Don't Forget to Relax
Licking her lips, Iera raised her vertical flute, carved from a soft
wood, and fitted her fingers over the finger holes. Taking a measured
breath in through her nostrils, she exhaled evenly, producing a warm,
Iera closed her eyes as she allowed the song to wash over her. Her
fingers moved instinctively over the wooden instrument, weaving the tale
of the familiar Teaching Ballad.
When she was finished and opened her eyes, she flinched a little to see
that Master Jayala had arrived while she was playing.
"My apologies, I was just playing while I waited," she set the flute
aside and picked up the gitar that was leaning against her chair. Since
she was still trying to determine if she wanted to specialize in
Instrumental Music, she had been working privately with Master Jayala to
master instruments other than her flute.
"I don't allow apologies for making music in my class, Journeywoman. You
should know that by now." The master's warm tone took any sting from her
words. She had entered as quietly as she could, not wanting to interrupt
the young woman's playing. "Your breath control has come on well over
the last months. Those soft, sustained notes are more challenging than
they seem...but," she went on, sitting down and taking her own
instrument from its case, "we are here to play the gitar. Let's warm up
with some scales."
Iera bent her head over her gitar as she placed her fingers where they
belonged on the frets. She could play smoothly through the warm-up
scales, but she hadn't mastered enough of the gitar yet that she could
look away from the fingerboard. As she played, Iera's mind was
constantly thinking of where the next note should be and concentrating
on getting her fingers into the correct positions. Iera often felt like
playing gitar was the same as patting her head and rubbing her stomach
at the same time- nearly impossible!
"My brain knows what it wants my fingers to do, they just don't
cooperate," she said around a small, frustrated sigh as they finished
"That's natural, when you're learning a new instrument. With time, and
practice, you'll be able to play those scales without thinking, just as
you do on the flute." Jayala could remember feeling the same way
herself, many Turns ago when she'd started to learn the gitar with her
grandmother. "It's good that you're making sure you hit each note well
and clearly, instead of rushing. Pay attention to when you shift your
left hand..." She demonstrated. "That's the tricky part, but with
practice you'll know where to move to by instinct."
Iera practiced making the same smooth transition with her left hand as
Master Jayala. "What was the first instrument that you mastered?" she asked.
"I started with the pipe and drum, although I wouldn't say I mastered
them at that age," Jayala said with a smile at the thought. She could
hardly remember a time when she hadn't been making music. "The gitar was
the first that I studied seriously, and learned to play the Teaching
Iera had worked on a little with a drum, but she wasn't sure if she was
any good at it, or if she just enjoyed being able to freely pound
something. "People always make playing the gitar look so easy. I didn't
realize what a toll it would take on my fingers." She raised up the pads
of her fingers, showing the raw, red lines that pressing the strings to
the frets had caused. She knew that after a while her fingers would
callous and it wouldn't bother her any more, but it had been an
adjustment she hadn't expected.
"It's painful at first, and there's no way to get around it." Jayala
leaned closer to examine the younger woman's fingers, making sure there
wasn't any serious damage. "I usually recommend practising for short
periods at first, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, and taking breaks in
between. You could practise fingering the strings lightly while you
rest, or study a score, or play another instrument. Then return to the
gitar. Soon, the calluses will develop." She turned over her own hand to
reveal the hardened skin on her own fingers.
"I try to practice the chord shapes without pressing too hard, just to
get the feel of where my fingers should be going." Iera was finding it
difficult to sometimes make the different transitions between different
chords in a timely manner.
"That's good. In time, they'll become familiar and you'll be able to
work more on dynamics or tempo, but for now concentrate on teaching your
fingers the patterns. It's like learning the steps of a dance; at first
you feel like you're about to trip over your own feet all the time, but
then it suddenly makes sense." Jayala smiled, remembering how her mother
had tried to teach her that particular ladylike skill. She'd preferred
dancing to etiquette or embroidery, at least. "How did you get on with
the pieces I gave you last sevenday?"
"The song in C wasn't too difficult," she had memorized her G and F
chords so the key of C was the easiest to play in at the moment. "The
one in E was a little trickier," she confessed.
"Let's try that one first, then," Jayala said, with the enthusiasm of
any teacher whose student had just admitted to finding something
difficult. "Don't be afraid to take the harder passages slowly for now.
Concentrate on striking the chords smoothly and cleanly, with a full
sound, like so..." She played the first bar of the piece in question.
Iera tried to hide the grimace from her face that they were playing the
difficult song first. She could feel little beads of sweat popping out
on her forehead as she began playing, her hand nearly cramping from the
tense way she held the neck of the guitar as she tried to play without
making a mistake.
The master listened closely, her sharp eyes noting the slight stiffness
in the young journeywoman's posture and fingering, but she waited until
Iera had finished playing before speaking. "Good. That was a challenge,
and I can tell you've been practising." Which was more than some of her
apprentices did! "There are a few points we can work on, but you did well."
"Thank you," Iera rolled her shoulders and put a hand to her neck,
noticing how stiff her posture had been. This was why she liked working
with Jayala, the woman was always encouraging.
"First, I'd like you to try and relax a little." She smiled. "I know
it's not easy when you're concentrating on so many different things at
once, and performing for a teacher, too! If you feel your right hand
tensing up, take a short break and shake out your fingers to loosen
them. You could even make a mark on the music to remind you to think of
it. That'll keep you from getting any pain in your hand, and you'll get
a better, stronger tone from the strings."
Iera shook her hand out, feeling the muscles relax a bit as she did.
"I'll make sure to do that. No wonder I have felt so sore after
practice." The journeywoman glanced at the timepiece on the wall, "Is
there anything else ma'am? I've kept you longer than our normal time."
"No, not for now. Carry on practising that song for now - and you could
spend some time improvising with the chords you've learned. Try
different patterns, rhythms. That should help you relax, too."
Jayala put her gitar aside and sorted through some music while the young
woman packed up her instruments. "Oh - one more thing. I'm arranging
some small groups of journeymen to play together in trios and quartets.
The aim is to work towards a performance at Turn's End, but there will
be other opportunities to play, at Gathers, for example. I'd like to try
a mixture of the traditional ballads and newer works from our
composers..." She looked up from the music. "Would you be interested in
something like that? I could use a talented flautist."
Iera smiled, an opportunity to do what she loved, play the flute, "Yes,
I would be very interested." She also felt flattered that Jayala would
consider her for the position.
"Good." The master pulled out some sheets of music and handed them to
her. "Have a look at these, and I'll let you know when I've found some
other journeymen to make up the group." Jayala hoped that the experience
of playing in a small, dedicated group would lead Iera to take up her
speciality of instrumental music. "Now, I won't keep you any longer.
Don't forget to relax!"
"Thank you, ma'am!" Iera said as she collected her things in her arms
and left the room, off to vocal practice for Master Eilomar.
Last updated on the January 21st 2019