A Crack in the Armor

Submitted by Andy on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 18:02

With the new year has come a renewed zeal to become a two-hat man again. While at the height of my powers I was able to practice up to five hours a day, my hands simply aren't cut out for that sort of abuse anymore. Since I don't have any concrete performance obligations looming outside of a half-program with Angela that doesn't have a set date, I for once have the luxury of basically organizing my practice however I want. If it weren't for my damn hands!

I've decided to try and whip myself back into shape by following the practice routines in the back of Richard Iznaola's Kitharologus. My various teachers have had differing opinions of the book from "moderately helpful" to "profoundly shortsighted", but I've started to realize that if I'm building back from essentially stratch I work much better with a highly regimented system than a total vacuum. (See also: Couch to 5K, One Hundred Pushups, etc.) Additionally, I'm paying more attention to tension and other Alexander idea. What I'm trying to say is that I understand the value of going back over rudimentary skills because I'm like so mature and shit.
So I've started hobbling through the first couple levels of exercises and I've been getting some of my old form back. And then this happens:
Exercise 8 from Iznaola's Kitharologus
To employ technical geetar-speak, I've discovered I am physically incapable of playing my thumb rest-stroke at the same time as playing my finger free-stroke. This is basic. Embarassingly basic. So basic I can't even come up with a proper analogy in another field. Having a Master's degree in Guitar Performance implies you have this simple skill. And yet, in my sophomore and junior years of undergrad when I was using this book the most I didn't find out about this defecitancy because I skipped past this level. And the one after it! Kids these days.
I'm not really sure what I did when I was accentuating a bass voice before, just played it louder I guess. It was clearly working for me whatever I was doing, but it turns out that a reward of spending 18 months in the desert is that I'll finally (through work) have that color at my disposal. Looking back on when I was learning things, anything really, I always have moments of "If only I knew this back then!". That's circular logic obviously, you can't know the pro tips of anything without actually learning them.
Except now in a way I've got that chance. Scott Kurtz's book Practicing covers sort of similar ground. I'm not going to say that a year and half of intermittent practicing is anything like walking away from the instrument for a decade, nor I do share Kurtz's (in my opinion) loftily unrealistic idea of a guitarist's career arc. I think that the crux of the crisis is still the same and not that different from the first time attaining a still, a gap between aesthetic and ability. There are only two ways to deal with it, really: Either your past ability becomes a source of bitterness or you relish the opportunity to finally fix the foundation. I certainly hope I'm able to stay on the second path.