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… 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.
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!
This is a VERY recent video from the Boston Guitar Festival of Spanish guitarist, Anabel Montesinos, performing one of the most beautiful and soulful versions of Francisco Tárrega’s Fantasia sobre motivos de La Traviata I have ever heard. Anabel’s expressivity and virtuosity cover such a broad emotional palette that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what moves me most about this performance. Wonderful playing! This also looks like the first time I’ve seen her perform on what looks like a guitar by Stephen Connor and not Simon Marty!
Hailing from Portugal, the talented Rebeca Oliveira recently sat down to share some insight over the course of her journey with guitar so far. There is a lot of wonderful advice for young and old players alike in this interview. Hope it is inspiring to all of you.
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started to play classical guitar when I was 15 years old. Actually when I think about it, I can’t find the precise moment where I decided that I wanted to learn guitar or become a musician… Before I played Piano but I didn’t want to continue with the lessons, so my mother pushed me into guitar lessons, so I could keep learning music. It just started like a Hobby and at some point I got really interested in music and particularly in classical guitar repertoire. I remember going to a concert of a Spanish guitarist in my hometown and I was really fascinated! I guess it was probably after that, that I decided to become a classical guitarist.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I really enjoy playing “Segovia’s repertoire” like Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Tansman, etc. I also like playing baroque music, specially the one written for harpsichord, like Scarlatti and Carlos Seixas.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
For the last two years I play with a cedar double top guitar made by the German luthier Dieter Müller. I use D’Addario strings (EJ45 – normal tension) and play with a customized Guitarlift made by Felix Justen.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Difficult question!! I think I absorbed lots of little things from probably all the guitarists I had the luck to work with or to listen to. But I am sure that the ones that influenced me the most were the ones that I was lucky to have as teachers: Margarita Escarpa, who was my teacher for four years, during my bachelor and who taught me most of the things I know today, and Thomas Müller-Pering, with who I am currently studying my master degree in Weimar, and is helping me so much in finding myself as a musician!
Outside the classical guitar world my biggest influences are Maria João Pires and Alicia de Larrocha.
If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a CD?
I don’t have any CDs yet, but I am really proud of the video recorded with Open Strings Berlin, where I recorded Sonata 23 by Carlos Seixas.
I would love to record a Cd soon and is something that I have in mind, but unfortunately, right now, I can’t afford the expenses of a cd recording.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Right now I don’t have so many projects planned… I am going to Tallinn next week for the Tallinn Guitar Festival, since I received the Eurostrings Scholarship to go to this festival and I am really excited about it! I will also play in Barcelona in September. I am also thinking in publishing more transcriptions of Carlos Seixas’ music, but nothing planned yet!
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
It is something that changes so much depending on the repertoire and the projects I have, but I try always to practice six hours per day. Although I believe the most important thing is not the amount of hours one studies but how concentrated, efficient and productive one can be during the practice session. I already know myself and know that I need a bit of time to reach the level I want, at least now. I also believe that the most important thing is to have lots of discipline in order to be strict and have a frequent amount of practice every day.
I always try to adjust my practice depending on what do I have to do and how much time I have. If I need to read new repertoire it will be a completely different study of if I have a concert or a competition. When I have a public performance I spend more time working on memory issues, cleaning difficult passages and I always try to play a lot for my friends, teachers or my colleagues. Chamber music is always part of my practice session also. Besides that, no particular structure on my practicing time!
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Ufff, so many!!!! The guitar is such a difficult instrument and I think that one is never completely happy with the result and there is always something, probably not “to struggle with”, but that you can improve. Also, my struggling aspects change depending on the repertoire I am working on. Right now I work mostly on the consistency of the sound, dynamics and colors, articulation and timing.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I don’t memorize scores extremely easily, and actually that is one of the most important aspects on my practicing session, once I already worked a little bit on the piece. Of course I can memorize a piece after playing it and studying it for a couple of day, but I feel the need of being 100% sure that everything is well memorized. I do mental practice, I play with external distractions (loud music, reading a book, being completely out of tune, etc.), I play with a mute and I always like to have little “safe” spots in the piece, just in case something bad happens during a performance! That way I don’t feel completely lost and can continue from the last “safe spot” on.
I published last month two transcriptions from the Portuguese baroque composer Carlos Seixas. The two sonatas (23 and 24) were published by Les Productions d’Oz and I am thinking in publishing some more transcriptions in the future.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
Not really… I normally warm up with some easy technical exercises or, when I have too many things going on and not so much time, I just start my practice session with the technical difficult part I have in the pieces that I am studying, and just study them in a really slow tempo.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I don’t think it is a ritual but I like it to have a relaxed day, when it is possible. Sleep enough, drink lots of water, eat well and playing only some excerpts from my repertoire. Before the concert I really like to have time to try the room and to warm up properly.
Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
Yes, I do! I don’t have super strong nails so I always need to be very careful with them. I used to take a couple of vitamin supplies for some year, yet I don’t need it anymore. But I always try to have them well hydrated and filled. When I have some important thing going on, in order to be comfortable in the day of the concert or a competition day I normally practice the days before with tape to protect my nails. It doesn’t sound great, but it is the best solution to keep them with the right length.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
To be always aware of everything you do while practicing! One should be always 100% concentrated and demanding while practicing. I also think that is really important to be familiar with the classical guitar world: doing masterclasses, getting in touch with some teachers and players, doing competitions, going to concerts, learning about repertoire, etc.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
I think the best thing is to read and play lots of different pieces, so you would get familiar with different styles and interpretation/technical approaches. I find studies really useful for young players, since they normally solve some technical problem and are not so difficult to read, so it improves sight-reading a lot. The repertoire from the Classic period is always a good choice since it has a little bit of everything: simple harmony, melodic lines, arpeggios, etc. I also find interesting Fernando Sor’s Studies, Villa-Lobos’ Studies, Bach’s Lute Suites, Tárrega’s Preludes, Estudios Sencillos from Leo Brouwer, for example.
Talking about recordings I think every student must hear the historic recordings from Segovia, Bream and Williams, but also the recording from the great masters of our time: Carlo Marchionne, Ricardo Gallén, Zoran Dukic, David Russell, Thomas Müller-Pering, etc.
It is also extremely important to hear recordings of orchestras, piano, violin, string quartets, operas, etc. I believe this is the best way to develop a refined music taste and to improve one’s interpretation skills.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
The last book I read was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” by José Saramago. My favorite authors are Gabriel García Marquez and José Saramago, of course!
Do you meditate in any way?
Not at all… But I should!! 😀
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I like to go out with my friend and family, especially when I am in my hometown. When I am not, I like to read, listen to music, go to concerts, and watch Netflix series!
Check out Rebeca’s YouTube channel!
“Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who climb to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems. See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.” ― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*^k
Here are two great videos via Siccas Guitars of Portuguese guitarist, Rebeca Oliveira. In the first she flies through her wonderful transcription of Carlos Seixas’ Sonata Nº24. In the second video, she effortlessly plays Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 1st movement or sketch of the grand 24 Caprichos de Goya. Superb sound, superb playing, superb guitarist, superb guitars!