Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On Technique

What is technique? I like this Merriam-Webster definition the best:

A method of accomplishing a desired aim.

Developing and refining one's guitar technique is a lifelong evolution and absolutely essential to becoming a proficient player. Every day I am reminded of this while working with students or working through my own practice routine. There is always something to be changed, added, deleted, fingerings to manipulate, postures to adjust, flexibility and fluidity to be maximized, motion to be minimized, and, all in all, it is the necessary grind to facilitate the most glorious end: making powerful music.We, as players, particularly finger-style or classical guitarists, spend endless hours obsessing on and developing our technique as a means to communicate our music in the most effortless manner possible. We try to knock down all of the physical impediments so as to allow the metaphysical elements the requisite room to sing out.

I remember two specific instances quite early in my development as a guitarist when I first learned the importance of developing a strong, solid, technical base. Back in those days, the early 1980s to be sort of specific, experiencing music was still predominantly an aural experience. Some of the most profound musical developments for me occurred as I would lay on the ground, headphones on (and plugged into the turntable), eyes closed, listening deeply. What the players were doing at this time - or the method in which they were accomplishing their most awesome aim - was left up to my imagination. I would hear Leo Kottke play all of those notes, so fast, so loud, so soft, and thinking to myself, 'How is one human, with presumable only two hands and 10 fingers, able to produce so much sound'? I would hear Geddy Lee whipping off these crazy fills, and riffs, and again, inhuman feats. 'How in the Hell'!? These guys have got to be moving a mile a minute and there extremities HAVE to be running wild! Right? Wrong.

And then I saw each man perform. What a revelation! As I studied their hands I could not believe the economy of motion each exhibited, I mean, relative to the notes being produced, their hands were barely moving. I could hardly tell what they were doing as all motion was so extremely limited; extremely compact as they navigated the fretboard. Lesson learned. Efficiency of motion is so key to effective communication. I had my work cut out for me.

I am sure that these guys still practice. I believe any true virtuoso does. Not just for writing purposes, to produce new material, but I am willing to bet that each still obsesses over ways they can improve their respective abilities and still work things over and over again. Even at the highest levels of mastery, there is still something higher. However, the first steps require long disciplined practice and self-analysis. From the beginnings to the desired end, a strong, solid, technical base is absolutely fundamental and essential. If something is difficult to play, chances are, your technique is a bit unstable and just needs to be tweaked. Get used to it. Keep working. You are only getting better.

And always remember the desired aim: making powerful music.

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