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

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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.

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.

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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

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.

Fabio Zanon plays Gentil Montaña

Brazilian guitar superstar, Fabio Zanon, brings Colombian composer, Gentil Montaña’s music to life in this splendid rendition of Porro from the Suite Colombiana Nº2. The production of this video is wonderful and comes via the GuitarCoop. Fabio’s joyful, clear, and musical playing is perfectly complemented by the Hauser II guitar he plays in this video. You’ll listen to this more than once!

Tal Hurwitz plays Bach

In this series of videos Tal Hurwitz plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata Nº2 in A Minor for violin solo, BWV1003. The videographer, Sanel Redzic, a gifted and award-winning classical guitarist, knows how to capture a both vibrant and intimate scene for such a wonderful interpretation to unfold. Beautiful on so many levels!

Grave

Fugue

Andante

Allegro

Check out Six String Journal’s interview with Tal Hurwitz.

Aniello Desiderio – New Music

Here is another wonderful and recent production from Brasil’s GuitarCoop featuring the brilliant Italian virtuoso, Aniello Desiderio performing composer George Schmitz’s Wie Die Nacht Übers Land Kommt new composition. Translated as How the Night Comes Over the Land, I have found my ear unable to stray when listening to this piece, perhaps under the spell of the approaching night. I hope you enjoy the composition and performance as much as I did.

For more details, another wonderful guitarist, Fabio Zanon introduces the piece.

 

Young Artist Interview: Leonora Spangenberger

Winner of the Youth Division of the Guitar Foundation of America’s 2017 International Competition, Leonora Spangenberger has started to grace more and more stages with her talent. A few months ago I posted some videos of this exceptionally talented wunderkind performing three of twelve etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos. To follow up that post, Leonora took some moments from her busy schedule to share some details about her life with guitar so far. From swimming as a hobby to preparing what sounds like a monumental program for an upcoming concert in Vienna, Leonora seems to have a wonderful world of music making in front of her.

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

At the age of six, my older sister and I met a Spanish lady in our
neighborhood once a week. We sang Spanish songs and had a lot of fun
learning some Spanish words and expressions with her. One day I found a
guitar at her house and was curious about how to play it, although I
hadn’t listened to a guitar before at all. I started lessons and that’s
how everything began.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I really love to perform pieces written in the Baroque period. Most of
the time and especially at the moment I play works by Bach. Besides, I‘m
also interested in finding new contemporary pieces like ‘Four Images of
Japan’ by Jana Obrovská and Serenade and Toccata by Sofia Gubaidulina.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on?

For about two years now I’ve been very happy with my Robert Ruck guitar
that was previously played by Tilman Hoppstock. It’s a brilliant
instrument and I’ve been discovering new colors almost every day.

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

The Pepe Romero version of the Aranjuez concerto is the most inspiring
recording to me.

What are some up and coming projects that excite you?

I’m very honored to have the opportunity to perform in the Konzerhaus
in Vienna in April 2019. There I’m going to play the first and sixth
keyboard partita by J.S. Bach and also contemporary works. I’m very much
looking forward to giving this concert and I’m already really excited.

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

Probably like everybody: scales, slides, slurs, trills, etc.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not really. To me it’s important to have enough sleep before the concert
in the evening. I like a rich meal in the morning and snacks during the
day. And of course warming up is part of my pre-concert preparation.

Could you offer any advice to other young players?

Have fun. 😉

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

I think doing sports is the best way to stay healthy. There are lots of
kinds of sport you could do and to me swimming is a great chance to
relax from daily stress and to keep my body healthy.

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

Swimming, as I mentioned before, and meeting friends.



Special thanks to Stefan Schmidt for facilitating the interview and to Siccas Guitars for the video of Henze’s Drei Tentos.

Marco Tamayo plays Domenico Scarlatti

Referred to as “the king of guitar” by Italy’s press, Cuban-born virtuoso, Marco Tamayo, recently posted a run-through of his brilliant transcription of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard Sonata K.318.

From his facebook post, he mentions having transcribed many more of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas 20 years ago. I imagine he’s transcribed more since then and I am excited at the hint of the idea that he may publish a set of them. If you are familiar with his editions, they are extremely detailed with insight that would take decades to extract from even the best teachers.

To say Marco’s playing inspires me would be a dramatic understatement. I cannot imagine a more effortless performance. Or one that could be any more beautiful, any more virtuosic, or any more elegant.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F1389157564666270%2Fvideos%2F1120078904822145%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Hope that lifts everyone’s spirits!

Artist Interview: Carlo Marchione

The great Italian guitarist Carlo Marchione likely needs no introduction to a classical guitar blog. A consummate virtuoso, teacher, and arranger, Carlo has had a life full of music and has graced many, many stages across the world. Carlo recently took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his insights and philosophies with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!


Personal

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

I started at the age of 10 to regularly study guitar. In my family, everybody played at least one instrument so it was quite natural for me to come close to music. But it wasn’t until I made a trip to Spain to visit my brother (who was living there by then) that I chose to play guitar.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

Uff, that’s like asking which food you prefer…I have not really preferences, my programs follow my mood of the moment, my emotional needs, so to speak.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play by now a guitar constructed by Daniele Chiesa, with Savarez string on it.

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

Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Mozart.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I don’t really want to look snooty, but I love all my recordings. Each of them has its strong and weak points and has been done with profound enthusiasm and conviction.

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

The Tilman Hoppstock ones.

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

I am excited about any concert or project, if I wasn’t I would not go into it. In the next weeks I will be performing in Berlin and Moscow. As regards to my projects, besides my teaching activity in 4 different Academies in Europe (Lille, Maastricht, Palma de Mallorca and Rome), I am very much into my online activities such as teaching, lecturing and publishing my transcriptions at my Online Shop (www.carlo-marchione.com/shop). It is a great thing which is going fantastically well.


Technique and Performance

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

Due to my super narrow schedule I try to optimize the few time I have at disposal for practicing. I can stay 2 days without touching the guitar and 2 days practicing 8h, it is difficult to make a monthly average from it. To me, it works very well to memorize a piece and understand its structure and then to work on the problematic passages.

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

Well, all of them, one doesn’t really finish to learn things! Due to the particular shape of my pinkie finger of the left hand, I have always to be very creative in finding alternative fingerings, so, as you see, that’s something I will work lifelong on…

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

As a kid I was always encouraged to read prima vista and learn fast the new pieces. On the top of this, I had a fantastic harmony and composition teacher. This makes possible that I can learn by heart a piece very quickly. For some kind of musical styles (like baroque or classic) I already know it by heart after reading the piece from beginning to end. Natural predisposition, solid knowledge of the music and prima vista reading, that’s the best combination for memorizing a piece fast and good.

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

Some of my transcriptions had been already published in the past (Scarlatti’s Sonatas K.208 & 380, for instance) but, as I mentioned before, in the last years I have been working very much with my online activities and among them there is my own online shop where I publish my guitar solo/ensembles transcriptions. This was possible only thanks to my fiancée, Merce Font, who constantly develops and runs my website. Among many other things, one can find transcriptions, from Schumann to Telemann’s solo flute Fantasias, from Wagner to Haydn or Mozart, Albéniz or Paradisi. We are enormously happy and proud of it!

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

To me it helps very much a short program with pieces containing tremolo on one or different strings.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Actually, I don’t, but I could never go to play without getting the last “break a leg!” from my sweetheart… : )

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

Well, I think everybody does it according to the type of nail she/he has. I know just by looking at my nails which must be the length and the basic shape, after this, I polish them until I get a clean finish to have a smooth sound.


Advice to Younger Players

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

My advice would be: get to know as much music as you can, but not only in terms of “I heard the 6th Symphony by Mahler”. Always keep deepening your own knowledge of the harmony and musical form, google and find the score and listen the music with the score, try to make your own analysis, ‘feel’ the emotional-philosophical message of the composer (maybe starting with something easier : ) ). Piano Sonatas by Mozart are true gold for this. It is needless to say that for this generation it is a piece of cake to find scores and recordings on the web. Just catch the chance.

As a second advice, I would like to give to them this: if you want to participate in competitions it is really fine, they are a great spotlight for your carrier, but don’t let them limit you as a musician. I see too often young terrific players traveling with the same 3-4 pieces already years and years. Enlarge your repertoire as much as you can.

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

Among really wonderful things, I still consider the whole studies by Sor like the real “must” of a guitar player.

Why?

Because they teach the student from the very simple ones to deal with articulation, polyphony, phrasing and structure. In particular, they are the best exercises one can do for the left hand. Besides that, they contain true jewels of our repertoire (hence, they are good also as concert pieces).

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

Complete Cantatas by Bach with Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Bach. I think it is needless to say why. : )


Tangent

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

Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven and Clara Janes’ La vida callada de Federico Mompou.

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

I do really try, but my schedule of life makes it very challenging to keep a structure on that. As a pre-concert food I love pasta or potatoes, they give to the body lots of energy and are not heavy to digest.

Do you meditate in any way? 

Actually, I don’t…my best friends in Italy are both top yoga teachers and I meditated with them many times, so according to them, I am really good at it even though it’s not a regular practice of mine. I feel I need a different kind of action. Of course, from time to time I take a time out from my crazy schedule, but I guess you refer to another kind of meditation. I can say that making music is my way of meditating.

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

I love to stay with my fiancée (she is also musician) and travel together. This summer we have been in Salzburg during the Festspiele. It was amazing! But if you refer to the free time during the day, well, in the free time I listen to music, read music, transcribe music…I do really think I am 24-7 for the music there. Ah, I like to watch series on Netflix, when the time allows it to me (really seldom).

Any things else you’d like to add?

Yes, thank you very much for asking to me to participate to your blog! : )

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Bursts

To conclude our video series covering right-hand technique development in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use the concept of bursts (another rhythmic manipulation) to develop speed and further strengthen right-hand rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Rhythms

To continue with our video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use various rhythms to develop rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.

Hope this helps!