Your Body is Part of The Instrument
A couple of months ago I was in my basement and found a stack of sheet music from when I was a teenager. It was around 1986 then, when I was first studying classical guitar. I blew the dust off a piece called the Bach Bouree. It is a famous piece in classical circles. I had played it quite well on a few different occasions, but it has been at least 15 years since I really nailed that piece. I decided I would try it again.
I set up the music stand in front of my couch. When you play classical guitar, you need to be in the right position. The couch is about the right height and would suit me for now. In lieu of a foot stool, I would normally just point my toe during those casual moments of play, but this time I was incrementally more serious, so I improvised with a meditation pillow that was on the floor and placed it under my foot. Zen indeed.
I started the all too familiar first two measures of the Bouree. You know, the part some people like to repeat over and over again to impress people who never heard the piece before. I stumbled my notes and laughed. There is this part of me that gets excited and laughs when I know I can do something but have to work to do. I know that in just an hour or two hours, or (or in some cases a month or two) I will probably play it well enough to actually enjoy listening to myself.
The Strains of Practice
As I got deeper into the piece, the measures got harder. It’s not because it is actually harder, but it is the nature of practice that I will start at the beginning. It is a very good place to start, after all. (Yes, I went there). That means that I have played the beginning more times and so it is easier, and the middle of the piece is harder. My fingers got harder to move.
I had to double-check the notes, and study them to decide if my fingering was correct. I asked myself “Is there an easier way?” I am fortunate enough to have my teacher’s notes from 1986 scribbled on the page. It doesn’t take much. “1/2 barre on 2” scribbled in the margin could save me hours of trial and error.
Through The Cobwebs
Years of not practicing a piece makes it difficult to remember the transitions and positions. It is as though over time, there is a veil that comes between me and the music, or it’s like a cell phone with a decreased signal.
As the movements get more difficult, my muscles strained more, and my wrist and forearm would start to stiffen up. I focus mentally on relaxing my hand and easing my movements. It is worse in the left wrist, usually, I find. It’s that hand that does all the barre cords and has to grip and stretch. All this w