Oud learning diary II
12/10/2015 § Leave a comment
Improving my technique on the upper part of the oud is a slow process. Nevertheless it is happening. My progress with the Flying Birds piece is somewhat surprising me with the following section, as noted in my last diary entry, really being the key to this piece:
I have been practising these few bars many times over. Placement of the fourth finger on the sol followed by the fa on the second is simple enough. Really this section’s success depends on the smooth transition between the fa and the mi by angling the second finger slightly without moving position to get the mi to sound correct. This is not a difficult passage in slow practice, but sped up it is.
Slow practice is in itself something of a challenge, and according to Graham Fitch it is apparently something that many students find tricky. Slow practice is something that does not come automatically to many, and a lot of students have a tendency to speed up gradually when slow practising a piece. Using a metronome, as Fitch says, is not a great idea when one is slow practising since one tends to focus on getting the beat correct rather than what one is actually playing. From personal experience I can certainly agree with that, so I am attempting to slow practice without the metronome at present.
The Huzzam Semai piece is the one which is currently teaching me the most about what I need to improve. In addition to working on the parts that are played higher up on the oud I need to get the samai timing correct. For instance, in the beginning section I tend not to count the three quavers at the end of the first bar properly, skipping to the next bar after two instead:
Likewise I tend to play the crotchet at the end of the second bar as if it is a dotted crotchet because it feels more natural to me. The second and third bar on the second stave also present an issue, with my playing the crotchet at the end of the second bar as a quaver and the crotchet at the start of the third bar also as a quaver. What is missing here is a basic grasp of the ‘feel’ of the samai 10/8 rhythm, so I am addressing correcting these issues by counting properly during playing.
Another point is the importance of knowing with certainly which notes are coming next before one plays them. Success of playing the piece with certainty comes to rest on the premise of thinking several [three or more] notes ahead. This section, halfway through the Haydar, is arguably the toughest part of the piece to play:
One needs absolute certainty of the placement of the four finger on si bemol on the first bar and then la natural and sol. Not thinking this section through properly results in playing la bemol instead of la natural. One cannot rely on the fingers to find the notes themselves at this stage.
I noted an interesting blog post over at Bulletproof Musician about the three stages of learning: cognitive, associative and autonomous. The cognitive concerns the stage of learning whereby one is still learning which notes goes after which, just learning the piece by number in order the lay the groundwork. The associative stage is that where we more or less know the pattern of the notes in a piece, and start concerning ourselves with the finer details such as which fingering to use, whether to use forte or mezzoforte etc. The final stage, autonomous, is the part in which the piece becomes engrained in our subconscious and we are able to “watch ourselves” play. This is really the goal of learning a piece, and though for the Haydar I wouldn’t saying I was near this stage yet, I can definitely say I am in the second associative stage.
A good example of autonomous playing of the Haydar piece would be this version by Zafer Ozturk [from 3:16],
whereby Oturk here is not concentrating on the transcribed notes as such, but the embellishments. This is the stage where one is so familiar with a piece and its musical skeleton so firmly embedded in the mind and fingers of the player that one can concentrate more on the ornamentations.
My conclusion for this last week is that progress has definitely been made inasmuch as I know the pieces with more certainty and am able to play the more difficult sections more smoothly. However, slow practice is very necessary without reverting to unconsciously speeding up – and consistent concentration in order to really ‘nail’ the important parts of the pieces.