Today, my morning practice was devoted to “War Horse” day. The chosen war horses of the day were Grand Overture, Op 61, Sonata Eroica, Op. 150 by Mauro Giuliani, Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998 by J. S. Bach, Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 9 by Fernando Sor and Recuerdos de la Alhambra by F. Tarrega. Seasoned classical guitarists might comment:”So what?” or “Why on earth?” Non guitarists might comment that a root canal might be more fun. However, there is method to my madness for I desire to keep all the pieces I know and have grown old with “under my fingers”. Thus, I have a warhorse day a couple times a week.
There is a great advantage to working on and playing pieces you have known for ten or twenty years – especially difficult pieces. If one approaches practice with the desire to learn something each time they move a finger, one will come to the realization at some point that a difficult piece can be played with great difficulty or easily and effortlessly. It is at this point that some real learning and understanding can take place. And the question of the lesson learned is: “What is the difference?” The answer is pressure.
As I grow older and begin to feel my mortality more acutely, I am aware that little truths are often spiritual or universal truths; and that a lesson learned or only understood (for assuredly we can understand something but not implement it) in one small aspect of living often can be a lesson that applies to or gives insight into the greater aspects of living and being. Pressure.
Now during a warhorse day practice, there are several goals I keep in mind. Basically the goals are: to remember the piece with the fewest thought lapses, to play musically and interestingly, and have no fatigued, numb or cramped fingers while playing.
This morning while practicing, something I already knew floated into my consciousness. I find for me that lessons learned are often then forgotten and must be learned again.
How much effort in ounces or pounds does it take to make a clear clean note when played on the guitar? How tightly do you hold a glass to lift it? How much effort do you apply when swinging a hammer to hit a nail? How do you come to realize what that exact amount of pressure feels like? I know from experience it is not an easy thing to determine until the determination is the goal.
Alright, why is this important? Let us say, for example that to play a note on the 1st string takes 4 ounces of pressure to play cleanly and clearly and you use 10 pounds of pressure to play the note? That is 40 times more pressure than necessary and yet that amount of pressure is easy to apply with a finger. This means in performance is that in order to play another note with that finger, you have to release 40 times more pressure than necessary before you can play the next note and the next note and the next. Thus in playing 4 notes, which should have only used 1 pound total of pressure, the guitarist would have used 40 pounds of pressure to do the same 4 notes. Which case would prove to be faster, easier and more expressive?
So today, as I played phrase by phrase I consciously worked at feeling where that exact pressure point was for each note or chord played. Quite often I felt I was successful and when I was not, I tried as often as possible to adjust to a more correct pressure. On this day for me the results were very rewarding.
Upon completion of practice for the morning, I was cautioning myself mentally to make darn sure I remember this and work to put it into practice so I do not have to relearn it. Then another thought slipped into my mind. Is there an aspect of this lesson that can be applied to other parts of my life? It certainly must apply to all physical endeavors to be sure. But what about emotions? Can it be applied in the same fashion to emotions? I would venture to say absolutely. I have come to believe that we are not our bodies, we have bodies, and also we are not our emotions, we have emotions, though in too many cases in too many people, it is unclear what or who owns or rules whom!
For a moment look at emotions as a straight line with one end love, the other end hate, one end happiness the other end sadness, in fact take any of the polar opposites and assign them to a straight line. In our minds could we not pick out a range we tend to operate in and assign weights of pressure to them? If a driver cuts you off in traffic, is that worth of 4 ounces of emotion or 10 pounds of emotion? If someone is late picking you up is that 6 ounces of emotion or 30 pounds? By then end of our daily piece of “life music” we play, can you not see the immense weight we can pile upon ourselves, when in actuality only a few ounces of pressure were only needed to be applied? We do have the ability and the capacity to choose.