A dancing lesson

May 17th, 2014

I’ve been reading “The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking” by Sims Wyeth.

No, I’m not about to embark on a new career.

I picked up the book because I liked the author’s engaging style of writing, something I’ve tried to cultivate myself (with rather limited success, I must say).

On page 99, Mr. Wyeth asked an interesting question:

“Have you ever seen a performance in which dancers move and musicians respond to their movements?”

To which he answered with the obvious, “I haven’t.”

That’s true.

If you’re a dancer, you don’t expect the musicians to follow you, you have to follow the musicians.

The principle happens to hold true for guitar playing too.

When you play, you mustn’t ‘make’ the rhythm follow you, you must follow the rhythm.

In other words, when you perform, your rhythm must be an independent entity, separate from your playing.

To use Mr. Wyeth’s analogy, think of your fingers as dancers and rhythm as musicians.

Just as dancers are subservient to the musicians, your fingers must be subservient to the rhythm.

You don’t expect the musicians to follow the dancers; so also, you mustn’t expect your rhythm to follow your fingers.

The problem for us guitarists is that the two are one and the same – we’re both dancer and musician.

And it’s easy to reverse their roles during performance.

So for us, it’s easy to focus more on our fingers than on our rhythm during performance. The result is rhythm that is subservient to our playing instead of the other way around.

The trick to preventing this from happening is to consciously separate your rhythm from your playing.

First, externalize your rhythm by tonguing the beats (deet, deet, deet …) and then make your fingers follow that tonguing pattern.

In other words, first separate the dancers (fingers) from the musicians (rhythm), and then make your dancers follow the musicians.

Quite a mouthful but this concept is at the heart of the AOV.

If you’ve read the AOV for Guitar and “How to Become a Virtuoso in 60 Days,” you’ll recognize it as that of separating our playing from our rhythmic source.

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3 Responses to “A dancing lesson”

  1. Ron Murray Says:

    Interestingly enough, although the point is well made, flamenco guitarists often follow the dancers. This necessitates an even greater control of rhythm, I think, since the guitarist really has to listen to the dancer(s) and stay in sync. In fact,I would extend that to accompanying singers, since the same rhythmic attention must be paid to interpretation, rubato, etc. I think that these ideas dovetail nicely with your philosophy, and I have found your materials and approach have accelerated my recovery from focal dystonia and my subsequent possible return to a virtuoso technique.

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    That’s a good point. I didn’t think of those examples. I think the keyword here is ‘deliberate.’ When a flamenco guitarist follows the dancer or a good accompanist follows a singer, they’re doing it deliberately. But when we lack rhythmic control and allow our fingers to dictate the rhythm, we run the risk of the fingers losing control resulting in rushing. Glad everything’s working well for you. All the best.

  3. John Hastings Says:

    I’m enjoying your website. Regarding ““Have you ever seen a performance in which dancers move and musicians respond to their movements?” I see someone has already mentioned an example of that type of interaction. I just want to mention another. In Rochester, New York, many years ago, I used to play my electric guitar every Friday night in a ballroom at an event called “Dance Jam.” Dancers paid $2 to get in and musicians (with instruments) got in free. The musician’s improvised as did the dancers. The results were always interesting and sometimes exhilarating.

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