To conclude our video series covering right-hand technique development in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use the concept of bursts (another rhythmic manipulation) to develop speed and further strengthen right-hand rhythmic precision,… More
Here is a warm up sequence that I used to do every morning. It is useful for building right hand endurance, finger alternation, speed, pulse, rhythm, and legato. The idea behind it is simple. Set the metronome to a very slow beat, somewhere (50-70). Throughout the whole sequence, the beat remains constant but with very slight and precise increments we increase the number of notes between the beats.
I would go through all 13 steps (using free stroke) and then go through the whole thing two more times using different right hand fingerings am and ai. So, that’s 39 steps. I actually would go all the way up to fret 12 (3 cycles) and often would use a diminished 7th chord or some left hand variation to keep it interesting. Vary what you need. As you will notice, I’ve been more detailed in the first 3 steps and little by little have resorted to short hand as the basic sequence becomes evident.
Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.
Phew! Go back for more. You know it’s good for you.
I love getting to the point when a student is ready to tackle Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. There are so many angles to explore and it takes a lot of dedication to master it. There was a time when I was preparing to perform all 12 etudes that I decided the best use of my warm up time was to spend at least 30 minutes on Etude Nº1, 30 minutes on Etude Nº2, and 30 minutes on Etude Nº3. After which my hands always seemed to work well as I worked on other material.
Over the course of months I may have played those etudes at least a thousand times in many, many different ways. I tried everything I could think of to make them better.
The first step in this great journey is to develop the right hand’s ability to play the entire arpeggio comfortably. The great Andrés Segovia suggested a solution that is still used by the majority of students and the one I used for years. However, as we develop our abilities we find that our hands have an easier time with certain movements and we find ways to use those movements to harness our strengths.
So, I always suggest putting in your time with Segovia’s solution until you can perform the Etude with that pattern. I find that the weakest part of the solution is moving from m to a making the 3rd quarter note beat (half note of the measure) sound articulate which helps to delineate the rhythmic structure of the Etude, so I have come to prefer substituting m with i. However, it wasn’t until working on the piece for many years that I slowly came to prefer it. Explore the possibilities in the practice room by adding in a few alternate fingerings to start the exploratory process. I’ve watched my dear mentor, Eliot Fisk, play it through in hundreds of ways just as an exercise to develop string crossing – I think I remember him even doing to whole arpeggio with m and pinky!
Here are some important ways to practice it. Stay tuned for Part 2 and we’ll go deeper.
“Always the master of his instrument, Dukić demonstrated spectacular virtuosity over and over again together with a great maturity and powerful inspiration.” Il Gazzettino, Italy
Though I’ve seen his name over the years many times, I had yet to see Croatian guitarist, Zoran Dukić, play until a few months ago when I was scouring Guitar Coop‘s wonderful site. His mastery confirmed after hearing a single note conjured from his guitar, I have found myself watching his videos over and over.
Here are two videos displaying profound beauty and depth. The first of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Larghetto from the Violin Sonata Nº3 in C, BWV1005. The second video is a passionate and virtuosic rendition of Sergios Assad’s finger-full transcription of Astor Piazzolla’s Invierno Porteño.
Praised for his deeply expressive musicianship, his musical intelligence, and virtuosic technique, Colin Davin seems to have it all. Colin is an active international soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, with projects and performances from Aspen to Afghanistan to the Alhambra.
Colin took some time recently to sit down and share some of his insight, philosophies, and advice with Six String Journal. Hope it inspires you all.
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
My study of the guitar began fairly early – I was 7 years old, and my father, himself an amateur guitarist, signed me up for lessons. In a way, it was not so different than the many other things I was doing as a kid, like little league or cub scouts. Taking advice from an interview with the folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, it was determined that classical guitar would give me the best chance at being able to play a wide range of styles. And while I’ve since branched out from time to time, at that early age, classical struck a chord with me, and I’ve never lost that enthusiasm.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I play a guitar by Andrea Tacchi, from Florence, Italy, his model “Coclea Thucea”, made in 2004. For those who don’t know Andrea’s instruments, they are both of the highest quality in sound and craftsmanship, and a bit unusual. The name Coclea Thucea refers to the inner ear (coclea), both for its obvious connection to hearing music, and for its spiral design, in the ratio of a Fibonacci sequence. Andrea incorporates aspects of “sacred geometry” connected to this ratio in his design and construction. And the “thucea” is a portmanteau of the Latin names for spruce and cedar, as the top is a three-piece construction using both materials (two outer panels of cedar with a central panel of spruce). For years I’ve played Hannabach Silver 900/200 trebles, med-high tension…a perfect balance of warmth, color, and clarity, in my opinion. I have less devotion when it comes to basses, but most often settle on high tension Augustine or D’Addario.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
My influences have been pretty wide ranging over the years, but early guitar heroes of mine were Julian Bream, John Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, and Django Reinhardt. When I was 10, I heard Jason Vieaux play for the first time, and that pretty much cemented my desire to make music my life. A few years later, I was Jason’s student, and now I’m his colleague on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music!
What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?
I play in a duo with the brilliant harpist Emily Levin, and we’re planning a live-concert recording in New York this February. The combination of guitar and harp is absolute magic, and deeply under-explored (they might be the two most intimidating instruments for composers, which explains the lack of repertoire). We’ll be recording transcriptions of ours of de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” in its entirety, Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) and Philip Glass’s “Etude no. 6”, originally for piano. In addition, we’ll feature world premiere recordings of works we commissioned, by Dylan Mattingly and Will Stackpole.
Practicing and Performing
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
Practice hours are variable day to day, and week to week. Such is the nature of a performing and teaching musician – the lack of a consistent schedule presents unique challenges to getting in the hours. I’d say I reliably get in 20-25 hours a week, possibly in a steady stream of 3-4 hours a day, possibly in a disjointed alternation of heavy days and light days. Because of this irregularity, it has become very important for me to structure my practice with specific goals in mind. I always start with some light warmups, then slurs, arpeggios (often selections from the Giuliani 120, or Villa-Lobos’ Etude no. 1), tremolo, and scales. I always have an eye on what projects are coming up, and try to balance my repertoire practice so that I stay on top of the varied things I have coming up at any given point in a season.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
The way I approach learning a piece, with an extremely deliberate approach using metronome charts and lots of repetitions, often results in memorization by default. That said, I do sometimes get hung up on a passage, or even an entire section….typically in music that is either very rhythmically complex (and thus requires a different approach than the typical metronome work), or music that is rather easy that I end up learning a bit too fast! For the former, I often break the piece down into digestible sections, trying to memorize, say, one line of music in a day. The next day, I’ll work on the next line, reviewing the previous day’s memory work, and seeing if I can string the two together…and so on. For an easier piece, I use some off-guitar techniques like visualization, singing/solfège, as well as forcing myself into practicing the piece in small- to medium-sized sections, more than I might think I need in order to successfully execute the piece.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
On concert days, I do try to keep a certain routine. The night before, I actually try to get a little less sleep than usual – for some reason, being just a little tired works for me, combining with natural performance adrenaline (what some might call “nerves”) to bring me to a nice level of focus and calm. Late morning or early afternoon, I tend to go for a walk; easier to do in certain locations and certain times of year than others! And I general try to eat light throughout the day. I arrive at the hall a little over an hour before showtime, play on stage for about 10 minutes, then head to the dressing room where I’ll intersperse light practicing/warmups with a snack (usually a banana) and some herbal tea (usually turmeric). I think everyone should establish some kind of consistent practice on concert days, whatever might work for a given individual; it really helps put your mind and body into the right space, focusing the energy toward inhabiting the performance space.
Advice to Young Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Be patient, and be thorough. The easiest way to practice is to run through pieces in their entirety, as best you can, flubbing through the hard parts, but kind of getting through it. But this merely reinforces bad habits, and gets you nothing but extra repetitions of mistake-filled playing. More repetitions will bake in those problems, the same way that repetitions of clean, musical playing will bake that in! So, take your time when learning a piece, don’t rush through the process; be deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. When all that early work happens, the final product will be far superior, easier and more enjoyable to play, and far more satisfying for your audience.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
There’s a whole library of Julian Bream recordings everyone should know. “Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar”, and “Twentieth Century Guitar I (from the Julian Bream Edition)” are two favorites of mine. Beyond that – I always tell students to listen well beyond the realm of the guitar. Some of my best musical lessons have come from listening to non-guitarists, classical or otherwise. A random assortment of influential artists: Toumani Diabate, Punch Brothers, Rachel Podger, Hilary Hahn, Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, Joanna Newsom, Leonard Cohen, Roomful of Teeth.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
I tend to read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Probably my favorite author is the late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago. His “Death with Interruptions” is among my favorite books; a fable that is funny, sad, and sweepingly beautiful. I’m also a devoted reader of the New Yorker magazine, especially the long-form investigative pieces, profiles, short stories, and arts writing. And of course, the cartoons.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
When I’m not in the midst of working on music, I honestly just enjoy “being” wherever I am. Hiking is among my favorite activities (though the elevation changes in Northeast Ohio are a bit mild to qualify anything here as “hiking”); and it’s the ultimate in doing something that is very nearly doing nothing: walk, climb, look, smell, listen. Beyond that, I enjoy cooking, coffee, and the occasional night out with a good game to play; lately, I’ve been working on my pool game, though I have a long way to go before anyone would accuse me of actually being good!
For more information on Colin Davin visit his website: www.colindavin.com
Here are a few of the twelve Heitor Villa-Lobos Etudes performed by a simply outstanding young musician, Leonora Spagenberger. While I’ve heard some great guitarists perform these over the years, Leonora’s interpretations, despite her age (13) at the time of the recording, stand among the best of them. They are profoundly moving. This is inspiring on many levels. Bravissimo!
Marko Topchii seems to be taking the guitar world by storm. Hailing from Ukraine, Marko has amassed more than 80 awards (34 of them 1st prize) from the most important international guitar competitions in the world. I was recently pointed to a video that despite the casual setting of what looks like a green room and the mobile-phone-to-the-mirror technique of filming, displays a true force of nature as he rips through Joaquín Rodrigo’s Toccata. It is as if he chose the most violent wave to surf and simply flew over it.
If you have more time, here is a recent performance of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Capriccio Diabolico from a performance in Italy.
Nadja Jankovic, a young and extremely talented guitarist hailing from Montenegro, interprets Joaquín Rodrigo’s Invocación y Danza brilliantly. From the haunting introduction to the rhythmic dance, Nadja invokes the spirit of this masterpiece with musical clarity and maturity that is seldom heard in such young players.
Brazilian guitarist extraordinaire, Paulo Martelli, interprets the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in a beautifully sensitive and profound way. The added resonance of his 11-string guitar enhance the the aura of Bach’s Adagio, BWV1056 enough to make me confess that I would like more strings.
This video comes via the Guitar Coop in Brazil. As with all of their videos, it is shot with extreme quality on both the audio and video fronts.
If you feel compelled to listen to more, enjoy this magestic performance of Paulo playing the Gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite Nº2, BWV1008.
Need something new to add to your slur studies? Try this series of advanced exercises for the left hand that combine compound slurs and accents. Use them to build endurance, control, and precision. For each of the three levels illustrated keep the following points in mind:
- Practice on various strings in various positions.
- Practice slowly with great rhythmic intent.
- Keep movements efficient and clean.
- Play accents clearly.
- Keep left hand wrist and fingers as relaxed as possible.
- If at any point your hand and fingers feel like they are going to fall off, consider stopping.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14. The example below uses 12.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 123, 321, 134, 431, 124, 421, 234, 432. The example below uses 124.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 1234, 4321, 1324, 4231, 1423, 4132. The example below uses 1234.
If your left hand has not been challenged or you’d like to expand the exercises a bit or you DO want your hand and fingers to fall off, use a bar or fix a left hand finger that is not in use to another string and nearby fret.
The image I hold while playing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1 is one where I am sailing above the canopy of the amazon rainforest as if it were an endless gentle green ocean. Putting this image into practice presents many challenges for the guitarist but simply having an image helps to move the fingers smoothly and with little resistance. Commanding the right-hand to execute the arpeggio to comfortably create the waves of this amazonian ocean, the crescendos and decrescendos, requires some persistence, though. And to truly master the image, it is equally important to investigate how the left hand moves from harmony to harmony, how softly we transition from chord to chord, and how the right hand waxes and wanes over the strings. Ocean waves have an inherent softness to them. To approach this quality in both hands, I’ve brainstormed a bit to list some key tips that I’ve focused on over the years:
- Release the finger responsible for the first note of the next harmony either at the fourth quarter note or last eighth note of the previous measure.
- Practice the transitions from the end of each measure into the following measure. For example, practice the last 4 sixteenth notes of a measure with the first four sixteenth notes of the following measure.
- Do not think block chords! Instead, imagine the left hand placing fingers more subtly. When possible, prioritize the left hand finger placement in the order that the notes are plucked.
- Work on avoiding finger noise in the second part of the etude by lifting slightly or shifting on the softer parts of the fingertips.
- Release pressure on inactive fingers to keep the left hand light.
- In order to build endurance for the right hand, practice it alone while visualizing the left hand. What does it feel like to play the arpeggio with rhythmic precision 48 times? This is the amount of times you would play it in the Etude before getting a break with the slurs.
- Once the right hand feels locked in, bring the left hand back. Are there pauses to adjust for the left hand?
- Think of the right hand in eighth notes, quarter notes, half-notes, and whole notes.
- Practice bringing out upbeats.
- Explore dynamic schemes to develop your own interpretation.
- Use aural refocus to think in larger gestures.
- Use rhythms to develop a thorough understanding of the patterns, transitional strengths, and transitional weaknesses.
- Practice planting a from the beginning and then a quarter note after it is played for right hand stability.
- If you use the standard right hand fingering, try planting both m and a.
- Use other right-hand fingerings to extract more insight from this wonderful etude!
Hope this helps.
Though most of us know Asturias as one of THE concert pieces to learn as a soloist, it is seldom heard in arrangement for guitar duo. I was drawn to this performance for two guitars by Polish guitarists Ewa and Dariusz Kupinski of the Kupinski Guitar Duo. Playing their arrangement beautifully with both virtuosity and flair presents a strong case for this beloved composition as a great piece for guitar duet.
For longer listening, here is a masterful arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue:
Hailed as an “exceptionally talented performer,” Uruguayan guitarist, José Fernández Bardesio, plays his captivating transcriptions of Astor Piazzolla’s Tanti Anni Prima and Oblivion. José’s playing is both virtuosic and serene as he conjures Piazzolla’s beautiful melodies.
More posts coming soon!