Nine Tips for Better Playing

Six String Journal

I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.

Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they…

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Artist Profile Interview – Alberto Mesirca

Italian guitar virtuoso, Alberto Mesirca has headlined across the globe with his passionate, supreme musicality. His interpretations of music from Domenico Scarlatti to Benjamin Britten not only display a dazzling technique but more compellingly invite the listener to imagine with him a musical landscape that is expansive, dreamy, and sometimes, unchartered. Between performances, masterclasses, and lectures, Mesirca has a list a mile long of collaborations with other musicians, composers, and publishers. Amid his rich musical life, he sat down to share a bit about his journey with guitar in this interview. Enjoy!

Alberto Mersica photo 1.jpgphoto credit Serban Mestecaneanu

Personal

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

I started playing when I was 8 years old, I wanted to play music as I loved music much earlier. My dad was a big music fan, specially of jazz. My aunt had a guitar at home and that’s the instrument on which I started playing.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I like all kinds of repertoire that touch me in a special way or permit me to express inner feelings, to sing with the instrument. They can be from the renaissance or from our time.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have a guitar built by Giuseppe Guagliardo and a guitar by John Gilbert, both in spruce, with D’Addario and Savarez Strings

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

I have an infinite admiration for Julian Bream, who devoted himself to the re-discovery of the old British repertoire, to the request of compositions to the great composers of our time, and to establish for the guitar a position which could have been easily compared to the piano or the violin, as a major chamber music instrument. This due to his tenacity, extremely big talent, intelligence, and capacity. Plus I love his way of playing and his sound.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I think I still like very much the one dedicated to Domenico Scarlatti. I have also a deep attachment to the first one I did, “Ikonostas”, dedicated to guitar music inspired by mysticism, and with a few important first world recordings: “Errimina” by Padre Donostia, discovered by Angelo Gilardino in the Segovia Archive in Linares, and his own “Ikonostas” and “Annunciazione” and “Sefer Torah” by Gianmartino Durighello.

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

Like said, I love Julian Bream’s recordings, especially the one dedicated to the British repertoire of the 20th Century (Walton, Smith Brindle). I also still love Segovia’s recordings, especially the Deutsche Grammophon recording of his incredible rendition of Ponce’s Concierto del Sur. It is still for me the best one.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

Now I am preparing a few concerts: recitals, a promotional series of concerts dedicated to the Chaconne (playing Dusan Bogdanovic’s wonderful Chaconne), and preparing a recording dedicated to Italian contemporary composers, having a few dedicated pieces by very interesting composers, like Filippo Perocco and Edoardo Dadone.

Alberto Mersica photo 3.jpgphoto credit Serban Mestecaneanu

Technique and Performance

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

I tend to warm up with a few technical exercises, scales, slurs, stretching, and then start focusing on the pieces. I love playing, and understood this even more since I started to have many obligations which kept me a  far from the instrument than when I just had to practice, so it doesn’t bother me at all to work on the guitar all day, if I can.

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

I think it is a never-ending process, one tends to improve all the time, both technically and especially musically. I feel like I never managed to arrive at a point in which I can say: this is the definitive version. Otherwise I think I’d stop playing much earlier, as the vital and interesting aspect in making music is, for me, the search.

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

I tend to memorize pieces easily, but it gets more difficult if the amount of music one has to perform is constantly growing.

I think that there are many memories and each one is helpful for a stable and safe performance: memory of the positions of the left hand, of the music itself, of the movements, of big passages etc. I think that a good exercise for memory is trying to play without the instrument, imagining the notes from the beginning until the end, which is not easy at all.

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

I did a few, and the very last one is an interesting one: the Chanterelle Guitar Anthology, for SCHOTT – 40 Classical Guitar Miniatures from Sor to Segovia. I am very happy because it is the result of a friendship with one of the eminent figures in the Musical Research and Publishing for the Guitar, Michael Macmeeken, with whom I previously worked for the publication of a previously unknown piece by Giulio Regondi (Feuillet D’Album) and together with the great Marc Ribot for the Complete Works of the Haitian composer Frantz Casséus.

I made also the recording which is attached, with a beautiful guitar by Donatella Salvato, a talented Italian guitar maker.

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

I tend to play scales, in apoyando and tirando, slurs, stretching, etc.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Frankly not, but I prefer to play in the hall before entering on stage for the concert. This way I get used to the acoustics and dimensions of the hall.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

Not really, I tend to keep them round and not too long, shaping them with a file and then using this special paper with wax on it.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Keep the love for what you’re doing and never forget the passion that drives you for creating music. If you have a lot of talent, especially at a young age, when competitions are routine, they can distract you from music by the mere search for technical perfection.

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

I think Fernando Sor and Dioniso Aguado are still wonderful for students because they write in a polyphonic way, also the “easier” pieces, and thus one starts from the beginning to think the guitar as a polyphonic instrument, in which we are forced to lead voices independently.

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

I think that guitarists should listen to more music, and not just guitar. Listening to recordings of great violinists, pianists, orchestras, and of compositions which are contemporary to the works they are studying can provide many more musical ideas than they would normally have if they didn’t listen to music. It is like expanding the possibilities, and playing according to the style of the time, rather than being influenced by the hands, by the technical difficulties.

Alberto Mersica photo 2.jpg

Tangent

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

I just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s “Paranoia”. Wonderful! I love Franz Kafka.

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

I do yoga, and love it, and feel much better since I started, my back is very thankful! I don’t follow a particular diet but I try not to be excessive with anything, No favorite pre-concert food, but I try to stay light.

Do you meditate in any way?

Well I think that yoga somehow helps me to get back to the human breathing, which I must admit I tend to forget when in stress.

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

I love to travel, read, and take walks with my wonderful wife.

Drew Henderson playing Albéniz and Schubert

Here is a new video from Canadian guitar phenomenon, Drew Henderson, performing Isaac Albéniz’s Zambra Granadina. Drew’s playing is beautifully nuanced, crystal clear, and absolutely effortless. The production is wonderful at capturing both the sound of the Martin Blackwell guitar and the warmth of the room.

Before everyone rushes off to check out Drew’s other videos on his youtube channel, here is another great video of him playing Mertz’s arrangement of Schubert’s Lobder Tränen on a hauntingly beautiful romantic guitar by René Lacôte built in 1868.

 

Rafael Aguirre plays Albéniz

Here is a video of acclaimed Spanish virtuoso, Rafael Aguirre, performing Issac Albéniz’s Torre Bermeja. This is one of the strongest performances of this piece I have ever seen. Aguirre’s sense of pulse, grounding, and time along with his crystal clear command of the instrument elevates his playing to some of the best piano renditions out there. Superb on so many levels. Enjoy!

Tengyue Zhang plays Piazzolla

Via Guitar Salon International’s stellar YouTube channel, here is 2017 GFA winner, Tengyue Zhang burning through Sergio Assad’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña. Tengyue plays with a great pulse, an extremely clear articulation, and the nimble fingers necessary to pull ff this difficult arrangement. The guitar featured  is one by Zoran Kuvac.

Thomas Viloteau plays Villa-Lobos

French virtuoso, Thomas Viloteau just posted a new video of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Suite Populaire Brésilienne. As usual, the performance is strong and thoroughly enjoyable. Thomas plays with his precise and beautiful touch and manages a never-faltering lyricism and strong pulse throughout. Very inspiring!

Here is a link to an interview we did with Thomas a while ago! INTERVIEW

New Release by José Antonio Escobar

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Chilean virtuoso, José Antonio Escobar just announced the birth of a new recording of the music of Spanish composer and guitarist, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, for release on February 8th. Mark those calendars!

Check it out here: Escobar plays Sainz de la Maza.

To listen to samples, check out Naxos’s link: NAXOS ESCOBAR.

The Secret to Better Hand Coordination

Excerpt from Mastering Diatonic Scales – Preparatory Exercises for Scales

Right- and left-hand finger coordination is ultimately developed through scale practice, but keep in mind that both hands already prefer to act together in a coordinated fashion. It is useful to develop this natural coordination further, but it is actually the counter-coordination that requires some practice to fully realize finger independence. Therefore, the construction of simple coordination exercises involves left-hand groups of 2, 3, and 4 finger movements with right-hand fingerings.

An example of a movement with natural coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers i and m. In other words, both index fingers act together, followed by a movement where both middle fingers act together. Or another way to think of it is that the finger movements in each hand are both directionally moving toward the finger 4 (pinky) side of the hand.

An example of a movement with counter-coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers m and i. Here, the finger movements in the hands are moving in the opposite direction: the left-hand fingers move toward finger 4 (pinky) while the right-hand fingers move toward the thumb.

Practice the following basic natural and counter-coordination movements starting on C on string 3 (fret 5). Explore these in various positions. I prefer to use the non-wound strings to minimize nail wear. Numbers correspond to left-hand fingers (1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky).

Exercise 1 Two Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)        

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

Exercise 2 Three Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

For Exercises 3-7 check out Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Nine Tips for Better Playing

I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.

Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they are incorporated in the early stages of the learning process. Exploring the ideas on repertoire that is already baked into your brain will take some careful and deliberate work to incorporate. Think of it like cooking a complicated dish, if all is measured carefully and timed precisely, the end result is wonderful. On the other hand, if you have forgotten to include ingredients in the baking process and attempt to salvage it by throwing in missing ingredients after the dish is done, the end result may not be as wonderful.

When learning a new piece, there is information absent from the score that if written in reminds you to weave them into your hand choreography when you practice. Below is a list that will help make both the left and right hands more efficient and two shots of a Scarlatti Sonata I just learned to illustrate how I label these items in a score. Assuming your basic fingerings are decided upon, incorporate the following ideas into your slow practice (and label them) to build a strong and reliable visual memory and choreography:

Right Hand

  1. Know when the fingers can plant or are laid out as an arpeggio (even though it may be the beginning of a scale passage).
  2. Know where your stability points are at all times. There should always be a right hand anchor in contact with the strings (usually p or a but possibly a combination).
  3. Insure string crossing is optimized and know when there are exceptions. See this early article for reference.

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Left Hand

  1. Know when two fingers can place at once (usually in descending melodic fragments).
  2. Know when a finger can remain in place as an anchor and for how long.
  3. Know exactly what and why you are barring. Is it a hinge, partial, tip, cross, full, etc… (maybe there’s content for another post here!)?
  4. Know when a finger must lift from active duty to align or migrate to a new fret or to relieve tension. This sometimes means that theoretically a note may not last it’s full value.
  5. Know when you are shifting and/or expanding or contracting out of a standard relaxed position and for how long.
  6. Know your guide fingers (never shift without a guide or ghost guide finger).

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Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!

If you liked this article and would like more technique tips, check out Six String Journal’s publications! Please share, like, and comment!

Rebeca Oliveira playing more Seixas

Here is a new video of Rebeca Oliveira playing Carlos Seixas’s Sonata Nº14. Rebeca plays it beautifully and clearly. The sound she extracts from her guitar is wonderfully warm and dark. Enjoy!

If you haven’t read Rebeca’s Six String Journal interview, check it out here.