Stick to your time signature.

Or at least warn me when you change it.

My teacher assigned me the exercise in the Friou book on page 81, which is notated in 3/4. I could not make heads nor tails of it. It struck me as a random concatenation of notes somewhat like bebop, where it sounds as if someone had a mouthful of 16th notes and sneezed into a trumpet.

Then, I decided to put it in MuseScore and listen to it until it made sense to me.

That’s when I realized that there are four measures in the middle of it that are basically in 4/4.

So I stuck the new time signature over those measures, and now I can make sense of the thing, and look forward to practicing it. Doing that even got rid of some ridiculous cross-measure ties that made no sense to me.

I kept trying to count it as a waltz in my head while playing it, and those four measures just aren’t a waltz.

Problem solved.

Here’s the PDF for those who are curious: Friou Exercise pg81

Well, she seems pleased.

With my progress, I mean. She tells me I’m doing well and am in a good place, and it does feel nice to hear that — and she is loading me up, which also feels nice. She’s really very pleasant and seems to have a good, structured idea of how to move me forward, and a good idea of what will come next. Very reassuring.

Especially after my frustration with not doing the exercises she had given me well enough this past week. Was a busy, somewhat frustrating week at work, and the harp is like an emotional broadcasting device; I suppose all instruments are. Whatever you are feeling, it amplifies and broadcasts it. A good day or a good mood usually means a good session at the harp, and it’s the same for bad days and bad moods.

But nevertheless, she seems pleased.

It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

That when you have a run of a few good days, you follow it up with a run of several bad ones?

I did discover though that I need to do scales before trying the exercises that Candace assigned. They seem to settle my hand position nicely, and that’s still not quite instinctive for me. I suspect it never will be entirely; one must always make sure that the fundamentals don’t work themselves loose.

Nice so far

So things are going nicely with my teacher. I’m pretty pleased — she’s doing exactly what I wanted, which is giving me exercises and short pieces to work on to correct defects and lacks in my technique. She’s great at picking things that will stretch my ability just a bit, so that I’m not struggling too much … but just enough. And each exercise has a definite success point where I know that I’m doing it properly.

I know it won’t stay this way as time goes on; eventually, I will start to get into greyer areas technique-wise. But for now, it’s very nice, and I’m being pleasantly surprised by my ability to learn these strange things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

I have had to make some changes to the short piece that she asked me to learn — the beginning of a piece called “Song of the Heart.” There’s one C that I must turn into an A or else my head will melt, and there is another part where I need to bump a C down to a G because it just sounds much better to me. None of these changes are technique-related; each would be easier to play as they are. But … I’m sorry, my ear keeps expecting an A there and hiccuping when there isn’t one, and that G sounds better walking down to the F than the C in the left hand.

I’m one of those, apparently.

More weirdness

I honestly think I’m going to have to swear off of [4 3] and playing 3 permanently. It’s just not working, at least not now and possibly not ever. It’s the only time I’ve had to make a movement with my hand at an instrument and had such a powerful conviction that this will simply not be possible.

As a result, I’ve gone back to my old thumb-first bracketing. It will be slower than 180bpm sixteenth notes, but so be it. It seems that my choices are either:

  1. Play the broken brackets, which will make me slower,
  2. Force myself to play the correct brackets, which will make me wake up at 2am with throbbing hands no matter how much I “relax,” or
  3. Allow myself to break the brackets below about middle F and whenever the gap between 4 and 3 is larger than a third, which is just too damned confusing.

From now on, brackets are broken when I’m expected to place [4 3] and play 3, period. Uninjured hands and consistency matters more than following rules that change depending on where my hand is and which will hurt me, I think. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I place [3 2] at the same time when possible and [4 1] at the same time when possible, especially [1] — and balance/position my hand around [3 2].

Weirdness

So I couldn’t sleep last night, got up at 12am, and proceeded to do a bit of very, very quiet work. I think it was the “very, very quiet” part that changed things, and somehow I managed to do a [4 3] and play 3 … tentatively and quietly only, but it’s more than I could do before. I’m a bit in shock. I’ve been unable to do this for two and a half years, and now with one good chunk of exercises I’ve made small but existing progress. I’m not even sure what it is I’m doing differently.

I’m really taken aback by this, but in a pleasant way. I still can’t manage it with a fourth between 4 and 3, but adjacent strings is a breeze now, and the third is at least manageable as long as my hand’s not too far down the harp. I’ve changed the conditioning exercises that Candace assigned to exclude [C||F|A|C] because I can only manage that one by bracketing the unorthodox way, and I don’t want to develop the habit of doing that until/unless I know that I have no other choice.

Of course, it feels like that’s the only way I can do it, but I swore up and down that it was the only way I could manage [C|E|G||C] as well, and that edifice has begun to show cracks.

So I’ll stick with the [C|E|G||C] flavor for now, and just gently see if I can’t move myself in the direction of [C||F|A|C] with patience and lazy, quiet 12am exercise sessions.

It really did help to do it at night, when I felt that I had to be quiet and loose.

“Flow” and the fun of working

Just read an article about the … well, the bullshit of “flow”. I’ve always had a nit to pick with the way that deliberate practice is characterized as not much fun, hard work, much less fun certainly than turning your brain off and going with it.

For me, “turning the brain off and going with it” feels like Chinese water torture. I never felt quite like a human when people observed that deliberate practice was hard, sweaty work and hence “not fun.” Even if everyone else likes nothing more than to stop thinking, that drives me up the wall.

I remember being told to practice when I was a kid, at the piano. At that age, and according to the adults around me, “practice” meant to do something over and over and over a million times while you turned your brain off, and it would just get better by magic.

I couldn’t do it. It was awful to sit there and be mindless, so I rarely to never practiced without getting frustrated as all hell, to the point of breaking piano keys, which I’m a bit hesitant to admit to.

It wasn’t until I learned — as an adult in my 40s — about deliberate practice, slow practice, and Leopold Mozart’s trick with the dried peas, that practice became fun.

Yes, you read that right. Deliberate practice, contrary to the common wisdom, was fun. Suddenly, I enjoyed it and could easily lose myself in doing something over and over the requisite number of times until I got it.

Deliberate practice wasn’t unpleasant. Deliberate practice, for the first time in my life, made practicing fun.

So maybe I’m just not set up for “flow,” whatever it is. I’m sorry, but if my brain isn’t engaged, I’m bored out of my mind.

I also have a very, very hard time focusing under someone else’s gaze. I can focus by myself just fine, but when other people are watching me, I feel like a seal being stalked by sharks. Between my love of nitpicking and detestation of being watched, I suppose it is no accident that my favorite way to be a musician is to accumulate technique and then arrange and compose. 🙂