One of the hardest things to do in teaching is trying to convey an experiential thing to someone who’s never experienced it.
Most of the time, the solution is to resort to analogies.
For example, if I want to describe what it feels like to be in Houston to someone who’s never been to the city, I’d try to draw on the person’s other experiences.
So if the person has never been to Houston but has been to San Antonio, I would say Houston’s like San Antonio except it’s perhaps twenty times bigger and the traffic is a lot crazier. (This is just an example, and not to be taken literally.)
Analogies help but there’re still some things that are almost impossible to describe in words.
One of them is the sensation at the fingertips when you play.
In describing the sensation of release at the fingertips, over the years, I’ve used the analogy of letting go an arrow. I’ve also called it a snapping action but that too seems inadequate.
In actual teaching situations, I’ve found it helpful to perform the plucking action on the student’s hand. This way, they could physically feel the relaxation and the release at my fingertips.
There’s one thing however that eludes me and I’m sill trying to find the best analogy.
This is the ‘engine’ at the fingertips when you play.
This is the sensation of all the fingers working together at the fingertips, each one setting the next one off.
The engine is the unseen element in the super economical efficient right hand stroke I’ve described before.
In an earlier post, I’ve even tried to illustrate the efficient stroke with videos, but the videos do not show one thing and that’s what’s going on within the fingers.
So I’ll try to describe the sensation again.
The sensation is of the fingers working together as one unit, like an engine.
In a simple arpeggio, one finger will activate the string in a quick letting go of the string, like that of letting go an arrow. (When you let go an arrow, there’s a complete release of tension in the letting go. That’s the sensation at the fingertips, a complete letting go of all tension.)
The activation is not simply the finger pushing through the string.
The tension and resistance of the string is very much involved.
The finger comes into contact with the string, feels the resistance, there’s a sensation of slight give at the fingertip and then the finger snaps through the resistance.
The action of release is almost like falling out of balance.
This sense of ‘falling’ is immediately counteracted by the next finger in an action that is directly set off by the motion in the first finger.
The second action is a direct consequence of the first; it’s triggered by the letting go of the first action, the ‘falling.’ So it’s not an independent action occurring in isolation. It’s directly tied to the first action.
In past writings, I’ve used the word ‘propelled’ to describe the sensation of one action setting off another.
To continue the arpeggio, the second action immediately sets off the third finger in the same way and in this way, energy is seamlessly transferred from one stroke to the next to the next.
Think of the series of actions as all interlinked together in one automatic chain reaction of actions.
One action sets off another and another and the actions are all occurring at the fingertips which means there’s very little motion.
At one level, you can describe the sensation as consolidation because you’re playing a series of notes in one quick action, but consolidation in itself does not fully explain the forward propelling motion at the fingertips.
Some will say it’s planting and preparation. But the word ‘planting’ has a static quality whereas the sensation in this forward moving mechanism is dynamic.
It’s very alive, you feel as if the fingertips are charged with a special kind of energy that’s constantly powering you forward.
With this engine powering you forward, notes ripple effortlessly and because it’s all based on release, you can sustain it over long periods without any loss of stamina.
So will the above description help in conveying the experiential sensation?
At this level of description, it’s just information of course.
But information can be useful if it gives you some pointers on what to expect, what to look out for.
And this is the only reason for trying to convey it.
The key in practicing is that when you experience a breakthrough, when you suddenly understand a technique at the experiential level, try to remember the sensation in your fingers, especially at the fingertips.
You’ll find that there’s a special sensation when you’re able to perform the technique.
Because the thing with breakthroughs is that, you may have a breakthrough one day and then lose it the next.
By trying to remember the sensation, you’ll be able to recapture that sensation and replicate that breakthrough again.