It can be so frustrating sometimes trying to improve ones ability to make music. I have often found myself feeling like no progress is being made after so many years of trying. This despite being able to actually play many pieces of music of my own and others compositions on the keyboard, guitar and drums, while singing too!
Why would I feel this way after decades of musical pursuit? The feeling is, ‘I could be better’, if I just practice a bit more maybe it will produce the result I am in search of.
Evidence to the contrary …
Evidence of a life devoted to practice here. A well worn fret board of the only guitar I had for the longest time. I do have proof that practice works, but there are plateaus it seems where not much progress is being made. New musical pieces original and from others prove to be a challenge to perfect. And developing technique that can be called upon in an instant with out much mental effort requires significant mental effort to get to that point.
From time to time in this dogged pursuit of musical ideals and recently amidst my study of studying, as in how to study to make progress, I found an ability I didn’t think would be possible given my skill set. But within an almost zen like presence I was able to achieve the realization it could be done.
Amidst the cacophony going about in my brain I managed to find a still space to actually study, to practice in such away as to make an advancement maybe not immediately as in developing virtuoso technique but in the mind set it might take to get there.
Much of the cacophony going about in my thought processes was about being able to do that which I was already doing. Playing the keyboard. But I wanted more. Another song to pursue, to jam with another musician, to record my effort for posterity, or a post anyway. All these thoughts confounding my effort to make progress to the next level.
Obviously that was a problem, not being in the right frame of mind to achieve next level technique. Til one morning I attempted something I thought impossible for me but managed to do anyway. I immediately endeavored to notice what had happened to make this possible and found it was a quiet and still mind not desirous of anything but a particular aspect of playing.
The revelation that I could be of such a mind, was and is confounding because the only thing I really can remember besides the sense of stillness and focus was that I was at the keyboard to play. I have been wondering ever since, how do I get back there to that mental state? All I can do is sit and play and try not to let the cacophony of mental distraction whittle away my resolve to pursue musical ideals despite my abilities or lack thereof to realize them.
it cAN BE DONE
Playing Scales and the Russian Method
The skill that I am referring to has to do with piano style keyboards and my limited understanding of something called the Russian method of playing scales. Basically there is a way to play scales where the fingers are playing the notes of the scales simultaneously but opposite of each other like a mirror image. This is some what easy for certain scales that use all the fingers in a certain fashion.
For example a D minor scale is played: (1=thumb, 2=index, 3=middle, 4=ring, 5=pinky)
Usually played right to left and or left to right.
As I understand it the Russian method uses the same fingering and direction as above until at a certain octave of the root or tonic pitch, one that I choose at random, at which point the hands then play away from each other, in a mirror image of fingering the scale.
Start in the middle one octave apart. Of course one can traverse another octave if desired.
In this pattern the same fingers of the hand are playing at the same time as they move away from and back towards each other.
It is as if and is in fact playing from the center of the scale indicated above and outward!
You will notice the scale is not in unison same pitch different octave, but still sounds somewhat harmonious as it still uses the same notes in the scale.
And yet its not quite that simple
Easy enough when the fingering pattern aligns thusly but with certain scales this is not the case. For example F major D minors significant counterpart. The fingering does not align as easily to this method as one might hope. This was the challenge I was referring to earlier about lacking the ability to make those specific fingering combinations and could not even imagine putting in the work to try and do so. But one morning my head space was such that it just happened. While I am still not fluid and its not second nature as I would wish it is good to know it is possible to get there.
What made this possible of course was the consistent desire to make it so despite many attempts at not quite getting the results I wanted in other many other musical pursuits. I am finding that the desire for second nature or muscle memory playing really does stem from some very basic principals and concepts regularly engaged with and applied.
Here are the scales in musical notation by way of garage band!
I will post a short video of the practice I am describing shortly.
This isn’t to suggest my practice regimen is by any means the ideal that anyone could use to achieve musical excellence but mostly it is offered as encouragement to continue to develop and entertain one self above and beyond the oft passive activities that might otherwise corrode and inhibit ones ability to achieve alternative potentialities.
Though it might sound like it, I am not complaining. No after writing this and realizing playing scales backward and forward from the middle is really not that much more difficult to learn than the forward and backward again method I started with! It just seemed difficult because I hadn’t thought about it as really just the same but different!