Identifying Problems in Your Tremolo with Thomas Viloteau

This is a guest post from tonebase.


In Thomas Viloteau’s lesson on tremolo, he describes his method for working on and identifying irregularities in your tremolo. Your tremolo must serve the music you are playing and go beyond a technique. Otherwise, what should sound like beautiful music will instead sound like an exercise.

“The music is the most important thing. If you practice your tremolo as a technical thing, when you go to an actual piece it’s either not going to work or it’s going to make your music completely flat and lifeless.” – Thomas Viloteau

What is a good tremolo?

A good tremolo allows for three things:

  1. A wide range of dynamics (pianissimo to fortissimo)
  2. Different articulations
  3. A range of different tempos (accelerando, ritardando, rubato…)

How to spot problems in your tremolo?

Get a smartphone or device that can film video at a high frame rate and play it back in slow motion. It’s the only way to SEE what your fingers are doing at such a high speed and HEAR if you are actually picking as regularly as the beat of the metronome. This will help you learn what you are doing wrong.

Once you know what to fix, practice on open strings with a metronome. Make sure the technique you are practicing at a slow speed is not just “good enough” to pass at a slow tempo – it needs to work at full speed. Try experimenting with expressive variations to test your control over the technique. As soon as your technique is ready, start practicing your tremolo within the piece and NOT in isolation, as just a tremolo exercise. It will only be great if it is MUSICAL and works within the piece!

What are the different types of tremolo?

These three approaches offer different qualities and fit different musical contexts. Experiment to find more. For all the exercises below, use a p-a-m-i plucking pattern, though in some situations a two-finger tremolo may be preferable.

  1. Basic – Resting (a) ring finger on the string before plucking it to create stability for the hand and tell your fingers where the string is. Free stroke all the way through the string.
  2. Legato – Never resting (a) ring finger on the string. Works well for piano sections and when the accompaniment is on the top. It also works well for portamento because it doesn’t silence the string.
  3. Detached – Planting each finger firmly on the string before it plays. Mostly for use on the second or third strings. The finger comes more from ABOVE the string, in this technique, and may jump a little rather than remaining totally steady.

Bonus Tips

  1. Tremolo is much easier on the first string than the second because there is more range of motion for your fingers. Take advantage of this when you make your fingering
  2. Your forearm must be super relaxed and your hand very stable.
  3. To minimize the sound of your nail hitting the string, you must make sure that your flesh is hitting the string before the nail.
  4. It is easy for the middle finger to fall out of time. If this is happening, accent the middle finger’s plucking.

Watch Thomas Viloteau’s lessons and more on tonebase Guitar.

The Best of YouTube – Grisha Goryachev’s Warm Ups

Though the always amazing Grisha Goryachev primarily plays flamenco guitar, the videos he posts are so beneficial for classical guitarists, too, that they deserve a spotlight on them. I’ve always thought flamenco players in general had more power in their right hands due to the extensive extensor muscle development as a result of contant rasgueados. So after trying these two guitarless warmups that Grisha posted and judging by how tired my extensor muscles felt, I think they will at least help balance out the musculature of my hands and forearms. The other benefit of trying these warmups is to experience the natural movements required of the hand and fingers and the foundation they provide for the fine motor skills of playing. Try them and let me know what you think!

And, if you have not heard Grisha, check out the videos below. : )

Virtuosos Tal Hurwitz and Mateusz Kowalski playing Etude Nº2 by Heitor Villa Lobos

Two different players take two different approaches to one challenging etude in one post! Both videos were wonderfully recorded by Siccas Guitars.

Though this video of Tal Hurwitz is from 2013, it displays such a keen sense of musical and physical balance that I thought I would repost it to inspire Six String Journal readers.

Here is an interview with Tal.

And, for those who have not heard this newer video of young superstar, Mateusz Kowalski, it displays a fresh and relaxed approach to the etude.

Here is a recent interview with Mateusz.

Happy practicing.

Goran Krivokapic plays Álbeniz’s Leyenda

Isaac Albéniz’s Leyenda (aka Asturias) is overplayed. Which is exactly why I’m posting Goran Krivokapic‘s wonderfully produced video of it. It stands high above most renditions. Goran’s playing has always interested me. He is always musical and supremely virtuosic. What draws me into this recording is the consistency of his articulation throughout the whole first third of the piece and the recap. I also love how he uses octaves in the slower, more introspective section. The choice imbues the melodic lines with elegance. The whole arrangement is a breath of fresh air, or perhaps, a gust of wind from southern Spain. The intensity and the clarity in Goran’s playing is a nice contrast to how calm he looks. Music is just being channeled perfectly here and fortunately for us, it was captured on video.

CD Review – Kanahi Yamashita plays the Music of Carlo Domeniconi

Carlo Domeniconi – Selected Works VIII Featuring Kanahi Yamashita was released in April of 2021 as the eighth volume of composer Carlo Domeniconi’s music. The CD features the young guitar prodigy Kanahi Yamashita playing four works by Domeniconi – Toccata in Blue, Pealrs of the Orient, Haiku, and Sonata V. Both of the later titles were written for Kanahi.

Carlo Domeniconi’s music through the hands of Kanahi Yamashita is a revelation. Like a magician casting a spell, Kanahi’s interpretations flow effortlessly as if simply conjured through her guitar. The selection of repertoire offers the listener a bit of a snapshot of Carlo Domeniconi’s development as a composer as the compositions span more than 20 years. The sophistication of Domeniconi’s harmonic language and his cultural influences seem to get woven into his musical ideas in a more seamless way as one moves into the later works. As with more familiar compositions from Domeniconi like Koyumbaba and his Anatolian Variations, much of the beauty and magic of his music exists djinnlike between times and cultures.

Kanahi Yamashita, photo: Hiromi Hoshiko

The Toccata in Blue was a familar and groovy tune that I’ve enjoyed listening to in concerts over the years. For its light heartedness, it displays Carlo Domeniconi’s ease with music genres as he blends in his unique voice on the guitar with the blues. The other three compositions were new to me. Pearls of the Orient is comprised of twelve movements or perhaps sound pictures with fanciful titles like The sultan, White Pearls, The Genie, and the Astrologer. Kanahi, with her endless palette of colors, conjures these pictures with both flair and virtuosity. Haiku, dedicated to Kanahi, evokes Japan through the use of pentatonic forms, allusions to folk music, and perhaps even sounds reminiscent in their resonance of Japanese traditional instruments like the koto.

Of all the pieces the one that I enjoyed the most was the Sonata V, also written for Kanahi. In four movements, the piece goes from Mosso to Adagio to Scherzo and finally into an Andante animato – Ritmico. Perhaps the most sophisticated display of Kanahi’s superior musical sensibility and Domeniconi’s composition skill manifest itself in this performance. Though abstract, modal musical motifs recur in Domeniconi’s Sonata as a rich blend of styles and genres. The Sonata evokes multi-cultural layers that are both complex, harmonious, and rhythmic. The techniques demanded of the performer, which are numerous and creative, are an easy match for Kanahi’s wonderful fluency on the guitar. And, as with the rest of the compositions in this recording, Kanahi navigates the Sonata with the elegance and fluidity of a master.

This CD is wonderful. You can order by contacting Kanahi Yamashita directly through her website.

Kanahi Yamashita – Artist Profile and Interview

Japanese guitarist Kanahi Yamashita is an exceptionally gifted young musician. Her playing has captivated listeners across the world and she is emerging as a powerful voice on the guitar among her generation. On the tail of releasing her first solo CD of works by Carlo Domeniconi (review to follow shortly), Kanahi sat down with Six String Journal to share some of her experience with our readers. Enjoy.

Personal

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

I started playing the guitar when I was four years old and it was very natural to begin with, because I was surrounded by guitars and their sound since I was born. Thanks to my parents, I also started learning the violin, the piano, and some traditional Japanese instruments over the years, and even Noh-Theater chanting and dance. It was fun to learn various instruments and their music and that experience has been very important in my musical formation. Since I was five years old, I’ve had many opportunities to be on stage with the guitar, so the sound of the guitar has been the most stimulating and inspiring. I naturally spent most of my time playing the guitar and became more and more focused on this instrument. The other instrument I study with as much passion as I do for the guitar is singing, which I currently study at the University of Arts Berlin as part of a double degree with guitar.

What is it or was it like to come from a guitar “family”, how did it impact your desire to play?

The most precious thing I received as a member of a musical family was that I was always surrounded by music since I was born. Music was always a part of our daily life and was connected to everything we did at home. So I could learn music not as a special subject, but as a very natural part of my growing up. The process of musical training by my parents was also very multifaceted, by learning several instruments at the same time. In addition, I’ve enjoyed composing, improvising, and writing poems since I was a child. I didn’t learn everything in the strict sense, but rather enjoyed it in my own way, inspired by the special environment at home. One of the important lessons I’ve learned over the years is to not only focus on my major instrument to try to learn about music and repertoire, but trying various approaches to music and recognizing music from multiple angles.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Since childhood I played on a Ramirez III built in 1985 and since 2017 I’ve been playing an Italian guitar built by Rinaldo Vacca. I also met a great American guitar maker, Michael Batell in Berlin and from him I learned a lot about guitar and its construction process. I’ve played several of his guitars in concert and I also recorded the new CD “Selected Works VIII – Guitar solo Kanahi Yamashita”. The strings I really like to play on and use regularly are EJ45 Normal Tension by D’Addario.

Which recording/s are you most proud of?

Beside two CDs I took part in as a member of “Kazuhito Yamashita Family Quintet”, I just released my very first solo CD in April 2021. This is part of a series of CDs featuring the music of the famous Italian composer, Carlo Domeniconi, with whom I’ve been studying with since I moved to Berlin in 2015. On this CD I performed four solo pieces by him, two of which are dedicated to me. I especially appreciate and am honored to have experienced the collaboration process during the recording of this CD. I learned these pieces directly from the composer and it was a unique opportunity and gift to spend such an intensive time with him, and then to have recorded the project under his advice and musical production.

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

Right now it is, of course, very difficult to announce exact dates of coming concerts due to the pandemic, but in coming years I am expecting to perform as a winner of the Deutscher Gitarrenpreis 2019, which I won in Darmstadt and I will be performing in several cities of Germany. Beside that I was also invited to perform in several projects in Berlin with a Tenor, an Eurythmist, and an actress. In addition, I am planning to perform solo recitals in Berlin and Darmstadt this year including CD Release Recitals, which were postponed from spring this year. This month I will be performing in Kyoto as a Scholarship student of the Rohm Music Foundation Japan.

In the past months I suffered very much from not being able to perform regularly. I spent most of my time investigating and increasing my repertoire, so I am really looking forward to being able to perform more and more on stage again.

Technique and Performance

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

It is hard to say how much I practice each day, since it really depends on the condition I am in each day or schedules. But I do practice more without guitar the in my hands and this mental practicing time is much more than the time I really physically train on my guitar. I spend much more time reading and playing from the score than before. I started being more careful about notation, precise reading of the music, and only less than 3 weeks before the concert, I start learning by heart.

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

The most difficult thing is to accurately read and understand the music that the score is trying to express. I think this is the biggest aspect of being an interpreter, learning and struggling. We consider vibrating the notes written in the score, and thus the musical expression, as sounds in the room, and pursue technical topics for that purpose. For example, in order to gain a deeper understanding of early music, it is necessary to have knowledge of historical performance forms, musical instruments of the time and their playing techniques, articulations, and how to place ornamental notes. The areas to be investigated are enormous. That is also the reason I will be studying these topics with the German theorbo and lute player Björn Colell at the Nuremberg University of Music from October 2021.

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

In 2015 one of my compositions for solo guitar, Variation & Fantasia on ‘Star of the County Down’, was published and is available from my website. Right now I do not have any plan to publish more of my works, but I am definitely interested in composing more, especially for voice and guitar, which I perform as a singer/guitarist.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not especially, but I just try to be relaxed on that day and usually I rather not play or practice too much. I do look at the scores and study them mentally without the guitar in my hands.

Advice to Younger Players

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

I highly recommended that you develop your sight-reading skills from childhood. That way, you can learn more repertoire in less time. And beyond the stage of understanding the enumeration of notes, you can spend enough time on the more important stage of considering the style and background of the work. I think it’s far more important than the ability to memorize and play without mistakes from start to finish.

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

Naturally as a daughter of Kazuhito Yamashita he taught me how to play some of his transcriptions, such as the 9th Symphony “From the New World” by Dvorák and “Pictures at an exhibition” by Mussorgsky and I can really recommend at least to take a look at those scores because they taught me thousands of different sounds on the guitar. They expanded my technique, helped me communicate with the sounds of my own instrument, and gave me insight into his way of thinking. To know the instrument and its many various types of sounds is an endless pursuit and it will accompany you as a guitarist forever.

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

I was always listening to not only guitar CDs, but a lot more of other instruments, where I was exposed to so many great musicians and their different approaches to playing pieces, their musical languages beyond instrumental and technical tasks. I cannot name only one particular recording, but I encourage young players to become familiar with the recordings of different types of instruments and their music from different parts of the world.

Tangent

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

Right now I am reading the book written by Jose Ramirez III “Things about the Guitar” (SONETO Ediciones Musicales).

Do you meditate in any way?

Not particularly, but sometimes I very much like to sit in the darkness in my room with my guitar and improvise for a while forgetting about time and any other practical issues from daily life. This is one of the moments I meditate.


Follow Kanahi on her Facebook page

Tremolo Practice Tip: Reduction

Six String Journal

Reduction

Playing through the ‘skeleton’ of a tremolo piece helps to reduce it in our mind’s ear to what essentially is happening on the musical front. Spending a large amount of time on developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique so often draws a majority of our attention into the micro-discovery world that the thought of the larger macro world of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically is somewhat ignored.

There are various ways to enhance the way we psychologically perceive our pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them hundreds of times. For tremolo pieces, play through them in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:

Limosna reduction 1.jpg

Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by Malaysian guitar virtuoso, Philip Hii

View original post 85 more words

Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 4

Six String Journal

Aural Refocus

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…

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Kanahi Yamashita plays Rudnev and Martin

Here is a video of Kanahi Yamashita playing Sergei Rudnev’s beautiful The Old Lime Tree and Frank Martin’s Quatre Pieces Breves in the 2021 10th International Martinez Guitar Competition in Iserlohn. Kanahi’s playing evokes such a wondrous and colorful swirl of sound around her as she plays. It is impossible to not listen. Though I’ve heard the Martin played countless times, her interpretation manages to do everything. It sings, moves, and maintains its intensity from the moment of silence before it even begins. And, her interpretation of Rudnev’s The Old Lime Tree is equally convincing. Enjoy.