Watching the fingers…

by Cesco Emmanuel

It’s sort of like watching where you walk, just in case you step in a puddle.

I have a habit, (maybe many guitarists have this habit as well) of just racing through a tough part in a new song/piece that I’m working on, hoping somehow that this time, after playing said section badly many times in the past, that this time, I’ll get it right. That my fingers will just magically know what to do this time and all will be perfect.

Okay, so I’m a bit impatient with myself. I set these ridiculous deadlines for achieving success with a particular technique/piece. When I don’t achieve the deadline, I blame myself for my lack of talent. No one is giving me these ‘deadlines’ to follow per se, just me and my obsessive nature.

But today, Saturday, December 1st, 2012 was completely different. I’m sick with the flu since thursday, so I cancelled a few classes. I couldn’t spend the entire day sleeping so I practiced, a bit in the morning and afternoon.

But I didn’t practice any classical pieces. I worked on a technique that has eluded and haunted me for years – Tremolo.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. In all honesty my guitar teacher – Graham Newling, gave me exercises for this technique since 1994, and I tried it a lil bit, and eventually gave up hope, again because of my self-imposed, impossible deadline. I’m sure I didn’t stick with it that long, and whenever I did ‘practice’ it, I gave up quick because I couldn’t get it soon enough. In truth, I didn’t hear it in my head, I didn’t understand how it was supposed to sound and feel.

Now, many years later as I prepare myself to sit DipABRSM recital exams, I must master this technique for a particular piece.

Was it a completely unreasonable idea? Sure! Not only do I have to get the technicality of Tremolo completely correct, I have to perform a piece that focuses totally on this method for my recital exam. Why did I choose this piece? Well, because it is a beautiful piece – ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’ by Francisco Tarrega, and tremolo is a fundamental classical technique that every guitarist must master.

To be fair, I have not been doing too well with it so far, and I have been practicing this for a few months. But today, I didn’t work on the song, I worked on my fingers, slowly.

I watched my hand, I observed my fingers slowly over and over what they did and where they went wrong. And it was almost magical to see how my fingers work. I know my mind is telling my fingers what to do, but they do their own thing almost and it’s puzzling, funny and irritating all at the same time.

Now, have I mastered Tremolo? No. But I’m much closer to understanding what I need to do to get me on the right track.

All it took was moving painstakingly slow, and being aware of every motion in my hand.

Not bad. It only took me 18 years to get here. Not bad.

Thanks Graham Newling. Thanks Dr. Noa Kageyama.