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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Why a telescope and microscope will improve your playing

Carlos in Maidstone dressing room just before playing the Aranjuez Concerto October 2012

More about the second step of how to learn a piece of music

To remind you of the three steps:

1.Treat sight-reading or memorising as a fast track to learning
2.Alternate close-up detail with long-distance overview
3.Allow time for you to improve the piece and the “5 time test”

The second step of how to learn a piece of music in three steps involves alternating work on close-up detail with long-distance overview. Close-up detail work is like looking through a microscope, while long-distance overview is like looking through a telescope.

These are two quite different ways of study and practice. Close-up detail requires slow, repeated practice of short phrases. Long-distance overview means playing through long sections or the whole piece as smoothly as possible, regardless of mistakes. The ultimate purpose is to assimilate the mistakes into a seamless whole.

In close-up detail you should first concentrate on accuracy. Play as slowly as required to achieve it. For many it means playing a lot slower than they imagined. But here is the best part, your brain will be delighted with you as slowly but surely it responds to your drip-drip approach. Only when you can play perfectly five times in a row should you try to increase tempo. And still the priority is accuracy, not expression. Gradually make more demands of yourself. Can you play it faster in a steady rhythm? Can you begin to make it flow? When you can begin to do that, can you then begin to bring out the voicing and phrasing? Each of these aspects should be worked on individually, starting as slowly as necessary, on short phrases sequentially, adding one to the next. Studying close-up detail in this fashion complements recent scientific thinking of how the brain works. Daniel J. Levitin of the Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at McGill University has written:

- We now know that music activates regions throughout the brain, not just a single‘‘music center.’’ As with vision, music is processed component by component, with specific neural circuits handling pitch,duration, loudness, and timbre. Higher brain centers bring this information together, binding it into representations of contour, melody, rhythm, tempo, meter,and, ultimately, phrases and whole compositions. -

In long-distance overview playing you could concentrate on the expressive and artistic elements of the piece. Try your hardest to disguise uncertainty and create long flowing lines in spite of not yet being on top of the piece technically. Here is where new insights into the music may come to you. Don’t be in a hurry to correct errors through close-up practice if you find long-distance overview playing very productive.

Each practice session could be different: sometimes you could concentrate on close-up playing, sometimes on long-distance. Do not underestimate the importance of doing both. In The Brain/Mind Principles of Natural Learning Renate and Geoffrey Caine write:

- every skill and concept is better understood and mastered when there is an interplay between the specific elements and the concept or skill as a whole. -

Each of us must find a way of bringing together all the different elements which go into perfecting a piece of music. How we do it depends on who we are. To quote again from Renate and Geoffrey Caine:

- Although all people have many capacities and qualities in common, everyone is also a unique blend of experience and genetics………… And in addition to individual differences, there are social and cultural differences that impact how people learn. -

So there you have it, make each practice session a journey of exploration on step two of your learning a piece of music. Stop to examine each grain of sand, while at the same time admire the hill on the horizon. Before you know it, you will have reached it and be ready for the final test: step three on the climb to perfection!

1st February 2013, London

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2187 .
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