Energy and speed

June 9th, 2017

One of the great advantages of living in the 21st century is YouTube. (I think I’ve mentioned that before.)

Now, you can watch your favorite player any time of the day.

You can slow his playing down, figure out fingerings, analyze the trajectories of his strokes, etc.

This is a great advantage and one which I wish I had back in those LP and cassette days, but like everything else, there’s a downside to it.

When you get so involved with the visuals, it’s easy to miss other less observable aspects.

I’m referring specifically to the unseen elements of playing, to what’s going on within the player’s body, what the player is feeling and experiencing.

For example, one of the secrets of technique is the ability to generate speed and movement, to produce energy effortlessly.

This is something you can’t see in videos.

Yet it is central to technique.

For example, you can’t produce speed by simply trying to make your fingers move faster. That’ll only create tension.

To get speed, you’ll have to tap into the flows of energy within your body and learn how to capture it and use it to propel your fingers forward.

When you’re able to access this energy, you’ll literally feel as if your fingers are on fire and playing themselves.

One of the upsides to YouTube happens to be the many video lessons available.

There’s one in particular that caught my eye the other day.

It’s Maestro Romero explaining the apoyando and how he uses his arm.

If you were to watch this video, you might miss that part altogether, it’s over so fast but it’s really a key to his playing (at least, to me anyway.)

Here’s the Maestro trying to explain it.

About 48 seconds into the video, you’ll hear him saying, “I think not only fingers but I engage a little bit… the arm.”

Now why the arm?

I believe it has to do with creating that energy in the body.

Watch how he pulls (or pushes) at the strings slightly before letting go of them in the plucking. This pull (or push) is apparent in the slight give in his fingertips before he plucks.

That give is the result of the finger encountering the resistance in the string.

When you allow the fingertip to give, that give is creating potential energy which you release in the plucking action.

You then harness this energy and use it to propel you to the next note, creating a chain reaction of actions which are self driven.

The effect is as if you have an automated engine in the fingers producing speed and power effortlessly.

Back to the point about videos.

When I was learning the guitar, we had no such visual aids.

Fortunately, even in a place as remote as Borneo, I was able to get the occasional LP and cassette of Segovia and John Williams.

And I remember spending hours listening to JW and trying to sound like him.

There’s one advantage to not having visuals because then you’re able to focus 100% of your attention on the sound.

And what I heard in his sound was energy, especially in pieces like Asturias.

I heard other things of course—his incredible consistency of sound, his fluidity, the beautiful phrasing—but above all else, what I heard was the power and energy in his playing.

And in my practice, that was what I tried to capture, the energy and fluidity.

I’ve heard it said that there’s a curse in every blessing and a blessing in every curse.

But I believe that if we’re aware of the curse in the blessing, we can make a blessing a double blessing.

In other words, don’t get too obsessed by visuals, close your eyes sometimes and listen to the sound.

But don’t get seduced by pretty sounds only. Go beyond the superficial aspects of sound to its heart which is the energy.

This is really the key to the player’s playing.

If you want to play like him, learn to capture his energy.

And in the process too, you might find that your visuals will start to match his. You might end up playing like him too.

That’s of course not important. It’s how you sound, not how you look that matters.

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