Practice brings an aim within reach. The fundamentals of practice within Guitar Craft reflect the nature and aims of Guitar Craft. Guitar Craft is three things:
- A way to develop a relationship with the guitar.
- A way to develop a relationship with music.
- A way to develop a relationship with oneself.
Music is a benevolent presence constantly and readily available to all, but we are not constantly and readily available to music. Our state can change with a certain intensity of application, and when we are in this state we may find music waiting. So, how to practise application? The direction of attention is fundamental: without attention we are nothing. Relaxation is fundamental: little is possible when we are tense. In a relaxed state with our attention engaged, we begin to be sensitive to the needs of the moment. These are the three fundamentals of practice:
The practice of relaxation and an alert sense of presence is connected to the practice of attention, which in turn is related to the cultivation of a relaxed and sensitive state within our own volition.
The advantages of an efficient practice include:
i) Intrinsic value: there is an economy of effort. Nothing is wasted. Necessity is honoured.
ii) A result of intention applied to our automatism is the generation of a state of alertness. This practising of intentional application to our habitual way of doing things, once established to a degree with our hands and bodies, can be applied in turn to the automatic functioning of our minds and emotional reactions. The importance of this is considerable: it is the beginning of effectuality, discharging commitments made in time, of working from ourselves and our own initiative. This is the beginning of personal freedom and of becoming a human being.
iii) The alertness generated by intention-applied-to-automatism brings us into the moment. In the moment, we are in contact with ourselves and our environment: in the moment, we can see what is necessary and recognise rightness. When we see rightness, we may not have the capacity to respond to the demand it makes of us; but as our power of effectuality increases, so does our response.
iv) Working from intention brings us closer to the creative impulse.
If the quality of beginning our practice establishes how the process will continue, how do I begin? I may drift towards practising. I may start, or I may begin. To begin, we prepare the beginning. How do we prepare?
Let us assume that:
- We are sitting in a relaxed fashion on our hard and unyielding chairs, the rigour of which reminds us of…
- Our reasonable and clearly defined aim, with…
- Awareness of the sensation of being alive within our hands.
The placing of the guitar on the body is determined by the height needed to support the right arm at the elbow, and allow the left hand to rise naturally from the elbow to the seventh position. The principle is: the guitar comes to the body. Now, we adopt the Position of Readiness. The centre of gravity of the left hand is a point between the third and fourth strings, at the seventh position, with the fingers hovering just above the strings. The centre of gravity of the right hand is a point between the third and fourth strings. The centre of gravity of the spine is erect; that is, it is central. Both hands are available to move to wherever they are needed from a middle position, the closest point to all possibilities.
What next? These are some of the things we may consider in our practising, with one reservation: the detailed information will only be of help if we have some prior experience of working with the exercises, and making an effort to move to the inside of our practising. Otherwise, they will place meaningless information between our hands, our practise, and our direct experiencing of both. Where possible, appeal for help to someone whose experience is greater than ours, and in whose hands the experience of these exercises reside. Then, consult the experience in their hands rather than their opinions of that experience. A good teacher will bring their student with the sphere of their experience, and convey to them some sense of their experience. This may be quite specific, or general. Once the student has access to this experience within their own sphere of experience, but not with their capacity to generate from their own volition, they may hold their teacher’s experience as a template against their own efforts. When the two experiences resonate, the student recognises that they are close to rightness.
I. Left Hand
- The Position. The hand is brought to the neck of the guitar and the thumb placed in the middle of the neck. The thumb is drawn back, but without force, and gently locked. When playing, there is no movement within the thumb. The hand is arched, the fingers falling from above to touch the strings. The thumb is generally at an angle of about 45 degrees to the neck, and roughly beneath the second finger while in the lower positions. As the hand travels up the neck towards the body, the angle of the thumb moves gradually into line with the neck, and the thumb moves farther from the fingers. Position changing is effected in two ways:
i) For small position changes: by the pressure of the thumb being released, but light contact with the neck being maintained during the shift.
ii) For larger position changes: the thumb is swiftly and lightly removed from contact with the neck, returning to contact as soon as the new position has been established.
- The arm is allowed to fall from the hand, the elbow naturally moving in towards the body. Alternatively, the hand is allowed to rise from the elbow, which is gently established at the side of the body. The only point of contact between the left hand and the guitar is the first digit of the thumb and the tips of the fingers. It is recommended that the fingernails are filed to the quick. When not playing, the hand is placed to rest on the leg or knee. The rule is: when the hands are on the guitar, they are working. When they are resting, they are at rest.
i) Bent thumb. This compromises the most effective use of the pressure between the fingers and thumb. Then, the hand will have to squeeze. Often the rationalisation for this position is string bending.
ii) Movement of the elbow.
iii) Excessive bending of the wrist. Often this is because the guitar is too low from our shoulder, or our left arm is resting along the leg.
iv) Thumb away from the middle of the neck: that is, the centre of gravity of the left hand is poorly established. This restricts the fingers even access to all the strings.
v) The hand supports the weight of the guitar.
- The Fingers. We adopt the posture of readiness, with the four fingers hovering slightly above the relevant position, their centre of gravity a point between the third and fourth strings. Each finger is assigned to a successive fret within the position. While playing, the shape of the hand remains constant, the fingers moving across the fingerboard to the particular strings to be played. The fingers fall from immediately above the strings, stopping the string closely behind the fret with the tip of the finger, applying sufficient pressure for the note to sound cleanly when struck by the pick. The operation of the fingers honour the five principles of succession, completed flow, release, simultaneous release, and constant release.
- i) Succession. The principle is: when ascending, leave the fingers down. Any preceding finger in a sequence is left in contact with the string, maintaining the application of pressure, whether the finger combination is of two, three, or four fingers.
- ii) Completed Flow. When two or more fingers are stopping any one string in an ascending sequence, to honour the principle of succession, the pressure applied by each of the fingers to the string is maintained until the finger combination is completed. The principle is: complete the motion undertaken. Otherwise, the flow of the sequence is interrupted. This principle is addressed to the practical problem of when to release the leading finger from the combination of fingers to begin the next fingering combination. The leading finger, if involved in an ascending combination, will not move to the next phrase until the ascending sequential combination of which it is a part has been completed.
- iii) Release. This is an important principle in approaching an effortless practice. In the traditional approach, stopping the strings with the left hand involves two actions:
a) Placing the finger on the string and applying pressure.
b) Taking the finger off the string.
- The second action is unnecessary: all that is required is the release of pressure. This completes the first action without initiating a second: release, not remove. The principle is: letting go.
The regular application of this principle brings us from labour to work. We discover how we avoid the necessary, invest in the unnecessary, and bring force to both. We labour where a little work is sufficient. In the experience of release, dropping the unneeded second action, we experience the lightness which characterises the quality of letting go. This quality of lightness can be applied to the other parts of our lives: as a quality, it will inevitably spread. We discover we can let go of our anxiety about letting go; then, we let go of our anxiety about not letting go. Then we let go.
The Rule of Quality is: Honour necessity.
The Rule of Quantity is: Honour sufficiency.
- iv) Simultaneous Release. This is applicable where no finger in an ascending combination leads in the following combination of fingers: that is, simultaneous release will occur—with a two- or three-finger combination where a finger outside the combination leads to the next phrase, and only in a four-finger combination which does lead to a new phrase would be “a little more simultaneous than the others”.
Simultaneous release and completed flow are closely related and address the two concerns of:
a) Completing a motion undertaken.
b) Preparing for, and anticipating, the next motion.
These concerns are particularly noticeable at speed in the ascending
combinations of two fingers (1,2; 1,3; 1,4; 2,3; 2,4; 3,4),
ascending combinations of three fingers (1,2,3; 1,2,4; 1,3,4; 2,3,4),
and the only ascending combination of four fingers (1,2,3,4).
An example of each will make this clearer:
a) In a two-finger combination, say 1 and 2, where either 3 or 4 play the next note on another string, 1 and 2 will be released simultaneously, honouring the principles of succession, completed flow, and simultaneous release. Where 1 takes the next note, it will only be released after 2 has been applied to the string, but the release will be slightly ahead of the release of 2.
b) In a three-finger combination, say 1, 2, and 4, where 3 takes the next note, fingers 1, 2, and 4 will be released simultaneously. Where 1 takes the next note, 2 and 4 will be released simultaneously, and 1 will be release slightly ahead of them, but only when 2 and 4 have been applied to the string.
c) In a four-string combination, say 1, 2, 3, and 4, where 1 takes the next note, fingers 2, 3, and 4 will be released simultaneously, and 1 will be released slightly ahead of them, but only when 2, 3, and 4 have been applied to the string.
- The exercise of Simultaneous Release incorporates a direct experience of this principle in the hand.
- v) Constant Release. This principle is most obvious in descending sequences on the same string, and in sequences of notes of equal duration played across strings. This principle reinforces the principle of release: we are constantly letting go of unneeded effort. This is applied throughout our practice where I observe the duration of notes, and does not contradict succession, the completion of flow, and simultaneous release.
- vi) Digital Equality. All the fingers of the left hand are to have equal capacity in strength, release, and stamina. This is of primary importance. Most guitarists have a weakness in the little finger, which can often be rapidly rectified by specific exercises.
- vii) Equality of Combination. Assuming equal strength among the fingers, some finger combinations (of any two, three, or all four fingers) are more reliable than others. Combinations of ascending and descending fingerings are particularly difficult.
- viii) Stretch. We go as far as we can, and then a little further. How much further is moderated by the application of intelligence and the demands of the situation. The principle is: establish the possible, then move towards the impossible, gradually. For example, we may begin a stretch exercise in a higher position and move towards a lower.
i) Weakness of the little finger.
ii) Combinations involving the little finger.
iii) Combinations involving both ascending and descending fingerings.
iv) Stretch between the second and third fingers.
v) Removing fingers from the strings, rather than releasing them. This often involves considerable movement away from the strings, particularly of the little finger.
- i) Succession. The principle is: when ascending, leave the fingers down. Any preceding finger in a sequence is left in contact with the string, maintaining the application of pressure, whether the finger combination is of two, three, or four fingers.
II. Right Hand
- The operation of the hand and arm.
The right arm is supported at the elbow by the guitar. The elbow brings the hand to where the wrist will work. The wrist works by releasing the hand downwards and allowing it to return. There is no movement in the hand, the movement coming from the wrist. We establish the motion and apply the motion to the string, with no concern for the string: our concern is the quality of motion.
The only point of contact between the right hand, the forearm, and the guitar is at the elbow. This suspended position is dependent upon a sense of balance within the hand and the arm. This can be rapidly acquired by practice and the direction of attention.
The centre of gravity of the hand may be visually determined by a straight line through two planes:
i) Looking at the arm from in front, from the elbow through the second finger.
ii) Looking at the arm from above, from the elbow through the thumb.
In this position there is no unnecessary tension in the musculature of the wrist. Visual determination should be abandoned as soon as the position of the hand and arm has begun to be established. The experience of the hand’s position from within the hand itself is our most reliable template in finding the position for ourselves. Once the arm knows this in itself, the assumption of the position is automatic.The Position of Readiness for the right hand is where the centre of gravity of the right hand is in the middle of the strings; that is, the elbow brings the pick to a point between the third and fourth strings.
The pick is held between the first digit of the thumb, and the side of the first digit of the first finger. There are three parts of the thumb which concern us: the ball of the thumb, the thumb itself, and the joint at the base of the thumb.
i) The ball of the thumb is erect.The first finger moves towards the thumb, and the other fingers follow beneath the first in support. All four fingers are held gently together, pointing back towards the elbow along the line of the arm.
ii) The thumb is gently locked backwards.
iii) The first digit of the thumb moves towards the side of the first digit of the first finger from the joint at the base of the thumb.
The release of the hand, and the pick, downwards is called a down stroke. The return of the hand, and the pick, upwards is called an up stroke. The motion of release and return is in the same plane as the strings: i.e., there is no rocking in the forearm. The disadvantage of referring to the motion or release-and-return as down and up picking is that a kind of effort is implied which is not actually made.
In alternate picking, the pick is vertical to the string and strikes the string straight on. The angle of the pick is established by the thumb. Slight variations in the shape and pressure of the thumb have considerable influence over the application of the pick, and directing the angle and strength with which it hits the string. The ball of the thumb may pivot gently on the lower strings or the bridge for additional support in picking at high speeds, and for damping. This is referred to as pivotal picking.
Where a series of down strokes are best suited to the music—for example, strong, even tone at higher volume—the pick strikes the string at 45 degrees, the completed stroke bringing the plectrum to rest on the string below.
The principle in all of this is: each part does the work of that part, and no other.
i) The function of the elbow is to establish the centre of gravity of the hand: that is, to bring the wrist to where the wrist applies the motion to the string.
ii) The functions of the wrist are:
a) To establish the motion to be applied to the string. The wrist does this by releasing the hand downwards and allowing it to return. The release and return are called down and up strokes, although this implies a kind of effort which is not actually made.
b) To work with the thumb in the production of volume. Additional pressure is applied by the joint at the base of the thumb, so the thumb applies more pressure to hold the pick on the side of the first digit of the first finger. Then, the wrist applies a momentary vigour to the release, and perhaps return, of the hand.
iii) The function of the thumb and first finger is to hold the pick.iv) The function of the pick is to strike the string.
v) The function of the second, third, and fourth fingers is to provide support to the first finger in holding the pick.
vi) The function of the thumb is to produce volume and tone. It does this by:
a) Holding the pick on the side of the first digit of the first finger.
b) Calibrating the angle at which the pick strikes the string.
c) Applying pressure to the pick.
Common faults occur where the principle that each part does the work of that part, and no other, is violated.Common Faults:
i) The wrist locks, and the forearm moves from the elbow (the elbow does the work of the wrist).
ii) The thumb bends in the middle, and the wrist twists upwards to compensate for the changed angle of the pick (the wrist does the work of the thumb).
iii) The ball of the thumb collapses, and the pick is held on the first finger by the joint in the middle of the thumb (the thumb does the work of the ball of the thumb).
iv) The pick is moved by rapid motion of the joint in the middle of the thumb (the thumb does the work of the wrist).
v) The hand is anchored by fingers resting on the soundboard (the fingers do the work of the sense of balance along the arm, undermine the sense of balance, deprive the first finger and pick of their support, and restrict the rapid shifting of the centre of gravity).
vi) The hand is anchored by the ball of the thumb resting on the bridge or lower strings (the ball of the thumb does the work of the sense of balance, undermines the sense of balance, and restricts movement of the centre of gravity).
vii) The forearm rests on the front of the guitar (the forearm does the work of the elbow, and restricts movement of the centre of gravity).
viii) The forearm rests on the edge of the guitar (as above, but squeezes the muscles and restricts the supply of blood in the forearm).
ix) Excessive movement up and down in the wrist (the wrist does the work of the elbow, rather than allowing the elbow to shift the centre of gravity).
x) Reliance upon visual contact (the eyes do the work of the hands).
xi) The thumb holds the pick on the joint, or second digit of the first finger (the joint or second digit does the work of the first digit).
xii) Hand pulled upwards prior to picking (the centre of gravity is too low). This resembles the startle reflex.
xiii) Hand fallen downwards prior to picking (the centre of gravity is too high). This is sometimes referred to as “rock ‘n’ roll wrist.”
i) Alternate picking. This is the system of picking in which a down stroke is followed by an up stroke, and an up stroke is followed by a down stroke, in a series of consecutive notes of equal duration. A down stroke is assigned to the down beat, and an up stroke is assigned to the up beat. The beginning stroke, whether down or up, is therefore determined by whether the first note is a strong or weak beat.
This method establishes a coherent and reliable approach to picking, which can be modified in response to the demands of the music.
ii) The two main modifications:
a) Accented picking, where prime accents are given down strokes. But, within the accented picking, alternate picking continues as normal.
b) Consecutive down strokes. At a slow tempo, consecutive down strokes are generally preferable to alternate picking.
iii) Free hand, or suspended, picking. This is where the right arm is only in contact with the guitar at the elbow. The support for the hand is our sense of equipoise and internal balance.iv) Pivoted hand. This is where the right hand pivots lightly from the ball of the thumb, usually on the bridge or lower strings. This is useful when picking at high speeds in a restricted compass.
v) The motion. There is no such thing as a down stroke: rather, it is the release of the hand holding the pick. The motion established by the release of the hand allows the pick to make contact with the string. Similarly, there is no such thing as an up stroke: rather, the return of the hand holding the pick from its position following the release. The return of the hand allows the pick to make contact with the string. The hand returns to the same position as prior to the release. We establish the motion and apply the motion to the string, without compromising the motion.
a) Release. In establishing the picking, we allow the action to occur. This is a principle of working: we release unnecessary effort. This is the way of effortless effort: it is the way of the artist.vi) The electric guitar is power driven, and electricity does much of the right hand’s work. Sounding notes may be given to the left hand, for example by hammer-ons and pull-offs. Technology does most of the work of tone and volume production. But, the quality of our sound on acoustic guitar reveals the degree of our skill. But this approach makes possible a clarity of execution on electric guitar which would otherwise be unlikely.
b) Return. The inevitable and necessary response to release: having gone nowhere, we return to where we were.
III. The Seven Primaries
- The First Primary, for the left hand, to:
i) Adopt an efficient configuration of the hand.
ii) Incorporate the principles of succession, the completion of flow, release and simultaneous release within the operation of the fingers.
- The Second Primary, for the right hand, to:
i) Develop a sense of equipoise along the right hand from the elbow to the fingers.
ii) Establish the hand’s centre of gravity.
iii) Acquire familiarity with suspended arm picking.
iv) Acquire familiarity with pivotal picking.
v) Establish the method of alternate picking.
- The Third Primary, for the left hand, to:
i) Develop lateral fingering.
ii) Acquire familiarity with the vocabulary of the fingerboard throughout the positions, and bring this knowledge within the hand.
iii) Extend the principles of the first primary towards music.
- The Fourth Primary (cross picking), for the right hand, to: extend the field of alternate picking across the strings.
- The Fifth Primary, for the left hand, to:
i) Develop vertical fingering.
ii) Acquire familiarity with the vocabulary of the fingerboard along the length of the neck, and bring this knowledge within the hand.
iii) Extend the principles of the first primary towards music.
- The Sixth Primary (the Anchor), where one or two fingers of the left hand are gently applied to a string which the remaining fingers execute a combination, to:
i) Cultivate release by restraining removal.
ii) Develop the independence, strength, and efficiency of the fingers.
- The Seventh Primary (the Finger Pivot), where one finger of the left hand is placed between two adjacent strings, vertically form above the fingerboard, and pivoting slightly either side of this placement to stop notes on these adjacent strings, for:
i) The economy of motion between adjacent strings.
ii) The cultivation of accuracy.
IV. The Secondary Exercises
- The First Secondary: of combined ascending and descending fingerings.
- The Second Secondary: of graduated extension for the right hand.
- The Third Secondary: of extended lateral fingering.
- The Fourth Secondary: the tremolo.
- The Fifth Secondary: of extended vertical fingering.
- The Sixth Secondary: of varied duration, where notes held by the left hand are of different values.
- The Seventh Secondary: of combination.
V. General Practice
Act from principle.
Assume the virtue.
Begin where you are.
Define your aim simply, clearly, briefly, positively.
Establish the possible and move gradually towards the impossible.
Offer no violence.
Let us take our work seriously, but not solemnly.
With commitment, all the rules change.
How to approach the many weaknesses and imbalances in our playing? A recommendation is to choose one small part of our playing, and to set ourselves to discharge this one small part superbly. Although one may accept compromises in areas other than the one we have chosen, in this one small area no compromise is to be accepted at all. Once we have chosen this one small aspect, we monitor it continually and frequently. Where we are failing in our task we stop, correct ourselves, and begin again. The principle is: accept nothing less than what is right. Perhaps we set ourselves this task for one week. Then, having established this to an honourable degree, we choose one more small part of our playing and continue in the same fashion. Soon, we will acquire a sense of the principles involved and can begin the practice proper.
We devise a personal exercise, or exercise, for ourself before we have understood the fundamental principles. Our practising in this way is not only a waste of time, but its effects will take time to repair. This is not to deny the intelligent and playful application of the principles to our personal needs.
- Vocabulary. If I wish to speak with my own voice, and to improvise, I must have the vocabulary at my disposal. The vocabulary of the modern musician is far more sophisticated than a generation ago, although the content of the expression is not inevitably more subtle. In performance we do not have the time to consider the vocabulary and grammar, perhaps even the syntax, of music: our concerns are semantic. The constituents of the musical language will be within the hands, freeing the attention for other concerns within the performance. A basic vocabulary will include frequently used scales, chords, and rhythms. We will instinctively be drawn more towards some than others: this is an instinct to be trusted.
- Repertoire. This is a coherent and established vocabulary, grounded in music. Ideally, this will be widely based, variable, flexible, and adaptable, a foundation for further growth. A quality repertoire is often measured by how much good material has been dropped from it.
- Speed. There are three speeds: fast, slow, and medium. Each has its own recognizable flavour, and each speed has its own three speeds. So, we have slow slow, medium slow, and fast slow; slow medium, medium medium, and fast medium; slow fast, regular fast, and extremely fast indeed. Each of these has its own distinctive quality. Once we have the appropriate speed, and the capacity to execute a passage accurately, our speed is mainly constrained by knowing what we are doing and where we are going.
My playing will move through time: what is the right speed for this playing? My personal speed relates to the tempo of the playing, so what is the right tempo? This will vary with different times of day, and within my practice period. Sometimes, when the tempo of the exercise and my personal tempo come together, I get a hint of what it means to live my life at the right speed. Rather than imposing a false and forced pace of life upon myself, with all the consequent disruptions to my equilibrium, I become a creature in time with myself. These moments are precious, even though it may take years to come to them. On the other hand, they are available immediately if we care to drop our demands on time. For my playing, it may mean that I drop my fast licks. But, sometimes I am in a hurry: so, can I play presto?
We begin by establishing a benchmark tempo with the metronome, choosing a tempo reliably within our competence. Then, we extend the parameters of our competence by moving the metronome forward—that is, playing faster, and backward, playing slower. Benchmarks address our manual capacity for speed; vocabulary addresses knowing what we are doing; developing the duration of our present moment addresses the knowing of where we come from, where we are going, and the overview of what we are playing.
Metronomic time is not good time, but the metronome is an impartial arbiter of our accuracy at any particular speed. It makes a demand upon us, from outside ourself, to which we must respond.
Time. “Good time” is being in step with ourselves. Good time includes and combines these elements:
i) The pattern of the music unfolding in time. This is held by the mind, and is the integral and overall horizontal organisation of the music expressed in terms of musical time elements: the time signature, the number of bars of the piece, durations, and tempos. The trained mind can see the complete unfolding of a piece, and can hold the complete sequence at any moment
ii) Timing is the stressing of significances in the moment, of emphasizing continuities and discontinuities within the sequential unfolding of the music. This is primarily an emotional response to the needs and demands of the moment.
iii) Tempo is the rate of pulse of the music.
iv) Playing in time is the synchronisation of the pulse of the music and the pulse of the musician. We consult the body to play “in time” to lock our playing into an effective tempo. Pulse is the time in the body. Playing in time is not necessarily metronomic time, or strict tempo, although this is a capacity within the craft of the musician. Our personal sense of time changes during performance, in response to the changing heart-beat and pulse of the body. This is also true of the audience, and any audience has its own personal tempo. A satisfying performance will synchronise the pulse of music, musician, and audience. The tempo of performance will reflect this, and be idiosyncratic to that performance.
Common Faults:i) Poor time is often an indication of a fundamental egotism: we are unable to move outside ourselves, whether from nervousness, fear, or perhaps from conceit. Poor time reflects a lack of personal connection to, or concern for, the pulse of music. This becomes obvious when playing with others: we may not wish to be part of a group, and so refuse to hear them, or to accept group time. Instead, we impose our own sense of time upon the group.
A musician with poor time is always suspect: they are out of touch with something fundamental within themselves, and so out of touch with others.
ii) Often, musical training is unbalanced, with an exaggerated development of the cerebral side of musicianship, and a resulting lack of connection with the body and ones personal pulse. Orchestral players are trained to inhibit the movement of the body, and accept the time of the conductor. Within the Guitar Craft performance circle, there is no denial of the natural and joyous response of the body to music. But there is one condition: if the musician taps their foot, or moves the body, it must be in time, and in group time.
iii) The clumsy musician will surrender to excitement, and allow their personal tempo to race. Exhilaration is qualitatively different.
Accuracy. The aim is to hit the right note at the right time, in tune and in tone. This requires that we be competent, in the moment, have an overview of what is being played, and a clear aim. The key to accuracy is to discover the tempo of our accuracy, establish this as a benchmark, and then extend its parameters.i) Playing too fast.
ii) Lack of familiarity with the material being played.
- Facility. If I am out of practice, it will take three days of consistent practising before I become limber. Otherwise, I will struggle and force my playing. Less than one hour a day and I cease to be a guitarist.
Economy. This is the discovery of effortlessness, or necessary effort, in my practising. Efficiency is a measure of the relationship between the quantity of my labour and the quality of my work. With an inefficient practice I will run out of energy, the fine edge of my performance will be blunted, and my capacity restricted. In time this leads me to examine the quality and quantity of energy available to me, and how I waste, conserve, generate, and invest this energy. This is a subtle study.
Economy is not—less is more; rather—the right amount is enough. This acknowledges the Rule of Quantity: honour sufficiency.
Relaxation is the presence of necessary tension; tension is the presence of unnecessary tension; collapse is the absence of necessary tension.
If I ask my body to sit quietly for half an hour and do nothing, and it is unable to respond, there is little chance I can ask it to sit quietly for an hour while I practise.
Am I able to relax while practising? Can I maintain my posture for an extended period? Is my breathing free, forced, or constrained?
Relaxation is never accidental: it always carries intention. Release is an important principle in relaxation. We discover experiences, emotional and psychological, carried in our postures. When releasing muscular patterns, experiences associated with them sometimes reappear. In relaxing the body, letting go of unnecessary tension, we also let go of unnecessary attitudes and feelings.
- Tone. Does my note sound good? Does it have resonance? Superficially, the right hand is responsible for tone production, but the quality of sound involves more than this. Am I present with this note? Is this note floating about on the outside of who I am, or does it come from inside me, as a necessity? Is this note arbitrary, professionally adequate, or singing with rightness? How may I discriminate between sufficiency and adequacy?
- Presence. Will I accept what is sufficient, or what is adequate? Tone is a measure of my presence with the note. Perhaps, it is an indication of the presence of music with the musician. If music is a benevolent presence constantly and readily available to all, how can we be constantly and readily available to music?
If we are present to music, this implies that we are present to ourselves. So, how? If we disagree with the proposition that music is a benevolent presence, we must be present to disagree. So, the question remains: how can we be present? This leads to the question: who is present? Perhaps the best I can say is…what is present is my attention. Where my attention is, is where I am; and as far as I can tell, it is who I am. So, if my quality of attention varies, I become a qualitatively different person; perhaps, a different person completely. So, my practice will involve noticing my attention, and I will notice:
i) Where my attention goes.
ii) My noticing of where my attention goes.
Have I become two people? The quick answer is: as far as I can tell, yes. The long answer is: yes, and sometimes no one at all. I will notice that often more than two people play upon the stage of my life: many relatives in a large family of disparate characters appear and perform. These characters are related by one common factor: my noticing of them. The characters in the forefront of action change as the drama of living unfolds, but my noticing remains the same: it is noticing.
If my life is comfortable, I will forget to notice, other than noticing discomfort. Neither will I bother to exert myself to notice. If this is enough, life is settled. But when music flies by, and the sound emerging from our instrument comes to life, our state changes. This experience can be very powerful, and unsettling. When the current turns on, we know our life will never be quite the same again. This moment is always the same, although always different. Our question is: where did that come from?
If this moment of amplified presence, of substantiality, has found a resonance in me, I have a choice: comfort or substantiality. If I wish to be present, to notice, to take note, to be part of the world around me, I trade in my comfort for an opportunity to be present when music flies by. I have noticed that comfort makes me dull, and that I only have the opportunity to change when I am uncomfortable. So, I learn a technique: points of discontinuity alert me to my state. There are opportunities in my surroundings which, if I apply my intelligence, can be useful to me. Sudden sounds which might irritate me, or people I dislike, can remind me of my aim to be present. But soon I become accustomed to these no longer surprising sounds; soon I grow to like those I formerly disliked. Neither can I rely on my surroundings to provide me with discontinuities, so I provide them for myself. I present myself with small challenges, small points of discontinuity, which make a demand upon me. These points will inevitably become blunted by usage, and so I find others.
Presence is being where I am. Absence is when I am not. A present moment is the measure of my presence in time, a moment in which my attention is engaged. It is the “when” and the “how long” of who I am. The music we play is a true reflection of who we are, and our musical instrument shows us where we are. The response is direct: there is no argument, justification, or explanation for a bad note. We were not present. This is always forgivable, rarely excusable, and never acceptable.
- Persistence. Persistence is a measure of our wish. When we begin to practise persistence, we find that wanting is not a sufficiently strong force to take us past the Great Divide. The Great Divide is the stage in any process when we are too far from the beginning to go back, and too far from the end to go forward. We have run out of enthusiasm and interest, and have nothing to keep us moving. Wish is stronger than want, but even wish is not enough to guarantee our effectuality, and carry us towards our aim. For this, commitment is necessary to hold us within the process until the end is close enough to reach back and pull us towards it. But, to make a commitment implies that we can act from a point of unity within our diversity.
- Stamina. Stamina is what we can bring to bear to support our persistence.
- Endurance. Endurance is a measure of our capacity to persist. This is where effortlessness becomes apparent and is critical.
- Commitment. Commitment is a measure of our unity, our personal integrity. A commitment is honoured by all that we are, and binds all that we are to a unity. A commitment broken violates this integrity, and is exceptionally difficult to repair.
- Attention. We have seen above that there are three kinds of attention:
i) Directed, or volitional, attention. This attention is always intentional, and is close to freedom. This can be practised simply, in many small ways. Paying attention to something which holds no interest for me, or which I dislike, is very helpful.
ii) Attracted attention. This is where my attention is engaged by discontinuity, or some form of interest, perhaps of liking, or even disliking. Professional listening, for the musician, is within this category. At least we are present, but we are present whether we wish to be or not.
iii) No attention at all. This is automatic attention. We only realise we have been here when we have left.
Divided attention. This is an aspect of directed attention, and can be practised in specific exercises. Am I able to divide my attention between what I am doing and what I am thinking? This addresses the coordinated functioning of the mind and the hands. Can I think and play guitar at the same time? Can I hold the pattern of what I am playing in my mind’s eye while playing?
Memory. A memory is an experience to which we have access. Memory is a reflection of the quality of our attention. As there are different qualities of attention, so there are different qualities of memory. A memory is only available to us when we are in a qualitatively equivalent state.
A guitarist has memory in the hands, and hands can remember very quickly, but this memory is sequential. My mind can remember the pattern of the piece in a way that my hands will never accomplish. It is a mistake to ask the mind to do the work of the hands, as it is a mistake to ask the hands to do the work of the mind. But there is a close relationship: the mind prepares the way for the hands, and the hands work faster and more reliably than the mind.
The feel of the music is a different kind of experience again. If we access and hold our experience of the characteristic feel of a particular piece, we can compare the feel of the current performance and bring it towards a consonant spirit.
VI. Special Exercises
Some exercises present themselves unexpectedly when needed, seemingly as a gift from themselves. These probably would not have been devised purely by the application of intelligence, but some exercises are devised by the application of intelligence when appropriate. These are in the gift of those who have devised them, those who have been given authority to show them, and those who have made them their own.
- The Division Of Attention Exercise. This is an introduction to the practice of co-ordinated functioning.
- The Extended Present Moment: to extend the duration of the moment in which our attention is engaged. There are several forms of this, but the essence is to train the mind to hold a pattern. That is, we train the mind to see integrally. Once established, this enables us to be in contact with all the notes in any piece of music whichever particular note we are playing. With practice, this can go further.
- Bodily Presence. Are we alive inside our left hand? If so, how do we know? This is not thinking about being inside our left hand, but being aware of the life within the hand. Is this a distinct experience? If so, what is the nature of this distinct experience? Then, can we maintain a sense of our bodily presence while in motion? If not, why not? How can we move with no sense of ourselves? Do we have a body in motion? If so, how so? In Guitar Craft we practice the cultivation of organic sensation; that is, a direct experience of what it means to be alive inside our left and right hands, and, in time, the whole of the body. In time, we invest this in our overall sense of ourselves.
- The Assumption Of Virtue. To bring within the phenomenal world the presence of a quality, by assuming a form compatible with the expression of that quality. For example, we may not listen to the musicians we play with, but if we behave as if we were listening to them, perhaps in time we will hear them. Eventually, we may actually listen to them. We may not like the musicians we play with or want to be with them. If we act towards them in a loving way, as if we love them, perhaps in time the loving act will become an act of love.
- The Transmission Of Qualities. Any person of experience has that experience within the field of their being. If we approach this person, we approach their being and come closer to their experience. Experience is qualitative and can be shared. A teacher can give their pupil a sense of this qualitative experience, introducing the pupil to a place where the experience lives. Once this introduction has been made, the pupil has access to this place from their own initiative, and on their own acquaintance. Even breathing the air around a bona fide teacher brings the energy of their experience within our reach.
An instructor can give instructions, but cannot make the introduction. Neither can the introduction be made by post. This is why more sophisticated and subtle techniques can only properly be introduced in person.
- Contact At A Distance. Physical distance need be no impairment to a group’s functioning. The conditions necessary to override geography are:
i) A common aim.
ii) Commitment to that aim.
iii) The will to work together with others in service of that aim.
Where these conditions are honoured, it is possible for this group to become one person, with one will, in many bodies and places simultaneously. Each is part of the whole, has access to the experience of the whole, and in a sense, is the whole. Any one individual has their particular speciality and personal talents. Some excel in function, some in knowledge, and some in the quality of their presence. A group is one person with all these talents. In this way it is possible for one poor individual to know exceptional states through their participation in the group. Participation within a group does not undermine the integrity of an individual. But, a real group is not accidental.