Across the road from me is an area where the old men play their pétanque, or as the English prefer to call it, boules. And most afternoons when there isn’t a game on, one particular fellow can be found there alone, practising bombing. Having thrown one boule, he lobs a second one at it to knock it as far he can. He is the bomber. Le tireur.
The art of getting your boule as close as possible to the cochonnet is not for him. Too much depends on the irregularities of the terrain. Whereas lobbing an 800 gram steel ball through the air straight at the opponent’s boule is hardly affected even by a brisk wind. In all the matches I have seen him play, I have never seen him miss a lob (or tir as they call it). His side only risks losing a point if he has to throw first.
Perfect calibration of muscular effort is something that is vital to playing most musical instruments. And yet a lot of musicians don’t seem all that keen to acquire it, or go about acquiring it in roundabout ways. Kittens get good at measuring leaps within a few months of being born, so why can’t you hit that top E in tune?
When I see panpipe players sneaking a look at the pipes before making a two-octave leap, I wonder how they would make that leap if there was no time to grab a peek.
Classical violin students are taught an additive method (position + finger) for exploring the upper reaches of the strings. D on the top string is played with the 4th finger in third position. To find third position you put your first finger where your third finger was in first position. From there your fourth finger will find the D. And so on.
But is this the best way to go about it? Doesn’t it create a problem further down the road of weaning oneself from such props? And is the process of weaning ever clean or complete?
If the student’s aim is to develop unmediated impact of his intention on the resulting sound, my belief is that he should go all out to develop the sureness of that intent and the directness of its effect. Why even bother with other processes? Learning to climb stepladders will never make you a jumper.
Which translated means: go for it – from the start. For panpipe players it means: never, never, look at the pipes in the middle of a piece. For violinists: let your ear guide your fingers directly without those imaginary landmarks. For guitarists: practice in the dark. For pianists, it means: become a bomber.
Muscle memory is best acquired with your eyes closed.
Of course you will initially make more mistakes this way. They don’t matter. That is music’s big advantage over oil painting. It leaves no mess. Fear of hitting wrong notes is irrational. Even on the concert stage it is counter-productive and more likely to produce wrong notes than eliminate them.
It all boils down to overcoming fear. And if John the Evangelist is to be believed, perfect love is what casts out fear. Watch David Garrett smile at his open E-string when it plays an unwanted overtone (at 0:45) in the video below :
One Russian commenter gripes about David’s dirty technique and writes that even children play it cleaner and with greater penetration. Well I don’t want to take sides. Here is the same piece played by a seven-year-old, so you can judge for yourself:
Go ahead and add your comment! Keep the ball rolling!
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