The Christmas and New Year holidays are a great time for me to take some time away from the guitar – yes, I do this on purpose!
Well, a lot of things in life benefit from taking a breather from time to time and guitar playing is no different. I find that in the day to day learning, practicing and playing drill one can get stuck in a rut sometimes and lost in the minutiae that perhaps seem overly important at the time or challenging to overcome.
A couple of weeks break, as I’ve just had, allows me to hit the reset button. It allows me the chance to just step back and see those woods for the trees in my practice and playing. Having recharged my batteries it also sets me up ready and raring for a new year ahead of learning.
Having arrived back Down Under last weekend, I commenced on my very first practice session earlier this week. So how did I go about getting back into it?
Very slowly first and foremost!
It’s pretty much guaranteed that for the first practice session back after a couple of weeks of zero playing ones hands are going to feel more or less like you’ve had them amputated and replaced by a pair of unwieldy size 12 feet. Well, that’s what it feels like for me anyway.
So, first things first (after having tuned up and settled into position and all that) is to play some Segovia scales. My hands were feeling particularly sleepy (I think they must have had jet lag too…) so I decided to play a few – C major, A minor, F major, D minor, G major and E minor.
I played half free stroke (the first half I played) and then half rest stroke. All of them I played with the full gamut of right hand finger alternatives, namely i-m, m-i, m-a, a-m, i-a, a-i, and i-m-a.
The left hand knows where it’s going around the fingerboard without me really actively having to think about it (the product of years of solid practice), so that bit’s OK. The finger and hand muscles feel slightly strange though, as I said, in moving in this way after a nice cosy break doing nothing more than lifting a fork and glasses of whiskey! By the end of this element of exercise the left hand is starting to loosen up again though and “remember” what it’s supposed to be doing, almost saying “ah yes, here we go again chaps!”.
Similarly the right hand, which after 14 or so days of not playing has lost it’s sharpened edge of reflexive fluidity, begins to stir from its torpor and recall the movements involved in creating a beautiful sound.
And that’s a very important thing to do at this point too. Even in working out the knots of the first couple of slow and careful scale runs I’m listening in to the sound I am creating, tweaking the right hand angle of attack just ever so slightly if necessary to hit the sweetest spot on the nail and settle back into my “go to” sound.
Once I’ve played through these scales, very slowly initially before moving a little faster, playing very mindfully, I then decided to move into playing through the newest piece that I’d been working on prior to going on holidays. Playing nice and slowly of course, and cutting myself some slack that things will be slightly rustier than when I left it I progress through the piece. I progress to the point where I’d gotten to in my learning of the music and then I moved beyond that.
For some reason the reading and the movement of the music, and particularly the sight reading of the previously unstudied bars, seems far easier than when I’d left it a fortnight previously. It seems the break has done me good! See I told you! A bit of stepping back, removing oneself from plugging away at something day in day out can (only from time to time mind you!) can really do wonders.
I then “checked in”, as it were, with a piece which I’m much more familiar with and much further along in its development. Again, dipping into it at a reduced tempo, listening, mindful playing, mentally noting the trickier spots. Time away is good for doing this also – it helps you understand what really has stuck and what does need further work. This list of tricky spots then becomes the basis for my next round of practice sessions.
And that was about it for the first session back. It probably totaled around 30-35 minutes in terms of time and that’s about as much as my body is willing to handle on its first session back practicing. My advice is not to push it too much in terms of your physical time with the guitar in your first session or two after a break. Just slip in, nice and gentle.