On Practicing as a Journey

“I  just go to the piano simply because I’m naturally attracted to it, not because I ever feel I have a task to accomplish. Well, I do in a way, but only in the sense that it’s just continuing a journey with a certain piece, or with a number of pieces at the same time.”

— Piano virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin talk about practicing this morning.

Hear him talk about practice on Classical KDFC.

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“Il re della chitarra” – L’Stampa

“The king of guitar.” – L’Stampa

If there ever was an argument for practicing rest stroke scales, I think Marco Tamayo would settle it. Though the video below is casually shot by a student asking about fingering solutions to Joaquín Rodrigo’s Aranjuez and Joaquín Turina’s Soleares, there is gold in it. Just observing the complete ease and extreme mastery of Marco’s approach reveals how much care and thought has gone into every single action.

Here is another valuable video where Marco gives us details on nail shaping and filing. Again, probably one of a handful of videos that are worth watching on the subject.

Check out his newly published Principles of Guitar Performance. Or, if you are looking for a start into building a technical routine check out the Technical Workout Workbooks on Six String Journal’s publications page!

 

Marcelo Kayath

I’ve always been a huge fan of Marcelo Kayath. His recordings from the 80s had a huge impact on my life and I still think the sound of those records is wonderful in many ways.

So, it was with great delight that I heard that he was recording again! Here is a video of the Gigue and Double from Bach’s 2nd Lute Suite, BWV997.

Though I’m not sure whether or not he founded the wonderful Brazilian Guitar Coop Website/Production Company, it is worth checking out on many fronts – from beautifully shot videos, to amazing artist and recordings, to sheet music, it’s a wonderful resource.

Here is Fabio Zanon interviewing Marcelo. There are many pieces of great advice from Marcelo as he tells his story and what led to recording again.

More coming soon…

Expanding Fernando Sor’s Etudes

images-1.jpgI have to admit that I may be enjoying Fernando Sor’s etudes too much these days. Many of them conjure a nice summer walk in the countryside with the occasional mildly adventurous detour. A set of favorites that I’m editing will be published soon but I thought I’d post a lesson on one of them and how I have been using it to warm up and build technique. His etudes are ideal in many ways to integrate musicality into technique because listening to the subtleties and manipulations of Sor’s familiar but often charming harmonies is so pleasurable.

Once you master his etudes, there are many possibilities for expansion but I’m going to use Etude Op. 35, Nº9 to illustrate how I like to use it to develop right hand technique. Here is a read-through for those of you not familiar with it.

First Step

Try to build flexibility into your right hand by playing the etude as written with the following right hand patterns:

piai, pimi, piâi

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Variation 1

Once these are reliably developed, you’re ready for some fun. Use the following pattern to help develop the weaker alternation with these patterns:

piaiaiai, piamamam, pimimimi

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Variation 3

Or, another option could be to explore moving out of a right hand arpeggio position into a more right hand scalar position with:

piaiamim, piaiaimi, piaiamia, piaiamam

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Variation 4

Or, if you are feeling musically creative, explore adding a note to complement the melody within the key:

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Variation 5

Change it up a bit to get in your triplets:

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Or, if you prefer:

pimamiamiami, piamipamiami, etc…

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There are so many places to go with these little gems. Fun!

Download the edition of my score for free: Fernando Sor Etude Op. 35, Nº9

Mauro Giuliani’s Folias, Op. 45

A few months ago I edited a new edition of Mauro Giuliani’s Variations on Las Folias de España, Op. 45 and have just made it available. Since I recently posted an article on the value of practicing chromatic octaves to build left hand coordination, I thought I’d post the 4th variation from Giuliani’s great work for all of you to test your abilities!

For this month, I’ve set up a discount code for Six String Journal Readers who’d like to download the score. Just enter the code “GiulianiRocks!” and you’ll get 50% off!

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Precise Left Hand Finger Placement

The ability to place the left hand in a position to give equal opportunity for each and every finger to fret precisely is essential for playing well. Pinching a fret precisely means pinching a fret while avoiding contact with any adjacent string/s.

There are many instances where the ringing of adjacent strings is necessary.  Think of your Bach fugues!

So here are two exercises I like to show students who are struggling with placing left hand fingers precisely. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Listen! Keep your ear on the open string to make sure it rings continuously while you play the chromatic notes around it.
  2. Play really slowly to insure absolute legato.
  3. Keep right hand fingerings simple. Try using and or m for the open string.
  4. Pay attention to your wrist placement. It should remain relatively flat. Do not push your wrist out in front of the guitar. To create a tunnel for the open string take the bend across the joints in the finger. Think of creating a semi-circle with the finger.

Exercise 1

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Exercise 2

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Hope this helps clean up those sloppy pinches! : )

 

Yuri Liberzon plays Piazzolla

Another amazing video from Guitar Salon International capturing Yuri Liberzon performing one of Manuel Barrueco’s arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes for flute. Aside from the masterful, crisp, and articulate playing, this performance is particularly compelling given the beautiful 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar he is playing.

I’m very excited to hear his soon-to- be-released CD ¡Acentuado! featuring all of these Etudes and more Piazzolla! Stay tuned.

Intervals, Part 1 – 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.

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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.

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

 

Practice vs. Performance

Here is another great article by Noa Kageyama of The Bulletproof Musician where he comments on a study conducted at Yale about the perception of errors from the listener’s point of view. The bottom line is that even the most sophisticated listeners catch far fewer imperfections and wrong notes than we as performers think they do. During practice mode it is important to obsess, analyze, and refine our pieces but performance mode is different and it’s important to practice performance mode where you do not obsess about little imperfections but instead focus on what you want the audience to hear. Knowing about this study may help inexperienced and experienced performers alike feel a little less awful when missing notes on the concert stage.

 

Interview with Thomas Viloteau

French guitar superstar, Thomas Viloteau, is one of the finest guitarists on the international scene these days. From winning the world’s most prestigious competitions to searching out the finest beers, Thomas recently sat down to share some details about his life and what he is currently up to with Six String Journal readers.

Personal

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

I started playing at 12. There was a music school in the small town I lived in at the time with my parents, in southern France, and we decided it would be good for me to take music lessons. I got to choose which instrument I wanted to play, and since I already had a harmonica and saw a guy on TV play the guitar and harmonica at the same time, I thought I really needed to have a guitar. I wasn’t even really thinking about playing it at this point, just owning a guitar sounded cool to me. I had already tried learning the violin with my dad but that didn’t go well at all, I had no idea where to put the fingers. I remember when my dad told me the guitar had frets, I thought that was like cheating. To me that was just a matter of putting the finger at the right fret and plucking the string.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

The ‘classical’ guitar is a unique instrument in the sense that we have repertoire ranging from the Renaissance to modern days, but there isn’t truly enough repertoire in each style to specialize yourself in a certain style of music—it would be hard for example to say you’re a Romantic guitar specialist and spend a lifetime only playing guitar music from the 19th century without getting bored at some point. This almost forces us to play music from all eras, which can be a little surprising for audiences who are used to hearing certain players perform a certain kind of repertoire. But in the end, even if I could choose to spend my life playing only one repertoire, I’m not sure I would. I enjoy playing Bach just as much as I enjoy playing Sor or a Brazilian piece by Assad. To me, style is everything when it comes to music, and I try as hard as I can to become a totally different player from one piece to the next, which makes any repertoire fun to play.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I’ve played on my Smallman since 2006 with Savarez Alliance strings on it. I’ve also acquired a Bastien Burlot guitar a few years ago which I love.

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

I think my teachers were mostly my source of inspiration when I was growing up. It was before Youtube, so knowledge was much more localized back then! When I moved to Paris in the early 2000s, I met a huge amount of amazing players and teachers. There are too many to cite them all, but every one I met and heard at some point has been an influence on some level.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

Hopefully the ones I haven’t done yet!

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

All the recordings made by Norbert Kraft are magnificent. When I master my own CD’s, I’ll compare them with the recording I did with him for Naxos when I won the GFA. Apart from those, ‘Nuages’ by Dyens was always a gem to me.

You seem to have a cinematographer in you, too. Would you share your set-up and process of recording casual but high quality videos for the world?

I have a couple camcorders by Canon I got a few years back. The biggest one is a xha1, which is a great 1080p camera. Technology is always moving though and with 4k now I’ll have to switch gears at some point. I record the sound with two AKG’s C414 which I love. With good placement and a good room, they sound great. I edit audio into Cubase, and video with Premiere pro.

Technique and Performance

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

It really depends about deadlines for me. If I don’t have concerts and don’t need to learn a new piece, I’ll practice very little. I can even spend weeks without touching the guitar. If I have to learn a new program and a concert is coming up, then I’ll practice up to 6-8 hours a day, although I haven’t done that in quite a while. If I’m touring, the first few concerts require work, but after that I’ll stop practicing altogether. I’ve practiced a ton when I was younger, for many years, and I think that allows me to slow down a bit now. Of course, I can always tell I play better after I practice a lot, still!

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

The tremolo has been a long time enemy of mine, so I’ve started practicing it, just to prove myself I could do it. It’s still not as good as some other players I see on Youtube, but I don’t think I’ll have the patience to take it much farther. To me it’s just a special technique and it should never get in front of the piece and the music. I’ll probably record a few more pieces that use it and let it go!

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

I always had a good memory when it comes to music, but I also try to understand the score as much as I can. If I understand the harmony, the global shape and the details of form, the structure of the phrases etc., I usually can memorize something after a couple read-through’s.

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

Me and Gabriel Bianco have published a set of Scarlatti Sonatas a couple years ago. I’ve done my own version of the BWV1004 partita, too, but since I like changing things around I always find it difficult to print something and tell people this is the way I play it—because it’s mostly never true. When people ask me for the scores of my arrangements, I always advise them to work on their own transcriptions from the best possible source available for a given piece.

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

I’ll confess I don’t warm up. It takes me a bit to get the fingers going, but I’ll just play the pieces slowly if I have to warm up.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to do a bit of stretching and breathing exercises (pranayama). I also feel better on the stage if I’ve played each piece of the program at least once the day of a concert. This is true only of the first couple concerts in a tour, if I haven’t played for more than a month. If I’m playing regularly, I can literally do anything I want pre-concert.

Advice to Younger Players

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

I think there’s a thing going around that says you don’t need to practice a lot, just a couple of very focused hours can be better than six hours not focused. It’s true. Although I don’t see why we can’t play for six hours focused. The more you practice the better, that’s the short answer. As long as you fix problems of posture when they occur, to make sure you don’t hurt yourself, go and practice all day. It becomes second nature. There’s no short cut.

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

Young players are developing their musical technique, and ears. On a purely musical level, there is so much to do in the Baroque repertoire or the Renaissance repertoire that it can be a little complicated for students to get into those. The 19th century repertoire is closer to our own traditions that it can feel more natural for students to play it. As far as learning technique, it’s also a very important repertoire to get into. 20th century music is also very important and will teach you the new, weird techniques. Basically I’d stay away from too many transcriptions, and stick to repertoire from the 19th and 20th centuries. When students know more about performance practices for the 16th to 18th centuries, then they should get into this repertoire. To me, playing Bach’s Chaconne when I was 18 was a great experience musically speaking, but I can’t say I learned a lot technically speaking. Sor studies are much more valuable in the regard.

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

I can’t name a few that are vital to know, but I’d advise students to listen to all types of music in general, not just guitar. It’s a little limited to listen to other players when you learn a piece; you want to get to the source, and listening to other players will only give you an interpretation of what you’re seeking. It’s a bit like reading a book review; you’ll understand it much better if you read the actual book yourself. If you’re faced with a Rossiniana, go listen to some Rossini; that sounds stupid but lots of students will base their version on what they’ve heard other players do. If you’re playing some Assad, go listen to popular Brazilian music, singers, bands, not just what other classical guitarists make of this music. Get to the source.

Tangent

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

I’m studying for the comprehensive exams at Eastman here in Rochester, which will be the end of my doctoral studies, so I haven’t read anything else than music theory and history related books in a while. Before that, when I had a normal life, authors I loved were Kundera, Vian, Sartre, Camus… but that was before!

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

I try to exercise and work out as much as I can, although these past years have been quite busy with studying. A special diet of mine is going around trying all kinds of good beers whenever I can, as well as drinking lots of espresso. All very healthy.

Do you meditate in any way?

I’ll spend a little bit of time relaxing before concerts if I feel I’m a bit nervous, but I don’t do it on a regular basis.

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

I love to cook, make coffee, drink beer, watch movies, and play with my cats!


Check out Thomas Viloteau’s latest technique book and CD on itunes:

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