Friday, October 24, 2008

The Difference Between Practicing and Performing

Lot of developments here, so this will probably be a long, long post.

One of the things I have trouble getting into the heads of my students is the difference between practicing and performing. When you perform, it's just a matter of recitation - going through the set that you've developed - while practicing is preparation for that. So, as a result, just reciting your set in your bedroom is not enough to prepare for a performance, you rather have to concentrate on certain things when you practice in order to be well prepared.

One of the main things is repetition. When you perform, you just play your tunes as they are written to be performed, but when you practice, you have to do more than that. Some pieces I can keep comfortably under my fingers by just playing them regularly - I'm thinking of the figuration preludes I've written here - but others I have to put a little extra effort into - that would be the more intricate polyphonic and homophonic stuff.

What I have discovered over the years, through admittedly anecdotal trial and error, is that prime number repetitions work the best. Now, I'm not attributing any magical properties to prime number repetitions, rather I have come to the conclusion that because prime numbers are only divisible by one and themselves, they form a single unit larger group. Since the human mind is an example of bi-fold symmetry, it tries to divide everything by twos, fives, and tens. Everyone knows how to multiply by two, five and ten almost instinctively, but sevens and threes are a different matter (Remember the IIII ancient by-five counting system you learned as a kid?).

The least of these "magical" prime numbers is three. Most musical repetition schemes are based on two (The only even prime number), and if you exceed this, it puts your mind and your memory into a whole different state.

Let's say you have an antiquated Baroque era sectional binary piece in your set with the form of A, A, B, B. If when practicing you play it A, A, A, B, B, B you'll be doing your memory much more good than if you play it as you'd perform it. Aside from the single additional repetition of each section, you are also having to concentrate more to change the form. Just knowing this can make for more effective and efficient set maintenance practice.

Now, let's say you have a thoroughly modern piece in your set with the form, A, A', B, A, A', B, A". You are already playing the A sections five times, a prime above two, but you only hit the B's twice. If you just got through the piece like this; A, A', B, A, A', B, A, A', B, A" you will have hit the A's seven times and the B's three. This is a very efficient memory reinforcer, and a great strategy for set maintenance.

For major biggie pieces, like the crowd pleasers in my set, I'll go ahead and play them three times through in their entirety, and for the super special pieces in my set, like the tap tech pieces, I'll play them a full eleven times. Admittedly, all of that repetition above seven is to maintain the calluses on my right hand i and m fingers, but eleven seems to work much better than ten. Humorously - or not - when I went to thirteen reps, I started to get some overuse syndrome symptoms. Don't think I'll go for seventeen just yet. LOL!

So, try the additional repeat scheme in your practicing for set maintenance, and stick to the prime numbers and see how it works out for you.


I mentioned previously that I have gotten into a scale practice regimen for the first time in years, and that this activity made me rethink my nail shape and length: They have gotten both shorter and flatter on the tips (The i and m have gotten shorter and flatter, while the a and c have stayed round, but are shorter).

This has been one time I'm glad I use glue-on acrylic nails. Experimenting with nail shape and length is a lot easier if you can just put on another set when you screw up versus having to let your mistakes grow out. As you can see, the index and middle fingers are quite short and relatively flat, while the ring and pinky are a bit longer and rounded: I think of them as two pairs, and the ring and middle fingers don't play the scalar passages, and they are at an angle that requires a bit more length.

From the other side, you can see that the index and middle barely show, while the ring and pinky carry a bit more length. The shorter i and m make scale playing much more smooth - no string snap or nail hang-up - while the longer a and c allow me to reach more distant strings easier when I'm playing arpeggios and whatnot.


As you can see from the top photo, I've gotten the eleven-string fretted Reynolds-Godin Glissentar out, and am playing that again. To be honest, I haven't even picked it up in well over a year. What happened is, when I started radically altering my nail shape, I wondered how the new nails would work on it. Since I'm sending it off to Jim Kozel to have a RMC Polydrive installed in it this winter, I thought I should re-familiarize myself with it anyway. Good idea! The shorter nails make all the difference in getting the string courses to ring evenly, and the extra effort involved in playing it - think playing two guitars at once - are giving me added left arm forearm strength. Playing it a bunch now will hasten my being able to add the guitar into my set when I get it back from Jim next spring, and my other two guitars feel like butter after a set go-through with it.

Since the Reynolds Glissentar is so hard to play - some of the hard chords in my figuration preludes were dull thuds the first time through, and my left forearm would cramp up after thirty minutes with it - I have been playing it in between the other two guitars: Godin, Reynolds, Parker, Renolds &c.

The first time through, I just played my set as I'd perform it (Or tried to!), and then I've been adding repeats of the crowd pleasers, the tap tech pieces &c. each additional time. I've been through my set three times with it now, and am progressing quite quickly. I'm psyched!

Here it is, then, The Holy Trinity:

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. LOL!


No houses on the horizon, so I'm here in Alpine for the time being. Kind of a bummer, because now that I'm into the idea of moving, I'd like to "git 'er done" if you know what I mean.

New model to me, but I'm digging the red eyebrows. Too bad about the eye makeup; I'm sure the lashes are red too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Computer Catastrophe (Updated)

Sorry for the break, but my heretofore trusty Mac Mini froze up the other day, and nothing would fix it but wiping the disk clean and reinstalling everything. Unfortunately, I lost all of my iLife apps - iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and Garage Band - and they were not on the disks the Mini came with (?!), so I had to finally order a disk set of those apps. I lost a HUGE iPhoto library... for... ever, but all of the good stuff was backed up on my SmugMug account, so really no great loss, and I managed to recover my vast iTunes library off of my 30GB video iPod using TinkerTool (whew). All of my other vital stuff is on a 250 GB external drive, so I got off pretty easy, considering. The disk checked out OK and repairing the permissions didn't help, so I'm not sure what the problem was.

UPDATE: I'm still having the Mini freeze on me (But not terminally, as was the case before), and I found out what the problem was when I stumbled across this thread in which a Mini user had the same kinds of freezes after installing new RAM. So, I ran the Hardware Test disk, and guess what? Yup, I have developed some bad memory addresses. I've been wanting to upgrade because I only have 512 MB anyway, but the Mini is a MAJOR PITA to get into. Well, I also found an online tutorial for that, so I'm going to order 1 GB worth of fresh RAM and get with the program (ProTools gives me memory warnings all the time, so I've needed to do this for a while now).

Anyway, no more posting until iLife gets here next week because I have nothing to manipulate photos with. Believe it, or not, I've never even opened up any of the other iLife apps - I know nothing about Garage Band other than that it has a silly name and takes up disk space - so I basically just paid $79.00 for iPhoto!

Why Apple includes iTunes with OS X but not iPhoto is beyond me, as it seems just as necessary, but whatever.

I'm planning to get a digital video camera to make YouTube clips of me performing anyway, so I suppose I'll need iMovie soon enough, and I have two other computers that need the iLife apps, so I guess I ought to have a disk of them. Reinstalling ProTools LE 7 was actually worth while, as I got an entirely new point upgrade, from 7.0.2 to 7.1.0 out of the deal for free (I actually ended up with two ProTools LE 7 disks when I bought the Digi 002 earlier this year), so that was nice.

Oh, I also ordered the all-new version of Encore, v5.0.3, and my initial impressions are very favorable (I ordered a disk, but they also gave me an instant download of the full version, which was very cool). It pretty much works as before, but it looks like an OS X native app now instead of something ported in from OS 9, and the on screen display is WYSIWYG! Far more attractive. The old maximum file size feature bug is now fixed, though I haven't tested that out yet. First thing I'll do is try to combine all four movements of Sonata One into a single file so that they play seamlessly as I intended.

Finally, since this post will push the last Sonata One post off the bottom of the page - and this is post 401 for MMM since May, 2005 - I put a sidebar section with links to all four of those posts in the blog template.

It's a rerun, but one of my favorites.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Progressing as a Guitarist: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

OK, so that was overly simplistic.

It has been an interesting adventure, picking up the guitar four years ago at forty-six, after not touching one for the previous four years. In the beginning, I learned very rapidly - or rather, I relearned - and in a mere two years, I had relearned almost all of my previous repertoire, and recovered circa 80% of my technique. After that, however, things became more of an effort.

More likely, I have to say that I took many steps forward, and then I'd have a revelation that made me rethink everything, necessitating that I step back a few paces and restart the process. Then, there were plateaus - frustrating in the extreme - but even during those times I knew I was progressing, even if it was just adding new pieces to my set.

Of course, I've also rebuilt a performing career during that time, and all of the gigs I've done have gotten me back into the game. Many years ago, I was an extremely nervous and self-conscious performer, and today - at the dinner club and piano bar gigs, at least - I'm so relaxed I can daydream and people watch during most of my set. Virtually all of that progress was simply due to the fact that I got busy and performed several times every week. Like I say to my students, If you want to get good at playing in your bedroom, then play in your bedroom; but if you want to get good at performing, then you have to perform a lot, and in many, many differing circumstances.

Well, the scale practice routine I recently started has been an unexpected double-sided blessing-curse. As I got into it, I had to rethink my right hand angle of attack, and more importantly, my fingernail shape and length: The i and m nails got a LOT shorter, and much less pointed as well. Of course, this made me rethink the p (Thumb) as well, and it got shorter too, and also more angled toward the inside of my hand.

The immediate result of this was that I started dropping a lot of notes in some of the pieces in my set. My nails were so much shorter and flatter on the tips that I was simply missing the strings. It was so bad I had to drop some pieces from my set for a while!

Well, a few weeks later, I've tightened things back up, and my tone - a product of nail attack and release - is much better, and I've gotten to a whole new level. Painful at first, but the end result has been the biggest technical leap I've made in well over a year.

So, as you progress, expect these setback-breakthroughs. Initially they might seem depressing, but it is the overall goal that you'll be closer to in the end.

FOOTNOTE: The house deal fell through because the seller was overly proud of the work he'd done to the place, and he wouldn't come down enough on his - way too high - asking price. Too bad, as I loved the place, but in addition to being a perfectionist, I'm also a cheapskate (Perhaps that's why I'm terminally single?). I understand markets, and I don't have a perfect 800 credit rating for nothing. LOL!

That's one of the most perfect redheads I've ever seen. No freckles, so I'm betting she never sees the sun (She's Russian, so that might figure). Her hair is actually redder than that, but she dresses it with something that dulls it a few shades - sacrilege. I only know this because the rest of her hair... er... never mind. LOL!