Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Restrained Freedom

As I began my practice tonight I glanced at the clock and realized that David Jernigan was probably conducting his weekly Alexander Technique class about a mile away from me.  Due to my taking Qi Gong class for the past 10 weeks at around the same time, I have not seen David in a while.  This does not mean that I do not practice AT, but I do not think of it as frequently as when I have ongoing contact with an AT Instructor.

I decided to vary a warm up exercise I frequently begin with by using inhibition throughout the exercise.  After 4 bars of the exercise I would pause, reconnect with myself and the space around me, and then play through another 4 bars.  Using these pauses to release and lengthen, I smiled.

Towards the end of this exercise I was pleased with the direction I was heading in and decided to apply inhibition to a piece of music.  I choose Senseless Loss, a tremolo piece.  Since most of the piece is in 7/4 I decided to begin by playing a bar and then resting for 2 beats, moving to the next bar, resting for 2 beats and so on.  I played through the piece once in this manner.  On the second play through I began to make it 4 beats of rest.  Keeping the rests to a fixed time felt important to keep me connected with the music.  The main thing I noticed playing through in this manner was that I had absolutely no sense of how to build a crescendo.  More importantly I noticed how present I was with what I was doing and decided to take this further.

I increased the playing to two bars of 7/4 with a 4 beat rest in between.  The act of inhibiting my playing and allowing my length and width to re-establish themselves was pleasant and my playing still effortless.  After two play throughs in this manner, I moved onto 4 bars with then a 4 beat rest.

Here my habits began to reassert themselves a bit.  During the 12th bar I noticed a familiar tension and miscue in my right hand fingers.  And then the rest to let go of this mistake and allow a breath of lengthening and widening enter my being.  The next four bars comprise  tricky left hand fingering and while the tremolo switches from the E to the high G string(NST.) Midway through playing this part I noticed a grimace forming about my mouth.  Smiling I was able to release this.  During the next section my focus fell apart and I let go of playing.

As I played through again in this manner, I noticed that when the crescendo was beginning to gain in intensity where I tripped up the last time that there was a slight pulling at the bottom of my right shoulder and I was holding on with my right elbow.  Noticing this allowed it to release somewhat and the right hand fingering miscue did not happen.  In the next section the facial grimace again arose and by the end of this 4 bar section I would have held my breath at the next transition was it not for the pause.  Has the grimace become part of my performance of this piece?  I suspect the grimace has been practiced below my level of awareness.  Are the other tensions noted part of how I perform this piece or part of my regular act of playing?  This was turning into a very rich exercise.

Now I really wanted to play through the piece and see if any progress was made.  And then from my early days of Guitar Craft the notion of restraint arrived.  Restraint was practiced in performance when you think you can play your part, but no that you really can't.  This is somewhat harder than it sounds.  So why move into the whole piece, when I was having success at identifying and working with issues that were yet to be resolved?

Practicing restraint I played through in 4 bar sections one more time.  Then I let go and played through a different piece.  I could sense the improvement of my playing by what had come before.  Smiling I continued to play, but left Senseless Loss for another session.  Perhaps my unnecessary habitual quirks can begin to unravel due to restrained freedom.

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