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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.

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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

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.

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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!

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Right Hand Fingerings

After repeated requests for more videos, I’m eager to share this post and upcoming video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. In this first part I’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of the standard fingering that Andrés Segovia wrote in the published edition. I’ll then offer some options for practicing the Etude. In Part 2, I’ll go through some options to overcome the disadvantages and finally arrive at my preferred fingering.

For a reduction of this, check out my first post on Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1.

 

Zoran Dukić playing Bach and Piazzolla

“Always the master of his instrument, Dukić demonstrated spectacular virtuosity over and over again together with a great maturity and powerful inspiration.” Il Gazzettino, Italy

Though I’ve seen his name over the years many times, I had yet to see Croatian guitarist, Zoran Dukić, play until a few months ago when I was scouring Guitar Coop‘s wonderful site. His mastery confirmed after hearing a single note conjured from his guitar, I have found myself watching his videos over and over.

Here are two videos displaying profound beauty and depth. The first of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Larghetto from the Violin Sonata Nº3 in C, BWV1005. The second video is a passionate and virtuosic rendition of Sergios Assad’s finger-full transcription of Astor Piazzolla’s Invierno Porteño.

 

Artist Spotlight and Interview with Colin Davin

Praised for his deeply expressive musicianship, his musical intelligence, and virtuosic technique, Colin Davin seems to have it all. Colin is an active international soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, with projects and performances from Aspen to Afghanistan to the Alhambra.

Colin took some time recently to sit down and share some of his insight, philosophies, and advice with Six String Journal. Hope it inspires you all.

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

My study of the guitar began fairly early – I was 7 years old, and my father, himself an amateur guitarist, signed me up for lessons. In a way, it was not so different than the many other things I was doing as a kid, like little league or cub scouts. Taking advice from an interview with the folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, it was determined that classical guitar would give me the best chance at being able to play a wide range of styles. And while I’ve since branched out from time to time, at that early age, classical struck a chord with me, and I’ve never lost that enthusiasm.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play a guitar by Andrea Tacchi, from Florence, Italy, his model “Coclea Thucea”, made in 2004. For those who don’t know Andrea’s instruments, they are both of the highest quality in sound and craftsmanship, and a bit unusual. The name Coclea Thucea refers to the inner ear (coclea), both for its obvious connection to hearing music, and for its spiral design, in the ratio of a Fibonacci sequence. Andrea incorporates aspects of “sacred geometry” connected to this ratio in his design and construction. And the “thucea” is a portmanteau of the Latin names for spruce and cedar, as the top is a three-piece construction using both materials (two outer panels of cedar with a central panel of spruce). For years I’ve played Hannabach Silver 900/200 trebles, med-high tension…a perfect balance of warmth, color, and clarity, in my opinion. I have less devotion when it comes to basses, but most often settle on high tension Augustine or D’Addario.

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

My influences have been pretty wide ranging over the years, but early guitar heroes of mine were Julian Bream, John Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, and Django Reinhardt. When I was 10, I heard Jason Vieaux play for the first time, and that pretty much cemented my desire to make music my life. A few years later, I was Jason’s student, and now I’m his colleague on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music!

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I play in a duo with the brilliant harpist Emily Levin, and we’re planning a live-concert recording in New York this February. The combination of guitar and harp is absolute magic, and deeply under-explored (they might be the two most intimidating instruments for composers, which explains the lack of repertoire). We’ll be recording transcriptions of ours of de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” in its entirety, Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) and Philip Glass’s “Etude no. 6”, originally for piano. In addition, we’ll feature world premiere recordings of works we commissioned, by Dylan Mattingly and Will Stackpole.

Practicing and Performing

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

Practice hours are variable day to day, and week to week. Such is the nature of a performing and teaching musician – the lack of a consistent schedule presents unique challenges to getting in the hours. I’d say I reliably get in 20-25 hours a week, possibly in a steady stream of 3-4 hours a day, possibly in a disjointed alternation of heavy days and light days. Because of this irregularity, it has become very important for me to structure my practice with specific goals in mind. I always start with some light warmups, then slurs, arpeggios (often selections from the Giuliani 120, or Villa-Lobos’ Etude no. 1), tremolo, and scales. I always have an eye on what projects are coming up, and try to balance my repertoire practice so that I stay on top of the varied things I have coming up at any given point in a season.

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

The way I approach learning a piece, with an extremely deliberate approach using metronome charts and lots of repetitions, often results in memorization by default. That said, I do sometimes get hung up on a passage, or even an entire section….typically in music that is either very rhythmically complex (and thus requires a different approach than the typical metronome work), or music that is rather easy that I end up learning a bit too fast! For the former, I often break the piece down into digestible sections, trying to memorize, say, one line of music in a day. The next day, I’ll work on the next line, reviewing the previous day’s memory work, and seeing if I can string the two together…and so on. For an easier piece, I use some off-guitar techniques like visualization, singing/solfège, as well as forcing myself into practicing the piece in small- to medium-sized sections, more than I might think I need in order to successfully execute the piece.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

On concert days, I do try to keep a certain routine. The night before, I actually try to get a little less sleep than usual – for some reason, being just a little tired works for me, combining with natural performance adrenaline (what some might call “nerves”) to bring me to a nice level of focus and calm. Late morning or early afternoon, I tend to go for a walk; easier to do in certain locations and certain times of year than others! And I general try to eat light throughout the day. I arrive at the hall a little over an hour before showtime, play on stage for about 10 minutes, then head to the dressing room where I’ll intersperse light practicing/warmups with a snack (usually a banana) and some herbal tea (usually turmeric). I think everyone should establish some kind of consistent practice on concert days, whatever might work for a given individual; it really helps put your mind and body into the right space, focusing the energy toward inhabiting the performance space.

Advice to Young Players

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

Be patient, and be thorough. The easiest way to practice is to run through pieces in their entirety, as best you can, flubbing through the hard parts, but kind of getting through it. But this merely reinforces bad habits, and gets you nothing but extra repetitions of mistake-filled playing. More repetitions will bake in those problems, the same way that repetitions of clean, musical playing will bake that in! So, take your time when learning a piece, don’t rush through the process; be deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. When all that early work happens, the final product will be far superior, easier and more enjoyable to play, and far more satisfying for your audience.

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

There’s a whole library of Julian Bream recordings everyone should know. “Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar”, and “Twentieth Century Guitar I (from the Julian Bream Edition)” are two favorites of mine. Beyond that – I always tell students to listen well beyond the realm of the guitar. Some of my best musical lessons have come from listening to non-guitarists, classical or otherwise. A random assortment of influential artists: Toumani Diabate, Punch Brothers, Rachel Podger, Hilary Hahn, Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, Joanna Newsom, Leonard Cohen, Roomful of Teeth.

Tangent

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

I tend to read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Probably my favorite author is the late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago. His “Death with Interruptions” is among my favorite books; a fable that is funny, sad, and sweepingly beautiful. I’m also a devoted reader of the New Yorker magazine, especially the long-form investigative pieces, profiles, short stories, and arts writing. And of course, the cartoons.

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

When I’m not in the midst of working on music, I honestly just enjoy “being” wherever I am. Hiking is among my favorite activities (though the elevation changes in Northeast Ohio are a bit mild to qualify anything here as “hiking”); and it’s the ultimate in doing something that is very nearly doing nothing: walk, climb, look, smell, listen. Beyond that, I enjoy cooking, coffee, and the occasional night out with a good game to play; lately, I’ve been working on my pool game, though I have a long way to go before anyone would accuse me of actually being good!

***

For more information on Colin Davin visit his website: www.colindavin.com

Leonora Spangenberger playing Villa-Lobos Etudes

Here are a few of the twelve Heitor Villa-Lobos Etudes performed by a simply outstanding young musician, Leonora Spagenberger. While I’ve heard some great guitarists perform these over the years, Leonora’s interpretations, despite her age (13) at the time of the recording, stand among the best of them. They are profoundly moving. This is inspiring on many levels. Bravissimo!

Etude 2

Etude 7

Etude 12

Marko Topchii playing Joaquín Rodrigo’s Toccata

Marko Topchii seems to be taking the guitar world by storm. Hailing from Ukraine, Marko has amassed more than 80 awards (34 of them 1st prize) from the most important international guitar competitions in the world. I was recently pointed to a video that despite the casual setting of what looks like a green room and the mobile-phone-to-the-mirror technique of filming, displays a true force of nature as he rips through Joaquín Rodrigo’s Toccata. It is as if he chose the most violent wave to surf and simply flew over it.

If you have more time, here is a recent performance of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Capriccio Diabolico from a performance in Italy.