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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

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 1.jpg

Step 2

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 2.jpg

Step 3

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 3.jpg

Step 4

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 4.jpg

Step 5

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 5.jpg

Step 6

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 6.jpg

Step 7

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 7.jpg

Step 8

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 8.jpg

Step 9

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 9.jpg

Step 10

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 10.jpg

Step 11

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 11.jpg

Step 12

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 12.jpg

Step 13

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 13.jpg

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

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Featured

How to Improve Coordination – Chromatic Octaves

If Mauro Giuliani’s works are in your repertoire, or those of 340px-Mauro_Giulianiany classical period composer, you will know that interval runs of octaves, sixths, and thirds are used to great effect. Think the fourth variation of Giuliani’s Folias Variations (Op. 45) or the grand finale to his 1st Rossiniana (Op. 119)! Interval runs are everywhere in our repertoire and it’s worth studying them either through repertoire or through scale practice.

The two chromatic octave exercises below should get you started. They are useful for warming up, coordinating the hands, independence and opposing movement in the left hand fingers, and can even serve as a vehicle for right-hand development, too. Here are a few ways to focus on them:

  1. Start very slowly and pluck both notes with simultaneously. No rolling!
  2. Keep the wrist relatively still so that the fingers of the left hand are extending and contracting vertically (i.e. often moving in opposite directions from each other).
  3. Keep the left hand fingers soft and close to the fretboard.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpapm pipi pm, pa pm, pm papa piand pi pa.

Chromatic Octave.jpg

Once this feels comfortable and in control, explore some variations like the one below.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpa, pm pipipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.

Chromatic Octave 2.jpg

Let me know if you find this helpful. Part 2 coming soon!

 

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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.

Interrogando 1.jpg

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.

Interrogando 2.jpg

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.

Interrogando 3.jpg

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).

Interrogando 4.jpg

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

Three Fingering Tips for Villa Lobos’s Etude Nº2

If you all were inspired (or recovered) from watching Ekachai Jearakul whip off Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2, you may find this post helpful. While I was a student at the New England Conservatory, the second half of one of my degree recitals was simply Villa-Lobos’ Twelve Etudes. While some of the etudes are manageable, others require relentless and careful practice, and they all have moments that can fill endless practice hours with frustration. To add to the matter, I was studying with the great Eliot Fisk and despite all of his valuable advice and help, watching him display what was possible on a regular basis conjured both extreme inspiration and a sense of hopelessness at achieving such a level of comfort with these pieces. Needless to say, the year preceding that recital, I was immersed in a figurative amazonian finger jungle and found my own way of surviving.

For those working on this particular etude, there are a few spots where I found less obvious fingerings less problematic. These solutions are personal but if the spots have been frustrating for any of you, give the following solutions a try.

Measure 3 (repeats not counted)

In order to increase the resonance, I like having the 3rd and 2nd strings open on this one so I shift to 5th position to enable this. There are a few alternate right hand fingerings to explore but I prefer the 1st.

villa-lobos-2-alt-fingerings

Measures 10-12

In this solution, guide fingers are highlighted in red. While the right hand solution is personal, I like switching to rest-stroke on the highest note of the run. If you prefer to play free-stroke, you might choose to switch to 1st position by playing the first note of measure 12 on the 1st string open and using that to shift. The second finger would still work as a great guide in this situation.villa lobos 2 alt fingerings 2.jpg

Measures 21-22

In this example, ending the repeat with a slight alteration makes a noticeable difference in playing measure 22. Again, I’ve included some alternate right hand fingerings for exploration but I prefer the 1st.

villa lobos 2 alt fingerings 3.jpg

Hope this helps!

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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 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 the 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

Artist Profile and Interview: Steve Cowan

The Canadian virtuoso and award-winning guitarist, Steve Cowan has graced stages throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. Steve’s beautiful playing is highlighted by a dark sound, rich nuance, and wondrous clarity, placing him among the elite guitarists of his generation. His debut album of Canadian music, Pour guitare (McGill Records, 2016), helped to establish him as ‘one of Canada’s top contemporary classical guitarists’ (Classical Guitar Magazine). In 2018–2019, Steve made his concerto debut with Ensemble del Arte in Germany, his New York solo recital debut, and released his second solo recording Arctic Sonata (EMEC discos).

Active both as a soloist and chamber musician Steve performs regularly with Forestare, a Montréal-based string ensemble; in 2022, he will be a Chamber Music New Zealand touring artist with flutist Hannah Darroch, as well as a Prairie Debut touring artist with guitarist Adam Cicchillitti. The Cowan–Cicchillitti duo has premièred 15 new works and released an album of Canadian music titled FOCUS (Analekta, 2019); their next recording, Impressions intimes (Analekta, 2021), features original arrangements of Debussy, Ravel, Mompou and Tailleferre.

Fortunately, Steve recently sat down to share some detail about his journey with guitar. I hope it inspires everyone!

Personal

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

My music education growing up consisted of piano lessons when I was very young, and drum set lessons in my teenage years. While I was (and still am) obsessed with rhythm, which is what drew me to drums initially, I envied the beautiful chords and melodies I would hear in guitar playing. I began to self-teach myself electric guitar at around 15, and I took it very seriously, playing in progressive and experimental rock bands in my hometown for the next 7 years. At 18, I wanted to study music at my local University (Memorial University of Newfoundland), and figured whatever was described as “classical guitar” on the website was my best shot to get admitted. I had never been exposed to much classical music or to this style of guitar playing before, so I went to a performance class at the University and heard some great renditions of pieces by Brouwer and Villa-Lobos. I was incredibly inspired and went out the next day and bought a classical guitar, found a local teacher to instruct me and prepare me for the audition, and I haven’t really stopped playing since.      

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

For the past five years I have definitely been mostly a “new music” player, as many of my album projects, academic pursuits, and concert programs have been largely focused on new commissions and premieres. This is something that will always excite me, and I’m lucky to have worked with composers that understand my musical sensibilities and write pieces that feel perfect for my tastes and my hands. I do still appreciate the standard repertoire and music from different periods, and often include portions of renaissance, baroque, or 20th century repertoire in my programs as well. Lately, many solo and ensemble projects have been centered on early-mid 20th century French music (Debussy, Ravel, Mompou and others), both arrangements and original guitar works, and this is another broad stylistic period that really resonates with me. 

In recent years, I am often seeking out music that is slow in tempo, and intimate in character. I spend a large portion of practice time searching for that perfect legato, dynamic nuance, or temporal manipulation in order to create the long, beautiful phrases that I hear come so naturally to instruments such as the piano or bowed strings. It is difficult to achieve on the guitar, but so satisfying when it works. In my opinion, this can be equally as “virtuosic” as playing extremely fast, and I really enjoy searching for these magical moments in different repertoire.  

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings? 

I play on two guitars by Québec luthier Bruno Boutin: a traditional spruce top and a cedar double top. I’ve played on his instruments for nearly a decade, and have never found another instrument that seemed to fit my playing as well as these instruments do. Balanced, rich, projection and clarity. I always went for carbon strings from various companies, as I found traditional nylon strings did not work as well with my plastic nails. However, I recently fell in love with Augustine Regal Blues (nylons!), and they seem to have everything I need. 

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you? 

There’s a very long answer to this question, but in short I believe that my time as a drummer and progressive rock musician largely shaped how I hear and feel music, and could explain why I’m so drawn to contemporary guitar repertoire in particular. To give a few names, my father was constantly spinning King Crimson or Pink Floyd albums during my entire childhood, and I don’t know if I would play guitar the way I do if I had been exposed to classical music from a very young age instead. 

With regards to my classical guitar playing specifically though, my biggest influences would certainly be my three principal teachers. My first teacher in my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland was Sylvie Proulx, and she pushed me very hard. She was rigorous with refining my technique, and introduced me to all of the great repertoire and players that I had never been exposed to. She also encouraged me to pursue graduate school in the United States, and I went on to study with David Leisner at the Manhattan School of Music. David taught me an incredible amount about musical depth and nuance of interpretation, as well as how to connect with my instrument in a more relaxed, healthy, and musical way. His well-known ergonomic techniques are an integral part of my playing and teaching. His well-known ergonomic techniques are an integral part of my playing and teaching. Jérôme Ducharme was my instructor at the doctoral level, and further deepened my relationship with the instrument itself. He knows the fretboard inside out, has an endless amount of tricks up his sleeve for both hands, and always applied them with a deep musical intelligence. As a former GFA winner himself, he doesn’t let anything slide and really took me to the next level.

To make this long answer even longer, there are also some very young players that have influenced me profoundly. I feel there is somewhat of a revolution happening in guitar technique right now, particularly with regards to the left hand, and watching players like Xavier Jara do incredible stretching and finger gymnastics in order to achieve that perfect legato has been a great source of inspiration. I also can’t get enough of Lorenzo Micheli and Matteo Mela, as soloists or as SoloDuo.   

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd? 

I have 2 solo albums, a duo album, and another duo album to be released in March of this year. My first solo album (Pour guitare, 2016) and first duo album (FOCUS, 2019, withAdam Cicchillitti) feel particularly special, as they both consist of new Canadian music, most of which was written for either me or the duo. My second solo album, Arctic Sonata (2019), features the title track by young Icelandic composer Gulli Björnsson, as well as a lot of overlooked 20th century gems. Arctic Sonata is an incredible piece, and has been a staple of my concert programs since 2016. It’s a total crowd pleaser and I’m happy with the performance we captured on the album.  

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar? 

I’m lucky to have a close working relationship with the fantastic guitarist and producer Drew Henderson, and have always been immensely satisfied with the results he produced in both my videos and the duo albums. It’s no surprise to me that he is in such demand in the guitar world these days. I am pretty open with regards to these things though, and am by no means a purist; it doesn’t need to be a big reverberant church sound, though that certainly works for some repertoire. Florian Larousse’ latest Bach album sounds more like a studio recording to me (I could be wrong), and the clarity is striking. Patrick Kearney’s latest album was also done in a studio, and with his playing and the repertoire on the album, the sound really “pops” and it works better for him than if it were done in say the Naxos style, I think. 

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

My next duo album with Adam Cicchillitti, Impressions intimes (Analekta, 2021), features original arrangements of Ravel, Debussy, Mompou and Tailleferre and will be released on March 26th. I will also be premiering several new works in solo and duo at this years 21st Century Guitar Conference (www.21cguitar.com – March 22-26), which was scheduled to take place in Portugal, but due to COVID-19 will occur entirely online. 

I’m very excited about a project that began last summer, when I recorded 12 separate guitar parts in an ambitious new piece by Canadian composer Jason Noble. The piece, fantaisie harmonique, is for double-guitar orchestra (6 classical guitar parts, 6 electric parts), and utilizes 6 different scordatura tunings to cover an extended microtonal range across the different guitars. It is an exploration of timbre on the guitar, relying mostly on harmonics, open strings, and percussive mutes as opposed to traditional playing techniques. This recording was engineered by Denis Martin at McGill University in Montréal, and uses new Dolby Atmos software to create a 3-dimensional listening experience. A new 360-degree video and is currently in progress and will also be premiered as part of the 21st Century Guitar Conference. There are some current versions available to listen to on the Soundboard Scholar website: https://www.guitarfoundation.org/general/custom.asp?page=SbS06-Noble-Cowan

Listening to the binaural mix of this with headphones on is a wild ride!

I also have some pre-recorded and livestreamed performances coming up for the Cambrian College concert series (solo – February 5th), Triangle Guitar Society (solo – February 20), Montreal Guitar Society (solo – March 21), Guitar Alla Grande (solo – March 27), and Prairie Debut (duo – March 28). While I miss playing for live audiences, I’m grateful to have these opportunities during this difficult period.  

If international travel can happen this summer (fingers crossed), I am currently scheduled to tour as part of the EuroStrings platform, which would take me to Finland, Estonia, Italy, Spain, and Romania… I guess we’ll see!

Technique and Performance

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

I was never someone who practiced a crazy amount of hours, and probably peaked during my master’s degree at about 4-5 hours a day. These days, there are so many other things to manage other than practicing, so it’s really all over the place. I practice when I can, and some days I won’t play at all, while other days I will have to overcompensate and put in more hours than I would normally feel comfortable doing. Ideally, it involves a slow morning warmup, followed by focused and analytical work on new repertoire or difficult passages, and then time away from the guitar to do some other things. Later in the day or evening I’ll have another session that involves more “playing” and full run-throughs of pieces as opposed to sectional and analytical practice. I do a lot of recording myself, listening back, and score study, so “mental practice” is a also a large part of my regular routine. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on? 

Everything needs regular maintenance, even the things I consider myself good at. So it’s not like we can stop practicing technique after a certain point, unfortunately. I struggle with fast scales, and certain left hand slurs in particular. I practice scales regularly as they are great for synchronization of the two hands, but guitarist’s obsession with extremely rapid scale playing has always puzzled me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t play a lot of Spanish repertoire, but it never really seemed to be that important for the pieces I was learning. That said, it does still come up, and I feel like a slouch in my duo when Adam is blazing through his scale passages while I’m clunking and sweating and failing. I’ll get there one day! 

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

Analyzing the music with regards to form and harmony greatly speeds up the memorization process for me. It’s not always easy, depending on the style of the music, but really studying the score without a guitar in your hands just helps you understand things on a deeper level. My practice approaches of working on very small sections (more on that later) also helps things stick a little easier, I think. 

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

A guitar duo arrangement of Ravel’s Sonatine that I worked on with Adam Cicchillitti will soon be published by Productions d’Oz. Hopefully, our other arrangements from the album (Debussy, Mompou, Tailleferre) will be published as well. This piano music works great for guitar duo!

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

I have a ton of warm up drills that I vary on a regular basis, but if I’m short on time I would prioritize Brouwer’s Etude No. 6 to get my right hand going, and some of Scott Tennant’s left hand finger independence exercises from Pumping Nylon in order to get my left hand going. 

Do you have any pre-concert rituals? 

I eat 2-3 bananas in the 90 minutes before the concert, I slowly warmup, and I try to trick my brain into thinking that I’m “excited” and not “nervous” (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t). I also like to listen to music in the 10-15 minutes before going on stage. If I’m feeling particularly anxious, I have recordings that I know will calm me down and get me in the zone. If I’m feeling fatigued or low energy, I’ll do the opposite – listen to something that will pump me up! 

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

My nails are I guess what you would describe as a slightly curved ramp upwards. They are relatively short, though I like the A finger to have a slightly longer length.  

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

SLOW DOWN. Time and time again, I realize that my student’s perception of practicing something “slowly” is maybe only 5-10 bpm’s slower than performance tempo. I have learned to actually enjoy playing music at 25% of the performance speed, and it not only helps solve technical problems but also speeds up the learning and memorization process. I also advise against the temptation to play through an entire piece over and over again, trusting that eventually things will fix themselves. I usually learn things a passage at a time, or a small section at a time. I might spend 45 minutes on 4 measures, but those measures are then technically and musically secure, and I don’t need to worry about them any more, David Leisner sums up this idea wonderfully in his book Playing With Ease (highly recommended), referring to this practice as working in “bite-size sections”, and the importance of varying “analytical” versus “soul” work. “Soul” work refers to understanding the “big picture”, and largely occurs at the very beginning (finding that initial inspiration, hearing how your own musical personality could work with the piece), and the very final stages of learning a piece (polishing for performance). Most of the time in between should be hyper focused and analytical, otherwise you are likely wasting time and probably building bad habits that will be hard to fix later on. 

“SLOW DOWN.”

– Steven Cowan

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? 

While I encourage students to find their own niche and repertoire specialization eventually, I do agree that the bachelor’s level should try to check all of the boxes. Contrapuntal music demands a different skillset in the hands, and just sounds so good on guitar when it’s done well. I don’t play a lot of 19thcentury music, but this is perhaps the best music for students to learn how to integrate phrasing, rubato, and how to decide on dynamic shape based on the melodic or harmonic content of the piece. 20th century repertoire from the Segovia or Bream era makes up the bulk of our guitar “masterpieces”, so there’s no escaping it!  

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

To follow up on the previous answer, I think it’s important for guitarists familiar with the history of our instrument, particularly the last 100 years. The big names are big names for a reason, and so listening to some of the greats in chronological order (Segovia, Bream, Williams, Parkening, Ghiglia, Barrueco, Russell, etc.) will introduce you to the important pieces of the times as well as the evolution in playing style. This can continue with the young concert artists and competition winners of today, of which there are too many great albums for me to even mention. It’s all easily accessible online these days – go out and find it!

___________________________

Support Steven Cowan’s work:

Latest solo album on Apple Music (also available on other streaming platforms):

https://music.apple.com/us/album/björnsson-morricone-others-works-for-guitar/1466291274

Latest duo album: 

https://www.analekta.com/en/albums/contemporary-music-guitar-duo/

Artist Profile and Interview: Julia Trintschuk

If you have not heard the brilliant young guitarist Julia Trintschuk you are in for a treat. Hailing from Germany, Julia has been on stages all over the world and performed Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez at age 16 to launch her career. With a seemingly endless amount of technical skill, a refined and elegant sound, and a natural musicality, her interpretations transcend the guitar. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Julia recently took some time to share some of her experience, tips, and advice! Enjoy.

Julia Trintschuk

Personal

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

Actually I first started playing piano at the age of four. As my mother was teaching me the piano and my father was always playing the guitar, soon I also became interested in playing guitar and started having the first guitar lessons with my father at the age of four as well. From then on I continued playing both instruments.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

In general I’m only choosing pieces I enjoy playing and working on, to join my repertoire. But it also depends a lot on my mood and the piece itself. What I like a lot is to have a big contrast and variety between the different pieces, for example a couple of technically very demanding and virtuosic pieces, some musically difficult pieces and a few very beautiful and simple piece.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Mostly I’m playing on my guitars by Fernando Mazza with a cedar top and my Antonio Marin with spruce and satin wood. It’s a very colorful guitar and makes it easy to create a tender way of making music and not focusing on the technical issues too much. Apart from that I like to use my other guitars with a cedar top for a more powerful repertoire or chamber music.

As for the strings I am very happy to be a part of the Savarez family since 2017 and I’m using the Savarez 510 MJP Cantiga Creation Premium High Tension.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

My teachers Prof. Mario Sicca, Martin Wiedmann, Mateus de la Fonte and Prof. Joaquin Clerch definitely had the biggest influence on me. Musically speaking also my long-term piano teacher So-Ryong Chuoa had an immense influence on me and led me to two of my biggest inspirations Evgeny Kissin and Sergej Rachmaninov.

Are you planning to record a cd? What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

There are a few projects ahead, that I’m excited about, but they’re still in the process of making, so I’ll be happy to share them soon, when things will get more precise.

Technique and Performance

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

Usually I practice around six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes a bit less. But structure in the practice is one of the most important things in my opinion. I think it is very important to have an overview on all projects that are going on and to set deadlines.

Another benefit that structuring your practice brings, is that with the time you get to know how much time and which precise steps it requires for you to refresh old pieces, which can be a big help, when you have several programs you have to prepare. All in all I believe a structured practice plan is the key to a good time management that saves you from wasting both time and energy in the wrong way.

What has to be included in every practice plan in my opinion is a warm-up/technique session, a few sessions for working on new repertoire, and one session where you refresh old pieces or keep current pieces “alive”. The most important is to separate these blocks by breaks, in order to keep focused and be able to go through all of these parts daily.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

As we change our perspectives and points of view constantly during the process of development, I don’t believe it is ever possible to achieve the state of an absolutely controlled, constant total perfection and be “completely done” with the work with the instrument. It’s just that the focus on what you want to improve, lies on different aspects in the different phases on top of the basic feeling of a general comfort with the guitar.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

In most cases the memorization comes while I’m practicing the piece, but sometimes if I want to support or accelerate the process I like using the technique of mental practice (without guitar) and also to analyse the harmonic progressions.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

I have done a few arrangements, that I didn’t publish yet, but I’m definitely planning to do that in the near future.

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

My favourite parts from my usual warm-up routine are minor and major scales through all tonalities and the 12 etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Apart from that I also like warming up on the piano by practicing different technical exercises, before practicing the guitar.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

Apart from the usual filing and smoothing with a common nail file and nail papers I don’t use any specific products.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Practice slow with a lot of patience and love what you’re doing.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

Apart from the classical “competition repertoire” that every ambitious guitarist goes through, in my eyes the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos and the 20 Etudes simples by Leo Brouwer are essential, because it doesn’t only include all technical difficulties that one learns to master during the process of learning these pieces, but these pieces also give a perfect fundament for deepening the understanding of harmony and finding a personal way of applying music to at first glance seemingly technical studies.

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

I believe especially in a young age it is very important to get familiar with the recordings of the most important, diverse legends of the guitar such as Paco de Lucia, Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, Manuel Barrueco, going through all generations and “schools”, to be able to understand and develop your own taste and style. In order to evolve a personal style of musicality in my opinion it is even more important to listen to meaningful other instrument, chamber music and orchestral recordings.

Tangent

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

The last book I read is “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. Among my favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Jane Austen and Bernhard Schlink.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

I like to stay active in my free time and try to do different activities and I do some home exercises and yoga. I also like cooking a lot, but I don’t follow a specific diet. Everything just has to be fresh and tasty 🙂

Do you meditate in any way?

To me focus and concentration, mental health and spiritual development are very important, so I try to keep it up in different personal ways, also including meditation.

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

I love searching for inspiration, when I’m not practicing. That doesn’t only include all the activities that are connected to being a musician like listening to music, reading, playing other instruments, but also visiting theaters, art galleries, dancing, spending time with family and friends, meeting interesting people, cooking, trying different activities, visiting saunas and spas, enjoying the beauty of nature – so shortly: discovering all the beauties of life itself. 🙂

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New Series: My Favorite Fernando Sor Etudes, Part 1

Fernando Sor (1778-1839)

Every now and then, I find myself in a sight-reading mood and will pull out the complete Etudes by Fernando Sor. I could spend hours enjoying their perfect structure, their ingenuity, or the wonderful musical moments where Sor charms you by introducing a key or harmony you did not expect. Like a calm path in the forest, there may be something out of the ordinary to draw our attention but just enjoying the path in and of itself is reason enough to be there.

Though many of you are probably familiar with the 20 Etudes by Sor that were curated and published by Andrés Segovia, there are many, many more etudes that he wrote that range from simple to profound. Covering so many musical and technical concepts, they are valuable pieces to those fortunate and patient enough to study them. One great joy as a teacher is to introduce one of Sor’s etudes to a student and have them react with excitement or anticipation that they’ll someday extract their beauty from the guitar.

Anyway, enough rambling!

I decided to start pressing the record button while sight reading to eventually compile a series of videos so that younger and less experienced players get to hear some of the etudes I find particularly nice. I’ll include pdfs below and maybe I’ll even make a video or two demonstrating how I like to play them to develop technical flexibility.

I hope these videos help you discover some new nice little gems.

Previous post about Fernando Sor:

Expanding Sor Etudes

New Publication of Three Fernando Sor Etudes

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How to Improve your Tremolo

Happy New Year! If your New Year’s resolution is to improve your tremolo, you are in luck!

The Bolton Guitar Series just posted its workshop on tremolo with David Russell. Before summarizing it for those of you who like to see the main points listed as a reference, I thought I’d repeat what I expressed in the recent post about David Russell’s ornamentation workshop: the generosity in sharing absolutely everything he knows about his journey with guitar in such an enthusiastic and articulate way is extremely inspiring. David Russell is a great teacher, even through zoom!

Here is the video of the tremolo workshop:

David Russell Tremolo Workshop Main Points

  1. Each finger/nail should feel and sound the same.
  2. Tremolo is a good diagnostic technique for other technical issues.
  3. Maintain a regular rhythm.
  4. Bass should be balanced. Gentle bass/medium or strong treble.
  5. Stiffness in the right hand fingers makes noise. Looseness in the right hand equals a less “clickly” sound. Straighter fingers also help with lessening the “clicky” sound of nails.
  6. The a finger introduces a new tremolo/melodic note and requires attention.
  7. Sympathetic motion between a and m can lead to rhythmic irregularities. Lengthen a finger duration to insure full value of note.
  8. Shift metronome beats to each finger when practicing to “think” with each finger and especially a.
  9. What you do musically with tremolo is at least as important as mechanical perfection.
  10. Practice contrasting Slow/fast, dark/bright, soft/loud practice.
  11. Certain pieces require slow tremolo, some require faster tremolo.

Tremolo pieces:

  1. Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Sueño (Francisco Tárrega)
  2. Zafra and Simancas from Castillos de España (Federico Moreno Torroba)
  3. Una limosna por el amor de Diós, Un sueño en la floresta, Contemplación, Canción de la Hilandera (Agustín Barrios Mangoré)
  4. Invocación y danza and Junto al Generalife (Joaquín Rodrigo)
  5. Reverie and Air Varié (Giulio Regondi)
  6. Now and Ever (Bejamin Verdery)
  7. Shenandoah (Robert Beaser)
  8. Capricho Diabolico (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
  9. Variations on Las Folias (Manuel Maria Ponce)
  10. Campanas del Alba (Regino Sainz de la Maza)

Tips from Questions and Answers:

  1. Play with energy and the necessary tension but more than that is wasted energy and effort. Poise and posture to maximize energy.
  2. Practice tremolo with two fingers (pimi, pmim, pama, pmam, etc…)
  3. Do not bounce hand!
  4. Planting a stops the tremolo. Join all the notes for a better tremolo.
  5. Try playing paaa tremolo to assess tone, movement of a.
  6. Finger movement remains mostly within the span of string space (i.e for tremolo on string 2, a, m and i do not extend beyond strings 1 or 3).
  7. Raise your expectations of yourself. Do not accept bad playing!

For more learning resources:

Mastering Tremolo for Classical Guitar

How to Visualize Your Pieces

Very early on my guitar adventure, my teacher at the time said that he would never perform anything unless he could see it physically happen in his head. He had me read a few articles on visualizing and, because I tried to be a good student and wanted to be a good guitarist, tried his advice. It was hard work. I SO much preferred to “do”. Close my eyes and sweat mentally to “see” my fingers on the fretboard? No thank you.

But, I persisted. And, from reading enough about it, am convinced it has helped me in many ways. For one, I feel more secure if I can imagine everything. Two, it inevitably builds your ability to focus. Three, I’m not sure to what degree it helps but I like to think of it as a memory safety net, one of many safety nets (mental and physical) that come with mastering pieces and eventually performing them.

At this point in my playing, I enjoy doing it. When I close my eyes, it is nice to play and hear a piece unfold in my head. Visualizing frees my musical imagination in ways that are not confined by the physical struggles of the early stages of learning new music and cold fingers.

Here is a list of visualizing techniques that I have found helpful at some point or another, some are easier than others and can be used as training wheels until you get the hang of it. Or, you’ll find the ones that work well for you and that you enjoy doing. Like exercise, the best visualizing is the visualizing you’ll actually do. From easier to more difficult:

  1. Read through the score of your piece without the guitar in hand. Try to hear it all in your head and imagine your hands playing it as your eyes scan the music.
  2. Watch a video of your favorite player and play along in your head. This is light visualization.
  3. Listen to your favorite player or a good recording of yourself and play along in your head trying to stay with it. No backtracking. If there are spots or large chunks that are blurry, work on those carefully next time you physically practice.
  4. Close your eyes, imagine a stage and where you would sit. Perform the piece in as much detail as possible with extra attention to your left hand choreography as the piece unfolds. Try the same but with the right hand.
  5. Try doing the previous step with a metronome set to an ultra slow tempo and see the piece unfold, matrix-like. Try with an ultra fast tempo. How much can you keep up? What goes blurry?

Don’t forget to smile, breathe calmly, and to remain optimistic. Happy visualizing.

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How to Play Cross-Stringed Ornaments

A renewed Scarlatti obsession, hearing French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, and a recent David Russell workshop posted by the Bolton Guitar Series have me thinking about ornamentation on the guitar more than usual.

It’s been about 25 years since I took several masterclasses with David Russell in a tiny Andean village in Venezuela. Besides being a tremendously talented guitarist, David is a wonderful teacher: clear, patient, and able to make you sound better almost instantly. I learned a lot from him there and fortunately have continued to learn from him over the years thanks to videos of him working with students throughout the world. In the video (linked below), David explains his approach to ornamentation very clearly and demonstrates every example with his guitar. If you have lots of time, watch it and extract as much as you can! Here I’ll summarize the points I took away after watching it this morning.

Here is a summary of the basic cross-stringed ornaments and the common (and maybe not so common) ways to execute them (the repeated right hand finger is a sweep):

And here are some of the points David mentions in the workshop:

  1. Most baroque trills begin on the upper neighbor.
  2. A brighter sound is better for ornaments. This can be achieved by attacking the string with less of a right-hand angle or by angling the right hand to a more perpendicular angle to the strings.
  3. Cadential trills are important but ornaments within the piece are more personal as to their inclusion, length, etc…
  4. Practice the entrances and exits of ornaments with turns.
  5. Mute the dissonance after the trill. This is usually done with a right-hand finger.
  6. Dynamics are important within the ornament and the musical line.
  7. A shorter trill is better than a longer out of rhythm trill unless it is cadential (where time is suspended to a greater degree)
  8. Cross-string ornaments allow baroque interpretations to vary stylistically from other periods of music.
  9. Have a higher wrist for trills.

Here are a few additional points that I cannot remember whether they are in the workshop but that I think about:

  1. The ornamented note should be in time. In order to achieve this a slight acceleration into the ornament or starting the ornament before the beat helps to achieve the correct feel.
  2. Play ornaments slower in slower melodic lines.

Check out the post I did a while ago: Cross-Stringed Ornaments, Part 1

Bolton Guitar Series: Ornament Workshop with David Russell

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Marco Tamayo plays Schubert

The brilliant guitar virtuoso, Marco Tamayo, just posted a definitive performance of Johann Kaspar Mertz’s arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Lob Der Thränen (In Praise of Tears).

From the video post, Marco writes that he has modified small details in the arrangement to achieve certain resonances and more continuity in the melodic line. There are so many beautiful moments in this performance: seamless phrasing, the natural ebb and flow of pulse, and above all the purity of Marco’s magical interpretation. There is a reason La Stampa has dubbed Marco Il re de la chitarra (The king of the guitar). Enjoy!

For those looking for the music, here is the facsimile of the score:

Leo García plays Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Here is a recent home recording I did at the end of a practice day last week. The songs I have been revisiting these last six months all have the theme of conjuring places far away – in both geography and time. The great Spanish guitarist, Francisco Tárrega’s (1852-1909) wonderful tremolo piece, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, is magical in so many ways. It conjures the great fortress overlooking Granada with the illusion of a sung melody and it reminds me of its infinite mosaics, fountains, streams, and trickles of water echoing everywhere throughout.

Enjoy.

Resources:

Recuerdos Study Score

Mastering Tremolo for Classical Guitar


Drew Henderson playing Domenico Scarlatti

Canadian guitar virtuoso, Drew Henderson, plays his six transcriptions of Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas in these two videos. The first video has three often played Sonatas (K.490, K.213, K146) and the second video has two more seldom played (K.99, K408) and a guitar favorite, K.1. Though I’ve heard masterful interpretations of these by other guitar greats, Drew’s elegant playing captures the magic of these sonatas particularly well. His playing is crisp, crystal clear, and fluid. The quality of the production, the playing, the interpretations, and Drew’s brilliance come together in true art here. Enjoy.

The scores to all of these Sonatas are available on his website!