Shifting the focus from action to pre-action

May 13th, 2011

I’ve written about how virtuoso reality differs from ordinary reality.

For instance, if you want more speed in virtuosity, don’t try to move faster, instead, generate it by creating a self-propelled engine in your body (or fingers as in the case of playing guitar) and using the momentum in that engine to create effortless speed for you.

Or if you want more power, don’t try to apply more force, instead create more potential energy (by pulling at the string more) and then harnessing the power in your fingers.

Those are the core elements of virtuosity but there’s one more component of the virtuoso reality (which I have alluded to before in my article on walking the fingers) and it has to do with shifting the focus from the action to the pre-action.

Let me explain:

Every action involves two phases, the pre-action (getting to the point of action to execute the action) and the action itself (the actual execution).

For instance when you walk, you’ll have to place your foot on the ground (the point of action) before you can take that step (the actual action).

Or when you play guitar, you have to get the finger to the string first (the point of action) before you can pluck it (the action).

A side note: I’m referring here not to the technique of ‘preparation,’ which is a conscious act of placing the finger on the string before you pluck it, but to the simple act of bringing the finger to the string to pluck it.

In virtuoso reality, the point is to shift the focus from the action to the pre-action and to let the action occur as an afterthought, as a logical conclusion to the pre-action.

To go back to the analogy of stepping again, when we walk, most of our effort is focused on bringing the foot to the ground, the actual stepping occurs naturally as a release of that effort.

The same principle works on the guitar too. When you pluck, you should focus most of your attention on getting your finger to the string and let the actual plucking occur naturally, as a conclusion of that action.

To do this well, you’ll have to have all the basic physical conditions described in the AOV in place, a super loose body, a light touch, and smooth and fluid motions.

And even then, it’ll still require you to be fully warmed up.

Even though I’m familiar with the technique, if I’ve been away from the guitar for any length of time (like a few weeks), it still takes me a while before I can feel the technique working in my fingers again. It’s something I can’t force, I’d just have to practice and wait for it to come and when it does, I know I’m fully warmed up.

Let’s try this exercise.

Play a simple i m a m arpeggio on the first three strings, i finger on the third string, m on the second, and a on the first string.

Relax the fingers thoroughly. Don’t force them.

As you play, gradually shift your focus away from the plucking and focus your efforts on getting the fingers to the string. (Again, this is not an exercise in ‘preparation,’ so don’t try to prepare the fingers on the string before you pluck it.)

In other words, focus all your attention on finding the string with your fingers.

And let the plucking occur naturally almost as an afterthought.

Practice the technique until it feels perfectly natural.

To this right requires you to be incredibly relaxed so it’s critical you stay relaxed.

At all cost, don’t try too hard to make it happen, just keep on practicing and let the technique happen naturally.

The great thing about shifting the focus from the action to the pre-action is that it not only results in greater relaxation in your strokes (because of the built-in release mechanism at the point of execution) it also dramatically increases your speed and accuracy.

This is simple to understand. First speed.

If you focus your attention on the pre-action, you’ll create a more dynamic and forward-driven technique in your fingers. Contrast this to the more conventional approach of focusing on the action (the actual stroke) which will produce a more static technique.

It’s as if you have to run from base to base. As soon as you arrive at one base, you’re already off running to the next base. You never stay still on any one base, because you’re always focused on the next base.

This is what happens when you focus on the pre-action in plucking. You’ll be constantly moving forward to the next stroke. As soon as you arrive at a string with one finger, you’ll be moving to the next stroke and to getting the next finger onto the next string. This results in great forward drive and momentum in your fingers.

And accuracy.

If you focus your attention on getting the fingers to the strings, you’ll also be, by extension, focusing your attention on finding those strings with your fingers.

And if you focus your attention on finding something, you’ll find it a whole lot more accurately than if your attention is elsewhere.

2 Responses to “Shifting the focus from action to pre-action”

  1. John Dimick Says:

    Good lesson! It helped me.

    I haven’t played much over the past two decades, but at the age of 57 I’ve started getting back into it. And I’m having some trouble getting the “feel’ back in my right hand.

    My “i” finger, in particular, is stubbornly wayward – from too much mousing over the years, I think. I call the problem “mouse finger.” It comes from tens of thousands of hours of holding “i” suspended over the left mouse button, I think. (5 hrs/day x 365 days x 20 years, conservatively.)

    I went through your exercise and got pleasing results after only ten minutes. (Almost sounds like a testimonial for a weight-loss program, doesn’t it.. 🙂

    By focusing on the state of the i finger, relaxed and smooth-moving as it returned to the string, rather than on the action at the time of plucking, accuracy improved easily and quickly. The various hitches and wobbles in the motion went away.

    I’m looking forward to pursuing this further.

    Good work. And thanks.


    John Dimick

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Hi John, great to hear from you! And glad that you’re finally putting that i finger to better use. God did not give us our i finger to hold it over a mouse but to play guitar!

    But really glad that the technique works for you. It’s amazing how a slight change on perspective can make such a big difference in our playing.

    “Pleasing results after only ten minutes” I think I’ll be buying some late night informercial time soon and I’ll be using that testimonial.

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