The sensation

July 22nd, 2012

As I look back to my old posts, I realize I’ve been repeating myself quite a bit. Concepts like the automated engine, walking the fingers, snapping through the strings, kept on showing up in my posts.

Well, at least one thing you can say is I’m consistent.

And it does point to one thing — that playing the guitar is really quite a simple matter. All you have to do is to understand the basic concepts behind the techniques and there’re only a few of them.

It’s one reason I haven’t been writing much about technique lately.

I’ve said most of what I wanted to say (with perhaps one or two exceptions which I’m reserving for another book or books).

But one of the concepts that I’ve been referring to, and which I haven’t written in detail yet is that of the tactile sensation at the fingertips.

To me, the sensation at the fingertips is everything.

When I first discovered the tremolo technique, all I could remember is that of the sensation at the fingertips. It was an unusual sensation. I remember the moment I found that sensation, my tremolo smoothed out immediately.

I was so excited by my discovery I decided to transfer the sensation to all my other techniques. It was a conscious effort. I had to re-practice all my techniques to get the sensation into my fingertips when I played them.

I remember that to get the sensation, the nail length had to just right and I had to make sure I hadn’t washed my face that day, because if I had washed my face, there wouldn’t be enough grease on my face to oil my fingertips. (Yes, part of the sensation is that the fingertips should be able to slide past the string effortlessly, with minimum resistance, although with a slight catch in the finger nails.)

So what’s this sensation?

It’s the sensation of ultra relaxation at your fingertips. (I’m talking about the tip joint here.)

You feel as if you have full control over your tip joint. No matter how fast the tempo, you’re able to place your fingertip on the string and pluck each one of them individually and deliberately.

This gives you tremendous control over every note, at any tempo.

All the factors I have written before are there.

You feel a slight give at the fingertips, you allow it to relax, and you snap away at the moment of plucking.

As the finger snaps away, you feel the string sliding past the fingertip with a slight catch just before it clears the string. It all happens like a dance, and your fingertips are like dancers dancing on the strings.

Perhaps the most important of these factors is that you have to focus your movements right at the fingertips when you play, not in the knuckles, but right at the fingertips.

The beauty is of the technique is there’s absolutely no hurry. Even at the fastest tempo, you feel as if you have all the time to pluck the strings.

So if the tactile sensation is such a crucial part of finger plucking technique, how come no one has ever mentioned it before?

It’s a good question. I’ve often wondered about it myself.

4 Responses to “The sensation”

  1. MdM Says:

    Philip,
    could it be because some of the method book writers can’t actually do the technique? They have observed good players, and they can perhaps teach people (that is, not impede their natural growth), but actually have never felt the sensation?

    By the way, I have heard about this in one method book–Pepe Romero’s. He wrote about how the fingertip gives a little, and then gains strength right at the end. But we know Pepe can play :)

    Miguel de Maria

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    I think there’s some truth in what you said. There’s a whole tactile thing going at the fingertips which cannot be observed but can only be experienced firsthand. Yes, Pepe’s the man! I’m not familiar with that passage from his book but it describes it perfectly.

  3. William Bajzek Says:

    I read something a while back in a very very old book on playing the flute (Maybe it was Quantz’s book? Something from before 1800) in which he said that despite his best efforts to describe what he does when he plays, he can’t actually look at the inside of his mouth to be sure of what he’s actually doing. And even if he could, there’s no guarantee that the student could perfectly reproduce what he was doing in his mouth.

    I have a lot of method books and they’ve all got something good to say, and they’ve all got something that’s pretty messed up. Not naming names here, but one with an extensive discussion of tremolo has an accompanying DVD where you can clearly see the teacher performing exquisite tremolo that not only looks nothing like his description.

    I think that sometimes when people achieve a certain level of technique, and they frequently hear or were taught that there’s a particular right way to do it, they are tricked into thinking that must be what they’re doing. I don’t mean this to be a criticism of those teachers, really, I think it’s just a human thing.

  4. Philip Hii Says:

    I haven’t kept up with the new technique books out there so I’m not familiar with that book that you mentioned, but I think there’s definitely a gap between theory and practice with some players, except of course Pepe, who I think is one of the most eloquent teachers out there, nothing theoretical about his teaching!

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