I’ve been thinking and writing about the Chaconne for a couple of weeks. I’ve done a basic analysis of the piece so that I know the structure. I’ve evaluated the different guitar editions in my library and decided to make my own arrangement. I am anxious to put fingers to strings—to start the long journey of actually learning to play it. But, as with any long journey, it’s a bad idea to start out without a plan. I think about the intrepid pioneers who set out in wagon trains to build new lives in the west. I know it’s mostly mythology from stories I read and movies I saw as a boy, but it remains a romantic notion. I want to explore, to overcome dangers, to make a journey. I don’t want to lose my way, or end up stuck in a mountain pass eating my own guitar strings.
Why not just start at the beginning? That might be a perfectly good idea. I could emulate the great Yo-Yo Ma, who tells the story that when he started out on the cello—at age four, with Bach’s first suite for solo cello, no less—he learned one measure a day. I’ve got 256 measures and more than 256 days, so that should work, right? Except I have a day job and a family…and I’m not Yo-Yo Ma.
Learning a piece from beginning to end is not the only way to do it. Some musicians like to start at the end and work their way backwards. There’s an excellent and logical case to be made for doing this, and you can read about it here. But I do want to experience learning this piece as an exploration as much as an exercise in technique.
To go back to the analogy of the pioneers, unlike many of them I have the advantage of having a map that allows me to see all parts of the journey in advance. If Chaconne were a continent it would look like this:
It’s a long journey to cross a continent, and the biggest test in making the trek is really one of endurance. But there are plenty of technical challenges along the way. From a difficulty standpoint, starting out in the west and heading east, the initial stretch is over a relatively gentle landscape. Some low foothills. But starting in measure 65—mountains of scales. These go on for a bit, and then I have to traverse some difficult rapids in the form of the arpeggios that begin in measure 89 and continue for some 30 measures. Some thorny things to navigate in the land of D major, and then a final set of rapids to negotiate before our gradual descent to our destination.
I don’t want my trip to stall when I encounter these challenges so I am going to fortify myself by working on those passages as technical studies while I am in the early stages of the journey so that, by the time I reach that first range of mountains, I am ready to scale them. (See what I did there?)
So, map in hand, plan in place.
Time to begin at measure 1.