Welcome to my inaugural blog post.
Since the Guitar Foundation of America is in town for their national convention I thought I would start with a guitar topic. More to come for all learners of everything.
The technique of tremolo is a most vexing thing for guitarists. Pedagogues have theorized about why it is so frustrating and students experience what I once read online – that the biggest waste of time in ones guitar studies was the time spent on tremolo.
Tremolo is like the person in the red shirt on the original Star Trek series (that’s in the 60’s kids, not the 80’s). When they were part of a landing party you knew little else about them but their name, they existed on the fringes on the main group, and were first to be killed when the plot called for it, sparing the more important characters to continue on.
Our important characters are scales, arpeggios, slurs, reach development, etc. This makes sense. Think about your repertoire. How much of it is tremolo? How much is scales, arpeggios, slurs, etc? Tremolo wears the red shirt. No wonder we get frustrated with something we know little about, exists on the fringes, and is the first thing we want to quit after we don’t get the same results as we do with the important characters.
I believe it is the very fact that it is not an important character makes it appear harder than other techniques.
Consider other technical areas such as scales, slurs, arpeggios and the like. Of these, and many more techniques, we see them throughout the repertoire we are working on. We focus on these techniques by themselves in technical work, and then we see them presented in a myriad of combinations in the rest of our practice in our repertoire. This presents them as strategy changes, creating continued desirable difficulty resulting in a process efficiency change in the brain. Each time we do this we strengthen the neural networks in the brain related to this skill increasing speed and accuracy even more than had we just done repetitions of the technique over and over.
Now consider tremolo. You will practice it by itself just like your other techniques. You may practice it as much each day as all of your other technical work. Then what do you do? You spend the rest of practice working on etudes and concert repertoire encountering all of your techniques over and over except tremolo. Tremolo does not get repeated over and over in different keys, with interspersed arpeggios, chords, different rhythms, etc. No wonder we make such greater progress on the bulk of our technique but not ol’ red shirty tremolo.
There may be another factor at work. At the very beginning of study we work on the major techniques involved in operating the instrument. Tremolo study is usually put off as an ‘advanced technique’ until some level of skill is acquired in the major areas.
Can you see what this does? It puts other techniques hundreds of practice hours ahead of tremolo, and gaining all of the time. If you are judging your tremolo ability by how far you have progressed in other techniques you are comparing apples to oranges. There is no reason to be discouraged. This is how skill acquisition works.
The silent killer here is this; because we are so advanced in other areas we will expect to play tremolo relatively fast in the early stages and keep pushing for speed. Of course the neuroscience is clear on this, always do everything slowly and accurately in order to reinforce the proper neural network is the only way it works. Yet we may keep pushing for speed and reinforcing all of the movements that make that crappy sound that we sometimes call ‘trying to learn tremolo’. That is not trying, let’s start to try.
Part of this may also be how good you really are at the other techniques. Are you scales, for instance, where they need to be when you perform, or are there little mistakes, buzzed and missed notes, etc? Can you live with that because the passages are short and go by quickly? Tremolo does not go by quickly. You’ll hear the same problems over and over and over. It is a technique in which you cannot hide your shortcomings, but remember, those shortcomings are fixable with the right work over time.
This very frustration is an important part of the learning process (desirable difficulty), but also is the very thing that must be worked out in order to have success. No wonder so many give up and only a, “talented,” few can seem to do it. This is simply an issue of mindset, and not innate ability.
Go get ‘em.