Get Real

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
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Tom Poore
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Get Real

Post by Tom Poore » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:40 pm

Lately I’ve been mulling the differences between great concert artists and the rest of us. What did they do over the years that most of us didn’t do. If I can pin down a few essential things and explain them well enough, then maybe some aspiring players might do better.

My goal is write some short essays—a page, maybe two. Each should be on one subject, and each should be just enough to catch someone’s attention and nudge them to think more clearly about what they’re doing.

So here’s one brief essay along those lines.

http://www.pooretom.com/getreal.html

Critical comments are welcome. In fact, I’m hoping others will find flaws I missed.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

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TomPage
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Re: Get Real

Post by TomPage » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:45 pm

Very wise advice; but so hard to follow.
Tom

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oski79
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Re: Get Real

Post by oski79 » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:55 pm

Good thoughts, Tom. Thank you!
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Re: Get Real

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:06 am

I wonder if this wouldn't lead to burn out. "Perform" 365 days a year?
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Tstrembu
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Re: Get Real

Post by Tstrembu » Fri Jul 14, 2017 1:35 am

Very interesting, Tom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Sean Shibe
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Re: Get Real

Post by Sean Shibe » Fri Jul 14, 2017 4:00 am

Hey Tom! Lots of good ideas here - but I'd have to think more about what you said at the start; that we should do nothing in practise that we wouldn't want in performance. How stringently do you adhere to this? Obvious issues e.g. Practising in dotted rhythms really helps, but you'd never play a piece this way in performance.

I should also add that a practise session is as useful a forum for exploration as a forum for the pursuit of a flawless performance; the sole aim of technically perfect performance can result, in the short term, in a sterile interpretation. In the long term, more dangerously, it can lead to a general lack of imaginative musical scope.
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Re: Get Real

Post by wchymeus » Fri Jul 14, 2017 7:37 am

Tom, nice post. I think you are bit focused on stage fright (and you can read threads dedicated to this topic here) rather than on interpretation and understanding of music. A pro performer may still be nervous but like all of us, after some rather simple pieces a pro will differentiate from an amateur with a deep sense of music and subtle interpretation. A mix of practice and understanding of music.
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Re: Get Real

Post by Whiteagle » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:00 am

Good article.

Rasputin
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Re: Get Real

Post by Rasputin » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:34 am

Interesting article, Tom. I can't help wondering how you know that that is how players who become pros practise though, or how you know it is those practice methods that make the difference. I see where you are coming from, but is this really observed fact or is more like educated guesswork? I think we would have to have some actual evidence of what those players did to really get to the bottom of the issue. Someone would have to sit in on their practice sessions or get them to record them or whatever. It would be interesting if you could persuade a cohort of conservatory students to do this, then review your data after a few years when you knew how things had worked out for them. Interesting, but probably not very realistic... Still, unless and until that sort of exercise is done, I think there is a danger of making received wisdom sound like science.

I also have a feeling that the answer to performance anxiety may have to do with accepting that you are going to make mistakes, and that trying to leverage the fear of mistakes in the way you suggest might push the player in the wrong direction. It doesn't sound like a very positive or pleasant headspace to live in either, though perhaps that's beside the point.

Personally I don't believe in the theory that you should never let the fingers make anything other than the ideal movements - which seems to be a close cousin to the idea that you shouldn't do anything in practice that you don't want to do in performance. Take the fret-buzz exercise where you play scales or whatever with enough LH pressure to get a pitched sound, but not enough to keep the string from buzzing. By that theory this would train the fingers not to press hard enough in ordinary playing, but of course it doesn't - it increases your awareness and control of LH pressure. The idea underpinning the theory is that the body is stupid and clumsy, but I don't think that is true. I think it's about learning to give the body clear and precise instructions, not about getting it to follow your instructions - I think it does this beautifully out of the box.

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Yisrael van Handel
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Re: Get Real

Post by Yisrael van Handel » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:23 am

Tom Poore wrote:
Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:40 pm
http://www.pooretom.com/getreal.html
Critical comments are welcome. In fact, I’m hoping others will find flaws I missed.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA
Great article! Thought-provoking, well written, very relevant. By the way, I am a professional writer not known for going easy on fellow writers.

posting.php?mode=quote&f=1&p=1212137#
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Tom Poore
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Re: Get Real

Post by Tom Poore » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:55 am

I appreciate the responses thus far.

It’s been suggested that the idea “never do anything during practice that you don’t want to happen in a performance” is a negative and limiting perspective. That depends, however, on how one applies it. Whenever we encounter advice, we have a choice. We can follow it rigidly, in the most narrow interpretation possible. If so, then any advice devolves into an endless series of proscriptions, rejecting out of hand anything that doesn’t hew to the strict letter of the advice. That’s not what I advocate.

A better choice is to be creative with the advice. For example:
Sean Shibe wrote:I should also add that a practise session is as useful a forum for exploration as a forum for the pursuit of a flawless performance; the sole aim of technically perfect performance can result, in the short term, in a sterile interpretation. In the long term, more dangerously, it can lead to a general lack of imaginative musical scope.
Agreed, if one follows my advice rigidly. But consider a more creative response. Yes, mistakes are something one doesn’t want in performance. They’re not, however, the only things to avoid. Here’s another thing one doesn’t want: boredom. In a hierarchy of things to avoid during performance, boredom is high on the list. Indeed, as a performance goal, it outranks mere perfection. Who would prefer a note perfect and sterile performance over an emotionally compelling performance with a few missed notes?

Another former teacher of mine once said this: any solution, taken too far, becomes a problem.
Rasputin wrote:I can't help wondering how you know that that is how players who become pros practise though, or how you know it is those practice methods that make the difference. I see where you are coming from, but is this really observed fact or is more like educated guesswork?
I make no claim that my observations are scientifically verified. They’re opinions, nothing more. I would hope they’re informed opinions. At any rate, it’s up to the reader to decide if my opinions have merit.
Rasputin wrote:I also have a feeling that the answer to performance anxiety may have to do with accepting that you are going to make mistakes, and that trying to leverage the fear of mistakes in the way you suggest might push the player in the wrong direction. It doesn't sound like a very positive or pleasant headspace to live in either, though perhaps that's beside the point.
My response to Mr. Shibe is also applicable to this objection. To that, I’ll add this. To me, “never do anything during practice that you don’t want to happen in a performance” is simply a clear-eyed grasp of reality. We can choose to ignore this reality. (Most musicians do, more or less.) That doesn’t make the reality go away. Rather, it means we’ve chosen to ignore it. Seems to me an unsatisfactory response. It’s far better to accept the realities facing us. Once we do, we then can cultivate a positive response. It’s not inevitable that every response to a daunting reality must be a negative one.

Again, my thanks for the thoughtful comments.

A side note to Mr. Shibe. I recognize your name, and have heard your impressive playing on YouTube. (I notice also that you’ve performed alongside a player I admire: Petra Poláčková.) Your playing is higher on the totem pole than my own. So I’m humbled that you found my essay worthy of a response.

Tom Poore
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USA

chiral3
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Re: Get Real

Post by chiral3 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:42 pm

Parallels with sports medicine - i.e., the intensity of practice vs duration of practice vs duration of rest. I wonder if there's an analogy here. Powerlifters will often talk about training at 90% max to compete, versus >=100% being detrimental to performance. Endurance athletes will talk about long, long, sessions at x% max heart rate (generally well below any serious exertion) to build mitochondrial density and aerobic base so that their power output (in watts) can increase for a given heart rate (still sub anaerobic). These tend to involve training cadio base and both type I and type II muscle fibers. Conversely, an athlete may run high intensity "metcons". I always thought of long training sessions interspersed with metcons as being analogous to long, deliberate training sessions interspersed with speed bursts (to push the ceiling and disrupt the CNS).

I went to a friend's recording studio a while back and he had a session that day with a very famous jazz musician. Name withheld. I came by just to lollygag as a looky-loo because said jazz musician was going to be there. My friend, a fairly serious drummer who has done session and recoding work for Grammy-winning artists, comes over and says "look at this, look at this..." He points to the booth and says "he got here a couple of hours early... he still practices, two hours a days, scales and..." And there in the booth is the jazz musician running scales. What struck me was how engaged, purposeful, and serious he was. He wasn't having fun, but he also wasn't bored. He went on like this for another hour. Here's a serious jazz musician, in his 60's, with all the foundation in the world, plays with Reed, Springsteen, Mark Knopfler, etc. and he still practices scales and such for a couple of hours a day. It reminded me of serious athletes in my circle. They don't exercise, they train. It is purposeful and deliberate, not rote, and they are 100% engaged and present. I can't say this about a good chunk of guitarist I know that are irked by their progress.

I think when we talk about the Beatles playing in Hamburg it's a little different. Playing gigs every night for two years no doubt honed their performance edge, but the difficulty rating was lower. With a higher difficulty rating it can't be as simple as just playing a gig every night, it needs to bring in these other concepts of "training". Some people are lucky and practice for them happens to naturally be training.
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Re: Get Real

Post by Dofpic » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:53 pm

Tom great post as all of yours are. Here are some thoughts to add. I would disagree on the 5 reps doing perfectly until you move on. This in my opinion is one of the things that gave me and others like Christopher Parkening Focal Dystonia. My current teacher who is helping me with overcoming this said it takes the brain 3 weeks to become competent in a new drill or movement and another 3 weeks to perfect it or become second nature. She has me practice a certain exercise 4 times in a row and I can only do one of the 4 correct thats fine. Move on for 30 seconds to another exercise for 4 times then come back to the first one. Have 4 or 5 different exercises to vary the practice. and always do it just 4 times no more. Obviously I am undoing problems so it takes longer. But I am closing in on 6 weeks with her and sure enough after 3 weeks of doing this the original exercise I could do correctly 3 out of 4 times and now i do them perfectly almost every time.

She says that I have to trust the "chemical learning process" that happens in our brain. This means that going thru this regiment that over night and while I am not practicing the brain is absorbing these new movements. However if we continue to do them until we can do it 5 times perfectly may take 20-30 repetitions to do this thus confusing the brain and our muscles and brain latches on to these bad movements. (5 out of 30 ain't good)

In my case she started me practicing 3 times a day for 10 minutes then last time I am now up to 12 minutes 3 times a day. I started with 6 different movements and now I am very confident on these 6 movements. 2 weeks ago she introduced 6 new movements. not so good right now but it is coming in baby steps.

the risk of course is trying to perfect something too fast and over practice it.

The bottom line or biggest reason for different outcomes amongst us is one word... "TALENT". If I started at the same age as Jason Vieaux with the exact same teachers and followed the exact same path up to the point of him winning the GFA I still would not have won. He is an enormous talent and I am not. This happens in every discipline. Some are just more blessed with talent in music, sports, business fashion etc.

Anyway your post is an excellent one that hopefully spurs us all to do better in performance, practice and teaching.
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georgemarousi
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Re: Get Real

Post by georgemarousi » Fri Jul 14, 2017 1:31 pm

Nice article Tom!

I'd say I agree partially. Up to a percentage of practice, say 20%, it sounds a great idea to me to play as if at concert.

Other than that, I believe that other habits like play very slow, strong and clear, exercise, focus on some difficult parts etc have more benefit.

An a nice tip, a young teacher I had was trying to simulate the "exams" environment by even spotting a light on him ! Great idea a this changes very much your view on your fretboard and "scares" you from the first moment ! ( been there myself too.. )
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markworthi
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Re: Get Real

Post by markworthi » Fri Jul 14, 2017 2:54 pm

Hi Tom,

This was a very well-considered essay, and I agree with what you've written. I think the main idea behind your advice is that we should find the same "awareness" during practice that we would expect when giving a performance; this involves preparing for the kinds of ambient distractions that we would encounter in a concert, which means knowing a piece inside and out. Another member of this forum-- I cannot remember the person's name-- gave similar advice that has stuck with me: "An amateur guitarist plays until he gets things right; a professional plays until he can't get things wrong", a variation of your suggestion, I think.

I have a theory that complements yours, notwithstanding a seeming paradox: to me the best performances seem to also be the product of a different kind of awareness, namely the ability to continue to hear a piece as if it were new-- a piece that has been practiced over and over and over-- even though the acute focus during practice, the necessary repetition of passages until technically perfect, is antithetical to hearing music "as if new".

I'm probably not alone in noticing that familiarity breeds complacency. There's a kind of destruction that happens for me when I learn a new piece of music properly: the original beauty decays somehow in the process of learning, and I often find myself with the ability to play a piece properly but without hearing what was initially there, dormant and ready for interpretation. So, as a corollary to your thoughts, I would just add that after learning the way you have suggested, it might be useful to step away from a piece and to approach it a second time when it can be appreciated differently. Certainly this appreciation is what is conveyed in the best performances.

Mark

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