CGTB 3: Goals of the Process

The goal of of the first section of this practice process is to use analytical tools from music theory and aural skills courses to internalize a piece and develop interpretive decisions about a work before touching the instrument. By the time this section is completed, students should have a strong grasp of the piece simply by having spent so much time looking at the score and doing analysis (Hill 142). The performer will also have some idea after section one of how the music will sound and have some interpretive ideas in mind so that they are not starting from scratch when the physical practice takes place (Romero 122-124). 


The early and middle stages of this process give students ways to aid memory such as harmonic analysis, phrase analysis, or rhythm analysis that give the practicer ways to internalize the piece beyond repetitive physical (or “muscle”) memory of the fingers and hands and that also relies on more than the proprioceptive memory and visual recollection of the movement of the hands and fingers. 


For a teacher, the early stages of this process tries to break analysis into small individual chunks that the student and teacher can work on together. For the teacher, I am trying to develop a way of thinking. One of the problems teachers face is how to get the student to hear the music and their playing in the same way and with the same maturity and attention to detail as the teacher. This process attempts to solve this problem by breaking down phrases into smaller units that can be focused on individually. For example, lets say a teacher is teaching a student to phrase a passage of two voice counterpoint. The teacher and student can record the session on an electronic device and the teacher can show the student how to phrase the first contrapuntal line and then the second line. Once the student can play each line of the music individually on their own with correct phrasing the student can begin working on putting the two lines together.


The Goal of the second section of the process is to create fingerings in the left and right hand before trying to play the piece (Pujol 62, Rene Master Class). The goal of this stage is to create fingerings that leads to the expressive choices from section the first section of the process. This should be done without the guitar primarily through visualizing all the possible fingerings while looking at the score. This part of the process also allows a performer to see in the mind what will be done physically so that when they sit down to play a phrase for the first time they have already “played” it in their mind and are less likely to make mistakes (this idea has been expressed by several methods and teachers: Izquiredo, Ryan, Pujol, Shearor).


The time spent visualizing the interpretive decisions, rhythms, sounds, and physical motions a performer will make through analysis, singing, visualization, and fingering (sections one and two) create a rough draft of the piece in the mind so that by the time the performer begins physically practicing the piece they have already ran through the motions in the mind and heard a rough draft of the music with their voice and with visualization tools. If you practice without any preconceived interpretive decisions, you are learning the note locations but not practicing the phrasing (Quin 83). The physical actions of hitting the notes are not the same as the motions used to play the notes with phrasing, so you are working harder by starting with the notes and then relearning it later when you add phrasing (Klickstein 31).


By the time sections one and two are complete, the performer should already have spent so much time looking at the score, singing the melodies, or visualizing the physical motions that they will have a strong idea of what their physical practicing will look like, what problems need to be solved, what spots are most difficult, and what the music will sounds like. This pre work will cause learning and memorizing to come more quickly.


Remember, part of the benefit of analysis is to see the physical actions in your mind. If the notes in the score are outlining the standard fingering for an open A minor chord, or if a passage is a scale you have practiced many times, your hands should form those patterns quicker, and memorization should come faster because you already know the content. That is a significant point of practicing exercises like scales, transpositions of chords, or chord progressions. Like memorizing a telephone number in chunks (800-765-432) versus large numbers (800765432) this way of thinking allows you to learn and memorize the piece using larger units of information by grouping smaller ones and also by relying on information you already know.


The ultimate goal of this process is to memorize the music. Because guitar music is difficult to sight read, we should see memorization as the ultimate goal of any practice regiment, as the score is just a reminder of content you have already learned and at least partially memorized (although sight reading is a very valuable and possible skill). Much of guitar music is too difficult to sight read or even be reminded of by the score; memorization is thus in most cases unavoidable.


And finally, always have and use a pencil to mark the score.