Deriving the final set

June 3rd, 2011

If you’ve read the last two posts, you’ve probably identified some key elements of virtuosity of your own.

The next step is to come up with a definitive set, one that can help you identify problems easier in your playing or in your students’ playing.

This step is actually not necessary (unless you’re writing a book).

For years, I got by with just a hazy idea of what I should be looking for in my students. I went mostly by instinct.

But as the years rolled by, I began to notice some of the more persistent principles recurring even in seemingly different techniques and saw a pattern emerging from them.

That was what motivated me to start writing the AOV in the first place. To me, these principles were so obvious and yet so crucial, I wondered why no one had ever bothered to put them together before.

It was the writing that also forced me to reexamine these elements and to come up with a more defined and concise set.

Back to refining the set and reducing them to the most essential elements.

There’re four ways to accomplish this.

The first is to determine if they’re absolutely essential. If you were to eliminate one of the elements, would it prevent you from achieving virtuosity? (This is similar to the dispensability test in the AOV. If you eliminate a component, would it have an appreciable impact on your end result?) If the answer is yes, it’s essential, if no, it’s unessential.

So for example, the element of passion. To me that’s a crucial part of achieving virtuosity. Virtuosity without passion is just so many empty gestures.

But if I were to put it to this test, and going with the definition of virtuosity, which is to attain a state of effortless mastery, then passion is not an essential component. One can attain virtuosity without feeling in the least moved by what he/she is doing.

The second is to test them, like you would test any hypothesis.

For example, if you have the principle of looseness in your list, try doing the opposite when you play. Stiffen up your hands, lock up your wrist and see if you still have the mobility and freedom you had when your joints were loose.

Or if you have the principle of rhythm, try playing without rhythm. If you like the effect of playing without rhythm, you would eliminate this component from your list, but if you don’t like the effect, then it’s passed the test.

Yes, I know the process seems simplistic but it’s useful just to make sure you’re on the right track.

The third way is to reduce redundancies in your list.

Some of the elements in your list may overlap each other. You want to pare down the list so there’s no overlapping.

For example, earlier on in my career, the concept of softness was very important to me. I felt it was crucial students keep their body and hands soft to maintain relaxation.

But as my thoughts evolved, I realized that softness was the same as looseness, another key element. If you’re soft, you’re loose and vice versa. So out goes softness as a key element in itself, but I still use it to describe what the body should feel like in an optimum state, soft and loose.

So go through your list and eliminate any redundancies.

Finally, the fourth way is to go through your list to make sure that you’re not missing any key elements.

One way to do that is to look at the big picture.

When we perform, we’re dealing with several layers of realities.

First, the reality in our body which is our body state, second, the reality in our movements which is the spatial state, and third the reality in time, which is the temporal state.

Our basic elements should cover all three realities. They must deal with how we achieve an optimal body state, how we move optimally through space, and how we move optimally through time.

Looseness, for instance, deals with our body state and rhythm with the temporal.

A word of caution. The final set is not meant to be a checklist of dos and don’ts that you apply strictly in a formulaic way. It’s just a guide to help you identify potential problems in your playing or in your students’ playing, and help you in your quest for virtuosity.

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