Featured

Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 2

Reduction

Playing through the “skeleton” of a tremolo piece helps reduce it in your mind’s ear to the essentials of what is happening on the musical front. Because we spend so much time developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique, often our attention is so myopically focused on the minutiae of technique that we ignore the larger question of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically.

There are various ways to mentally condense the way you perceive your pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them well hundreds of times. But because it takes time to develop the endurance and speed to perform a tremolo piece at tempo comfortably, play through them instead in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:

Limosna reduction 1.jpg

Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by guitarist Philip Hii in his insightful book, Art of Virtuosity. In this method, shown below, ami act as one and pluck at the same time. Think of plucking a chord, but on one string. It won’t sound pretty, but in addition to focusing your attention on the bigger picture, by putting all of your fingers down at once you discover what position will give you access to all the strings in the most efficient way.

Limosna reduction 2.jpg

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo 

 

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Featured

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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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 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

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Leo Garcia plays Villa-Lobos Prelude Nº1

This is the first of five wonderful preludes by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. With his gift for sorrowful lyrical melodies to the rhythmic and joyful interlude with its changing meters and Spanish flair, Villa Lobos creates a true guitar masterpiece which fully exploits the richness, emotional depth, and colors of the guitar. Hope you enjoy it.

Carlotta Dalia plays Schubert’s Ständchen

One of Italy’s rising guitar virtuosas, Carlotta Dalia, plays Mertz’s arrangement of Schubert’s Ständchen. Producer Open Strings Berlin manages to align all the the stars: Carlotta’s sublime artistry, a forest in Berlin, the magnificent guitar, and beautiful camera work.

Leo Garcia plays Sonata in E Major, K.380 by Domenico Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) wrote over 500 sonatas for harpsichord. Fortunately, many have been arranged and transcribed for guitar and many await transcription. During 2020 and 2021 I found myself in the Scarlatti rabbit hole. I listened to hundreds of them, read through ones that I thought might work that to my knowledge had not been transcribed, transcribed many for solo and duo guitar, learned too many to keep track of, and am still learning. They captivate my imagination and they teach me a lot about myself and my playing.

Sonata in E Major, K.380 is, perhaps, one of Scarlatti’s most famous sonatas. With its march-like rhythm to the emerging beautiful lyrical lines, Scarlatti’s boundless imagination sparkles. I used a combination of editions (but primarily Manuel Barrueco’s) and the original score to find a version that works for my hands. Hope you enjoy it.

And as a bonus, while researching some of the sonatas, I came across this hilarious article ranking the Sonatas. : )

New CD Review – Yuri Liberzon plays Konstantin Vassiliev, Guitar Works 1

Virtuoso guitarist, Yuri Liberzon, has just released a wonderful recording dedicated to the works of Russian composer Konstantin Vassiliev. On first listen, it is evident that there is a current of very high quality running through this recording – the music is played with the usual high musical standard I have come to expect from Yuri (and on a few tracks by his Duo Equilibrium partner, Patrick O’Connell) and recorded masterfully by Norbert Kraft on the NAXOS label. If you are not familiar with Vassiliev’s compositions for guitar, the selected pieces from the project span over 20 years of stylistically-diverse musical output and states a strong case for including Konstantin Vassiliev compositions in the modern guitar compositional canon.

The CD opens with Vassiliev’s Hommage a Tom Jobim. A great opener, the three movement piece evokes the spirit of Jobim’s music with Brazilian grooviness, rich harmonies, and an ample assortment of percussive effects. Yuri’s flexible technique makes all of it sound so natural that it is easy to forget you are listening to just one guitar. The middle movement Contemplación, with it’s meditative melodic quality allows Yuri’s expressivity to shine through.

photo credit: Jon McCormack

In both Cavatina and A Rose in the Snow (written for Yuri), Vassiliev’s use of jazz harmonies is magical and thoroughly convincing. Yuri’s crisp and clear sound portrays the soundscapes openly and without pretension. The earliest work on the CD, Fatum, was one of my favorites. Perhaps a bit more of an emotionally-laden piece, the themes woven through the piece are masterfully enveloped with rich counterpoint, canonic echos, and evocative elaborations, and clearly point to the fact that Vassiliev’s compositional talents were firmly in place decades ago. This work also highlights some of the qualities I admire most in Yuri’s playing, namely, his sense of pace and rhythm. The arc of the work is masterfully revealed only as Yuri can do.

Another wonderful composition is A Wanderer in Time. The emotions Vassiliev captures throughout the piece, from sadness to hope, is a testament to his ability to let a story unfold. Obrio and Two Russian Pieces were ear-opening and an effective way to guide the project to an end by adding another guitar. Yuri and Patrick complement each other well throughout these technically demanding pieces.

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to a recording from beginning to end of a composer’s music that I am not very familiar with and found this particular CD particularly compelling. It is no wonder why other notable players like Carlo Marchione and Roman Viazovskiy champion his music. Give this a listen, Yuri’s playing is fantastic and the music is wonderful.

Pablo Garibay playing Villa-Lobos

Here is virtuoso guitarist Pablo Garibay’s wonderful and expressive interpretation of the famous and well-loved Prelude Nº1 by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Pablo’s use of phrasing, dynamics, and colors really breathes life into Villa-Lobos’s richly textured prelude. Beautifully produced video!

Six Ways to Improve Your Romance

One of the most played pieces on the classical guitar, the Spanish Romance, is a wonderful piece for students to work on all sorts of musical and technical challenges. In the next two videos I demonstrate several ways to practice the Spanish Romance that will make it more musical and fun to play. Hope it helps!

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Artist Spotlight and Interview: Plinio Fernandes

credit: Rebecca Naen

The high praise the young Brazilian virtuoso guitarist, Plinio Fernandes, has received for the release of his first recording, Saudade, on the Major label Decca Gold is well deserved. The recording highlights Plinio’s wonderful versatility as a musician. From interpreting the well-loved Heitor Villa-Lobos Preludes to magical arrangements of music by Sergio Assad to collaborations with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason, Plinio navigates the rich musical landscape with ease and a completely natural and musical technique. He recently took some time to answer some questions for Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

Personal

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

My father is an amateur guitarist, so I would see the instrument around the house and watch him play, and naturally that inspired me to start.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

It varies a lot. Currently I am enjoying playing the repertoire I recorded for my album, as I am performing it a lot. It connects me deeply to my Brazilian roots, for being music I really love and that gives me a true sense of identity.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I currently play a Jeffrey Elliot and my strings of choice are Augustine Regal.

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

Fabio Zanon, Julian Bream, David Russell, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Arthur Rubinstein, Eli’s Regina, Djavan, João Bosco, Racionais MC’s and Tupac.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

The recording of the 5 preludes by Villa-Lobos recorded on my debut album “Saudade”.

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

Yes, Julian Bream’s recording of Valses Poéticos by Granados. The range of colors in that is beyond magical.

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

I really look forward to the concerts in the next feel months in the UK, Portugal, Hong Kong and Brazil. Also I look forward to start planning my second album.

credit: Rebecca Naen

Technique and Performance

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

Around 4 hours a day. Usually, in sessions of 35 minutes, with 10 minute breaks in between.

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

Tremolo doesn’t naturally fit my hands, so every time I play a tremolo piece (which is rare) I have to put in the extra work.

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

I feel lucky to have the ability to memorise music at a decent speed. When the time is short, deciding the most efficient fingerings straight away and listening to recordings of it repeatedly while walking, doing the dishes etc, help me massively. Having the music in your ears as well as under your fingerings is vital to learn things quickly.

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

I haven’t yet, but certainly plan to publish my own arrangements and transcriptions soon.

Do you have a favorite drill or set of exercises you use to warm up?

I start the practice with slow right hand exercises: usually, Villa-Lobos 1st estude, and a mix of Giuliani and Carlevaro exercises. After that, lately I have been doing a series of exercises that I learned from Marcelo Kayath in a masterclass, that helps conditioning the left hand to be in the correct position.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I don’t like practicing a lot on the day of the concert. Having a nap a few hours before – if it is an evening concert – makes a huge difference and eating a banana 20 minutes before is a must for me! 

credit: Rebecca Naen

Advice to Younger Players

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

My advice is for them to be curious, and try and be exposed to as many different styles of music as possible.

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

Villa-Lobos solo guitar works. In my opinion he is one of the best melodists of all time, and through his guitar music, one learns how to sing with the instrument. 

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

The output of Bream and Segovia.

credit: Rebecca Naen

Tangent

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

The Torrents of Spring, by Hemingway , who happens to be my favorite writer at the moment.

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

I grew up by the sea, and have been always very physically active, therefore exercising regularly is really vital to my general health and mood. I try to play football once a week and do some Pilates/yoga about twice a week.

Do you meditate in any way? 

Yes, at least 5 minutes everyday. Usually in the middle of the day, or just before going to bed, to clear up the mind and recharge my energy.

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

Reading, exercising, following the news (mostly about football and politics) and most importantly being around dear people, to compensate the lonely moments of practicing and traveling.

________________________

Instagram: https://PlinioFernandes.lnk.to/Instagram

Facebook: https://PlinioFernandes.lnk.to/Facebook

TikTok: https://PlinioFernandes.lnk.to/TikTok

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Official Website http://www.pliniofernandesmusic.com

Guide Fingers in Leo Brouwer’s Etude Nº6

In this video I talk about using guide fingers to help choreograph the left hand. Guide fingers really make everything flow in the left hand by keeping it in contact with the strings. They also prevent the necessity to lift and place which can cause stress and tension in the left hand. Don’t forget to like, share, subscribe, and leave a comment if you have questions.

Practicing Basic Four String Arpeggios

In this video I talk about practicing the six basic four string arpeggios with four right hand fingers and the importance of planting for beginners. Planting will stabilize the right hand and will help deepen your hand’s relationship to the span of the strings.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the youtube channel. I’m putting more stuff that is not linked right away to Six String Journal. Leave a comment if you have questions!

Hope it helps!