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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Learn a Piece in 60 Minutes

Carlos interviewed on Radio Nuevo Leon Monterrey, Mexico, 2009

Carlos interviewed on Radio Nuevo Leon Monterrey, Mexico, 2009

A fast-track approach that works, and what you can learn from Parkinson’s law

Yes, it can be done! Take a piece which you know is comfortably within your ability. By that I mean that you can sight-read it first time through, hesitantly maybe, but you know it is definitely just within your reach. Now put a clock in front of you so it is always in view. Give yourself 60 minutes to learn to play it fluently, mistake-free and musically. This is not likely for most on present practice procedures but I think it is possible. Before I give you an outline of how, let me describe the conventional approach to practice, not that I am suggesting for one moment it has anything to do with you.

Normally the player is tempted to regard learning this not-too-difficult piece as a three day job. The first day would consist of read-throughs to get acquainted with the difficulties. This often turns gradually into a sort of mad-cow version of A to Z playing. A to Z playing is all about starting at the beginning and staggering through to the end, then starting again at the beginning and staggering through it all over again. The mad cow comes into it because the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease contains a symptom alarmingly similar to A to Z playing – you go round in circles. In the sad case of the cow it is fatal, in the fatal case of the guitar player it is just sad.

So we come to the second day. This involves more mad cow activity only this time the player stops even more frequently to correct mistakes – that is, played correctly just the once, and then he/she moves on. This is mad cow turned into dance: round and round with one step back for every three steps forward.

So we come to the third day where mad cow and constant hesitations are now exquisitely choreographed into a predictable sequence of stops and starts like an over-the-top tango but without the grace and titillation, more like cars in a traffic jam with finger squeaks in place of grinding brakes, and here is the worse part: with no flow or dynamics or expression.

Some of the best advice I can offer you for avoiding all this and squeezing your learning into 60 minutes comes not from learned teachers writing about music, but from a man who got bored with the prospect of being a history professor for the rest of his life. Instead he decided to become a writer of naval history. And when he tired of that he began writing about the inefficiencies of Government departments. His sharp wit and ability to think out of the box offer something even to unrelated skills like music-making. One day in 1955 Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote an amusing little article which he presented to the Economist magazine. It caused such an impression that three years later in 1958 he expanded it into a book called Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

In a nutshell Parkinson’s law states:

"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

An appendix to this brilliant quote is actually more unsettling to the mad cow guitarist time-traveller with no clear finite end in sight. This is what he wrote:

“The thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in a direct ratio with the time to be spent”.

And just in case his readers didn’t get it here is the coup de grâce:

“Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”

With those three insights the A to Z guitarist has all he needs to improve his ways and be able to learn a brief piece in 60 minutes flat. Bear them in mind when reading the following:

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”

Those were the headings for a previous article I wrote called How to learn a piece of music in 3 steps.

"Allow time to improve" can mean 15 minutes or 15 hours, depending, naturally, on the difficulty.

So why not do as the pianist Arthur Rubinstein did for a bet? He was locked into a room for a few hours whence he emerged having learnt and memorised a piece of music of some considerable duration. Within the compass of your experience and ability you can do the same. In fact we could create a whole new long-worded law which goes something like this:

3 steps of learning + Parkinson’s law + a 60 minute bet = An adrenalin-charged, sweat-soaked performance from scratch, with flow, verve and expression

Enjoy!

21st December 2013, London

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2902 .
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