Only An Expression

In this season of reporting, the word technique features extensively and there are two points worth considering:

  1. what do we mean by technique?
  2. technique is the servant of expression

At some point in everyone’s life it is pointed out to them that educere has more to do with bringing things out in people than putting them in. The same is true of technique. This does not mean that I think everyone is a born guitarist but rather that the movements required are very natural. I would contend that when people cannot pick up a particular technique, it is because they are doing something else with their hands instead of the requested movement.

Through my studies of
tai chi chuan I have come to believe that there are only two types of movement – natural and forced. This is a thing you have to feel before you will believe it – descriptions can only go part of the way. Our teacher,
Sifu Ian Cameron directed me to one of the best expressions of this idea I have come across. It was in a book entitled
Zen And The Ways by
Trevor Leggett – head of the BBC Japanese Service for 24 years and 6th Dan in Judo.

He refers to the Buddhist concepts of Ri and Ji. The former is the natural flow of things, and the latter, any technique which goes with this reality. An example of this might be the grain in wood being Ri and the decision to chop along, as opposed to across it, Ji.

On a practical level, for the guitar, there are some simple examples of this.

  • A string is a straight line and, if you hope to press a series of notes on a single string, the fingertips need to be in a straight line. This is ensured by the position of the wrist.
  • The shortest distance between two points is also a straight line and it is far quicker to move along a string than to leave it and travel through the air in a risky, time-consuming curve before rejoining the string.
  • The difference between a light and a heavy boxer’s punch is the body-weight behind it. The same is true of quiet and loud notes plucked by the right hand fingers i.e. more weight behind louder notes. There is no extra strength needed to be gathered into the arm or hand.

If technique is so natural, then why can’t more people learn on their own? Well, many can but two things often can get in the way:

  1. tension – a very common byproduct of concentration
  2. mistaking this tension for strength

When it comes to expression, it is the hope of instrumental instructors to widen the expressive possibilities of their pupils. These are as defined by the technique at their disposal. To be able to apply techniques in music, one must be able to slip into them without thinking – due to the time limit inherent in the art. In sports reporting, great moments are often described in terms of the practitioner being in the zone. As far as I’ve ever understood that term, or its equivalent in music, it seems to mean:

  1. reading the game well enough to know what is coming up
  2. easing into the required response from a relaxed, central and ready position
  3. not filling up the limited time with moves other than those dictated by the circumstances

This took me two hours to type and my shoulders are aching.