June 18, 2010

Conflicting advice

This is a tricky one. I have a moderate-sized collection of guitar method books, which I like because there's always something interesting to learn from a good one. Sometimes just one new insight can make it worthwhile.

Lately, I've been pondering "The Art of Classical Guitar Playing" by Charles Duncanwhich is loaded with really interesting insight and what sounds, at first glance, like advice which conflicts with other methods I have read. While many authors write about staying as relaxed as possible while playing, Duncan talks about maintaining functional tension (that is, tension which helps your playing) and avoiding dysfunctional tension (which hinders your playing).

This is a bit of a paraphrase, but one specific example I can think of is where he says "an effective playing position is not so much a repose as it is an equilibrium of forces." Meaning that he recommends that rather than finding a totally loose, passive way of holding the guitar, that you instead should use the natural springiness of the body to hold things solidly in place. However, if you were to force yourself into a position resembling the photo in the book without understanding the method behind it, you could very well end up using a lot of dysfunctional tension to maintain that position.

It occurred to me recently, in an email discussion with Philip Hii about his Art of Virtuosity books, that the main differences between what these authors are saying could largely be a matter of terminology and perception. After all, if you truly eliminated all tension in your body, you would pretty much just fall down in a heap. Where one author may say "relaxed," another may say "using balanced forces." This shouldn't be a big revelation but it may account for why seemingly opposite approaches can produce virtuosic results for different authors. They may not really be opposite at all, when you get down to the actual intended experience of playing.

This is why I think that while books have their place, the best "method" is still to find a good teacher and keep an open mind.

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