Electric Guitar

Newcastle Guitar Lessons

In the spirit of the late Don Andrews, Angelo does not want to make you a clone of himself—he wants you to be all you can be as an artist.

When can I wash my hands or buff my nails?

The one thing I can’t handle is dirty hands. All three of my brothers are or were mechanics, so I learnt to fix my own car. But I can’t stand getting any sort of grease or dirt on my hands, particularly under my fingernails, so I wear latex or vinyl gloves. I even wear gloves when I am cooking. Also, I am super particular about my fingernails. If there is even the slightest rough spot, I have to buff them. So what’s the big deal?

I remember going to an open mike night and I was prepared to play Mozart’s Turkish Rhondo. This was going to be my first public performance of the piece. When I got to the pub, Natalie asked me if I would like to try her hand cream. She said it prepares her hands before she plays. I said “Sure,” and rubbed some into my hands.

The time came to play and I just had no control of the guitar at all. I struggled to do anything right. It felt like I was trying to play with someone else’s hands. So what went wrong?

In my article about Stages of Learning Guitar, I mentioned the idea that we are using complex motor skills when we play. Part of this mechanism is the haptic feedback, or kinesthesia, whereby the sensation of movement or strain in muscles, tendons, and joints provides feedback to the mind, allowing our hands to zero in on where it needs to go. It is this loss of, or incorrect settings, that go back to you brain make it very difficult to perform the fine motor skills required for complex performance.  Something worth noting, this is how alcohol affects your body in that it suppresses the kinesthetic feedback to your brain, which is why a drunk person sways. So if you want to play well, watch how much you drink.

What happens when you modify your physical body by buffing your nails, switching guitars, wearing different glasses, siting in a different chair or having a few drinks is that your mind needs to calibrate the feedback signals coming from your hands and going to your brain.  The same thing happens when you wash your hands, but for a shorter period. For this short period, your hands have physically changed and your mind will need to adjust to the abnormal sensations it receives.

So some points to think about:

  • If you need to wash your hands, wash them no later than about 10 minutes before you play.
  • If you need to file your nails, do it a few days before.
  • If you need a few drinks, wait till after you play.

Stages of Learning Guitar

One of the big things about playing music with a musical instrument is that it is not only an art, but it is also a craft. Webster’s dictionary defines craft as “an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill.” Although this might sound obvious, one of the implications is that you are required to use your body, particularly your hands, in a physical way that requires intricate control by your brain.

What many people are unaware of is that there is a continual feedback mechanism that occurs between the body and the mind. There is communication between the parts of the body and the brain, and indeed occurs in any complex system. Mathematician Norbert Wiener describes this in his seminal book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948: MIT Press). Many musicians want to focus on playing by “feel,” however, they don’t seem to realise that the body needs to learn to develop the motor skills required to play a musical instrument as a complete system. Moreover, there are many feedback mechanisms required that are not just motor skills. Music is primarily an auditory medium, so there is feedback required from the ears. It is incredibly complex, and one cannot just focus on one aspect of the skill set required. Just as other systems develop and evolve through refinement and adjustment, the musician’s craft develops in a similar manner.

In 1967, psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner published Human Performance (Brooks/Cole Publishing), which presented a three stage learning model that defines how we learn a motor skill. These stages are defined as the Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous stages. This model is still referred to by many sports researchers today.

Cognitive Stage

During the cognitive stage, there is a lot of information to deal with. It is in this stage that the most conscious thought occurs. The learners must spend a lot of time stopping and thinking about what is actually required to accomplish the task. In this stage, the learner can be unaware that they are actually making a mistake because they are often so focused on the task at hand. At this stage, the learner needs a significant and regular amount of practice, correction and instruction. They will significantly focus on making decisions and step by step procedures. Furthermore, they will tend to perform the work slowly. What is also needed at this stage is the encouragement, passion and drive to practice when the result they get is different to what they see on the music videos and hear on iTunes. They need a lot of feedback from their tutor at this stage, in particular, they will probably need to observe someone else doing the task slowly.

Associative Stage

During the associative stage, the performer is able to accomplish the task or perform the piece of music without requiring the amount of cognitive effort in the previous stage. They will still make some minor errors, and may even need to stop at times to re-evaluate. At this stage, they refine their motor skills and reduce the number of errors. They will become more fluent and will begin to make use of kinesthetic and intrinsic feedback, both during practice and live performance.

Autonomous Stage

The autonomous stage is where the performer no longer really needs to focus on the physical requirements, but can really focus entirely on the music. There is a significant increase in fluidity and smoothness of the performance. Musical expression becomes the focal point in performance.

A great quote by Zig Ziglar is “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”

The following video gives a great explanation.

Performance Anxiety or Stage Fright

One of the biggest fears many people have can be when they have to stand up in front of an audience and say or do something. I have many students who come to me in a lesson and are unable to play what they were able to do perfectly at home. At first they think that I don’t believe them and that I suspect that they have not practiced. I know that they have been practicing and they were doing it fine at home, but something happened when they came in for the lesson that made their heart beat a bit faster, their hand start to sweat, and start to shake. This phenomenon is performance anxiety, commonly known as stage fright.

If this happens to you, you’re not alone. Some of the best performers in the world have suffered with stage fright, including Luciano Pavarotti, Arthur Rubinstein and Barbra Streisand just to name a few (http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Barbra-Streisands-Stage-Fright-Video).

I recall a time when I had more than a three hour repertoire of complex guitar pieces and started performing Capricio Arabe by Francisco Tarrega at a benefit concert. I had just got a brand new AER amplifier and was thinking to myself while I was playing “I can’t believe how good the guitar sounds through that amp!” Then it happened, I had a complete mental blank and had to stop the piece and apolgise. I then immediately played something completely different: A Chet Atkins arrangement of Windy and Warm and blitzed it. Since that time, I get a little nervous every time I have to get up in front of an audience.

So what can you do about it? Well there is no simple answer to it. Here are a few tips.

• Build confidence. You get this by performing in front of an encouraging audience. We have been meeting at Neil’s place for more than 10 years on a Tuesday night and listen to one another and encourage one another. Be an encourager. Also, an encouraging open mike night like the one Ken Daniels has at Shenanigans in Maitland every second Thursday is a God send. Avoid discouraging audiences. My family have said how they enjoy hearing me play again after not playing for so long. The truth of the matter is they have heard me at my best, when I practice more than three hours a day, and when they say “It sounded like that string might have been a little out of tune” or “You really seem to be struggling with that song” or “You used to be really good at that song” really cuts deep into me and stops me from wanting to play in front of them. They probably didn’t know (they will now though) so you can’t blame them – they were probably trying to help me play better.
• Learn to recognise signs in your body that you are entering an adrenaline hit spot. Relax and refocus.
• Learn how to slow down and get control of your body. During a performance at a Chinese Harvest Moon festival, my guitar support started to slip in the middle of the performance. It was a real struggle trying to keep the performance going, but it took concentration.

• Become resilient and learn to recover from your mistakes. Learn some entry points where you can jump back in if you have a blank. If again at the video and you will see I have a mental block at the 2:34 mark, but I just jumped straight to a part that I knew I could jump to.
• Be determined to overcome the stage fright. If you can’t, just enjoy playing for yourself and the confidence to play for a friend may come.
• Chill out. Part of the problem is that your brain is calculating odds on whether you are going to nail your performance or whether you are going to fall flat on your face. If you are with encouraging people, the penalty of failure is not as bad, so you won’t become as anxious and probably perform better.

I have found one of the biggest things for me is to love the music and to love playing for myself. Performing in front of other people gives a buzz. It is like the guitar string, if it is too slack it will sound flat; if it is too tight it may snap. Learn to balance the excitement and nerves of a performance and use that to really make it passionate.

Superior Music?

In the academy and in the minds of the so-called intelligentsia, western ‘art’ music is deemed to be superior to all music, including popular musics (rock, jazz, etc…) and music from other cultures. Is this a reasonable statement? In tackling this question, one must first ask what is meant by superior, and whether the question can be answered using reasonable arguments, both truthfully and without personal, political or ‘religious’ bias. Is it superior to study classical guitar as opposed to studying jazz, blues, or children’s songs? You need to think about this because studying guitar is an investment in your life in both money and time.

Superior music: superior in what way?

One must look at the function of the music. Is the music of superior aesthetic value, economic importance, political influence, cultural value, or moral value? Does the music have superior lasting value; i.e. will the music be played 200 years from its composition or creation? Does the music require greater skill from the performer in the presentation of this music, thus making it superior? Is there greater value in its musicological study? These are questions that I have struggled with as a performer of classical guitar, as well as Jazz, Blues, Gospel, and children’s music. In this article I will discuss aesthetic value and the economic importance of music. I will explain some ways in which the music industry is providing revenue to the government, which in turn, subsidizes the musical activities of minority cultural groups, including composers and performers of Western Art Music (WAM).

Bias

All people are biased by what they believe. This is the case in all fields of study, including musicology. What one believes about other people determines the measure of respect he or she will have of him and his music. “Belief refers to more than simply what someone believes to be true. It refers to the knowledge system about the world…which arises from a set of principles believed to be true” (Walker, 1990, p.16).
The origin of humans has been a heavily debated subject for many years. Whether one believes that “early man…was quite unaware, as he stamped on the ground or slapped his body, that in his actions were the seeds of the earliest instruments” (Sachs, 1940, p. 25) will bias his view of the music of other cultures. Some of the extreme Darwinists have cited folk music as “containing evidence of Darwinian evolutionary progress toward the more “perfect” diatonic Western scale system since the incipient diatonic intervals could be “observed” in “primitive” music” (Walker, 1990, p.15). Curt Sachs (1943) states:

I feel embarrassed to write down such a truism; but unfortunately it is necessary to lay stress on the plain truth that the singsongs of the Pygmies and Pygmoids stands infinitely closer to the beginnings of music than Beethoven’s symphonies and Schubert’s lieder (p. 19).

It is obvious that these people actually believe that music produced by those of a less technologically dominant society to be inferior on an evolutionary basis to western music, which is in turn founded on their initial beliefs in the origins of humankind.
Another example of bias is shown by the claims of Babbit and Boulez and the actions of the avant-garde lobby within the higher education system.

Babbitt’s claim that music will cease to exist if the academic music is not publicly subsidized rests on an extraordinary assumption: that there is really no other music. Boulez’s argument acknowledges the existence of other artifacts parading as music, though he summarily dismisses them as commercial. (McClary, 1989, P. 63).

McClary also states:

American popular music, when taught at all in music departments is usually presented as part of “ethnomusicology-the culture of the “primitive”….More often such music is left for American Studies or sociology departments to deal with on the grounds that it isn’t really music at all (ibid. p. 67).

Music apart from WAM never gets into the race as it is a non starter to begin with.

Other types of bias are set by the way the music’s value is measured. An Artist and Repertoire (A&R) manager of a record company will find that music that keeps him employed is far superior to music that is not successful but only costs his company money (Simpson & Seeger, 1994).

Superior Aesthetic Value

“There are enough kinds of good music to suit every taste, fill every need, match every mood….All of it is valid as long as it gives us satisfaction and pleasure” (Haas, 1984, p. 3). Simon Frith, a rock critic, poses the question:

Can it really be the case that my pleasure in a song by the group Abba carries the same aesthetic weight as someone else’s pleasure in Mozart? Even to pose such a question is to invite ridicule – either I seek to reduce the ‘transcendent’ Mozart to Abba’s commercially determined level, or else I elevate Abba’s music beyond any significance it can carry….[However, ] Abba’s value is no more (and no less) bound up with an experience of transcendence than Mozart’s; the meaning of Mozart is no less (and no more) explicable in terms of social force….The question facing sociologists and aestheticians is the same: how do we make musical value judgments?( 1987, p. 134)

I recall an instance where I invited a good friend, and an excellent blues guitarist, to sit with me and listen to J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. We were both serious listeners of “Blues” music for many years. He was totally unmoved by the concerto while I was in rapture. He believed the music had no “feeling” while I believed the opposite. Who is right?

In a concert I attended, Friedrich Gauwerky performed R. Barrett’s Ne Songe Plus A Fuir for amplified cello. I was very disturbed by the work. I felt ill for days and felt that my ears had been poisoned, which resulted in my failing an aural test at university that afternoon. Colleagues of mine who were familiar with avant-garde music found the music interesting.

When I would play guitar for my family in Sydney, they did not enjoy any of the music I played. However when I would play on the harmonica, they would listen and enjoy. I was invited to play at weddings and feasts, but never on the guitar. However, in Newcastle, I am often invited to play classical guitar at functions and parties. Both of these occasions were for the pure pleasure of listening to music. Which of the two types of music I played was of greater aesthetic worth?

Haas (1984) states

I find it difficult to be a lover of good music and, at the same time, to tolerate that deterrent to true musical enjoyment known as “background music.”…This wall-to-wall intrusion is designed with the questionable purpose of making us feel “pleasant.” In theory I suppose there is really nothing wrong with “background music,” and many people actually enjoy it. However, the problem is that this constantly bland, innocuous music becomes habit-forming and can adversely affect our capacity to listen to what I like to call “foreground-music” (p. 6)

I have found that people who enjoy listening to any kind of music actually make it a part of their life; meaning that they actually live with the music. Walker (1990) states “The general problem in music thus hinges on the difficulties experienced by the outsider attempting to decode communications that are known by the insider – someone who has grown up with the system” (p. 13) It is possible the reason the academy believes WAM is aesthetically superior to other musics, in the same way all cultures believe their music is aesthetically superior to other musics, is that they avoid listening to, or rather “living” any other music, thus making it unlikely they would understand the meaning of that music.

Economic Importance

‘Persons of high degree who patronize music,’ said Kuhnau, ‘do so for reasons of state, in order to distract the people and prevent them from looking into their cards.’ But these were no principles to attract Montiverdi, Bach or Haydn. If the motives of patronage could be interpreted in so Machiavellian spirit, what induced the greatest of composers to seek service in such courts? Money, of course, features prominently (Hogwood, 1977, pp. 9-10).

One cannot ignore the economic importance of music. “The [Australian] music industry currently employs 80,000 people, generates approximately $110 million in export earnings and is worth over $2 billion to the Australian economy….In jazz, classical, folk and multi-cultural styles of music,…[the] activities are often subsidized by the government” (AUSMUSIC & Hawkes, 1993, p. 7).
Music travels from the artist (provider) to the audience (consumer) in many ways, including concerts, records, printed music, motion pictures, television commercials and radio. Employment is found in the recording industry, live performance, music publishing, the media, advertising, computer software, retail, instrument manufacture, teaching, theatre, health and local government. WAM holds only 5% of the market in Australia, where Rock music holds 43% of the market with Pop coming in second at 17% (AUSMUSIC & Hawkes, 1993).
Records, particularly the long play album, made classical music and opera, which were previously an exclusive hobby, available to the general public.

It [opera] was threatened with near extinction at one time because of the cost of mounting performances….Records meant that virtually anyone could own a complete opera – and play it in their own home. The most recorded orchestral work – Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”- was an obscure and almost lost piece of music before an American chamber orchestra recorded it (Simpson & Seeger, 1994, p. 213).

Record companies are often criticized as being adulterate and concerned only for money, as their commodity (music) is regarded as something cultural. “Criticism of the profit motive ultimately misses the point. If they are to survive, the record companies…have to generate sufficient profit from their activities to meet running costs and have enough left over to re-invest in artists and recordings” (Simpson & Seeger, 1994, pp. 222-223).
One particularly interesting amalgamation of commerce with music is in the advertising industry.

It is generally accepted that this sector of the industry was born on New Years Eve 1928 when a local Minnesota radio station broadcast a little song asking “Have You Tried Wheaties?”…Many composers make their entire living (and a very good living too) writing jingles for radio and television advertisements and other corporate promotions. Others find that songs they have already released on record can enjoy a whole new financial life if they get used in an advertising commercial (Simpson & Seeger, 1994, p. 417).

In effect, the advertisement becomes the medium by which the composer’s music is heard.

Self proclaimed “serious” musicians often make a great deal of the artificial demand created by means of advertisement and image manipulation. But an interesting irony here is that much of the university curriculum is devoted to a usually futile attempt at instilling a very artificial demand for academic music (McClary, 1989,p. 68).

Simpson & Seeger (1994) point out “Quirky gimmicks may get you noticed, but in the end, it is the quality of your music that determines long term success” (p.19).

Conclusion

People in the music industry, including Agents, Artist and Repertoire in record companies, Personal Managers, and Professional Managers in publishing companies are all in a position to make judgments about music. They are biased by what they believe in the same way academics are biased by what they themselves believe. Aesthetic value is purely biased on personal preference and bias. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an old but true proverb. As for economic value, that also depends on your political views; whether your are an extreme left, wanting to destroy the capitalist system; or an extreme right, wanting to eliminate the minority groups from draining vital resources and energy for the benefit of only themselves. The answer cannot be made truthfully and without personal or political bias; and that result was influenced by my beliefs and bias. So in the end, you choose for yourself why you want to play a particular style of music and don’t let anybody cut you down. At the same time, however, don’t expect everyone to agree with you.

1554442_10151886523628581_1513334308_n

References

AUSMUSIC & Hawkes, J. (1993). A summary of the music industry, career pathways and courses currently available in music. In Music business management short course: resource book. Melbourne: AUSMUSIC

Frith, S. (1987). Towards an aesthetic of popular music. In R. Leppert & S. McClary (Eds.), Music and society: the politics of composition, performance and reception (pp. 133-149). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Haas, K. (1984). Inside music (2nd ed.). Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

McClary, S. (1989, Spring ). Terminal prestige: The case of the avant-garde music composition. Cultural Critique 57-81.

Sachs, C. (1940). The history of musical instruments. New York: J. M. Dent & Sons

Sachs, C. (1943). The rise of music in the ancient world east and west. New York: W. W. Noton & Company Inc.

Simpson, S. , & Seeger, C. (1994). Music business. Sydney: Warner Bros. Music.

Walker, R. (1990). Musical beliefs: psycoacoustic, mythical, and educational perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.

Playing games

What do kittens and children have in common? Watch the way the kitten sees the little piece of string. Its tail begins to swing back and forth in excitement. It crouches, ready to pounce. Pow!! – got the string. It seems to never tire of the game. One day, that kitten will be a great hunter. Or look at the kid with the soccer ball, bouncing the ball; first on his or her feet, then thighs, head, and switching between the two. If any of you remember the movie Goal, the scout,Glen Foy, asked the coach whether he taught Santiago how to play soccer, to which the coach said ‘God taught Santiago to play.’ Santiago loved soccer.

Cats and kids love to play games and they have fun doing it. In doing so, they build strength in their bodies and learn coordination. In the novel The secret garden, Mary’s cousin Colin was a cripple in bed, but there was nothing actually wrong with him. When Mary and Dickon have Colin playing games in the secret garden, Colin became strong and was able to run, jump and play. Mary and Dickon did not behave like a physiotherapist and say ‘you need to do this number of this type of exercise, and then this and that, increasing this many times per day.” No, they played games and had fun.

We often do this as musicians where it is all work and no play. I was speaking with a boy the other day that played piano. He told me he went for his fifth grade AMEB but failed because a piece was not to standard. He made it clear to me that he actually hated playing piano – it was all work to him. His friend had a similar attitude, but not quite as bad. To them, Bach was hard work. He was amazed when I shared with him the beauty in Bach and the fun it is to get the different lines of music to stand out. We are so busy trying to become better that we often forfeit fun at the expense of excellence. Yes, scales are important. Yes, studies are important. Yes, technique development is important. However, you can build up a lot from just picking up your guitar and just experimenting. Over the last two years of suffering with RSI caused by having too much fun playing scales (I was doing over an hour of scales every morning – I don’t know of anyone else who could get a doctors certificate to not have to play scales), I have had to do short stints on the guitar. But during this time, I made up musical games to play and experimented with the sounds I could get from the guitar.

If you look at world class soccer players, I bet they started off enjoying playing the game. Do the same with music – make it fun. Develop a passion for music, which in turn will develop into a passion to develop your craft.

Practice without Theory is blind, Theory without practice is sterile.

Karl Marx (1819-83) said “Practice without Theory is blind, Theory without practice is sterile.” So what does that have to do with guitar? In a sense: everything; that is, if you are serious about becoming a better guitarist and musician. Although I am taking Marx a little out of context, this is a great philosophy we can use as far as our playing and musicianship goes. I will exaggerate two extremes to make my point, so if you see yourself in one of them, please don’t be discouraged because I was in both camps.

An example of practice without theory is blind is when you see the young guitarist just blindly copying music from a tablature page or YouTube video and playing it, without thinking about what is actually happening musically. All that happens is that they play notes on the guitar, learn a few licks, and become a clone or mirror of someone else. This is OK for a start, and I think many start there in their musical walk. However, we should progress from there and start to think about what is happening musically. One of the few things that Don Andrews disliked was tablature because you could not see the music. Now I don’t disapprove of tablature completely and admit I was quite a fan of it in my Jimi Hendrix days. I used to learn a heap of Hendrix guitar solos without understanding the context of what I was playing and why it worked. I it was also a bit like how it was when I studied finger-style Jazz from a particular guitarist. He was, and still is, a fantastic world class guitarist, and was able to show me how to play his solo guitar arrangements of Jazz standards. I learned the tunes note for note, and was able to play the song just like that person—and it did sound impressive. However, when it came to improvising, I really was not able to. I was not able to make my own arrangements because I had not yet made the link between what I was doing and why I was doing it—or rather, why it worked. This is not limited to tablature readers, but also to classical guitarists. I remember when I was an undergraduate; there was a guy who was an OK guitarist (after all, he did get into to university to do a music degree, but I don’t think he graduated). He could sight read better than me, however, he just read the notes. He did not know what was actually happening musically in the piece and did not know the chords or the harmony behind the music. I have seen a similar thing with some piano players—they have great reading skills, but don’t know how to play against a chord chart.

I am now seeing a phenomenon that involves people put up great videos of how to play a guitar piece on YouTube with full descriptions of what to do. I think that this is great, and I have used it myself to see how someone may execute a particular piece or solo. We are now, however, seeing a great number of young people who can play these songs or solos really well, but when you ask them to play something that is really simple—like a G7 chord— they can’t do it! (please don’t be discouraged if this is you now). It reminds me of the scene in Curly Sue (1991) where the little girl, Curly Sue (Alisan Porter), was able to spell very large words to strangers. It was part of a con that her father (James Belushi) employed to solicit an encouragement gift from strangers to his daughter. However, when she was challenged to spell some easy words like “cat” or “mom” (it is American!) she was unable to, thus exposing her real spelling ability. We see that sort of thing in guitarists—they can do the Van Haalen hammer-on series from Eruption or the Joe Satriani licks from Always with me, always with you, but that is about it.

There is, of course, the other end of the scale: theory without practice is sterile. These are the people who read about everything and are like a walking encyclopaedia. They know about every great guitarist that ever lived, what records they played on, and even the favourite food. They know every note in every mode in every key. The problem, however, is that they cannot apply this knowledge in a song. They know what cadential 6/4 chords, Neapolitan sixths, and flat fifth substitutions are; but cannot play simple chord substitutions. It is a bit like mathematics—you don’t get good at maths by learning formulas, but by doing problems. The solution is to mix both theory and practice the same way we do it in maths. In maths we learn formulas and apply them to problems (hopefully, the goal of our mathematical ability will be to solve some real life situations at some stage in our lives).

In music, we study a song or musical piece, learn how the melody and harmony flows in that song, and then write or improvise using what we have discovered. Composers study the orchestration of previous masters. Artists do the same with painters or sculptors, and we musicians must also do it. We should not be record machine; rather, be artists. By all means learn a guitar solo on you tube, but then analyse what is being done and why it works. Then modify the solo with what you have worked out and see if it still works. Think about the solo, play with it, meditate on it, and ask yourself questions like “why does that work?” Then you will be starting to join your practice and theory

So find a good teacher that will not just make you a clone of him or her self. Find one that will help you learn how to be a complete musician.

Don’t lose your tempo!

There was a joke that used to go around (and probably still does) that went like this:

Q. How do you know when a drummer is knocking at the door?
A. The knocking gets faster the longer it goes on.

The reality is, however, that it is not just a phenomenon that happens to drummers – it happens to guitarists also. The uncontrolled tempo rush is like a black hole that draws us into an ever increasing tempo, even to the point where we can no longer breathe. Your body then begins to tense, your fingers tighten, and then you start to stumble. It is just like running downhill –it is very hard to slow down.

What we need to do is to learn to control our tempo. One of the best ways to do this is to practice with a metronome. This can be very hard to get accustomed to because it sounds like the metronome will not keep time. The reality is, however, it is YOU! The book of proverbs has a valuable insight:

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6.

You may think that the metronome is your worst enemy because it exposes your inability to keep time. However, the metronome can become your trusted friend that will mark your footsteps through the flux of time, ensuring you will not drift into the vortex of the perpetual accelerando.

The importance of practicing slowly

I cannot overemphasise the importance of learning and practicing a piece slowly. Although it is very tempting to try and get the piece up to a higher speed, don’t do it! If you keep practicing the mistakes, you will get good at them (the mistakes that is). If you practice something slowly and get it good slow, it will be much easier to bring the tempo up because you will have trained yourself.

What people don’t realize is that it is not just like training a machine, but it is like folding a piece of cardboard. When you have a crease in the cardboard, it just wants to fold at the crease. Once you have the crease in, it is very hard bend it at the right place so you have to try to iron it out, and sometimes you can’t.

Every repeated mistake is a repeated crease. It is best to fold the cardboard in the right place. So later, when you bend the cardboard back and forth, it will bend in the right place. This is also a reminder to me!

 

Learning new melodies

When working on a rhythm in a melody, it is a great idea to clap a few bars over and over, looping where you can. This way you are removing one entire level of complexity in learning it, i.e. the pitch, and reinforcing the movement through time. I still use this technique all the time. Clapping in time is something most of us learn when quite young, so it should not pose a problem. I tell my students, if you can’t clap the rhythm, you want be able to play it.

Learning a new piece of music on guitar

When learning and playing a piece of music, it is more important to get the rhythm working than it is to get the exact chords or notes in the melody. The rhythm is what actually carries the music along. If you hit a bad note, it is not nearly as noticeable as screwing up the rhythm.