Thursday, June 07, 2007

practicing: systems, routines and shake-ups

Taylor Ho Bynum can practice while watching television. HTP, a bass player, used to practice by playing along to every spot during a commercial break (which has a kind of scatter-brained, post-modern logic to it). I’m impressed (and a little dizzy with the idea), but, really, I couldn’t do that. I need both sets of ears and eyes: I’m afraid that I’ll miss something and screw-up if I let my attention drift.

Okay, as I’ve said before, I’m a systems junkie.

My routine (which goes through the occasional, irregular shake-up) right now consists of ‘natural’ harmonics; scalar patters that alternate open and stopped strings; clusters and ‘pseudo-clusters’; and ‘touch’ playing. (Did you noticed that this resembles humble lexicon?) Thrown into that mix are articulations via the volume pedal. (I also live by the metronome, but that’s another story….)
’Cause there’s not enough hours in the day, and you can only do so much practicing without hitting a physical / physiological / mental / spiritual wall, my practicing ‘regime’ (maybe ‘ritual’ is a better word) has, at the moment, a four day cycle. This also means I don’t practice the same thing more than once every four days. I do, however, try and cover all the bases each day, so I’ll have four sets of harmonics exercises, four sets of cluster based patterns, etc. to cycle through.
Now that all looks frozen and durable, but of course it ain’t. These elements are “exercises to followup on technically curious… gestures and structurings. …These exercises evolve not through some grand plan, but by adding kinks and extra complications.” In his own post about practicing, Dominic Lash makes a similar point:

A given practice regimen for me tends to last a few months before I rearrange things but the broad categories remain the same…. But the regime has to feel fresh for me to feel excited enough actually to pick the bass up, and the best way to do this is change things about periodically.
And recently (and whenever it happens, it comes as a surprise) I’ve found myself at the early stages of going through one of those shake-ups. I’m equal measures excited and anxious about this….


peter breslin said...

Hi- You are a systems person. I can be also. I had a system for a long time with the piano. Cultural baggage can make practice daunting. Sometimes I fantasize about inventing a brand new instrument with no pre-existing technique so I can make sound without inviting any comparisons. Both the piano and the drums come with so much preconception; the piano, a matter of centuries, the drums, only about 100 years (traditional drumset I mean).

Lately I've been practicing setting aside what I think.


the improvising guitarist said...

PB, I understand your desire for instruments “with no pre-existing technique”, that do not “inviting any comparisons”, but isn’t that’s the mistake that laptopiteers so often make?
Oh, I love/hate my cultural baggage, but there’s no way I can ignore it. For chissake, I play the electric guitar: how much more odd-ball, perverse, beautiful and or problematic can it get in terms of class-economic, sex-gender, ethnic-racial, tribal-national narratives. (But that’s a story for another thread….)

Lately I've been practicing setting aside what I think.

Assuming that you don’t mean this in a neo-Cargian way, I suggest, Mr. Breslin, that that statement deserves a full post to itself.

Thanks for the comment!


Anonymous said...

The problem with practicing patterns and routines is that one tends to develop muscle memory, which some see as an enemy of improvisation.

the improvising guitarist said...

Thanks for the comment. Do you see muscle memory as an “enemy of improvisation”? I ask because I’ve haven't heard this from a lot of practicing improvisers (but I’m not pretending to have any kind of representative or significant sample here), so if that is your experience, I’d like to hear more.
I’m sympathetic to the idea that, broadly defined, habit is potentially an “enemy of improvisation”. However, I’m unsure about specifically focussing on “muscle memory” (I suppose I’m not sure what, from an improvising musicians’ perspective, that would be).
Thanks for getting me thinking about this: it’s certainly something worth a followup post….

S, tig