Creating the automated engine

May 19th, 2011

I’ve written about the automated engine a number of times before so I thought I’ll elaborate on it, for the benefit of those who don’t have my AOV for Guitar.

The concept is central to the AOV and it’s the key to effortless speed.

What’s this automated engine?

Imagine your fingers and thumb working together as a unit.

Each finger has the ability to propel the next one forward as if there’s an internal engine in them.

When one finger plays, it pushes the next one forward, when the next one plays, it pushes the next one forward again, and on and on, in a continuous ripple effect.

The effect is almost like dominoes falling, each piece knocking the next one down, or like winding up a toy and just letting it go.

The process is completely automated, you have no sensation of having to exert effort. You just play and the notes play themselves, almost miraculously.

There’re two basic underlying principles behind this technique

First, the technique of grouping.

When you play a bunch of notes, group them into larger groups and play these groups of notes in one motion.

At all cost, don’t try to play each note separately, you’ll never be fast that way. Play the notes in group,  in one motion per group.

The logic behind this technique is simple.

If you have a row of bottles to knock down, will you knock them down one by one individually, or will you knock them down with one sweep of the hand?

Or if you have to shop for groceries, will you go to the supermarket every time you have to buy an item, or will you wait till you have a few items to buy and you buy them all in one trip?

The answers are obvious.

In the same way, if you have a series of p i m a m i arpeggios, don’t try to play each note separately, group them into groups and play each group as a unit.

That’s easy to do for regular arpeggios but what about scales, where there’re no clear patterns?

You group them into groups too, but in this case, you’ll have to group them according to the phrasing. And when you play the scale, play it in groups of notes rather than each note individually.

But what happens when you have irregular arpeggio patterns? Like in Etude # 1 by Villa Lobos?

In this case, apply the second principle, make each note propel the next one forward. By doing this, you’ll create the same effect as grouping, tying each note to the next, creating a chain of notes again.

When you play one note, use the energy released in that note to propel you to the next note, and then do it for the next note and the next after that, continuously, in an endless repeating cycle.

When you do this, you’ll feel as if the fingers are all working together, each one pushing the next forward.

Let’s try it with Etude # 1.

Play the first note (low E) with p, feel the release in the playing. (Check out my previous post on releasing energy with the stroke.)

Use the energy in the release of that note to drive your i finger forward to play the next note (middle E on D string).

As soon as your i finger plays the E, use the energy released in that note to push your p forward to play the low B.

As soon as the p plays the B, use the energy released to push your i finger to play the g string.

And on and on, in a continual cycle, each note pushing the next finger forward to the next note

This is the key to the automated engine. You harness the energy in each note to propel you to the next. That’s why there’s no sensation of effort because it all happens right at your fingertips, without any conscious input from you.

To make this happen, three things are essential.

  1. Your fingers must be super light, loose and relaxed.
  2. The plucking of each note must be the release of that note,
  3. You must focus all your movements at the fingertips, in other words, there must be extreme economy in your fingers.

These are of course the necessary conditions described in the AOV and AOV for Guitar as a precondition to achieving virtuosity.

Leave a Reply