This week will mark 100 days since the beginning of 2016. Perhaps 100 is just a number, but milestones are important when you are trying to reach long-term goals. On this 100-day milestone I am happy to report a perfect record of guitar practice. I have kept track to make sure that I’ve put in no less than 2 hours of highly specific drill-based practice toward my goal of developing virtuosic technique.
The result of this dedication is that my playing has never been in better shape. My ability to execute difficult musical constructs like tremolo scales and sweep arpeggios is coming along. My right hand finger independence has completely transformed. My sense of harmony and intonation has also improved tremendously. This has allowed me to pinpoint and address several intonation problems with my two main electrics (the Telecaster and the Les Paul). I recrowned all the Tele frets by hand and replaced the nut. I even filed the nut slots myself to perfect the intonation at the first fret. I was always somewhat aware that problems such as this needed to be fixed, but I guess it took hearing the same slightly sour chords over and over again, 2 hours a day (for like 73 days in a row) to force me to get my instruments into truly great shape. The Taylor has always sounded perfect.
I have also begun to change up the strings I use. Not only changing strings more frequently (nearly once a week), but also trying different brands and types. The intensity of the repetition and the breadth of the scope in my daily practice has, for maybe the first time, allowed me to make meaningful judgments as to how minor details such as string gauge, winding type, and metallic composition are affecting the way the instruments feel and sound.
I already mentioned in an earlier post the importance I have discovered in visualization and eyes-closed practice. Another interesting observation that has just started to dawn on me is the importance of constant body movement while doing the drills. I have been trying to make sure that i never lock my knees, hips or shoulders. I have been trying to keep the weight off my heels and constantly move my feet while doing the drills. This makes it nearly impossible for me to practice too fast. If I can’t find the notes while I’m dipping and swaying, it is clear that I truly can’t find those notes and need to slow down and find them. Also I think the body movement is essential to linking disparate elements of playing into a stronger, more experientially compact whole. I’m not completely sure where this is going but it seems to me that body movement increases relaxation and wards off tension and that seems to always be the neighborhood where I’m likely to run into revelation.
Lastly, and this is a BIG one, I have developed a comprehensive technical test that cross references each technique with each common subdivision of the beat (1/8, 1/16, T/8, 1/32) for a range of BPM from 60 to 280. Taking this test for the first time has allowed me to pinpoint exactly how fast I can comfortable execute each specific technique. These measurements are a real eye-opener and have informed me as to just how slowly (not how fast) I need to be practicing each technique. I also plan to take this test again, perhaps once a month so that I can get some indication of what is/isn’t improving and by how much. If I can measure specific improvements over time I can make smarter decisions about how to further refine the practice routine, extending what works and curtailing what doesn’t seem to be producing results.
Ok. So this is the end of a humorless and sort of clinical blog post. Sorry about that. But I don’t have a ton of time and saying things this way allows me to get these ideas down on record quickly, which I would rather do than simply not post at all. Still it is interesting whether or not I will be cable to access artistic freedom via advanced techniques which are acquired by really rather clinical methods. I believe that I will. Time will tell.