Know Your Enemies

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Tom Poore
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Know Your Enemies

Post by Tom Poore » Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:54 am

I’ve long considered writing an essay on a subject that doesn’t get the attention it merits. We all know (more or less) that mistakes are a bad thing. But how well do we understand the inner workings of mistakes?

As an analogy, let’s say your car has a problem and you take it to a repair shop. The mechanic isn’t satisfied with a vague statement such as: “my car doesn’t work.” The mechanic wants details. This is because an experienced mechanic knows that a precise explanation of the problem will clarify the cause. Without a full understanding of what’s wrong, there’s no sure way to fix it.

This applies equally to the practice room. The more we know about mistakes, the better we’re able to solve them. Indeed, we may be able to avoid many mistakes altogether.

As often happens when setting out on an essay, the ambiguity of the subject bogs me down. In this case, I’ve decided to throw open the subject to anyone who cares to weigh in. Here’s a little something to get the ball rolling:

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

Comments are welcome. I’ll respond as time permits. If at times I disappear from the discussion, it may be that I’m taking something one of you has written as a catalyst for improving my essay. So my absence might mean I’m furiously tapping away at my laptop.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

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Lawler
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Lawler » Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:52 am

"Know Your Enemy"

I think Sun Tzu would agree.

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Frank Nordberg
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Frank Nordberg » Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:10 am

Tom Poore wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:54 am
I’ve long considered writing an essay on a subject that doesn’t get the attention it merits. We all know (more or less) that mistakes are a bad thing. But how well do we understand the inner workings of mistakes?
A very good question and well worth an essay.

Here are two moments for your list:

Hesitation. We're not absolutely sure we're ding the right thing, so we hold back a little bit and then it always goes wrong.

Technique over music. Yes, most of us have five times as many fingers as ears but that doesn't mean the mechanics of playing is more important than the sound.

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Tom Poore
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Tom Poore » Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:29 pm

Hesitation. We're not absolutely sure we're doing the right thing, so we hold back a little bit and then it always goes wrong.
You’re echoing the mantra of my old teacher: confusion and error. Hesitation and confusion are symptoms of underlying causes. To be clear, the purpose of my essay is to clarify these causes, not describe symptoms.
Technique over music. Yes, most of us have five times as many fingers as ears but that doesn't mean the mechanics of playing is more important than the sound.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe the “technique over music” debate is fundamentally specious. It posits the attention to technique as a major cause of unmusical playing. I disagree. It’s the misdirected attention itself that’s the true problem. Technique is the expedient scapegoat, falsely blamed for a crime in which it had no part.

Moreover, this debate also deflects from the purpose of my essay.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

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Julian Ward
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Julian Ward » Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:10 pm

I have pondered over this many times in my teaching and own performing, and have always made the following thoughts. I believe it is not possible to play the classical guitar (at a concert performance level) without making some mistakes. It is only possible when the material played is so easy for us, that there is almost no chance of us getting something wrong.

I am not talking about 'mistakes of reading' or mistakes where the technique is not secure... These are obvious and fixable.

I am talking about actual mistakes, errors where you do not quite physically carry out what you intended to... Like the exact same mistake that a tennis player makes when he does not make his first serve or makes an unforced error. These are mechanical 'errors' they are not judgement errors they are brain - muscular movement errors. He or she is playing that serve to the maximum of their ability, and hence, as they are a human, there is no possible way to do something to the maximum of your ability without making occassional errors (hitting the ball into the net, missing the service box). The only way to achieve it is to slow the serve down so that it is much easier and therefor well below the capabilities of the player (i.e. second serve).

Classical guitar is so incredibly difficult, that unless we want to play material that is way below our actual ability, we have to accept that perfection is not possible.

I watched Simon Dinnigan perform, he made some errors, but almost none. I watched Julian Bream play, he made lots. I watched Graig Ogden play and he made several also. Aswell as amateurs and students I have seen loads, that of course make more. I have never performed a concert level piece without at least making one error somewhere (a buzzed note, a missed note, an incorrect string etc etc.)

Memory errors (forgetting the piece) are an entirely different subject with a massive and quite complex set of circumstances, not the same as the above.
Classical guitar teacher

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Frank Nordberg
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Frank Nordberg » Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:29 pm

Tom Poore wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:29 pm
It’s the misdirected attention itself that’s the true problem.
Yes, that's what I meant. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear.

As a friend of mine once said, technique is something you must have. The problem is our tendency to try to micormanage the movement of each and every finger.

Come to think of it, micromanagement may not be the only anti-pattern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-pattern) that seems strangely relevant here. How about analysis paralysis, the bicycle shed, the ninety-ninety rule...

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rinneby
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by rinneby » Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:59 pm

Julian Ward wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:10 pm
I have pondered over this many times in my teaching and own performing, and have always made the following thoughts. I believe it is not possible to play the classical guitar (at a concert performance level) without making some mistakes. It is only possible when the material played is so easy for us, that there is almost no chance of us getting something wrong.

I am not talking about 'mistakes of reading' or mistakes where the technique is not secure... These are obvious and fixable.

I am talking about actual mistakes, errors where you do not quite physically carry out what you intended to... Like the exact same mistake that a tennis player makes when he does not make his first serve or makes an unforced error. These are mechanical 'errors' they are not judgement errors they are brain - muscular movement errors. He or she is playing that serve to the maximum of their ability, and hence, as they are a human, there is no possible way to do something to the maximum of your ability without making occassional errors (hitting the ball into the net, missing the service box). The only way to achieve it is to slow the serve down so that it is much easier and therefor well below the capabilities of the player (i.e. second serve).

Classical guitar is so incredibly difficult, that unless we want to play material that is way below our actual ability, we have to accept that perfection is not possible.

I watched Simon Dinnigan perform, he made some errors, but almost none. I watched Julian Bream play, he made lots. I watched Graig Ogden play and he made several also. Aswell as amateurs and students I have seen loads, that of course make more. I have never performed a concert level piece without at least making one error somewhere (a buzzed note, a missed note, an incorrect string etc etc.)

Memory errors (forgetting the piece) are an entirely different subject with a massive and quite complex set of circumstances, not the same as the above.
Well said! I fully agree.

/Jon
1964 - Masaru Kohno No.7
1999 - Lorenzo Frignani
2017 - Tobias Braun

Feel free to ask me anything about Japanese classical guitars.

Karen
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Karen » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:42 pm

Maybe this is just a beginners’ mistake, but I just discovered I have been playing an open B with the right hand, although fretting the B on the the third string. Sounds the same to me but if the right hand paid proper attention to the left hand it would work a lot better!

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Lawler
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Lawler » Tue Jan 22, 2019 9:10 pm

Karen wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:42 pm
...if the right hand paid proper attention to the left hand it would work a lot better!
That's what I remind my right hand fingers of every morning when warming up!

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Tom Poore
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Tom Poore » Wed Jan 23, 2019 5:38 am

Julian Ward wrote:I have pondered over this many times in my teaching and own performing, and have always made the following thoughts. I believe it is not possible to play the classical guitar (at a concert performance level) without making some mistakes. It is only possible when the material played is so easy for us, that there is almost no chance of us getting something wrong.

Classical guitar is so incredibly difficult, that unless we want to play material that is way below our actual ability, we have to accept that perfection is not possible.
We don’t try to be perfect in the practice room because we expect to become mistake free performers. Rather, we strive for perfection because we inevitably get what we settle for. If we settle for slipshod playing in practice, then we get slipshod playing in performance. But if we strive for perfection during practice, then we diminish the likelihood of mistakes during performance.

We can never guarantee a perfect performance. But then, performance isn’t the place to strive for perfection. In performance, the striving is over. We go with what we’ve got, and put across the music as best we can.

Perfectionism isn’t a fool’s errand. What matters is knowing when it’s useful and when it’s not.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

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Julian Ward
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Julian Ward » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:04 am

Hi Tom,

It goes without saying, of course... Nobody practises and accepts mistakes. What I say to my students and even myself is if a mistake is being made in a section once in every, say, four or five plays, then that section will go wrong EVERY time in performance. Of course, they don't believe me at first, nobody does... everybody seems to have to go through this process and learn it for themselves.

Same with memory errors...unless I can play the piece in my mind all the way through then I know I do not have it fully memorised. A small slip in playing can cause a catastrophic memory fail and break down because it disrupts the muscle memory flow. A piece played relying on muscle memory to play it to an audience is a guaranteed car crash.

The subject you are touching upon is vast and is as much a psychological one as it is physical. It goes way beyond practising to perfection...that is the easy bit! Why didn't we learn the recorder instead :)
Classical guitar teacher

mainterm
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by mainterm » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:05 am

Tom Poore wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:54 am
[...]
Comments are welcome. [...]
I find the "symmetry bias" section full of promise. You assert "If a melody on the guitar creates a physical symmetry for our left hand, then it’s easier to play". I found this interesting to think about. And after doing that, I feel like you could write more about this. But of course that may not be your aim. In any case, this section is ripe in my view...

Is your idea that this kind of symmetry bias only operates in small groups like the small phrase from Frère Jacques, ones of perhaps 4-6 notes which form a small, but complete musical, or perhaps physical idea? Taken together, the first two measures of Frère Jacques form a kind of symmetry, but clearly not the kind you mean.

chien buggle
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by chien buggle » Thu Jan 24, 2019 10:12 am

I have also noticed that my students frequently mess up that part of frere jacques. However I think it has more to do with the fact that students at that stage are almost always playing pieces that move by step and the third throws them off.
It's true that the stepwise motion of the first part leads you to expect the same in the second but I'm not sure that this is really much of a challenge past the first reading of the piece and I normally take care to point this part out to my students before they play it.

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rojarosguitar
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by rojarosguitar » Thu Jan 24, 2019 10:28 am

Tom Poore wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:29 pm
You’re echoing the mantra of my old teacher: confusion and error. Hesitation and confusion are symptoms of underlying causes. To be clear, the purpose of my essay is to clarify these causes, not describe symptoms.


Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA
I humbly disagree that hesitation and confusion generally are symptoms. I leave aside confusion, this is a grand topic. As to hesitation, in my experience hesitation can be a very basic disposition or conditioning of a person and doesn't need to be a symptom of something that could be analyzed intrinsically in musical terms.

So in a person displaying this kind of condition it will also reflect itself in the way how they go about doing music. Of course I'm not denying that there is the symptom of hesitation when one doesn't know a piece properly, but that's only a part of the terrain.

And of course one could state that also hesitation as a basic disposition probably will have some underlying causes, but that is so general that it doesn't help.

Whether it is called a symptom or a basic disposition, one certainly needs to address it if one wants to do music in a satisfying way.

best wishes
Robert
Music is a big continent with different landscapes and corners. Some of them I do visit frequently, some from time to time and some I know from hearsay only ...

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Crofty
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Re: Know Your Enemies

Post by Crofty » Thu Jan 24, 2019 11:07 am

"Confusion and error" [an expression I admired when I first read it in the book] is largely a result of trying to understand/do too many things at once, before what it is you intend to do is clear and/or you don't have the technical ability to do it anyway.

Taking the Frere Jacques example, trying to understand two different meanings within the same note system [melody and rhythm] at sight is really difficult. Playing it even harder.

My own mantra is no tempo before slow tempo, whenever the difficulty level is high for whoever is playing, including myself.

Otherwise it's like expecting someone to juggle and ride a horse before they can do either properly.

The issue is exacerbated because it is human nature to be impatient, and whilst chefs see preparing meals as starting with the ingredients, and are very aware of process, it is very tempting for musicians to want to jump straight to the end game.

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