On this regional public affairs program, a segment of guitarist Sharon Isbin providing a demonstration on playing the instrument. She shares some views on performance.
Isbin provides a short music lecture in another program segment for Spectrum.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
(00:00:00) I always approach technique and music and anything that I cover with musical ideas in the foreground and that even to produce technical results. You can talk about how to hold a hand or two position finger or what to do specifically, but I think the thing to keep in mind most often is to have some kind of concept in your ear some kind of idea that you want to communicate and let that be the guiding point and then you just do whatever you have to do to achieve that. And no matter what you're working on whether it's something with a metronome or analysis always have musical ideas be foremost in primary because that is what you're playing for. I think I'll begin with one of the more unusual. Topics and that is the breathing and movement. I'd like to demonstrate a few things here on the guitar. I've done a little work with dance and with yoga and though I haven't actually discovered my ideas through working on these different techniques. They've served to reinforce a lot of my feelings about movement and tension and music and it's interesting because the guitar is probably one of the few instruments that you don't have to really move anything except your left hand about this much to produce a sound in playing the violin you in order to create the sound you have to do use big bow strokes and generally you're standing up and motion becomes a process part of the process of playing a note. And my feeling is that a guitarist has to capture the same quality of motion the same idea that is inherent in all the other instruments that demand it and if you don't the performance can be very static and not half as exciting and this is true also in the idea of breathing a singer in order to produce a sound has to inhale also when players brass but in in stringed instruments, it's not a necessity except to really play music it is and I'll talk about this in some more detail. Some general ideas are that it's now this is a it's really a difficult thing to talk about and part of me Rebels against the whole idea because it's something that's come to me naturally and I don't really like to analyze it but I think if it's something that you haven't thought about yet, but pinpointing a few concrete ideas, you can begin to discover for yourself in a more natural way what I'm talking about. First in terms of breathing. I found that in general before you begin a piece to inhale before the phrase is a beautiful way of starting and breathing the initial life into the music and then exhaling with the passage work that follows. And again, I'll be demonstrating some things. It's also often helpful when you have a tied note to breathe on the tie and then the music will follow. In in right and points of rising tension, the breathing is anticipatory and it creates the excitement when you are in a in any kind of situation of fear or excitement breathing becomes something that you're really aware of and also this can be used to reproduce attention and music. When you got a rest, for example, I'll demonstrate an in the buff Pursuit sweet. The opening Prelude. The rest is a very motivated idea that recurs throughout the entire suite and to actually read inhale on that rest will change the entire entire character of the piece and make it flow much much smoother. And this is coupled with ideas about movements again. These are very general concepts and you can't apply them Point Blank, but very often I found that in passages that are rising if the melodic flow is upward you want to move it some way upward with your body from the waist up and if this involves perhaps some limited leg motion, but a lot of its with a head and a lot of it's worthy the upper part of the body. And it's also can be in conjunction with Rising tension of a phrase now to demonstrate just a little bit of these ideas. Now what I'm going to do is just take a few measures here and there and if you know the piece that'll help a little bit more. But even if you don't I think it'll be fairly apparent what I'm trying to show and again these are just to give you a sampling of what I hope to talk about with individual players and their pieces first the idea of inhaling and exhaling in a piece. If you take something like the Walton bag account number two, which is a very very lovely work reminiscent of Sati the opening few phrases. He measures gives an example of a natural kind of inhaling and exhaling. Let me play it first without doing anything and I'll try not to be too biased in my interpretation. I sometimes tend to do that too. But okay. And I'll try just that degree. Okay. Now play that with the body motion that I feel comes naturally and the breathing. And then it continues. If I were to play that phrase without breathing it would sound like this. And I think part of what's Happening Here part of the magic of performance is the player him or herself becoming moved by the music. And I can play the freezing I can play the Dynamics everything is saying but when I start breathing into it, I'm feeling what I'm doing and I'm living what I'm doing and that I think didn't most of you feel a difference when I played the phrase in the breathing. I think it's it's just very clear. Here's another section. This is a section where you've simply got a rising scale passage. And now if I play it without doing anything it would sound like this I've got Now I'm going to play it with more expression here. I'm inhaling and exhaling with the flow of attention exhale. inhale exhale coming up Another passage slip so much of that it continues. I'm not doing anything now. It's very hard for me to do this without going into what I would normally do. Now. If I were breathing that it would be Again Rising as I reach the top and feeling at once the resolution of coming on the top note and exhaling at the same time. another example of breathing is What I was talking about in terms of the rest motivic idea of the First new sweet. I think what I'm going to do now is not demonstrate so much from a straight point of view of not breathing. But to save time simply show you what what my ideas are in this case it begins with a thirty-second note rest and each of the phrases which follow also begin with the 32nd note rest and I'll just show you what how that's enhanced by initially breathing on that. inhaling at the beginning And that's the idea this would continue throughout the whole piece. Also, I mentioned before breathing on a tide note will help to secure the idea of the beats and also to sustain the note which is tied until the next comes. Another thing I'd like to demonstrate is from the Paganini Sonata. It's a very sinuous kind of melodic line and just to show how you can give shape to it. Beginning in the piece is like this and I'll first do it without breathing. And I feel first of all tell you how I feel when I do that. I feel like I'm constricted in a wood box in an iron lung. It's awful. It's totally unnatural. But many people play that way they don't think about the way you would Breathe if you're talking or singing and now I would do it differently. It would continue and Rising also here. coming up with my head makes a much more dramatic impact than other sections in the piece again the idea of rising and inhaling Now here, let me just pick out one measure and show you one small detail. I've got just getting there. Sometimes when you have a jump of several notes to breathe up onto that jump. If I just play that without moving, it's just dead absolutely dead and other sections. You got risers and then falling exhaling. Relax on that note your incredible tension now. Releasing the tension and just one little one little passage to look at in detail again. Jumping if I don't breathe air, it sounds like this once more with the breathing. Exhaling on the resolution. Okay, I won't demonstrate anymore. I could talk really for hours about that. But just to give you an idea. In terms of phrasing. I hope if anybody plays Bach especially we can talk about some ideas of multi-level late freezing when I played the opening section of the new sweet the way that I first began to examine that was to find the smallest units first. Which would be the first small unit is this and then and then the next unit would be that whole thing? And then and then eventually tied over to the next phrasing and then the entire thing which goes on till the trio. That's the one whole phrasing so ideas of examining smallest units working on those identifying them completely know exactly what you're doing and then form the next unit in successive levels and then study it in such a way that you visualize in your aware of all these levels at the exact same time. It's really kind of a complicated mental process, but it's worth it and it makes the music sound much more. Well thought out. next a few notes on memorization There's several prerequisites to having a solid memorization in a piece. First of all to know the phrasing that you worked out and to have a clear picture in your mind of that. Have an under harmonic understanding of the Peace. Also a good fingering is is indispensable and very often times the way you finger something with your right or left hand will make it easier or harder to memorize the piece if it's logical, for example, sometimes you'll find that a Melody line. If you've got an arpeggiated figure of some sort in the right hand. It might work out best to play The Melody line say each time with the a finger and this not only is musical on sounds better because your your tone is consistent, but also it helps in memory memory and I can also overstress the idea of figuring things for the right hand that's often neglected. But in extremely important and maintain the order of the fingers when you're changing going from a lower string to a higher string go from I to M to a rather than anything in the reversal and similarly when you're moving from a higher string to a lower string try to maintain the order. A when you're working out scales, if you have to change strings try to keep that order and it will make the technique a lot easier. Technical control is obviously important in memorizing and it's good to work on a piece enough first. So it's in your fingers before you start memorizing it I find anywhere. One, okay, this this is kind of interesting to there are all different kinds of memory those motor memory auditory memory visual in terms of being able to see individual notes on a printed page and also visual spatial memory, which I think is the Crux of the whole matter. That's when you're actually seeing finger patterns of the right and left hand on the Frets of the guitar and the strings and I find that if I really know a piece and I'm ready to perform it. I can visualize the entire piece not the notes on a page but the actual finger patterns and those are the signals that are coming to your brain when you're playing a concert. It's much harder to think of it and even on a page and then having to transfer that to an open string and this finger on that finger. It's easier to think of exactly what you're doing right there. And what I do is I work on a piece. I take a score I put the guitar away and I work with a score until I'm able to hear the entire piece of my head and visualize each note that I'm playing and I know where everything is and just try that sometime just shut your eyes and try to imagine a measure and then two measures and then the whole piece and again work on it in phrases so that everything is always organized then if you if for any reason there should be a slip somewhere, you know where to go. But this this is one way of almost insuring against having memory slips because you're not just relying on your fingers to go somewhere without your brain. another advantage to this is that it makes you think about the music apart from the instrument and so many more ideas can come to you ideas about tone about phrasing when you're not inhibited by the strings by the threats very often that will channel the results rather than which which would really be feeling and wanting to do so studying the school mentally without the guitar is it is indispensable for memory practice. Also this whole idea of visualization supports another concept I have which you can use in practicing for example, if you've got a difficult passage, I find it. It's a wonderful idea to try to do it with your eyes shut until you can actually do it take a slow Temple Temple and visualize in your mind the Frets the strings exactly where you want to go. In this to me is very much a Zen way of knowing what you're doing it seeing a Target in your head seeing it. They're not looking at it with your eyes, but seeing it in your mind and if you can do that, you really know the instrument. It'll help you cite reading because then you don't have to be looking back and forth and getting dizzy and trying to figure out where you are. Everything is there and you know, the instrument you have at all times a visual picture of it in your head without having to keep your eyes open. I find that total abandonment when I'm playing often means shutting my eyes and forgetting about the fact that there's this thing in front of me and to have the facility to do that is important. so if you can play through a whole piece with your eyes shut you really know the piece to and again, we're difficult passages. It will make the arrival Point save the left hand very secure. If you're messing up something in your right hand. Just think about each note and visualize it. And that will also solidify everything.