David Russell on mastering difficult music
In any field, the masters often praise the value of the basics. We can reach higher heights when we build on solid foundations.
In guitar, we have our right- and left-hand movements, the way our hands synchronize, our practice skills, our focus and selective attention.
In addition to his concert touring schedule, David Russell records a new album of classical guitar pieces at the rate of almost one per year. This means he’s always learning and polishing new music.
And part of getting that much music up to speed is solving problems.
For masterful problem-solvers, the process involves simplifying. Break the complex problem into smaller problems, and look at them one at a time.
On guitar, this means resisting the urge to play through a passage over and over, and instead work on the smaller issues within the passage.
For any tricky spot, we may have a left-hand shift, a chord change, an awkward right-hand fingering and more. And with all these layered challenges, we also need to stay aware of the melody, rhythm and any other musical elements.
And with all this happening in less than a second, it becomes extremely complex and detailed.
So the answer is to separate the issues: the left hand alone, the right hand alone, the melody, the bass, the rhythm, one note leading to the next.
When we break a musical challenge into its elements, we can ensure that we are aware of all the details of each element. Then, when we reassemble the parts, the problem has often “magically” disappeared.
This is why one of the most powerful questions we have in our practice is, “What’s going on here?”
We can slow down and increase our levels of awareness. And with focused practice, what did seem impossible now becomes a choreography of a few simple steps, performed one after the next.
“Most difficult or complex things are really two or three simple things put together.”