As you know I stayed away from castanets for quite some time. I had my reasons.
Which I’ll share with you today along with the best thing you can do for yourself when starting out.
Let’s begin with my reasons for having avoided castanets for so long
Reason #1: Rebellion.
In part I was rebelling, at least that’s what I told myself.
Rebelling because when I would mention that I danced flamenco it seemed just about every other person would assume I played castanets,
"Ohhhhhh, so you play those things,” making motions with their fingers, “that make the clacking sounds?”
“No, I do not play those things, and actually you don’t need to play those things to do flamenco,” I’d say.
It’s true, one does not have to play castanets to do flamenco, but there was certainly a little bit of defensive me who-didn’t-know-how-to-play-so-don't-ask-me-that talking.
And then there was Reason #2,
Reason #2: Maybe later.
With so many other aspects of flamenco to “get down,” who had time to learn castanets? Little did I know that learning castanets would not get in the way of and could actually help me with the “other” things.
But related to that was,
Reason #3: Who to learn from?
I wasn’t sure who to study with in Portland, Oregon.
On my own? How would that even work?
Which brings us to Reason #4,
The real reason I waited so long,
Reason #4: Challenge.
Playing castanets seemed basically impossible.
How one could make such sounds with little pieces of wood strangely tied to the fingers made no sense to me at all. Definitely too hard to do.
So I removed the idea from my mind.
That’s when I told Ricardo I wanted to learn to play castanets.
He brought me a pair from Spain.
He taught a castanets workshop.
And he got me all set up to practice them at home, in front of the mirrored closet doors.
I was to stand, no sitting allowed, with my arms in position, watching myself in the mirror, doing the exercises he’d taught us in the workshop.
… while he sat in the garden living the good life.
But it hurts my arms to keep them in this position.
He didn’t buy it.
But I don’t feel like standing.
But I don’t want to have to scratch the castanets. That's hard to do.
That’s the way it is.
I was frustrated.
And unmotivated. I decided it was way too boring.
I liked doing other technique exercises that one might argue to be tedious, like footwork exercises. But this castanets thing was not okay. I wanted my fingers to do things that they weren't interested in doing, and I wanted them to do these things right away.
I won’t lie.
I gave the castanets little effort. Almost none. Ricardo had given me a bunch of exercises. Everything I needed to get started. But I did nothing with them.
Then a few years ago,
I begrudgingly gave castanets another shot with Mercedes and completely surprised myself when I actually enjoyed playing them.
THANK GOODNESS for that.
Because now, I love them.
When I feel the need to shake things off, I'll often grab my castanets. I did that just this afternoon.
All of the clacking and the ria ria pita-ing.
It can quickly remove any unnecessary energy.
I love that.
So, why did it suddenly catch on with Mercedes when it hadn’t before?
One: I was ready.
Your could say I had “given up,” but more accurately I had put my castanets aside.
It wasn’t that I’d lost the desire to play them rather that I longed for more guidance. Which is why I brought them with me to Spain that time, just in case.
Two: I’d already had an introduction.
Because of my previous exposure with Ricardo, it was less intimidating, and my fingers seemed to pick it up faster now.
The frustrating attempts and previous give-ups helped to prepare me for the being ready for it then.
Three: I went to a regular group class.
Studying with a group of people under the guidance of someone who knew how to play them correctly got me into the groove and allowed for instant feedback on my technique.
In class with Mercedes I couldn’t hear how horrible I sounded. It’s necessary to hear what you sound like but not at all times. If we focus only on this then of course we’re going to be frustrated and not want to do it anymore, especially in the begining when sometimes you’re moving your fingers and producing no sound at all. (Raise your hand if you know what I mean.)
I had fun with the other ladies, and after the first class I was ready to practice on my own at home.
Having a regular class in the beginning is key.
That’s how it became fun and doable for me.
Never mind that I only had about six sessions of this class which did not allow me enough time to really understand the techniques and that after I left Spain I went along with my practicing doing certain things ALL WRONG with no one to correct me meaning Ricardo had to fix a bunch of stuff when he came back to Portland in 2012. There was one bad habit that I have yet to correct and that I may not be wiling to put in the time and effort to fix at this point. I’ll tell you about it another time.
So if you’re just getting started (or thinking of getting started) with castanets,
Do it in a group with someone to guide you.
It will a) feel extremely frustrating, and you will likely give up.
and b) you will not learn to play correctly.
And you want to learn to play correctly.
Because it’s not about just hitting the castanets however you want to. There are specific techniques that are very important to know.
Pretty please, learn the correct techniques.
And, finally, if you have any interest at all in castanets,
Definitely learn to play!
Because it’s fun. So fun. And good for you.
Tomorrow I’ll share some ideas on what to do when you become frustrated, because you will get frustrated.
EDIT: A couple of days later, I realize this post may have been more accurately titled, "How I Finally Committed to Learning Castanets," or something along those lines. Because once I committed, I could really learn to play, and the above reasons provided me with what I myself needed to finally commit.
Now tell me,
What has helped you get through the learning castanets process? How did you get started? Or if you don't yet play them, what has prevented you from getting started? You can leave a comment below.