More Scales to Master – Modes Part 2

And, here we are with mixolydian and locrian modes. For those of you trying to remember all of these scales and the interval system, I find it useful to think of it based on the C Major (Ionian) interval system.

Interval Pattern of Whole and Half steps:

C Major (Ionian)  – W W H W W W H

C Dorian – W H W W W H W (notice the relationship to Ionian)

C Phrygian – H W W W H W W (notice relationship to Dorian)

C Lydian – W W W H W W H

C Mixolydian – W W H W W H W

C Aeolian (Natural Minor) – W H W W H W W

C Locrian – H W W H W W W

C MixolydianScale 3rd string mixolydian diaScale 4th string mixolydian diaScale 5th string mixolydian dia

C LocrianScale 3rd string locrian diaScale 4th string locrian diaScale 5th string locrian dia


More scales to come….

Grisha Goryachev

If given three wishes, I think one would be to play flamenco like Grisha.

I remember searching out Grisha’s posts when Eliot Fisk’s wife, and phenomenal guitarist in her own right, Zaira Meneses showed me a video of Grisha playing Enteban Sanlucar’s Panaderos. I was floored.

Lucky for us, here he is demonstrating some useful scale tips.

And, here is that video of him playing Sanlucar’s Panaderos:

Part 2 of Modes coming soon….

More Scales to Master – Modes Part 1

In the last post related to scale development, I provided closed (or moveable) scale forms for major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. In this post I’ll do the same except with modes. Though my understanding of modes is at best primitive, studying them to develop a better aural sense of what is happening both harmonically and melodically in the music we play, especially when the music has popular or folkloric roots (flamenco!), augments our musical knowledge. If you’ve been practicing only major and minor scales for years on end, your ear will welcome these forms to your practice. And, for those looking to gain a deeper understanding, there are bazillion jazz, improvisation, and composition sites to explore out there. But for the basics on modes go to wikipedia.

I’ve left out Ionian and Aeolian as their intervals correspond to major and natural minor.

C Dorian Scale 3rd string dorian diaScale 4th string dorian diaScale 5th string dorian dia.jpg

C PhrygianScale 3rd string phrygian diaScale 4th string phrygian diaScale 5th string phrygian dia

C LydianScale 3rd string lydian diaScale 4th string lydian diaScale 5th string lydian dia


Stay tuned for the remaining modes (mixolydian and locrian) and some other scale goodies…

The Great Alirio Díaz (1923-2016)

Alirio and Leo003The guitar world lost a legend on July 5th. Alirio Díaz will be missed.

Some excerpts from the liner notes to my recording of the great Alirio Díaz’s arrangements….

About Alirio Díaz

As a young man in the early 1940s, Alirio Díaz found his way from the small village where he was born in western Venezuela to the Superior Conservatory of Music in Caracas. By 1950, Díaz was en route to Spain and within a year was in Siena studying with Andrés Segovia. Díaz impressed him so much that within three years he had become Segovia’s assistant, often substituting as a teacher while Segovia toured. It was during this time that Díaz began performing in some of the most prestigious concert halls of Europe. After spending more than half a century on stages throughout the world, the great Alirio Díaz was sought after by generations of guitarists from all over the world for his profound musical insight.

Though Díaz is primarily recognized for his grand achievements on concert stages throughout the world, his contributions to the guitar repertoire are unique. During periods when he found himself back home in Venezuela, he collected and arranged dozens of popular songs from the first decades of the 20th century that have endured the test of time. The arrangements highlight both Díaz’s skill as a composer and as a historian. Many of the songs were obtained from unconventional sources – redacted by older musicians or copied from old piano rolls. These songs are still heard in Venezuela in various guises: played by popular musicians on the radio, performed by small ensembles at social gatherings, and arranged and re-arranged in countless formats for as many occasions.

A Personal Note on Alirio’s Arrangements

I vividly remember fearing for my life as our rickety bus stormed around blind curves up the narrow mountainside roads that led to the small Andean town of Santa Ana in Venezuela in 1993. I was to spend one of the most memorable weeks of my life performing music of Agustín Barrios Mangoré  for the legendary Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Díaz. Alirio’s recordings, particularly his Melodías Larenses and his Valses del pueblo venezolano, had always embodied for me what I loved most about guitar: energy deeply rooted in the folkloric traditions of Venezuelan music, themselves a colorfully woven tapestry of African, European, and indigenous threads. When I first left the warmth of Venezuela for boarding school in New Hampshire, my cassettes of Alirio’s arrangements were among my most prized possessions – what I considered the essence of what I was leaving behind. Playing guitar was my way of evoking home away from home. Alirio’s arrangements of songs from the region where he had grown up were, to me, a distillation of Venezuela’s spirit. Alirio combined his intimate understanding of the guitar, intuitive virtuosity, and true love for the music of his country to create brilliant arrangements on par with the greatest South American guitar music ever written.


Finger Contraction Equals Tension

Yesterday I was working on Julio Sagreras’ super fun El Colibri (The Hummingbird) with my son which made it twice the super fun. He’s at the point where he can play through the entire piece, correct fingerings in both hands, smoothly. His lofty goal is 180bpm. Yikes! I explained to him that lofty goals are the best because he may get closer than if setting a lesser goal. And, who knows, maybe he will be the first : ).

In an effort to support this enthusiasm, we went through the piece again in an effort to discover ways to help him make both hands more efficient and relaxed. The one principle which really translated into faster and better looking hands almost immediately was shifting without finger contraction (or extension) and maintaining a relaxed left hand position.

If you are trying to squeeze every last drop of tension out of your hands in order to speed things up, do not contract the left hand fingers into each other (and, of course, do not extend the fingers away from each other).

The temptation to contract to prepare finger 4 is overwhelming but it is not the finger to focus on. Instead focus on using finger 1 to shift and as a result yank finger 4 into place. This reduces our mind’s focus to one movement: the shift. Otherwise, we focus our attention on placing finger 4 and then shifting. I don’t know about you all, but I’d rather have less to think of when playing quickly. It makes the piece feel slower.

And, now, for my first instructional video:

And, if you want to see the absolute finest and scariest rendition of this, check out the great Cuban guitarist Marco Tamayo:

By the way, he has a hyper-detailed edition of El colibri available from his website. Wait, is that 180bpm?

The Best of YouTube

YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. Among thousands of videos not worth watching, there are a few gems waiting for discovery. I’m hoping to add video tutorials on the elementary pieces that my students enjoy playing after they’ve finished the KinderGuitar curriculum. In the meantime, I’ll share some great videos I’ve discovered after being trapped in the YouTube world a few weeks ago. If you are still developing your technique, watch them over and over. If you are far along, there are still wonderful moments of insight to extract. I watched most of them in one sitting at 1.5x speed, taking notes, and sipping coffee. These videos come from Russian guitarist Andrey Parfinovich. He’s done the guitar world a great service when he decided to film his lessons with the masters!

Pepe Romero on left hand technique:

Pepe Romero on rest stroke technique:

Pepe Romero on tremolo:

Pepe Romero on rasgueado:

More soon….


Three Basic Scale Forms to Master

I just returned from a vacation that went by way too fast. As always, I was over ambitious when it came to planning out which pieces to learn but I did manage to re-work most of the Chaconne and will have many posts exploring what I’ve come across this time around.

In the meantime, the next post to help you develop a scale practice is here. Here are three moveable scale forms (major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor) covering three octaves starting on three different strings.

In general, focus on developing the skills you have worked on from the previous preparatory post in the more musical and sophisticated setting of scales: rest stroke, free stroke, string crossing, and very accurate transitioning from finger to finger. Use a metronome to track your progress and don’t be afraid to live in slow tempo world if it means you are becoming better and more consistent with your sound from note to note.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami.

C Major Scale 3rd string major dia.jpgScale 4th string major dia.jpgScale 5th string major dia.jpg


C Harmonic MinorScale 3rd string har minor dia.jpgScale 4th string har minor dia.jpgScale 5th string har minor dia.jpg


C Melodic MinorScale 3rd string mel minor dia.jpgScale 4th string mel minor dia.jpgScale 5th string mel minor dia.jpg


Stay tuned (!) for the 3rd installment related to developing your scale practice where I’ll go through other scale forms.