Watch where you’re going!

At group class yesterday, the teacher discussed the key to shifting one’s left hand around the neck: looking at the fret you are aiming for, not the fret you are coming from (nor at the moving hand). It struck me that this is the concrete manifestation of the importance, as you’re playing, of keeping in mind what’s coming next, or “imaging ahead.”

“Eyes on the target” is a universal principle, governing not just sports and pastimes (golf, basketball, tennis, pool, archery, fencing) but even something as simple as driving, as I explained to M as we were driving around yesterday afternoon.

So today in our home lesson, when M was playing wrong notes and shifting her right hand toward tosto at the wrong time in Huckleberry Apple Twinkle, I paused to do a fret-jumping exercise in which we broke down every step:

  • fret and play a note at the 5th fret;
  • look at the 12th fret;
  • pause;
  • fret and play a note at the 12th fret;
  • look at the 5th fret;
  • pause;
  • fret and play a note at the 5th fret; etc.

It took several repetitions to get her to look at the target fret before moving her hand — she naturally wanted to watch her hand as it moved, rather than looking ahead. But she did get the hang of it.

I then tried to explain that just as she looked ahead to see where she was going physically, she needed, when playing a song, to look ahead mentally and know what was coming next. 

Whether this lecture about a metaphor did any good, I don’t know. But I do know that M did a much better job afterwards, for whatever reason, at playing with the proper dynamics and the proper hand positions at each section of the Twinkles we practiced.

We then practiced Steady Hands, and she continued to have difficulty knowing where she was in the song — she was starting the B1 section after 3 repeats of the A1 section, not the 4 that are called for. But after several false starts, she managed to keep her eyes pretty much glued to her left hand, and she played through the whole song with concentration that lasted until the last few measures. She rushed the tempo a few times, but she knew that she did so, which is all I can ask for at this stage.

As I’ve told her many times, awareness is more important than performance. I explain it by ranking performance/awareness pairs this way, from best to worst:

  1. Best is to play correctly, and to know that you’ve played correctly.
  2. Second best is to play with mistakes, but to know what those mistakes were.
  3. Third best is to play correctly, but not to know whether you’ve played correctly or with mistakes.
  4. Fourth and last is to play with mistakes, and not to know whether you’ve played correctly or with mistakes.

(I hope I’m right about this!)


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