On Time & Timing (or, “Wait—What Month Is This?”)
posted in practice on october 21st, 2009
Oh my. Has it really been over a month since my last blog post? Do I still have any actual readers out there? (You kind, tolerant, understanding souls, you?)
As we all know, I get these terrible pangs of guilt when I ignore a writing project (at least one I haven’t deliberately decided to murder). It’s like locking a puppy in the car in the mall parking lot on a hot day and then lingering at the Häagen-Dazs stand, or "accidentally" losing young relatives in the inescapable bookshelves limbo at Ikea. But never fear! I’m here to make amends—or at least excuses!
And there will be a point to all this—I promise! But first, the up-and-comings: As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’ve been laying low performance-wise for the last month or two (doctoral dissertations have this way of wreaking havoc on one’s practice/performance schedule). But all this low-lying business changes in the weeks to come. My cuadro Zamani Flamenco will be back at its regular spot, Kristos Eastlake, on the 14th of November, and I’ll be playing Winterfest at the Seattle Center with La Peña on the 29th. Then on the 12th of December is the big semi-annual Peña show at the Ethic Cultural Theater in Seattle.
Hooray for getting out of the office!!
But wait, you say, wasn’t there some question of time (as in not having it for practice)? Indeed there was—and still is, in fact. And the upshot is this: if I’m going to have time to teach literature to college undergrads (or at least keep them from chewing the covers off their books) and otherwise get some writing done, I’ve decided that I have to find another approach to practice.
The new approach boils down, essentially, to the fact that instead of playing as much as I feel like I need to in a day (usually several hours), I can generally only get an hour in. Which means that I have to prioritize. Do I work on repertoire? Drills? Do I nuance pieces I know, or grind through the really challenging stuff?
What I decided—and it seems to be going well so far—is to concentrate on some essential drills (rasgueado, arpeggios, picado) and then hit the hard stuff (Paco, Vicente Amigo, Tomatito). I’ve found that my other (i.e. easier) repertoire material is still where I need it (as long as I hit it once a week or so) and that the technical challenge of the hard stuff (and the repetition of the drills) keeps my dexterity and strength up. And, perhaps as important as all else, working on challenging music gets me looking forward to practicing so that when I sit down to play I’m generally focused and task-oriented.
The other thing that having to pare down my practicing has done is make me focus on the quality of how I spend my time. This is where "timing" comes in—and it comes in more and more these days with a metronome (cf. penguin above). Example: I’ve been working on Vicente Amigo’s solea Tio Arango for a month or two. He plays it fairly libre, with lots of push and pull in the tempo. What I discovered when I started playing it more frequently with a metronome is that I was actually rushing through the most challenging passages (and consequently mutilating them), but that when I slowed them down (to tempo, as it were), I could pull them off much cleaner.
This, I realize, in writing it, sounds painfully obvious. Of course it’s easier to play hard stuff slower. My point is that before setting "the clock" to it and making myself play this otherwise libre piece in strict time, I didn’t even realize I was rushing. For that matter, since there’s so much syncopation in this piece (and because the tempo is slow), I’ve been using the "flamenco compás" metronome (right here at RF, BTW) almost exclusively as a study tool (i.e. versus mixing it up with other compás recordings). Tying this piece down to a rigid tempo makes it feel a bit "square," but it also makes it correct (as in, in compás). I will eventually untether myself from the metronome, but only once I’m sure I can do it in time. In the mean time, the clock keeps me from rushing (and consequently massacring) the passages that are still a bit squirrely.
Which makes for better, more precise, and more effective practice all crammed in to a paltry sixty minutes. (Which, I’m afraid, is going to be the case more often than not until I finish with all this dissertation tomfoolery!)
And now, alas, in keeping with this post’s theme of temperance (despite its being fueled by Jameson’s best), I’m actually not going to go play—but only because it’s late and I’m still not entirely convinced that my wife is categorically opposed to spousicide if the conditions are right.
But you, on the other hand, should definitely go play!