Ricardo Iznaola - The Path to Virtuosity

So, I've had this ebook lying around, as it were, on my tablet. I want to sort my technique out, so I figured I'd simplify my life by letting someone else choose what I should be practising馃榾. As long as I pay good attention to what I'm doing, notice what benefits I'm gaining, and avoid aimless and even dangerous practice, it can't do any harm, probably do me and my guitar a lot of good.

I thought I'd keep a little record of my progress on it, for myself, and on the off chance someone else might be interested.

What I'm doing 

I'm essentially going back to basics, and checking that everything works properly - good tone, hand position, control, releasing unnecessary tension, eliminating unnecessary movements, correcting anything else where needed. By doing simple things I'm also exploring how things work, fingers, hand, arm, body, concentration... and reflecting on each aspect.

And I'll post here every now and again.

Motivating factors

I should mention that one big motivating factor for choosing this route is that about 7 weeks ago I start the "Couch to 5k" programme. It's a jogging programming you do with an app. I've never ever been a runner, so running non-stop for 25 minutes like I have to do 3 times this week is quite a big thing for me but I'm quite capable of it now. The main thing that worked is that there is a plan that I can follow and trust, and I'm convinced enough that if I finish the 9 weeks I'll never have to do any more exercise again馃榾馃榾. Might keep running, might not, we'll see.

So I thought I'd use a similar system to train some guitar technique; a reasonable enough plan in which I can see logic for each exercise, that I can follow as diligently as I can for a fixed period of time and see what I get out of it. Maybe when I've finished I'll never have to do another exercise again馃榾馃榾馃榾. Might keep exercising, might not...

Actually the main reason for this is performance. I want to do some concerts at some of my own music and of others, maybe a little recording or two, and I feel like my technique is lacking and not stable enough for what I want to do. So the idea is that this is a big overhaul of my technique to develop it generally and identify specific areas to work on.

And I want to be a virtuoso. Who doesn't. Iznaola says this is the way, so let's see if there's any truth in this great claim!

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  • The Plan

    In total, it'll be 9 weeks, 6 days a week, one day of rest. So far I've found each day is an hour to an hour and a half in total.

    This consists of 9 "levels", with different exercises for each, so I'm assuming a week will be enough for me to master each exercise at the given tempo in each level. Interestingly enough it's the same length as Couch to 5k.
    There are 3 routines of exercises to do each day, either together or morning, afternoon and evening. The exercises in each routine change with each level.

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  • Developments so far

    I started on Saturday, 11 December, making it 6 days so far. I get a day's rest tomorrow.

    I started off doing the minimum tempo of 60 bpm, which I liked as it is slow enough to examine the movements in the exercise closely. 

    Some points about how things have gone so far:

    • One very interesting thing, perhaps a little difficult to describe, is the sense of the "newness" of some movements. By this I mean the difference between accustomed movements that I'm used to doing, e.g. plucking a string, arpeggio, three or four plucked strings together, especially with the main fingers, 1, 2, i, m or p, and movements that somehow feel a bit foreign. There is a slight discomfort, insecurity, even very very subtle and mild fear when using fingers 4 or a, fear that I'll miss the string. This is very subtle, as I said, but I know that it is the cause of some of the feeling of instability and insecurity, as well as the instability and insecurity themselves. This is a great indication of where I need to work on, and it's through these exercises that clear opportunities for development present themselves. So, when I find this weird feeling of newness of a movement, I can just stay on that part of the exercise, repeating it with great attention, feeling how the finger is, checking it's doing what I want it to do and properly, until I gain some naturalness in the movement. Sometimes I try to find what Emmanuel said the other day on a live stream, a feeling of it being too easy. I've been doing this for pieces recently, but with these exercises if the feeling doesn't come too soon, I move on to the next to avoid fatigue and practise all the exercises necessary.
    • Rather than following a system blindly, I'm finding I can apply a lot of principles I know already and develop them, for example:
      • To eliminate unnecessary tension, Vladimir Gorbach's "Coordination and Speed Development Course" (just noticed he's doing a live stream on here, yehey!: https://app.tonebase.co/guitar/live/player/vladimir-gorbach-coordination-reset)
      • Right-hand preparation as often expounded by Mircea 
      • Skilful use of metronome
      • Techniques for focus - essentially clarifying what I'm going to do, setting a clear intention to do it, then directing attention to the object of the intention, not using my focus power longer than practical, and noticing when concentration weakens after a while, and like Gorbach, does, taking a break for a few seconds just to resettle and reset (a longer break of 5-10 minutes comes at the end of each routine).
    • One routine is decent enough warm-up for my hands for practising the pieces I'm learning.
    • My fingers seem a little more precise
    • My hands have changed a little physiologically, perhaps some muscles have developed - I can feel my hands have done a workout, right now in the right hand especially, but also the left hand a little too. No pain or any other discomfort, but taking a day off sounds like a well thought out part of the plan. The same happens in Couch to 5k, but there the break comes after each day of running. Another subtle difference is that the shape my hands naturally make for example when relaxed seems somehow rounder. I've noticed tapping on the table (as one might do when bored) feels different, maybe the largest knuckles of my right-hand fingers seem to be more curved towards controlling a strike at the tips of my fingers, or nails.
    • I've sometimes been doing the first two routines, followed by some actual music, and then the third later as warm-up to other pieces. Doing them all together is quite possible (with the required 5-10 minute breaks between each routine), but then I feel like I've finished practising for the morning and practising pieces seems like something best done in the next practice session.

    Probably won't write that much every time! But I hope to try to add an update each week.

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      • Bill Young
      • Bill_Young
      • 1 mth ago
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      Roni Glaser I have had that book for years but never really worked on it. I recently joined a guitar gym class and the leader always included a couple exercises from Iznaola鈥檚 book every week.  In my opinion, the 鈥淏ible鈥 by Hubert K盲ppel鈥 or the exercises by Evangelos Boudounis are more interesting. 

      Like 1
    • Bill Young A guitar gym class?!? Ha! Cool! Never heard of anything like that before!

      Thanks for reading and replying! Yeah, don鈥檛 think the exercises are exactly interesting in and of themselves, it鈥檚 more the aspect of playing they allow me to focus on and what I find, learn and progress in that鈥檚 interesting for me. I also appreciate the programme and the organisation into routines, if I had to choose the exercises myself I鈥檇 soon get confused and indecisive and I鈥檇 end up giving up. With this I now I鈥檒l end up being too stubborn to quit, which means I鈥檒l have a good couple of months of serious technique training done.

      Thanks for the tips on the other books! I expect once I finish Iznaola I鈥檒l do a different programme rather than repeat it, so I鈥檒l definitely keep them in mind. Or maybe a series of studies. Another 8 weeks and I鈥檒l let you know! 

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    • Roni Glaser this is fun stuff, I took same sort of approach. I have this Iznaola book, as well as some other methods. You have to be very focused to keep it going., though. so, I grabbed an opportunity to also follow a  technique gym class, called 鈥榩luck the day鈥 : half an hour 3 times a week, in small but dedicated group sessions: well organized and focused exercises with a load of variations, which I use for warming up the remaining  days of the week. It is helping me to gain better control of my various movements and concentrate on correct placing of  fingers in difficult situations, such as stretches, shifts, slurs, staccato,鈥

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    • joosje Thanks Joosje, sorry for the late reply! I had a look for that "Pluck the Day" thing you mentioned; I don't think I could find exactly what you're doing, but I did find out that it's the literal translation of "carpe diem". Very interesting!

      You're right about the focus aspect! But luckily I'm doing pretty well in that respect. :)

      It's like you say too, the exercises are helping a lot!

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  • Update - I'm at the end of my fourth week and level 4, of Iznaola's book, having taken a week or so off in between over the holidays when I wasn't at home.

    It's been taking somewhere in the order of an hour and a half to two hours every day, which is indeed a lot. The difference in my hands is quite shockingly noticeable, some examples:

    • I have new hands! They generally feel kind of "bigger" and more in control;
    • the general position of my left hand is really solid, like the fingers and hand is really well structure around the neck and on the fretboard;
    • fingers are generally, well, better, for example slurs are often just much easier, especially with finger 4;
    • right hand, like the left, has developed a good structure; I saw the video with 脕ngel Romero on tonebase in which he describes "holding a golf ball" in his right hand, which sometimes appears in my right hand too, without having had an intention to do so,
    • Each exercise, apart from training the hands, also seem to provide a different point of view on the hands, to understand them from different angles.
    • The new "life" in my hands does indeed make it easier to tackle pieces, and actual real music 馃槉

    So generally it's great to focus purely on technique, it's what I've needed, and it's great not to have think about what which exercises to choose and have them all laid out for me. However, this doesn't mean that I'm doing the exercises mindless and without thinking, on the contrary, I can explore all the different aspects of each exercise, see what benefit it brings, and if there's an exercise I hate, then it's exactly there where I can improve, and a great opportunity. So I practise until I like it...or at least dislike it less...but especially until the awkwardness subsides and ease arises.

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