Greetings from Amtrak. Current location – Syracuse NY, in the dining car!
Recently I re-read a short book I bought in my college years called “Basic Principles in Piano Playing” by Josef Levine. Levine was one of the great pianists and conductors of the 20th century.
Whenever I feel that it’s time to focus on playing and improve, I play Bach – sometimes on guitar, sometimes on piano.
Bach is pretty unforgiving…he wrote what he wrote, and the player has to find a solution. It’s not based on “comfy” positions on an instrument. It presents lots of technical challenges.
I decided to “dust off” a 2 part invention on the piano (I am a hacker on the piano) and figured I’d read up on what a master had to say about the instrument. Whenever I play piano it profoundly improves my guitar playing.
Levine’s book is written in a pretty “snooty” tone….it’s cutting and critical of certain types of students and players. There is no sugar coating…he calls it as he sees & hears it! It’s good though 🙂
Of supreme importance to him were TECHNIQUE, TOUCH, TONE and RHYTHM.
Keys on the keyboard (and notes on the guitar) sound wishy washy and pale if not played fully…for this, he recommends slow and SOULFUL, MUSICAL scale and arpeggio practice.
He stresses that each key should “hit bottom” i.e. not glossed over or played 1/2 way.
He also discussed preparing pieces with each hand separate and even emphasized left hand only practice. By doing this the entire underpinning of the piece improves dramatically. Wow, so much for a guitar picker to think about!
Since reading, I have been playing my scales with a deeper sound – imagining the guitar equivalent of “hitting bottom” the way a pianist would play the keys.
And, I’m paying even more attention to my right hand thumb to really have it “thunk” (which for fingerstyle guitarists is like the “left hand” of the piano.) Not “volume” but weight and focus in the touch and tone.
And…I am practicing slow slow slow. Yes, your teachers told you to play slow for a reason!
Well gang, I just played a gig in Niagra Falls through a big (I mean big) kick ass PA system with just a touch of reverb. No compression, no BS with EQ, just me & the sound man with a 20 minute soundcheck.
Afterwards the sound man shook my hand and said “I salute you!” As well, I praised him for a job well done and thanked him.
We laughed…what he meant was that I produced the sound from the axe with my fingers and concept, and he simply let it come through without having to shape and correct someone’s sound.
He went on to tell war stories about how bands & musicians can’t deal with their own sound once they actually hear what they sound like – and either blame him, or hope that he can change it.
The point is this – it’s a never ending journey to develop tone, touch and technique but if we work on the sound when the fingers hit the strings – from that point on, all will be cool – whether we are playing acoustic, electric, in a concert hall or in a studio.
Now git to work! 🙂
AJ Green says
Hey Adam, I was lurking around Hal Galper’s web site the other day and saw your name as a student of his. Was that you? If so, it sure explains a lot about your music, which I really admire, by the way.
Bill Piburn says
Great article Adam. We all should consider the importance of such detail.
Rob Steinhardt says
Great writing Adam! I’ll have to check out the book for sure.
I especially like what you wrote about volume, versus playing with intention and commitment to each note. WE have all played loud at times, and played with people who play loud. And still the sound can fall short.
On the other hand, there are many players who play with a ‘light touch’ and not blasting it in your face, but still the sound comes through so clearly with a crispness that allows the sound to project with fullness and great tone.
I think a LOT of it has to do with concentration and intention.
I know when I am not playing too well, it goes way beyond hitting some bad notes. It is more a question of not listening well, or having a good sound in my head. So of course it comes out sounding lousy.
Thanks for your posts and thoughts,