Continuous quality improvement

Today we started our lesson by watching the portion of Pumping Nylon about plucking. I asked M to pay special attention to her tone as we began playing and illustrated varieties of tone and the vocabulary to describe it. The we did:

  • The first half of Meadow Minuet, with M playing the melody and me playing the bass.
  • The “open A” scale, with M letting each note ring until she could no longer hear it.
  • May Song with the metronome at 50, 80, and 70.
  • A “fix-me” game where I coached M to figure out why my right hand was getting out of position.

Throughout, I asked M to evaluate her tone and her right-hand technique. More often than not, she accurately described her playing.

But I noticed an old technical problem that resurfaced, and we got sidetracked on one behavior issue: how she was holding the guitar.

The technical problem was her right-hand position. I noticed at the end of playing May song that her right hand was smack in the middle of the soundhole, even though it began at the edge. It turns out that she was moving her hand by rotating around the point where her arm sits on the lower bout, rather than moving her arm like a tonearm straight forward and back.

She was unaware that she was doing this, so I walked her through identifying the problem by demonstrating the behavior and asking her (1) to identify the line along which my hand was traveling as it moved from the edge to the middle of the soundhole,  (2) to identify why my hand was moving that way (because I was moving by rotation), and (3) to identify how my hand should be moving (in a direction parallel to the line of my arm, not rotating around a point). She succeeded in doing all three.

This was a reminder that technique needs continuous improvement. We spent a lot of time on this right-hand-movement problem last summer, and it kind of faded into the background. Now it’s back and again needs attention.

The behavior problem was her treatment of the guitar when she wasn’t playing. My concern with this particular behavior is a little idiosyncratic, and I tried to keep that in mind as I dealt with it. Basically, it drives me nuts when kids are careless with musical instruments. And M  tends to kind of tip her guitar up and down when she’s not playing it — not a lot, but enough that I find it both worrisome (because the guitar might fall) and troubling (because it shows a lack of respect for the guitar — both the instrument and its study). In fact, the only time we ever left a studio lesson early was when, a few months after we started, she deliberately dropped her guitar in protest against the lesson. I asked her if she remembered this, but she didn’t.

Tonight, I wasn’t terrifically skillful — M was resistant when I told her to hold the guitar in a formal rest position so it wouldn’t tip, and I was angry when she kept tipping it. But I stayed pretty calm, and she eventually complied. We’ll see how long it takes for her habits to change.

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