Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Music" -> The Well Tempered Clavier (The Latest Episode)

Yes, today is Thanksgiving, but the subject for today is Fugue #2 in the Well Tempered Clavier book (or the WTC) by JS Bach.

As mentioned before in my October 1st post, I am trying to make it through Bach's book before I leave this earth.

Let recount what the WTC is all about:

a. Bach wrote it as an exercise for his students
b. It consists of a prelude and a fugue in every major and minor key
c. There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys for a total of 24 keys
d. Two pieces times 24 keys is 48 pieces
e. Bach, after writing his first book, decided that each key deserved another prelude and fugue
g. So, he wrote another book with 48 pieces in it
h. Total he wrote 96 pieces
i. At one time or the other, I have completely played Prelude 1, Prelude 2, Fugue 2
j. I am now stuck on Fugue 1, which has been a misery to get through, but beautiful all the same
k. Once through this piece, I will have only 92 pieces to go
l. I am praying that I'll increase in speed in learning or I'll run out of life

Plugging through the music in my spare time results in a slow forward progress. However, little by little, I can start to see the end of the current piece I'm playing come into sight.

Today I worked on measure 22. There are 27 measures that make up the second Fugue. Compared to the section that I was struggling through back in October, it should be simpler. However, the brain is a funny thing. I have been going through the second half of measure 22 slowly, and my brain just is not catching it.

The pattern is basically the same for most types of learning:

1. You laboriously learn a section of music by learn each hand separate
2. You then meld the hands together slow
3. You gradually pick up speed
4. Then the magic happens

What is the magic. This is when you go from consciously playing the piece to your hands just playing themselves. It is magic.

If I put up a recording of my playing, you would hear me play fairly smoothly through measure 21 or so. Then suddenly, I get to measure 22 and every thing grinds to a halt. I go from what sounds wonderful to something that sounds like a rank beginner.

I almost don't know how to describe what it is like to simply have your hands fly over the keyboard, and you don't even think about it. For somebody that doesn't play, here is how you want to think about it.

Watch a child trying to figure out how to walk for the first time. Most children have all the muscle tone that they need to walk long before they actually try and walk. Instead of walking, however, they "cruise." They pull themselves along furniture and walk while hanging onto something.

Why do they do this? Because they have not development the balance and the fine motor skills required to actually walk. They have all the strength, but the brain isn't wired for walking. So, they spend a long time simply developing their brain for walking.

You were a child just like this at one time. You had to develop you brain so that it could walk.

Now, think about walking. Do you need to laboriously plot out how to stand and how to balance?

No. The subconscious has now taken over. You simply move, with your body on autopilot.

The same thing happen with playing an instrument. You progress and the mind can go onto autopilot as you view the notes. As mentioned before, the "best of the best" get in around 10,000 hours before they truly get to world class performance. For the serious amateur, perhaps 3000 to 5000 hours would be enough. If the research is correct, if you put in around 5000 hours practicing the piano, you should end up pretty good.

The problem, as I am find in my own life, is how do you get all these hours in. The idea or throwing 5000 hours after something is pretty amazing.

For instance, it has been around 53 days since I was working on measure 17. On average, I probably don't spend much more than 1/2 hour practicing the piano a day. Thus, I have put in around 26 hours of practice. Most of this practice is not on the WTC. About 2/3 of this practice has been on my scales. (When I was younger, I had learned A-G scales, but none of the flat or sharped scales such as Ab to G# enharmonically.) So, I have been practicing my scales, and during the last week or so, I am now able to play all major scales or the 12 chromatic scales that are on the piano.

So, I'm not so disappointed in my progress, but it does cause me to think about how to find time to practice more. After all, if I am practicing 1/2 hour per day, then I am going to end up with roughly 182 hours of practice over the course of a year. Not bad, but it is going to take over 20 years to get just 2000 hours of practice in.

Finally, one more thought. I am a very busy person, and I hardly watch any television at all. However, the majority of Americans watch around 30 hours of television per week. This translates into 1500 hours of "practice" per year watching the television. However, none of this is deliberate practice, and as the first post in this blog points out, this activity looks to be brain degrading.

Just think if we could harness the power of the television into something that would cause our brains to grow. If the average American could spend 20 hours per week doing something constructive with their brains (or using this to support their body), I think we would have a productivity bonanza that would cause the USA to catch economic fire.

Epilogue: My wife and I were talking about life and productivity this morning. We have accumulated a considerable amount of wealth over the last 14 years. However, when we were in our 20, we were really focused more on ourselves. We wanted to a series of things in our life, and most of these were very self focused. Now, when I look back on this time, do I have a bunch of "once in a life time" memories that I am really, really glad that I did while I was young?

The answer is no. Don't make a mistake, because I am not sad about this time, but doing stuff that was completely self absorbed didn't necessarily create an environment that was rewarding and I could look back on with good thoughts.

Instead, I have much better thoughts about the time after this: having kids, creating a home, creating investments, and supporting the work of Christ.

What was the difference between our early 20s and after?

My wife pointed out this morning, that we were not pursuing God during our early 20s. This is the truth of life. The more that you pursue only things that are interesting to you, the less that it will ultimately result in memories that cause you to be satisfied.

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