 @ 6/8) II: Menuetto in B Minor
03] †*(90-50 @ 6/8) III: Alegretto in C Major
04] (NEW) IV: Trajectorial Variations in A Minor

II] A Minor Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

05] **(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
06] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
07] **(80-40 @ 3/4) Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
08] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 1
09] **(80-40 @ 6/8) Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani

III] C Major Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

10] **(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] *(120-60 @ 4/4) Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
14] **(140-70 @ 4/4) Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] **(140-70 @ 2/4-6/8) G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
16] **(180-90 @ 6/4) Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Narvaez
17] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 2
18] †(No Metronome) Desert Song - Eric Johnson

IV] E Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

19] **(120-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 3 in E minor
20] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 6 in E minor
21] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 2 in E minor
22] †***(140-110 @ 4/4) Bourree in E minor, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
23] **(140-70 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 4 in E minor
24] †(No Metronome) Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

V] G Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

25] **(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 4 in G major
26] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 3 in G major
27] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 6 in G minor
28] †***(140-85 @ 3/4) Minuet in G major, Anna Magdalena No. 4 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
29] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 1 in G major
30] †(200-100 @ 4/4) A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani

VI] B Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

31] **(140-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 5 in B minor
32] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 6 in B minor
33] (NEW) Minuet in B minor, Anna Magdalena No. 15 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
34] †(100-50 @ 6/8) Scherzo in B minor

VII] D Major Suite (Drop D Tuning): La Patrie Concert Cutaway

35] **(100-50 @ 9/8) Figuration Prelude No. 6 in D major
36] *(180-90 @ 4/4) Bourree II in D minor, 3rd Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
37] †*(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 23 in D minor
38] †(200-120 @ 4/4) Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Anastasio Dominguinhos

VIII] F-sharp Minor Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

39] **(140-70 @ 10/8) Figuration Prelude No. 7 in F-sharp minor
40] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 3
41] (NEW) Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins

IX] A Major Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

42] **(100-50 @ 6/8) Figuration Prelude No. 8 in A major
43] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 5 in A major
44] *(160-80 @ 2/4) Etude VI - Leo Brouwer
45] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 4
46] *(160-80 @ 4/4) Classical Gas - Mason Williams

X] C-sharp Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

47] **(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 9 in C-sharp minor
48] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 4 in C-sharp minor
49] (NEW) Heavy Nylon

XI] E Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

50] **(100-50 @ 12/8) Figuration Prelude No. 10 in E major
51] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 1 in E major
52] †**(120-60 @ 6/8) Caprice - Rodolphe Kreutzer
53] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 5 in E major
54] (NEW) Fighter Pilots

XII] G-sharp Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

55] **(80-40 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 11 in G-sharp minor
56] †*(80-40 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 3 in E-flat major
57] †*(140-90 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 4 in G-sharp minor
58] †(160-120 @ 4/4) Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

XIII] B Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA (Encore Pieces)

59] *(180-90 @ 5/8) Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B major
60] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 1 in B major

****

* Slow-Play Regimen Complete (Additional stars= number of times regimen completed)
† Problematic piece (Stars= number of additional times regimen attempted)

42 Originals vs. 18 Covers

*****


Pieces without attributions are my compositions.

Pieces with asterisks by them are pieces I've succeeded in playing from a starting velocity down to half speed. Two asterisks mean that I've completed the process twice (I may have done it more than twice total, but twice since I developed this system).

If there is a cross before the piece, it is a "problem" piece, and I have not succeeded in playing it from a starting velocity down to half speed. Additional asterisks denote how many more times I have tried to get the problem piece through the process.

Pieces I've memorized since the last time I've gone through this regimen are labelled (New), and some of the very rubato crowd pleasers are not playable with a metronome yet: I've basically arranged these on the guitar and in my head, and until I write them out, I'm not even goint to attempt to play them with the metronome. For these pieces, I just play them ten times through when I get to them.

The order in which I go through these pieces is: 1) Figuration Preludes, 2) E-Axis Studies, 3) B-Axis Studies, 4) G-Axis Studies, 5) Sonatina Pieces, 6) Minor Pieces, 7) Crowd Pleasers, and finally 8) NEW additions.

I alternate playing 1/3 of the set with doing a slow-play of one of the pieces, and I can usually only manage two slow-plays per day, so we're talking about a month-long - at least - process.

You can see the speed range for each piece before its title, and this whole system evolved out of a simple need to keep track of where I was at with each piece. This time, I have completed all of the Figuration Preludes, Axial Studies and Sonatina Pieces, and I'm about to tackle the minor pieces again.

For the individual pieces and the details of the process, we'll take a 160-80 piece in 2/4 time (Like the E-Axis Studies) as an example. I first play the piece free of the metronome to warm up to it, and then I play it with the metronome at the highest velocity (!60 in this case, obviously). Then, each time through I slow the metronome down by 10 BPM, so it will proceed 160, 150, 140, 130, 120, 110, 100, 90, and then, finally, 80 BPM. Gowing back up I proceed by intervals of 20 BPM, so it goes 80, 100, 120, 140, and then we're back to 160 BPM. So, total times through the piece in this instance is thirteen (This number will vary based on the velocity ranges, of course). If the range has an odd-even start and end point, I go dow by 5 BPM the penultimate and ultimate time down, and up by 10 BPM the first time back towards the top.

As I continue to develop this, the mechanical effeciency of the process improves, and so I can do more of it in less time. You'll notice, for example, that the Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B Major only has a single asterisk: That is because this was the first time I successfully completed the process with it. Previously, it had a cross and was a problem piece. So the goal this time is to 1) Remove as many pieces as possible from the problem roster, and then 2) Go back and play only the single asterisk and problem piecs until there are two asterisks by every piece. If I fail to convert any of the pieces from problem to a single asterisk, that ends the process, and the next time I'll start from the beginning (I only do this once or twice a year) after adding some more new pieces.

It's an amazing adventure, this, and my playing is better than ever as a direct result of developing this system. I've only been playing thirty-four months since a four year (forty-eight month) layoff, so I can't wait to see where I'm at after five years of this: I figured this would be a three to five year process, and it seems I was about right.



I found an online archive of guitar and lute related art. What are those things that cover the boots? They're spats. I had no idea they went so far back (16th century, in this case). I was born in the wrong time: I'd love to dress like that.

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