Talking with one of my younger students, and just for a bit of fun, I mentioned that this is the year when he learns to play emotionally, to which he replied what do you mean, play emotionally.
I replied, you know tell a story with your music, add feeling to your playing.
I was confronted with a blank look, something young people seem to be quite good at, I think they learn this facial response technique at school. Maybe its lesson one in the first day of drama class, “How to drive parents and teachers wild” learn the art of ‘Blank Staring’.
Soldiering on I thought how can I put across the idea of emotional playing in a way he may understand.
My student, Peter, (not his real name) likes the sport of Rugby so I used this as a starting point.
In the game of Rugby there are several elements that need to be obtained/learned, in order to move towards playing a game. One needs a Rugby ball, a pitch on which to play, rugby kit and boots, an understanding of the rules, knowledge of the techniques of handling the ball or taking down an opponent, all of these help to take you a step closer to playing the game yet individually none of them will enable you to become a rugby star.
Take for instance the Rugby ball; not having a ball will mean you can’t play the game and yet just owning a ball isn’t a pre-requisite to becoming a playing sensation. What we need to really develop the art of rugby is a team, opposition and a time and place to practice/play. The elements/techniques of rugby we can learn, then we need to move forward and put them into practice to develop the art of the game of Rugby, yet take an element away or don’t learn, for example the rules correctly and our level of success at match play is severely reduced.
If you want to be a winner you have to have the elements of the game in place, have an understanding of how everything works, and to have had the opportunity to put everything together to see and feel how they all work with each other.
Music/Playing the guitar has elements; owning a guitar, reading music, understanding rhythm, appreciating technique each of which individually will not enable you to play/perform emotionally yet understanding and practicing these elements will gradually help us to develop an emotional connection with the music, which, will result in a more interesting and exciting performance. However fail to pay attention to all of the elements or quickly skip though the learning process and the end result will be a little bland.
Let me give an example – Rhythm, something we all assume we can do however when adding the difficulties of playing the guitar rhythms can tend to be a little inaccurate.
To appreciate rhythm we need to be able to carry out the basics-
- Tap our foot to a pulse – this becomes your meter
- Understand and count aloud the notation – this tells you exactly when a note should start
- Clap our hands to the music – clapping instead of playing the guitar, its much easier.
Now I bet most of you have thought yes I can do that.
But can you?
Can you really?
Do you want me to test you 😉
Look over the following then start tapping your foot at a comfortable speed say one tap per second then when ready count the note values and clap; If you can’t do this, learn how to and if you can, read on.
Did your foot keep a steady metre?
Did you count aloud?
Did you clap in time with the notes?
Answer yes – read on.
Now try the excerpt from Caprichio Arabe.
I’ll ask the same questions-
Did your foot keep a steady metre? Or did your foot stop tapping?
Did you count aloud? Or did you stop counting?
Did you clap in time the notes? Or did you lose the plot?
If you were able to do everything correctly, great read on, if not, more learning/practice is required.
Like the game of Rugby there is no point entering into a professional game if you do not understand the rules of the game, basically; you would get killed by your opponents.
Music is a gentler pastime and so the downside to not learning/practicing correctly is not as painful.
Let’s look at another element of learning/playing the guitar – ‘Navigation’ or, put another way ‘Do you know where your notes are’. Now remember that with this exercise the only person you are fooling if you don’t carry it out correctly is, yourself.
Sitting with your guitar play the note ‘C’ 1st fret 2nd string – leave your finger on the note.
Now play me the first ‘Bb’ you come across on the 4th string.
How was this for you?
No problem, played it straight away?
Had to think about it?
Resorted to counting up the frets?
I assume that finding the initial C was easy, almost instantaneous whereas finding the Bb, for some of us, was like trying to find you way down a mountain in thick fog at night time whilst wearing darkened glasses.
If you were not able to find the Bb instantaneously, is this a hindrance to playing emotionally? – Yes it is!
Can I learn my notes? – yes you can!
Is there a method, thought process to learning? – Yes there is!
I’ll cover this in another blog.
OK we are nearly there – For those of you who play from memory and either feel you no longer require the written music or have the music in front of you but never look at it – you know who you are 😉
Memorising music is not something we do so that we no longer have to look at the music.
Remembering the music is something we can do that helps us to appreciate where we are and what comes next.
Playing emotionally is hugely improved by knowing where we are, where we want to be and when we wish to be there.
So is Memorising and Remembering the same?
No it’s not.
Many players memorise and then cannot play from the music – this is not good.
Remembering is totally different and is an accumulation of everything which brings understanding.
The answer to 6 x 3 is 18 this is a memory that just pops into my head.
How I arrive at 18 is an accumulation of everything and this brings with it understanding allowing me to progress beyond 6 x 3 = 18
6 x 3 is 18 – isn’t it?
Playing emotionally is not a gift given to a few good players its a place you arrive at by travelling the road of learning without taking shortcuts.
We all want to play on the Rugby pitch with our friends however if we want to really enjoy Rugby we need to learn a lot more about the game.
And remember in Rugby every shortcut you take will result in a painful experience delivered to you by one of your opponents.