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In the first light I remember who rewards me for living…” – Linda Hogan

August 8, 2016


I have been doing lots of singing as I practice my guitar the past few weeks. There is a concert to get ready for and I am following the advice I frequently give to my students. Singing the melodic notes with the names, [could be solfeggio] but having learned with the a,b,c system, that is what I use. With the works memorized this has been easiest to do with my eyes closed. Arriving at the point where all the melodies can be sung at the desired tempos, I change to simply singing expressively. Thinking of this part being strings and the answer phrase being winds; thinking of a cello player enjoying a brief solo here and a conductor closing a section off at another point.
alan bell cacti

At first it was tiring, running 20 minutes of music and I found that I needed a break after each run-through. Later it became possible to run the whole program three times without a break. At that point I changed to singing the bass lines, which are harder, especially since the bottom two strings are drop tuned to D and G. Some passages require slowing down to process the data accurately, but it is getting easier to hit the correct pitches and say the right letter name.

A couple of nights ago I played through the program for an open mike and was surprised at some of the results. There was a shift that moves from the 10th fret to the 5th on the same string in a 32nd note [very short note], but changes fingers. While playing it the first time my eyes were open and checking and the result was a hesitation with a slight flub. Next time I did it with my eyes closed and there was no hesitation and it went perfectly. Proof enough for me that the hand moves faster than the eye.

Another noticeable result was the confidence, flow and movement in my playing. Errors did not interrupt the forward motion of the music. There was lots of street noise in the background but my thoughts were to the music and audience, figuring if I included background noise in my experience of the moment, distraction would be kept to a minimum.

alan bell through the window

In oral traditions, singing always precedes playing, and I believe the old masters knew that if you give someone an instrument, they first try to put their fingers in the correct places to mimic a familiar song. In so doing they miss the all the deeper knowledge that goes with singing. How the flow goes with the breath, where the line wants to rise and fall and what kind of impetus is behind the song? Our instrumental music began as part of the big universal song, and must always stay connected to that.

The Sultan of the village invited Nasrudin to play polo with his officers and when he arrived the next day he was perched on his ox.  The others were all mounted on magnificent Arabic horses. “Nasrudin,” said the Sultan trying not to laugh “are you going to to plough the field before we play?”

“No, your Majesty,” replied Nasrudin, “it has been a long time since I last played polo and some of the rules seemed to have slipped from my mind.”

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