Armenian guitar virtuosa, Gohar Vardanyan, just released a wonderful video playing the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Lute Suite Nº3, BWV995. From the rich sound she extracts from her guitar to the precision of her… More
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.
Phew! Go back for more. You know it’s good for you.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!”.
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 m 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 m 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.
Praised for his musicianship and virtuosity alike, Israeli guitar virtuoso Daniel Schatz has been heard on many stages across Europe, South America, and Israel. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Daniel took some time this weekend to share some of his thoughts on guitar and to chat about his musical journey so far. Enjoy!
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started to play at the age of 10 or so. My father had an old twelve-string guitar stashed away and I was always drawn to it when he wasn’t at home. One day he showed me some chords on that guitar, I remember it was very, very hard due to the double-coursed steel strings. I guess we didn’t have computer games back then…
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
Bach is my bread and water, I play at least one suit every day.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I play on a 2009 Karl-Heinz Römmich in concerts. As for strings, I use what works to my opinion the best for that guitar, which is for basses – Augustine blue, second and third strings – Savarez alliance, and first string – Augustine regal.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
From a guitar prospective I guess I always come back to the holy trinity of guitarists: Segovia, Bream, and Williams. But I rarely listen to guitarist. As musicians go I have to say Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, and Emil Gilels on piano. Pieter Wispelwey on cello, Gidon Kremer on violin, and Tabea Zimmermann on viola are for me always an inspiration.
If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?
I don’t see the economic viability of CD’s. Many of my friends have recorded for some labels, they don’t get nothing for their hard work. Some of them recorded on their own equity and paid the label to distribute the CD with no revenue. I find this to be very strange and don’t see me taking a apart of it.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
I love the sound of Carles Trepat’s recordings on an old Torres with gut-strings.
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
I have three projects coming up. The first is an homage to the Segovian repertoire with a modern take on the arrangements, the second is a project with string players of the Israeli Philharmonie, and the third is a project with a wonderful soprano and cellist. in between I have some wonderful projects with a piano player and the Aranjuez with orchestra.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I have two children and many students, so I practice when they are away, which is mostly at the morning time. I try to play every Bach day. It keeps my memory and technique fit. After that I practice the program for the oncoming concert and read new pieces.
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Technically guitar is very hard, I think the hardest thing is to see through the technique and find a musical concept. I see more and more young players falling into those technical perfection traps and I try myself to avoid them as best as I can.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
1.Practice slowly 2. Practice slowly 3. Practice slowly.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I don’t have plans to do this soon since I have much on my plate, but one day I hope to get to it.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
BWV997 fugue slowly.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I try not to have a big lunch on that day and I play trough very slow and pianissimo to get the feel of the guitar and relax my hands
Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
It is very different from one person to the other. I try to have them as short as possible for me (which will be very long for someone else). Any length more than 2mm above the skin and I get a “naily” sound.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Play a piece that you like. If you really like the piece you would gladly spend more time to make it sound good.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
I think that every guitarist should go through the pieces that got the guitar to the place it is now. The Segovia/Williams program is our “school”. I find it somewhat strange that students play Britten or Ohana but not Asturias or Recuerdos.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
Villa Lobos with Alvaro Pierri. Pierri is coming to this music armed with amazing imagination rather than with dexterity (of which he is not lacking in any way).
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is the last one I read. I think Bulgakov is maybe my favorite.
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
I try not to eat excessively, I try to exercise, but I find the hardest part is to put the sneakers on. I love local fresh Mediterranean food but before concerts salads are always a good choice.
Do you meditate in any way?
No, but I love to think about things in silence.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Playing with my kids is a lot of fun.
Any things else you’d like to add?
I hope guitarist will start acknowledging that they are a part of a big musical community and work their way up the ladder in the music world in the same way Segovia did many decades ago, instead of working inwards in the guitar world.
Throughout the years I’ve enjoyed hearing many versions of Astor Piazzolla’s Muerte del Ángel. When I finally decided to add it to my repertoire the version that was most memorable was the one I remembered hearing on Marcelo Kayath’s Latin American Favorites record released in 1987. I still hold that record in high regard for Marcelo’s beautiful sound and elegant playing.
Thanks for listening!
Here is the whole of Sergio Assad’s wonderful Suite Brasileira Nº4 from a recent concert. I love everything and every single note that Sergio’s magical pen put down for this one.
Here is a video I stumbled upon this morning that caught my ear. From Galerie des Luthiers in France, it features 2016 GFA Winner, Xavier Jara, playing Manuel Ponce’s Balletto. From the rich sounding Enrique Garcia guitar to the absolute beautiful and lyrical playing, Jara invokes the magical early era of the guitar. When hearing these old guitars come to life, I wish more performers would record more videos on them or, for that matter, play entire concerts on them.
The talented Spanish guitarist Andrea González Caballero just released a live video of a recent performance of Isaac Albéniz’s Cataluña from Suite española, Op. 47. Andrea’s strong, confident, and graceful playing is certainly at its best here! Enjoy.
Check out Six String Journal’s interview with Andrea here.
Thomas Viloteau‘s rendition of Roland Dyens’ Fuoco from Libra Sonatina is wonderful. As usual, his playing is technically precise, musically crystal clear, and from the looks of it, effortless. I hope he did videos of the other movements! For more on Thomas, check out Six String Journal’s interview with him here.
Time to practice!
This is an interesting technique that I have found truly helpful for developing speed and the correct rhythmic feel across whatever pattern you are practicing, and since I have not found any reference to it in the literature, I refer to it as aural refocus. Its purpose is to refocus your hearing on the larger beats within a pattern or movement, and then “feed in” the rest of the notes while retaining attention on the larger concept and rhythmic feel.
In theory, we want to perform the larger movements in time—but in practice we rarely do so because we feel limited by all the minutiae that a particular movement demands. With a lot of work, patterns that undergo the aural refocus treatment will get a boost in speed while retaining their rhythmic integrity and stability.
Here are three exercises for applying aural refocus to tremolo. Before you begin, set the metronome to an ambitious tempo (72–88+ bpm per half note) and keep it constant through each exercise. Play only the fingers indicated, do not play the small notes in the following exercises and feel the larger beat in the right hand. Play through each line for at least a minute. Then alternate freely between the lines, coming back to the first line often to reestablish the longer sense of pulse and technical ease.
There you have it!
For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo.
By sticking a cloth or a soft sponge under the strings near the bridge, you can turn your guitar plucks into little thumping sounds. Limiting the resonance of the guitar to these not unpleasant thumps refocuses your attention on two very important qualities necessary for great tremolo technique: rhythmic evenness from thump to thump, and the quality of intensity of each thump.
So put a sock in it:
Hope that helps! Stay tuned for Part 4.
For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo
Playing through the “skeleton” of a tremolo piece helps reduce it in your mind’s ear to the essentials of what is happening on the musical front. Because we spend so much time developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique, often our attention is so myopically focused on the minutiae of technique that we ignore the larger question of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically.
There are various ways to mentally condense the way you perceive your pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them well hundreds of times. But because it takes time to develop the endurance and speed to perform a tremolo piece at tempo comfortably, play through them instead in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:
Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by guitarist Philip Hii in his insightful book, Art of Virtuosity. In this method, shown below, ami act as one and pluck at the same time. Think of plucking a chord, but on one string. It won’t sound pretty, but in addition to focusing your attention on the bigger picture, by putting all of your fingers down at once you discover what position will give you access to all the strings in the most efficient way.
For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo
Deep Slow Practice
“I wouldn’t be surprised if slow practice is the best technique to practice in.”
The effectiveness of slow practice has been confirmed repeatedly by great musician after great musician, and the principle holds true for tremolo as well. Despite the fact that performing tremolo requires great speed, practicing passages or even entire pieces at very slow tempos has numerous benefits for both technique and musicality. As Barrueco says, “It allows one to look at technique very closely.”
Besides providing the opportunity to observe technique with a magnifying glass, ultra slow practice gives the brain and fingers a chance to coordinate movements with an awareness that cannot exist at concert tempo. Slow practice allows us to hear everything that is happening on the musical front as well—harmonies, counterpoint, melodic lines, articulations, and other components that may escape our awareness at faster tempos.
But practicing tremolo in a slow and deep state of study is not as straightforward as it sounds, and what you get out of it can vary widely depending on how you focus your efforts. To begin with, you’ll need to first accustom your fingers, ears, and mind to slow practice. Play through just a small passage of a tremolo piece you are working on, and slowly build up to the entire piece. The metronome should be set to one 32nd note (a single note of the tremolo) to 42–60 beats per minute (bpm). Once this becomes comfortable and you’ve reached a meditative state of mind, try focusing on the following approaches, one at a time, as you play.
1) Fluid Movement or Gesture Focus – Despite the very slow pace, imagine the movements of the fingers in the context of the whole gesture.
2) Planting Awareness – Regulate the amount each finger rests on the string before pulling through. Awareness of the space between notes is important. If the space between notes is not even, or if some fingers plant early or late, tremolo will sound erratic even though the notes are articulated in time.
3) Deliberate Dynamic Control – Even though you would not play the piece with no dynamic variation, the ability to scrutinize and equalize the volume of each note is a skill that leads to greater control. Observe the tendency for most thumb strokes to dominate, or for notes plucked with m to lose clarity in our focus to complete the gesture.
4) Deliberate Musicality – The other side of the coin would be to include dynamics and musicality. This is harder than it sounds at such dramatically slow tempos, but focusing on maintaining musicality during slow practice clarifies musical intention.
5) Banish the Gnome – Turn off the metronome and focus your attention on the space between the notes.
Listen acutely and concentrate intensely to reap the numerous benefits of this powerful technique.
For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo