There are a few basic principles that need to ALWAYS be applied to avoid injury, and develop virtuoso technique.
What is Virtuosity?
One of the most striking examples of virtuosity on the classical guitar is John Williams’ version of “El colibri” (The Hummingbird) by Julio Sagreras. As a young guitarist I wore this track out, so moved was I that I played it over and over again. Williams playing took my breath away. SO FAST!! WOW! SO AMAZING!!
Soon I was playing classical guitar myself and collecting records – checking out different guitarists – AND different versions of the same pieces. ESCPECIALLY my favorite – El colibri. I Found recordings of almost every other fine guitarist playing this short ‘virtuoso’ piece. NOBODY played it as well or as fast as John Williams. I found all of the other versions competent, but they didn’t have that ‘thing’ that WOW that took my breath away. What did those other versions lack???
Soon my inner nerd took over. I began practicing ‘El colibri’ myself. Comparing different ersions timed them all to see who played the fastest. Imagine my SHOCK and SURPRISE to find that Williams’ version was the SLOWEST version of all of them.
This blew my mind, shattered all of my illusions, and raised the right question, “What is it about Williams’ version that moved me, WOWED me every time, even after hundreds of listenings??? The answer, after years of playing and experimenting, finallycame. Williams’ version GROOVES! Simple as all that. Williams plays with RHYTHM. It was not the speed that wowed me. It was the rhythm that created the feeling of speed that wowed me.
Did you ever notice that almost all great jazz virtuosi play drums or percussion??? (Check, Jaco, Al Dimeola, John Mclaughlin… and many many others) SI began to work on my Rhythm not speed. I practiced accenting… GROOVING… the notes. I also picked up some percussion toys, egg shakers and the like and i started out playing along with the radio. I practiced some with a metronome… but mostly I just tapped my foot and accented the notes that were important to the phrase… making them groove. All the while I’d practice my shakers every day through a couple of songs on the radio.
Suddenly I fonud two things happening:
1 – after playing with my shakers my SPEED on the guitar was increasing… almost exponentially – all by itself. HUH? NO hard work??No hours in the practice room? Just a few minutes a day jamming along with the radio with an egge shaker – and my GUITAR chops are finally getting better. WHY?? Well in retrospect the answer is simple. For every note played a signal needs to go from head to hand, right? The better one knows WHEN to play that note [rhythm] the less confusion between hand and brain.
2. – I ALSO found that I could GROOVE my [by this time] old favorite El colibri and get that same WOW that I loved abouth the Williams version at any tempo. I could make it feel ‘Virtuosic’ – I could make it feel fast – just by grooving – playing with good rhythm and accenting the important notes – at almost any tempo – even slowly.
This for me was a huge realization. Think about the implications. You get off the plane, hands cold, no warm up and must play a recital. How do you play virtuoso music?? Before I’d just play. NOW I know that virtuosity is Rhythm not speed…so all I have to do is find a comfortable tempo for THAT room, those cold hands and frazzled nervers… I just play it slower… make sure it grooves… and the people still get their breath taken away…they get that WOW at any tempo…and I now sit down to play with CONFIDENCE knowing that not speed but groove will get my message of music to my beloved audience.