So you’ve practiced the passages using the tried and true metronome crawl up to tempo, you’ve done your visualizing, you’ve done your right hand and left hand alone, and you’re searching for yet another way… More
Aside from the lush harmonies and hauntingly evocative melodies of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ music, the physicality of strumming or arpeggiating through all six strings, of sinking a fat thumb rest-stroke into a deep melody, of sliding all four left-hand fingers across the fretboard through diminished 7th chords produces a visceral joy unlike any other I experience when playing the guitar.
One great example of a passage providing this physical joy is the arpeggio section of Prelude Nº2. While there are a few tricks for making the left hand slide around with more facility, I’m going to focus on some possible right hand fingering solutions that have helped my students over the years.
There are three patterns to master with the first offering most possibilities. Try to work on all patterns carefully until they all feel fluid. The thumb should play through both the 6th and 5th strings. I prefer using a light rest stroke so that I land on string 4 and am ready to proceed from there.
ppimamip – This fingering seems to be the favorite for most of my students. Thumb gets overworked a bit and when it is next to other patterns the right hand has to shift its position across the strings increasing the margin for error.
pimaiiip or pimaiiii or ppimaaaa – These options work well but require careful practice to sound precise. I prefer the first for clarity and I cannot get the last to work for me but have seen other guitarists use it successfully.
pimamami – This fingering can work well as m is the longer finger and can reach out of a stable hand position for the first string.
pimapima – This one is pretty straight forward but requires a clear movement from the thumb to move through two strings as if it were one.
mipmipmi or aipaipai or amiamiam – The favorite is the first option. While the last option (no thumb) works well to keep the hand in place, I find that involving the thumb allows faster speeds. I prefer the second pattern.
Once you’ve determined which patterns feel right to your hand, work them up and then work on mastering them back to back with the other patterns.
Pattern 1 + 2
Pattern 1 + 3
Hope this helps!
Australian guitarist Jacob Cordover recorded several videos for Guitar Salon International. All portray a solid command of the instrument but I found his rendition of Enrique Granados’ Danza Española Nº5 Andaluza to have a magical quality where the artist and 1969 Ramirez seem made for each other.
Here is another video where he plays a lesser known, though thoroughly convincing arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino.
I’ve recently come across French guitarist and 2008 GFA winner, Gabriel Bianco‘s videos on youtube and have been thoroughly captivated by how elegantly musical his interpretations are. If you are in the mood to hear Manuel Ponce’s Sonata III followed by some music by Nikita Koshkin played at a magical level, enjoy.
Here is a great video by the Paris Guitar Foundation where you can get to know a bit more about Gabriel’s journey.
Hope that keeps you all inspired!
I’ve had Yuri Liberzon‘s new recording dedicated to the music of Astor Piazzolla ¡Acentuado! for a few weeks now and have listened to it several times. In addition to the tour de force performance of the seldom heard Tango-Études (originally for unaccompanied flute or violin and transcribed by Yuri’s former teacher and guitar legend, Manuel Barrueco), Yuri is joined by virtuoso flutist Josué Casillas in a beautiful rendition of perhaps one of Piazzolla’s most well-known and beloved pieces in the guitar chamber music repertoire.
¡Acentuado! is wonderful on so many fronts, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starts, one gets the sense that there is nothing Yuri cannot do on the guitar. His virtuosity is understated and elegant and despite the way it serves the music, it is noticeably impressive. The Tango Études are not easy pieces, technically and emotionally, but in his hands they sound effortless and precise whether he is driving rhythms forward or sinking into a meditative cantabile. In a way, Piazzolla’s music with all of its intensity, accents, and precise rhythmic articulations is perfectly suited to a player like Yuri who plays in such an articulate manner.
Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango is always enjoyable listening but it is more enjoyable here as it seems to come across more like a live performance to my ears than a studio recording. Josué Casillas’s playing is brilliant and alive and Yuri grounds the ensemble strongly through all four movements.
This is a great recording all around from a two outstanding musicians. Order a copy of the CD. This will be one you listen to a lot.
Admired for her evocative and virtuosic interpretations, Armenian guitarist Gohar Vardanyan has taken some time off from her busy performing and teaching schedule to share some details about her life and her art. From her advice to practice slowly to her passion for pushing the limits in her performances, I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did about this young and phenomenal guitarist!
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing when I was about 5 years old. My dad is a guitarist and he started teaching me as soon as he could. I grew up with guitar being played in the house all the time, either by my dad’s friends, students, or on recordings.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I tend to gravitate towards music that has beautiful melodies and is emotionally moving. Not really into cute pieces or contemporary music. I love to play Bach, but because of the time and maintenance required to perfect it I don’t program it in concert. I play it at home for my own enjoyment.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I play on a 2012 cedar Jean Rompré guitar. Currently I use Royal Classic Recital strings (medium tension). I also love Savarez Cantigas and Knobloch Actives QZ Nylon. I only use normal or medium tension strings.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Growing up it was all about Paco de Lucia, I wanted to play just like him, but then I chose classical guitar as a career, so that didn’t quite work out. I listen to many different musicians, not just guitarists, but I can’t say there was one in particular. It’s a mix. All my teachers had tremendous influence on my playing now; Antigoni Goni, John Wunsch, Manuel Barrueco and Sharon Isbin.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
I like all of David Russell’s later albums. I would love to have that kind of full and beautiful sound on my next CD.
What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?
I just started a new series on my YouTube channel called Guitar Etudes. I have been making videos for Strings by Mail for a few years now, mini guitar lessons we call Lessonettes and Unexplored Repertoire Series from sheet music in their collection. But for a few months now I’ve been thinking of doing something other than just my repertoire videos on my own channel as well. Something that would be beneficial for my own students and guitar students in general. So I thought that recording various guitar etudes and talking about their technical or music benefit would make for a good video series. I finally started it. I’m going to try to upload a video every Monday. As I write this, there are 4 out already and the 5th one is scheduled to go LIVE on next Monday.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice?
When I was in school I practiced about 4 hours a day, everyday. Now life doesn’t really allow for that luxury. Between teaching, making videos, answering emails, and all sorts of other little things, 4 hours of practice every single day becomes more of a chore. Whenever I have a break between concerts I slack off a little bit. I practice, of course, but it’s not 4 hours and some days I skip altogether. When concerts are lined up, then of course I prioritize practicing and practice as much as needed.
And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
In terms of structuring, I personally don’t have a rigid structure. I don’t think I ever did. I work on whatever needs to be worked on and for as long as it needs to be worked on. Of course, I try to find the most effective and efficient way to do it, but it’s not a set structure like 30 mins of technique, 2 hours of rep, 1 hour of reading, etc… If I’ve been playing regularly, I might do a 15 minute technical warm up then dive right into what needs to be worked on. If I’ve been a little lax with practicing and I feel like my hands aren’t as in shape as they need to be, I might do 1 hour of different technical exercises for a couple days. I’ve tried keeping logs and practice journals both on paper and electronically. It would last for a few days then I’d drop it. So I decided instead of wasting time writing and planning, I rather just sit down and do it. I’m better off just remembering and going by feel. However, that doesn’t work well for everyone. For a lot of my students, keeping a log or having a specific structure to their practice is better. This also really depends on your level. When you are still in the developmental stage, you need to do technique everyday, because you are still building your technique and that takes consistency. After years of experience, you know what you need to do at that particular moment to improve your playing. I usually have some sort of goal, fixing a specific passage, or working on specific phrasing, or building my stamina for a particularly difficult or fast piece, etc… And that keeps me organized enough.
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you still work on?
I wouldn’t really call it struggle, but I think there is always something that needs to improve. If we stopped trying to be better than before, then we give up and stop growing. Every time I learn a new piece, it’s a challenge. I tend to always choose pieces that are pretty difficult either because they are transcriptions or because I gravitate towards pieces that are passionate, emotional, sometimes fast paced and rhythmic. And to add to the fire, so to say, I like to push them to their limit. Usually, I already have an idea of how I want it to sound. I never want them to sound like they’re difficult, in other words I want the technique to be invisible. At the same time, making the technical execution seamless and effortless while keeping the energy and the passion of the piece alive, makes it way more difficult to play. It’s easier to take it down a notch and play things neutral and straight, but that sounds boring to me. I always end up pushing it to the limit in volume or speed, and that gets me if I’m not two hundred percent prepared. So I’d say my struggle is to take it down a notch.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I do make a point of memorizing the piece as soon as I can, but since usually I don’t have a set deadline for it I just let it happen naturally. Whenever I did have deadlines, I would break it down into small sections and deliberately memorize it, either by visualizing in addition to playing it, or playing and trying to actively make my brain understand what’s happening so I can repeat it without the music. If you do it in small enough sections then put it together, it becomes less of a daunting task. I think memorizing makes us play the piece better, we can connect with it better without being distracted by looking at the music. And from the technical point, when you have to fly around the fretboard, it’s a lot easier to land in the right place if you see where you’re going.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I have four books published for Mel Bay Publications, but those are instructional books. In terms of editions, I haven’t really made my own. Honestly, a lot of it is the time commitment. It requires a lot of time to transcribe something, and then to also put it into legible notation. The transcription of La Vida Breve that I did, I just memorized, because rewriting everything is a task I didn’t have time for.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
One of my books is on warm up (Complete Warm-up for Classical Guitar), in it I share the main drills that I do to warm up. It’s nothing fancy, it’s short, but it covers all the bases I feel that I need.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not really, no. I like to keep it simple. I prefer to sleep in as late as possible and I prefer not to have to do anything else like teach that afternoon, that way my brain is fresh for the evening concert. I wouldn’t really call it a ritual though, because sometimes you won’t be able to do any of it and if I had something I relied on for a good performance, it would be like a crutch and who knows what would happen if I wasn’t able to get it. So aiming for some rest and peace is good enough for me.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Don’t just play, actually practice. And practice super slow, I mean painfully slow. It’s amazing how much you can see when you zoom into time like that and analyze what happens with fingers in between notes. I’m talking about 50 on the metronome, for each note you play (sometimes two notes, depends on the piece).
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
I don’t think there is a specific set of pieces everyone absolutely has to play. We’re all different and our tastes are different. However, I think it’s important to learn music from all different genres, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary. Learn them, even if you don’t like them, and when you leave school you can choose never to play them again but I think some familiarity with the different genres is important.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
I think we should all be familiar with the guitar legends, Segovia, Bream, Williams… they are part of our history. However, we should also keep up with current times because guitar is constantly growing, better and better players are coming up every day. With YouTube and the Internet in general, we have incredible access to so much. We shouldn’t be stuck in the past, explore and find what you love.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is the last book I “read.” I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, lately I’ve been using audiobooks on my commutes. And for authors – I loved all the books by Dan Brown and Alexander Dumas. They are fun to read.
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
I got into running about 2.5 years ago. For almost a year I did it regularly, 4 times a week at minimum and even ran a 25K trail race (took about 3 hours though, not much of a threat to everyone else on the trails). Now I go when I can for a 5K in my neighborhood or if I have a long enough chunk in my day, a 10K loop around Central Park (NYC).
I don’t have a particular diet. I usually eat pretty healthy, not into fast foods or fried foods. My weakness is sweets, but only chocolate, gelato and pastries (with chocolate), no random candies. So as a responsible human who cares about not eating too much unhealthy sweets, I try to limit those. I don’t always succeed.
No specific pre-concert food. I usually go for a late lunch of whatever that will carry my through the end of the concert. I try not to be high maintenance for the people who are hosting me or the presenters who invited me.
Do you meditate in any way?
No, I can’t sit still for that long.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I like walking around the city or going on hikes.
Finding the right nail shape to express yourself on the guitar is an elusive science. To make the puzzle more complicated are the facts that nails are organic, are continuously growing, and are affected by variables like weather and diet. Because everyone attacks the strings with variable angles and tensions in the fingertips and because we all have an ideal sound we are after one shape may not be as effective as another. Some guitarists have a “sound” with little sonic variance while some use color and gradations of timbre to interpret their music. So, whether you are a beginner starting to experiment or an advanced player looking to expand your knowledge, the following videos are the best I’ve found so far to see exactly what the pros do and how they approach nail shape.
In french with subtitles, Six String Journal favorite Thomas Viloteau shows an ingenious method for adapting the shape of the nail to your stroke.
Here is a screen shot from a video of Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén checking his nails before his recording of the Bach lute works.
Last but not least, Cuban virtuoso Marco Tamayo details the steps he uses to shape his nails.
Years ago, when Marco was visiting he drew this diagram out when I asked about nails.
Go shape then pluck!
“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.
“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!
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…
I 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.
Try to build flexibility into your right hand by playing the etude as written with the following right hand patterns:
piai, pimi, piâi
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
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
Or, if you are feeling musically creative, explore adding a note to complement the melody within the key:
Change it up a bit to get in your triplets:
Or, if you prefer:
pimamiamiami, piamipamiami, etc…
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