Preparing Music Using Aim-Directed Movement

by Thomas Kikta


One of the most powerful tools that I pass on to students at the Shearer Summer Institute in Zion, are steps for forming the habits of “Aim Directed Movement” or ADM.  This is a really simple concept that allows the player to see in their mind’s eye, thus creating an“aim” which directs the movement of their hands on the guitar.

It all starts with how one prepares their material, right from the beginning as they first look at a new piece of music.  When describing how to approach a new work, invariably students say: “I look at the time signature, the key signature, the range of the piece; then I look for any accidentals or anything that might give a clue to the form.”  All good things, but then the student goes into the “let me hear how this goes” mode.  They begin to wack away at it, trying to get a feel for what the end result might sound like, all the while making mistakes in notes, rhythm and fingerings that will eventually come back and haunt them.  The student is focusing on outputting the music rather than the real issue: UNDERSTANDING the music.


The next time you approach a new piece of music, yes look at the time signature and key signature but resist that temptation to pick up the guitar and start playing. Instead take a one- or two-measure segment, whatever you can handle without confusion or error, and begin in rhythm, to say out loud the notes to be played, while simultaneously clarifying in your mind’s eye where on the guitar those notes lie

You can say letter names or solfege syllables: do, re, mi, fa, etc. (for more on solfege see Basic Music Notation). Saying “G” or “So” will become a syllabic cue that will evoke the image of where that is on the instrument in that piece.  Just like when I say the word “car”  this syllabic cue evokes an image of your favorite vehicle with doors on its sides and a wheel on each of its four corners.  This habit of associating your notes with mental images of where they lie will become the foundation to ADM.  We call this process Pre-Reading and it creates the opportunity to associate the notes with images of where they lie on the guitar, ultimately helping you to understand the work rather than trying to immediately output it as music on the guitar.

Let’s try it with the simple selection “So-Re One” from The Shearer Method: Book I, Classic Guitar Foundations.  Let’s first watch its accompanying video on how to approach it with Pre-Reading.  Yes, this piece is simple, but that will enable you to focus on the process rather than the complexity of the music.

Realize the words you are singing or saying are syllabic cues that enable you to visualize and clarify where they lie on the guitar.  As you sing in rhythm, these images play like a movie in your mind and help you clarify the aim that is going to direct your movement.  Only move on to the next step if you FEEL comfortable with what you are saying and clearly seeing in your mind.  If you are hesitating or confused then slow down or work with a smaller segment.  One other word of advice: if you are not comfortable with solfegio (do,re,mi, fa…etc) then simply say the letter names. It’s most important that whatever you are saying means something to you…i.e. evokes an image.

Play and Say

Now that we have successfully Pre-Read the segment and we have clarified the information, then go on to “Play and Say” the same segment.  This process is the bridge between the mind, the hands and the guitar.  Continue to sing or say the syllabic cues out load while playing at a comfortable tempo on the guitar.  Work slowly and smoothly and be sensitive to how comfortable you feel.  Feeling comfortable is of the utmost importance.  A student might perfectly execute their segment but feel stressed and on the verge of making an error.  That is not a successful habit; rather we want to reinforce accuracy and comfort–being in control while “pre-reading’ or “playing and saying” our segment.  Realize any kind of habit start right from the very first experience with a piece.  If we prepare the piece while feeling insecure and unsure with the selection, then that habit is what we are reinforcing and ultimately taking to the stage, no matter how successfully we play it. A habit of ACCURACY AND SECURITY is the key to developing confidence in the studio or on the stage.  You have just discovered the root of performance anxiety but that is another article entirely.  Let’s now watch the following video of Play and Say with So- Re One.

Now that we have established these two powerful tools for preparing our music, let’s apply them throughout our work. After successfully applying these tools to one segment, apply them again to the next segment. Then when comfortable with the second segment, put the two segments together and pre-read and play and say them both together.  Ultimately apply this process across the entire piece, one added segment at a time.

Realize what is happening here, not only are you clarifying the information to successfully play this new piece but you are practicing the habit of learning how to maintain focus, a paramount skill for performing in front of an audience.  You are creating concrete images that gives you something to focus on and it is directly responsible for your success in playing the piece accurately with security and confidence. Oh, by the way….did you notice that you are making less errors?   Yes!  The hallmark to playing with security and confidence is minimizing error and confusion.  A simple thing to say but very hard to do…unless you utilize the tools of Pre-Reading and Playing and Saying. 

What I’ll show you in the next ASF Newsletter is how to use these tools to ultimately memorize and perform music, not only for yourself in your studio but also for performing on stage, whether for one or thousands. Until then, please reinforce the habit of working by Pre-Reading and Playing and Saying.

1 Comment

  1. Don Lubin

    This approach, when added to “Deliberate Practice” is a very powerful technique for learning the CG. I use it personally, and with my students, but they fight tooth and nail. A variation on this theme is learning to prepare for tournament chess.

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