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From the Archives: Miracle Right Hand Warm Up Sequence

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.

Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 3

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Step 4

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Step 5

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Step 6

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Step 7

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Step 8

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Step 9

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Step 10

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Step 11

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Step 12

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Step 13

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Phew! Go back for more. You know it’s good for you.

Featured

Problem Solving in Pernambuco’s Interrogando

I was working on Joao Pernambuco’s groovy Interrogando with an extremely young and bright student yesterday. Despite his ability to absorb new material at a pace that inspires me, he was having a difficult time making this little part sound fluid.

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After a bit of analysis, we agreed that it was due to the lack of clarity in the right hand. So, instead of playing it over and over, which is often default behavior for most students confronting a tricky passage, we decided to break it down and come up with a list of steps to once and for all solve the problem. Here are the steps.

Step 1 – Write out strings.

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Writing out the strings as numbers also helps see patterns if you process information better that way (i.e. 5232 5423 1232 ).

Step 2 – Choose the best right hand fingering options. See this post for more about choosing the best options: Conde Claros, Scales, and String-Crossing.

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We came up with two solutions. The top one was chosen by the student because his technique was more suited to it. I preferred the second solution given to my preference for aipi instead of amim.

Step 3 – Analyze where the right hand position change happens (if at all).

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Step 4 – Practice the last box from Step 3 using right hand alone with a focus on rhythm.

Step 5 – Bring left hand into the game for that box only (right hand now does it correctly and proficiently and left hand has to catch up is a much better option than both hands struggling and doing it somewhat incorrectly).

Step 6 – Check in with the right hand alone again.

Step 7 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the second to last box. Add to last box.

Step 8 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the first box. Add to both boxes.

Step 9 – Do a few minutes of focus, take a mental rest, and go back for several more sets (building mental muscle!).

Step 10 – Check tempo and set tempo goals.

Not only could the student whip through the passage after doing this, his skills at identifying any confusion improved. Lots of “Oh!” and “Now that feels easy!”.

Problem solved!

Featured

Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 Part 1

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 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 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.

right hand villa lobos fingering 1

Rafael Aguirre plays Albéniz

Here is a video of acclaimed Spanish virtuoso, Rafael Aguirre, performing Issac Albéniz’s Torre Bermeja. This is one of the strongest performances of this piece I have ever seen. Aguirre’s sense of pulse, grounding, and time along with his crystal clear command of the instrument elevates his playing to some of the best piano renditions out there. Superb on so many levels. Enjoy!

Tengyue Zhang plays Piazzolla

Via Guitar Salon International’s stellar YouTube channel, here is 2017 GFA winner, Tengyue Zhang burning through Sergio Assad’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña. Tengyue plays with a great pulse, an extremely clear articulation, and the nimble fingers necessary to pull ff this difficult arrangement. The guitar featured  is one by Zoran Kuvac.

Thomas Viloteau plays Villa-Lobos

French virtuoso, Thomas Viloteau just posted a new video of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Suite Populaire Brésilienne. As usual, the performance is strong and thoroughly enjoyable. Thomas plays with his precise and beautiful touch and manages a never-faltering lyricism and strong pulse throughout. Very inspiring!

Here is a link to an interview we did with Thomas a while ago! INTERVIEW

New Release by José Antonio Escobar

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Chilean virtuoso, José Antonio Escobar just announced the birth of a new recording of the music of Spanish composer and guitarist, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, for release on February 8th. Mark those calendars!

Check it out here: Escobar plays Sainz de la Maza.

To listen to samples, check out Naxos’s link: NAXOS ESCOBAR.

The Secret to Better Hand Coordination

Excerpt from Mastering Diatonic Scales – Preparatory Exercises for Scales

Right- and left-hand finger coordination is ultimately developed through scale practice, but keep in mind that both hands already prefer to act together in a coordinated fashion. It is useful to develop this natural coordination further, but it is actually the counter-coordination that requires some practice to fully realize finger independence. Therefore, the construction of simple coordination exercises involves left-hand groups of 2, 3, and 4 finger movements with right-hand fingerings.

An example of a movement with natural coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers i and m. In other words, both index fingers act together, followed by a movement where both middle fingers act together. Or another way to think of it is that the finger movements in each hand are both directionally moving toward the finger 4 (pinky) side of the hand.

An example of a movement with counter-coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers m and i. Here, the finger movements in the hands are moving in the opposite direction: the left-hand fingers move toward finger 4 (pinky) while the right-hand fingers move toward the thumb.

Practice the following basic natural and counter-coordination movements starting on C on string 3 (fret 5). Explore these in various positions. I prefer to use the non-wound strings to minimize nail wear. Numbers correspond to left-hand fingers (1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky).

Exercise 1 Two Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)        

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

Exercise 2 Three Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

For Exercises 3-7 check out Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Nine Tips for Better Playing

I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.

Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they are incorporated in the early stages of the learning process. Exploring the ideas on repertoire that is already baked into your brain will take some careful and deliberate work to incorporate. Think of it like cooking a complicated dish, if all is measured carefully and timed precisely, the end result is wonderful. On the other hand, if you have forgotten to include ingredients in the baking process and attempt to salvage it by throwing in missing ingredients after the dish is done, the end result may not be as wonderful.

When learning a new piece, there is information absent from the score that if written in reminds you to weave them into your hand choreography when you practice. Below is a list that will help make both the left and right hands more efficient and two shots of a Scarlatti Sonata I just learned to illustrate how I label these items in a score. Assuming your basic fingerings are decided upon, incorporate the following ideas into your slow practice (and label them) to build a strong and reliable visual memory and choreography:

Right Hand

  1. Know when the fingers can plant or are laid out as an arpeggio (even though it may be the beginning of a scale passage).
  2. Know where your stability points are at all times. There should always be a right hand anchor in contact with the strings (usually p or a but possibly a combination).
  3. Insure string crossing is optimized and know when there are exceptions. See this early article for reference.

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Left Hand

  1. Know when two fingers can place at once (usually in descending melodic fragments).
  2. Know when a finger can remain in place as an anchor and for how long.
  3. Know exactly what and why you are barring. Is it a hinge, partial, tip, cross, full, etc… (maybe there’s content for another post here!)?
  4. Know when a finger must lift from active duty to align or migrate to a new fret or to relieve tension. This sometimes means that theoretically a note may not last it’s full value.
  5. Know when you are shifting and/or expanding or contracting out of a standard relaxed position and for how long.
  6. Know your guide fingers (never shift without a guide or ghost guide finger).

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Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!

If you liked this article and would like more technique tips, check out Six String Journal’s publications! Please share, like, and comment!

Rebeca Oliveira playing more Seixas

Here is a new video of Rebeca Oliveira playing Carlos Seixas’s Sonata Nº14. Rebeca plays it beautifully and clearly. The sound she extracts from her guitar is wonderfully warm and dark. Enjoy!

If you haven’t read Rebeca’s Six String Journal interview, check it out here.

Interviews and Insight from 2018

Happy New Year Six String Journal readers! Below is a link to all of our 2018 artist interviews. If you haven’t read them all, now is your chance. Please consider buying their cds, checking out their websites, and hitting that like button!

Koen Claeys

Leonora Spangenberger

Carlo Marchione

Colin Davin

Rebeca Oliveira

Tal Hurwitz

Andrea González Caballero

Edoardo Catemario

More great stuff coming for 2019! Thanks for all the good wishes.

Pablo Garibay playing Ianarelli’s Un Atardecer

To end the year of Six String Journal posts, here is Mexican virtuoso, Pablo Garibay’s deeply moving and serene interpretation of Simone Ianarelli‘s Un Atardecer (An Evening) from his collection of pieces Retratos de Colima. 

Here’s to a new year of hope, happiness, and lots of music…

Artist Profile and Interview: Koen Claeys

One way to garner the attention of the guitar world would be to play Gershwin’s entire Rhapsody in Blue on one guitar. This has been exactly what Belgian virtuoso, Koen Claeys has done in his debut CD release “Paint Me Blue”. Smoothly navigating the music of Brouwer, jazz arrangements by Dyens, and his own ambitious and impressive transcriptions of music by Keith Jarrett, Koen’s projects and playing are capturing the interest of listeners across the globe. Luckily for us, Koen carved out some time to share some of his philosophies and details on his journey with the guitar so far. Enjoy!

Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 

The music I grew up with, was of course the music my father listened to. So I wanted to play the guitar because of Eric Clapton! I remember listening a lot to his unplugged album. And my mother had an old guitar in the house…

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I don’t have any preferences. I love to play baroque, classical, romantic, jazzy tunes, …

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Now I have 2 guitars: a cedar top Zbigniew Gnatek and a spruce Michel Belair. The guitars by Michel Belair are in the tradition and sound world of Friederich. And very comparable in quality! Gnatek is an Australian lattice build guitar.

I prefer nylon strings because of the timbre. Carbon fibre strings may have a little more sustain, but that is not worth (in my opinion) the loss of sound quality: it sounds a bit nasal or artificial. D’Addario and Augustine are my favorite brands.

201612_KoenClaeys_021.jpgWhich guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

All my teachers! I was very lucky to have Geert Claessens as my first guitar teacher in music academy. To me he is still one of the best musicians on a guitar. Later I studied with Roland Broux at the Conservatory in Belgium. He is a great musical pedagogue. And I was lucky to study with Joaquin Clerch and Rafael Aguirre as well, in Dusseldorf (Germany). But I honestly can’t say who had the biggest influence on me.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

My first CD! “Paint me Blue”

I always wanted to play and record the music that eventually made me become a musician. Of course, I loved music before, but only after hearing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, I knew I wanted to be a musician. As a teenager, I listened to Bernstein’s recording so many times…

When I was 12, I got severely injured after a car accident. And my music teachers gave me a lot of CD’s to listen to. This music really helped me a lot, and I forgot all the rest, mostly when I listened to Gershwin. And when my friend Rafael called me in the summer of 2016, that his mother was injured after a car accident, I took the score again and started reading it with the guitar. I wasn’t seriously thinking of playing the whole Rhapsody at all, I was just trying to play it for fun, but 2 months later I played it in a recital and was quite happy about it.

Then came the plan to make a complete CD with all the music that was important to me, regardless if it was for guitar or not. But in the same musical genre, between classical and jazz.

The first CD my teacher Geert ever lent me, was of Joe Pass, Virtuoso 1. So, I included this version of Cole Porter’s Night & Day. Leo Brouwer is important to me in many ways, and I studied with another Cuban maestro (Joaquin Clerch), so as a Belgian I had to include his variations on Nuages by Belgian jazz legend Django Reinhardt. The version of Ne Me Quitte Pas by (Belgian!) chansonnier Jacques Brel was made by a friend I studied with in Dusseldorf (Marcelo Rosario).

And then there is Keith Jarrett… Always when I was struggling with music and/or the guitar, I listened to him. There is something absolute in his music. When you learn a new language, you translate everything first in your mind before/while speaking. You don’t yet think in that language. I think most musicians still translate in their mind an idea into a musical idea, then play it. But Keith probably already thinks in musical ideas. No translation stage extra. That’s why even his atonal passages sound so direct.

So I made transcriptions/arrangements of my favorite encores: his Köln concert encore (part IIc, known also as Memories of tomorrow) and 2 encores from his 2005 Carnegie Hall concert (My Song and Paint My Heart Red).

201612_KoenClaeys_029.jpgAre there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

Spanish Legends by David Russell. For the sound of David Russell and for the recording quality: natural, direct, the right amount of echo, …

I am very happy with my own recording, but all these credits go to Geert Claessens. He recorded his own CD all by himself in his living room, and that was the best recorded CD I had. So I am very happy he recorded and mastered my CD as well. Just in his living room!

Most guitar recordings have the same problem: it is recorded from too far. When I play a good recorded piano CD, or a jazz CD, or orchestra recording… it sounds like the musicians are right in front of you. With most guitar recordings, the guitar sounds from a distance. Or recorded from too far and then used too much compression to level up everything, which makes you lose timbres and dynamics. And causes a rustling noise at higher volume.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

 Since one year I have my project called “Rhapsodies”, where I play chamber music programs, with different collaborations. So far, I did one project with a great string quartet, the French Quatuor Hermes, and one with jazz trio (piano, percussion and double bass). But next year there will be even more special concerts.

 I can’t share all the details yet, but next year we will celebrate Leo Brouwer’s 80th birthday. I am very happy he accepted our invitation to come to Belgium and even more: he is writing a new chamber music piece for guitar and string quartet dedicated to me. We will play it in December in his presence. Also, Jorge Morel is writing new solo music for me, I can’t wait to read the scores for the first time!

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

It depends on the day, and the kind of practice. In general, I like to practice 5 hours per day. But of course (I also teach part-time), I am not always able to. When I am practicing a completely new piece, sometimes I play 8 hours in a day: reading the piece, trying fingerings, … But generally speaking: practicing more than 4-5 hours is not useful. One can only practice musically a limited amount of time. If you practice more, you will just be doing mechanical movements without purpose. So better use the rest of the time in a better way, that a musician also needs: go to concerts, listen to music, read a book, … try out a great restaurant.

foto k1.jpgDo you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

I always easily learned music by heart in an unthinking/unaware way. But maybe this helps: I practice also a lot without the guitar. Read the score and write your fingerings without guitar, take a paper and write down the score by heart, … Are you able to play only the right hand and imagine all the rest? If not, you probably don’t know what the right hand is doing. You should always use (and practice) all the memories: visual, auditory, procedural/motoric, …  On stage, you can’t rely only on muscle memory.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 

Yes: sight read “easy” music. I like to take a book with low level studies by Sor, Carcassi, Giuliani, … and just sight read pieces. It is fun, sometimes you discover a more unknown Etude that is actually nice music for a student, or yourself. And after 40 minutes you are completely warmed up.

But before concerts I do a short, maximum 30-minute round of technique exercises. It is a summary of coordination – scales.

Advice to Younger Players

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I believe that when you play the guitar already 4-5 hours a day, you should listen to all the other music. I like to listen to the music that I can’t play (symphonies, chamber music for strings, piano, winds, …). It is weird to say, but my teachers won’t be angry if I say it: I learned more from pianist or violinists, then from guitarists. You should listen to Beethoven, not 5 recordings of Giuliani. Giuliani is the music you should practice, not listen to.

So a recording you should know: Caros Kleiber (conductor), Wiener Symphoniker, playing Brahms 4th symphony. A recording from 1980. Deutsche Grammophon. That is my favorite CD. Also: watch him conduct. With this conductor, I can follow the music, even on mute. Fabulous musician.

Or Radu Lupu playing Schubert. Or Trio Zimmermann: Mozart and Beethoven string trio’s. The best chamber music group I heard, live and on recording.

And listen to the old masters. They lived in a time where there was no Facebook, Youtube, … internet. I think that makes you play differently. Their phrasing is always from another world. Because they are from… another world. Well, era. Alfred Cortot, Arthur Schnabel, … Vladimir Horowitz, Richter, …

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

I just read “Straight Man” by Richard Russo (but in dutch, “De Geluksvogel”). A hilarious book of a Monty Python-like character (a professor) that somehow became interim chairman of the English Department.

Favorite author: difficult, but Haruki Murakami. He writes phrases like Keith Jarrett plays phrases.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I just bought new speakers/studio monitors. Now I just sit in the sofa and listen to a complete CD.

And then put on another.

With a glass of wine.