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.


Blogger Claudia said...

This is very interesting. Love the illustrations. Glad to be a pianist simply because all nails need to be short.;-)

What do you mean exactly by repetitions? Are you talking about a difficult passage, played more often? I feel that if I isolate a difficulty and concentrate on it, more than on the rest of the piece, I tend to falter at the performance.

Of course, I know zilch about guitar playing. But I know how to listen to it, every Saturday at the GOC. Lots of fun...

12:05 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hi Claudia and welcome,

The examples I gave in the post specifically referenced sectional pieces such as A, A, B, B Baroque miniatures - playing them A, A, A, B, B, B is a great memory aid, and doesn't take as much time as playing them three times in their entirety (Which is important if one is maintaining a set of over two hours in duration) - but I also use prime number repeats of difficult sections as well. I'll isolate them after doing the performance practice of the entire piece, and play them a prime number of times, usually seven or eleven (Depending on just how technical the licks are).



5:16 PM  

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