Friday, 11 September 2009

Stuck in a Rut? (part 1)

This month, it's back into the academic year, and a frequent complaint from some of my students has been that while they've done a lot of playing and practicing over the summer, they felt that they've been playing a lot of the same things, over and over. Not just with technical "reinforcement" exercises, but with improvisations and melodic ideas, with fingers always seeming to fall into the same places. Just over the last week, the exercise I've given these students to combat this problem/challenge has been very effective. As with all the most effective exercises, it's very simple:

Divide and hour up into 4 parts of 15 minutes each. For the first 15 minutes, improvise (preferably exploring some musical and creative phrasing, and using a variety of scales, arpeggio, and intervalic ideas) without using your 4th finger of the left hand (or right hand for left handed people). For the following 15 minutes, do not use your 3rd finger at all, just fingers 1,2 and 4. For the next 15 minutes, just use fingers 1,3, and 4, and for the final 15 minutes, just use fingers 2,3 and 4.

This is a variation on the "restriction as the basis for development" principle which I outlined in an earlier blog, where only the inner 4 strings are used to perform exercises. This time the exercise is designed to break up the patterns that fingers get so used to when practicing scales and other technical exercises across the fingerboard. It can be frustrating, but it's worthwhile because once this exercise has been completed, returning to all 4 fingers on the fingerboard opens up a wealth of potential!