Having presented and discussed sundry aspects of learning, memorization, and retention of music in this continuing series of articles since its inception in the issue No.8 of Guitarra, we are at last to the point where we can begin to apply these principles to the learning and memorization of an entire piece. This is also the point where one might wish to rummage through the closet for these past issues of Guitarra so that he or she may review the multitude of interwoven concepts that are necessary for such an intensive approach to learning music.
In Issue No.8 we discussed "The Formation on an Intensive Model" using a Quadrivial Approach of visual, tactile, auditory, and analytical memory towards the goal of optimal memorization. In Issue No.9 issue I presented the "Essential Mental and Physical Components" of Study and Practice. Issue No.10 brought an in depth article on "The Vertebrae of Musical Success-Concentration" with some sixteen suggestions for creating conditions conducive to good concentration during practice and performance. In issue No.11, the process of memorizing a simple chord progression focused the concepts of "Aural, Visual, Muscular, and Intellectual Impressions" on two chords as a means of understanding these Four Pillars of Secure Memorization at the simplest of levels.
Now we shall begin with the process of learning a whole piece from the beginning to the end. A process which if tailored to your own needs and followed faithfully should provide secure memorization at the performance level and efficiency of time during the learning stage.
Conceptual-Musical Preparation-Initially, one must complete all aspects of "Research" and "Examination" before proceeding to the "Pre-study Stage" (see issue No.9). This process consists of studying the piece much as a conductor would. Remember that the conductor cannot practice with live sound all the time. Much of his work is done with a score in what appears to be silence. Inside, of course, he is active both analytically and aurally. Thus, he actually thinks about the structure, the concept, the style, the history, the overall effect of a piece, and then he practices working with inner sound realization until conceptually he forms a very solid area of what he wants from a perfect performance of a piece. Then he takes this molded concept into orchestral rehearsal, and in very limited amounts of time must convey his concept to his players and get them to respond accordingly.
We who are soloists have a distinct advantage because we do not have to wait for the equivalent of an orchestral rehearsal to begin to put our ideas into operation. But we often negate the advantage by simply rushing in to make music without having given the music the requisite conceptual-musical preparation. Too often we try to "correct" or "improve" our performance based on the vague general knowledge that it is not yet "good enough", but we have not thought deeply enough about the music to have formed a clear concept of what it is we seek.
Such knowledge is not always easily achieved.
It involves not only the purely musical aspects of the work (structure, dynamics, phrasing, style,etc.), but also the emotional or psychological effect which the work should produce in your ideal performance. Moreover, in the case of many works, deep philosophical, or spiritual implications are present which one hopes under the best of performance circumstances to impart to the audience.
We have heard it said so many times that music is like language and we all nod quick assent, but we seldom carry through this analogy to completion.
Just as a sentence such as "Where were you last night?" can carry surprise, suspicion, suppressed joy, hostility, anger, etc., depending on the inflection it receives and the meaning the speaker intends, so can a phrase of music carry an infinite number of subtle emotional meanings depending on the way in which it is handled musically and upon the intent of the performer. Too often, for lack of conceptual-musical preparation, we ourselves are not exactly sure of the meaning we intend to convey.
Our fingers are the means of contact between ourselves and the guitar. All that we study and practice so hard is finally put into effect by the fingers. Fingering can profoundly affect memorizing, stage poise, technical mastery, speed of learning, and general security at the guitar.
To be sure, after several repeated playings he does quickly fall into some sort of fingering that becomes habitual with him. But here lies the rub. The fingering he falls into is almost certain not to be the best fingering. In fact, close examination will show that his fingering often varies with each playing of the piece detrimental habit for any musician to fall into. We must understand that the mind is like a sensitive photographic plate which records all the impressions made upon it. If all the impressions made upon the mind are the same, the original impression will become very deep and clear and will be easily retained. If however, the original impressions differ from one another even slightly the original impression becomes cloudy and vague.
At a time of stress, such as in a public performance, these diffused impressions suddenly take on a new importance and we begin to wonder which note to play or which finger we should use. This kind of doubting is obviously disastrous, particularly if we make the wrong choice, and it can only be prevented by careful and accurate study from the beginning.
Experimentation is required to discover the technical or expression superiority of one fingering over another, and overall planning is required to make fingering consistent. I urge that a large proportion of the "Prestudy" time with every new piece be devoted to an exhaustive consideration and final selection of the best possible fingering. Much, if not most, of this left and right hand fingering can be done away from the instrument.
In the next issue, we will continue this discussion of proper fingering as the fundamental step toward technical mastery, ease of expression, and secure memorization.