SES­SION shenani­gans

The stu­dio gui­tarist’s guide to hap­pi­ness and per­sonal ful­fil­ment, as re­lated by ses­sion ace Mitch Dal­ton. This month: How do I get to Carnegie Hall?

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - For more on Mitch and his mu­si­cal ex­ploits with the Stu­dio Kings, go to: www.mitch­dal­ton.co.uk

Ire­cently wrote my­self an ar­range­ment of When You Wish Upon A Star, the hit song from Dis­ney’s 1940 clas­sic, Pinoc­chio. It was a chord melody thing for fin­ger­style gui­tar. I threw in a few al­tered voic­ings, one or two har­monic de­vices and some of my own par­tic­u­lar clichés and jot­ted it down the old-fash­ioned way, util­is­ing pa­pyrus and pen­cil. In all fair­ness, I thought it wasn’t bad. A cou­ple of com­mit­ted fret­ting chums showed in­ter­est and I scanned it and sent it over to them upon re­quest, thus com­bin­ing tra­di­tional rus­tic skills with cut­ting-edge mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. One recorded his in­ter­pre­ta­tion and emailed it back and the other af­forded me a live ren­di­tion. Both of which gave me food for thought con­cern­ing the me­chan­ics of prac­tic­ing our com­mon in­stru­ment.

Putting to one side the fact that it’s re­ward­ing to write some­thing that oth­ers find use­ful and ful­fill­ing to play, a num­ber of fea­tures of their in­ter­pre­ta­tion seemed com­mon to both per­for­mances. It struck me that while I con­sid­ered my mod­est ef­fort to be of ‘in­ter­me­di­ate’ tech­ni­cal dif­fi­culty, they both seemed to make heavy weather of it both in spe­cific places and in general (I’ve al­ways loved that de­light­fully vague word, by the way. As far as I can tell, it means “harder than Three Blind Mice but eas­ier than The Ring Cy­cle played from mem­ory”).

Nev­er­the­less, the fol­low­ing is a con­densed ver­sion of my ob­ser­va­tions. I am pleased to re­port that both friends took my thoughts in good part and in a spirit of com­rade­ship and ma­tu­rity. Most of the stitches were re­moved af­ter only a few days.

First, learn the tune thor­oughly. Mem­o­rise it. Mu­sic is a hor­i­zon­tal art. By which I mean that al­though notes may be writ­ten ver­ti­cally on a page to im­ply a chord, there is an arc to the melody that moves for­ward and along. It’s easy to be­come bogged down in fig­ur­ing out the chord shape or the po­si­tion of a se­ries of arpeg­gios (I did in­di­cate all that since you don’t ask, not be­ing The Mar­quis de Sade of Man­u­script) and thereby lose the flow of the toon.

Se­condly, iso­late the sec­tions that are prob­lem­at­i­cal, one bar or even one beat at a time if nec­es­sary. Slow the seg­ment down and prac­tise it at a tempo that ren­ders it playable, ac­cu­rately and con­sis­tently. If we as­sume that the idea of prac­tis­ing in­cor­po­rates the no­tion of rep­e­ti­tion, then it is a mat­ter of sim­ple logic to con­clude that fum­bling through pas­sages at per­for­mance tempo re­peat­edly will lead to per­fect­ing your mis­takes. A sober­ing thought.

Thirdly, record your per­for­mance. You may well be sur­prised. Per­haps not in a good way. We hu­mans have a re­mark­able tal­ent for self delu­sion. You might think you sound like the very em­bod­i­ment of An­drés Sé­govia, Joe Pass and Joe Sa­tri­ani com­bined in the form of a 10-stone weak­ling, but Garage Band doesn’t lie (they fixed that on iOS up­date 12.0.2, as it hap­pens).

Fourthly, don’t kid your­self that the word ‘ru­bato’ means, “Bloody great! I can play this mother any way I want, tak­ing my time over the dif­fi­cult pas­sages and gen­er­ally bend­ing the piece to mask my lim­i­ta­tions.” It so doesn’t.

Fifthly, use a metronome. I refuse to ex­plain why. So there.

And now, some psy­chob­a­b­ble which I know to be true from bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence. Dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween ‘Prac­tice’ and ‘Play­ing’. The for­mer is a dis­ci­plined ap­proach to im­prov­ing a tech­ni­cal as­pect of your play­ing you have iden­ti­fied as re­quir­ing at­ten­tion. The lat­ter is hav­ing a good time. While there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with the lat­ter - in­deed it’s the rai­son d’etre for our en­tire en­deav­our - think of it as your re­ward for putting in the ef­fort with the for­mer. Treat with scep­ti­cism re­marks like, “I’m re­ally shed­ding it this week. I’ve been do­ing six hours’ prac­tice a day.” I dare to sug­gest that in most cases that’s... er, pif­fle. What our self-sat­is­fied pro­tag­o­nist usu­ally means is, “I’ve been sit­ting in my room hold­ing a gui­tar all day, me­an­der­ing men­tally be­tween Smoke On The Wa­ter, Stair­way To Heaven and whether I should ring that girl I met last night.” Half an hour of con­cen­trated prac­tice my friend is ex­haust­ing. Time for a cuppa, a Hob­nob and a head­clear­ing walk. And then back to it.

And last off. Im­prove­ment is not a lin­ear thing, sadly. You may think that noth­ing is hap­pen­ing, you’ll never crack that dif­fi­cult lick and it’s time to pack it in and take up the ukulele. But - courage mon brave. Fol­low my sim­ple guide­lines and, Voila! It will hap­pen. Just not to­day. Prob­a­bly.

don’t kid your­self that the word ‘ru­bato’ means, ‘great, i can play this mother any way i want!’

Mitch of­fers words of wis­dom on gui­tar self im­prove­ment

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