Thursday, September 06, 2007

warmup: comments and responses

Now that all that paperwork is done (at least for the moment), I can get back to this much neglected blog. (I haven’t posted anything here in about three weeks!) Thanks to those still reading this despite the sporadic posts.

…And thanks for all the comments (which I’ve also successfully, and with admirable consistency, failed to respond to).

In answer to my question about warming-up, David Ryshpan responds by listing some musical (“a major scale… that you go through different subdivisions of the beat”), borderline-musical (“first few exercises of Hanon”), and some extra-musical (“stretches I learned when I used to play tennis”) activities.
Another pianist Alex Hawkins picks up on the mention of Hanon, but finds that “the patterns [are] too ‘conventional’… they beguile… into complacency…”.

Incidentally, way back, when I did play the piano, my choice of warmup came from Brahms’ 51 Studies for Piano. Some combination of the position shifting exercise:

Brahms exercise no. 5.

and changing hand shape:

Brahms exercise no. 8.

There’s also the thumb pivot exercise, but this would be a riskier warmup since it could lead to injury if you over did it (it’s number 46, if you’re curious).
The position shifting exercise maps onto the guitar reasonably well. It corresponds to the one string melodies I’ve posted here—Jim Hall makes a similar suggestion in Exploring Jazz Guitar—or some upright bass intonation exercises that can be adapted to the guitar. There’s no real equivalent to the second exercise though (unless you subscribe to a Holdsworth-esque extended position). What’s interesting comparing the Hanon and the Brahms is that the Hanon is a little more mechanical—there’s an assumption that just physically following the tasks will lead to virtuosity—while the Brahms exercises won’t work unless you know what is being exercised.

…My teacher CL, however, swore by the Hanon. Go figure.

David’s reason for warming-up is

…not for any technical or musical reasons—it’s purely physical, to get the muscles primed, to avoid injury, and to get used to the instrument.
Seems reasonable, but does anyone disagree? A question might be, do the technical, musical and physical fall into neat discrete chunks? Let’s just say for the moment that they do not. If that’s the case, and warming-up is a combination of all three, what’s the difference between a warmup and a (public) performance? I mean, I’m assuming that none of us would warmup in front of an audience.
Well, as it happens, Alex finds that, “as a working musician”, he gets “from gigs all [he] would otherwise get from Hanon (i.e. a bit of a muscle workout).” This isn’t as strange as it maybe sounds, and I have on occasion integrated the warmup into the opening of my performances. (On the other hand, Peter Breslin, yet another pianist, notes the possible consequences of this no warmup approach.)

Pat, being a horn player, has a totally different take on the warmup process. There’s a part of me that envies wind players (and vocalists) in their approach to warming-up, but it’s an approach that doesn’t translate to a guitar or piano—we just don’t breathe in the same way.
That raises questions about the ‘character’ of instruments and the effect on the instrumentalist. Jeff (I assume this was Jeff Albert) remarks that
…extravagant and extrovert come out of a trombone much more naturally than subtle and introspective. That's does however open the issue of do we chose it because we are the way we are, or does it makes us the way we are….
Yes, it does raise that question, but maybe the answer lies in Jeff’s first sentence. What if I reworded it a little: the trombone rewards extravagant and extrovert playing. What I mean by that is that the electric guitar, for example, generally rewards (despite rock machismo theatrics) the delicate touch, maybe even “subtle and introspective”. There’s a kind of rule of diminishing rewards with electric guitars: playing with, say, broader gestures (e.g. picking harder) doesn’t necessarily translate sound-wise—something that guitar pedagogy sometimes neglects. As I’ve said before it’s often better to, turn up the amp, and pick lighter.
Which is not to say that instruments don’t come with culturally encoded expectations. Take, for example, the various possible identities encapsulated in the pianoforte. The instrument associated with Keithy-poo Jarrett’s tantrums, and consequently the debates about whether to read it cultural-semiotically as an enactment of class differences, or as a consequence of the ideology of genius.

It’s good to be back.


Dan said...

TIG - somehow I managed to not publish your comment on my Nels Cline post for over a month - I just realized it and put it up. My apologies and I am going to reply to some of your guitar related inquiries in a post of my own shortly.

Mwanji Ezana said...

Re: why did *this* Keith Jarrett Incident blow up, while the thousands before it remained on gossip level.

I tend to think that it's simply because it's the first one to turn up on YouTube. So a bunch of outlets and people that wouldn't normally have heard about it, cared or even have known about Jarrett at all, had the opportunity to be shocked or pleased.

Who knows, it may have been his swan song.

peter breslin said...

Hi- I can vouch for the fact that the Hanon is absolutely mechanical, especially if it's executed in fairly strict accordance with the directions (hand position, not moving other fingers, all notes as even as possible dynamically, etc.)

As for warming up as a performance...surely some wag or other has included Hanon, Book 1 on a concert program. It makes a good story anyway.

There's mental warmups as well as physical, for me on the piano. Playing through a song like Body and Soul, for example, with different voicings, two hand and block chording, left hand melody, different bass lines, substitutions, transpositions. I tend to choose one song and work it into the ground over several weeks or months, just to hear all these permutations.

That is, when I used to practice. I actually miss practicing and will probably start again.


Alex Hawkins said...

Another thing, come to think of it...I often really enjoy playing when I haven't played for a couple of days, for whatever reason. That extra split second of 'slowness' in the fingers can makes me think very hard around what I'm playing, and it's often quite rewarding, I think!
- Alex H

the improvising guitarist said...

I thank you all for the comments.

Mwanji, yes, I agree, the YouTube connection is significant. If YouTube symbolically (at least) embodies a kind of anarcho-libertarian, free-for-all media hub, then a traditional concert performer poo-pooing guerrilla photography or film-making will rub a lot of YouTube viewers (subscribers to its ideology) the wrong way.

Alex, I totally get you: I also get a kick out of performing after a short break from the instrument, but for me, that has to do with the fact that my body remembers how to, well, improvise, and the results are sometimes a surprise to my conscious mind (for lack of better word). I find it a risky process, though, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

PB, I don’t know about the Hanon, but there’s, unbelievably, a recording of the Brahms! You couldn’t make this shit up.

S, tig

peter breslin said...

Hey- that recording of the Brahms reminds me of the recently rediscovered recordings by Jim Chapin of every single exercise in his landmark book, Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. His motivation for going into the studio to lay down the tracks is that several working, professional drummers were publicly declaring some of the exercises to be "unplayable."

Chapin not only nails them, he also takes a few of them at several different tempos, if I remember correctly. (My drum teacher when I was 12 had the LPs).