Working under constraints

Today, M cut her left index finger while doing a craft. It was a pretty good cut, right on the tip, so I knew that (at least for today) she wouldn’t be able to fret any notes with that finger.

To work around this, we did four things in our lesson, two with the instrument and two without:

  1. note reading off of the instrument;
  2. review of the first floor or the music-theory memory palace (she remembered everything even though we haven’t reviewed it in days);
  3. Perpetual Motion on the G string only, fretting each note with the middle finger (2) of the left hand; and
  4. The Twinkle Theme in what I called “zero position.” That is, she used fingers 2, 3, and 4 (middle, ring, and pinky) in place of 1, 2, and 3 (index, middle, and ring).

The “zero position” exercise forced M to pay close attention to her left hand — she knew which notes to fret, but her hand kept trying to use the normal fingers. M had to actively intervene on each fretted note and consciously choose to use a different finger.

This exercise would not have occurred to me had I not been forced to think about how M could still practice without her left index finger. It goes to show the value of practicing under constraints — in adapting to the constraint, you may have to do something different, which both creates interest and calls for heightened awareness.

I think I’ll sometimes ask M to play other Book 1 songs that use only 3 fingers in “zero position.”

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