Wednesday, January 31, 2018

It's not over 'til it's over!

There are many reasons we might mis-hit a note on the hammered dulcimer. One is simply a matter of attention. Sometimes we allow our focus to shift away from one place to another too soon.

The most frustrating examples I have encountered are those habitually missed notes that appear in a tune as part of an "easy" well-practiced pattern, such as a scale, or a root arpeggio. After identifying it as such a pattern, shouldn't it just fall into place? What is wrong with me??

Take a breath, and realize that it's probably not you... and it's probably not even that note! Often, we miss one note because the next note is tricky in some way. Maybe it's far away, or an unusual rhythm, or an awkward reach.

Take a look at this example from the tune, Frosty Morning. Here are the two opening phrases:

Check out the scale run up from A in measure two. There's an E at the top. My students mis-hit it routinely. Why?

Because the next thing we sometimes like to play are octave G's on beat 1, measure three. Now, the E is a half note. There should be plenty of time to get to the G's, but the big jump is scary, and the mental anticipation steals the player's focus away.

Typically, one would continue to practice the transition between the Am and the G phrases at a slow, comfortable speed until your brain and hands learn it well enough to play all correctly, gradually increasing to tempo. This will eventually work for many players. For others, the mental preparation of moving from that high E to the octave G's still takes up too much time. What to do?

In these situations, I have found it useful to give my brain something to think about that maintains proper attention until the last split second. In this case, shape that scale run with an accent on the top note. A nice crescendo from the A to the E, hitting that top note with intention, requires your brain to stick with it until the run is over. Plus, you've just introduced a nice dynamic element. AND there's still plenty of time to get to those octave G's!

How do YOU trick your brain into maintaining focus in a tricky spot? Share your successes with us!

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