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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Now comes the arty moment: pleasure, torment or a complete mystery?

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

More about the third step of learning a piece of music

“The acquisition of expertise in complex tasks is intricate and slow because expertise in a domain is not a single skill but rather a large collection of mini skills.”
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Chapter 22, by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Here is a reminder 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”

So now you have reached the third step. You have the technique under control, or most of it. You can play it from memory, or nearly. You feel you are close to nailing it down and adding it to your repertoire of learnt pieces.

Now the final improvement factor, in other words the third step, is a strange mode. Whereas steps one and two have largely been concerned with the musical and technical nuts and bolts of the piece, step three is often a rush of less definable and more abstract activities. For example, these are some of the questions I ask myself at this stage:

Is my fingering the best compromise between the ideal sound and the practical consideration of being able to play it?

Does the tempo I have chosen project the mood of the piece?

Is my phrasing too obvious or not obvious enough?

Am I using too much rubato, and is it a distraction from the overall rhythmic shape?

Am I using too little rubato, and making it all sound too much in a hurry?

Have I got myself inside the piece itself, into its very core, in a way that whatever I do with it sounds good?

Have I exercised my imagination to its fullest? Am I holding back in a way I cannot explain?

Am I playing it as I think it “should” go, rather than how I want it to go?

No matter whether you are a budding virtuoso or an aspirant guitar player, this hammer is for you too

These are just some of the questions which hammer at me. Yes, I think hammer is the right word – a musical and most creative hammer which sets in motion a long process of maturity. No matter whether you are a budding virtuoso or an aspirant guitar player, this hammer is for you too. These questions shape your playing and give it musical life and expression, although this artistic reverie is frequently interrupted by the annoying intrusion of shaky passages and technical uncertainty, in spite of all your application to steps one and two. Difficult passages will always do that, and they demand constant revision and practice.

Back to the abstract: those are a lot of questions to which there are many answers. Here is Julian Bream talking in Tony Palmer’s Julian Bream - A Life on the Road:

“ …it was getting that first note which did the trick… and then the piece became a performance to which I could give myself “entirely” without thinking. It was this non-thinking, yet total awareness, which may have been the right approach here.”

But about another piece of music he says:

”The original key to this initial understanding on my part was finding the right fingering.”

And finally:

”…there are no rules, no fixed pattern. Every piece is different, and demands a different, a fresh approach.”

In The Brain/Mind Principles of Natural Learning Renate and Geoffrey Caine write:

”In addition to intentionally trying to make sense of things and master them, the brain/mind also processes information and experiences below the level of awareness.”

I cannot make a cosy little summary for you of step three. Here is where art and the imagination take over. Sometimes it is a pleasure and sometimes a torment, although almost always absorbing and uplifting.

You may be very close, for if you can look up in a daze from your practice having lost all sense of time in your pursuit of perfection, you may have taken a giant stride on your third step.

A giant stride, but only a stride mind you, for the third step is never finished.

9th February 2013, Patagonia, Argentina

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2204 .
© 2019.

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