Expanding Fernando Sor’s Etudes

images-1.jpgI have to admit that I may be enjoying Fernando Sor’s etudes too much these days. Many of them conjure a nice summer walk in the countryside with the occasional mildly adventurous detour. A set of favorites that I’m editing will be published soon but I thought I’d post a lesson on one of them and how I have been using it to warm up and build technique. His etudes are ideal in many ways to integrate musicality into technique because listening to the subtleties and manipulations of Sor’s familiar but often charming harmonies is so pleasurable.

Once you master his etudes, there are many possibilities for expansion but I’m going to use Etude Op. 35, Nº9 to illustrate how I like to use it to develop right hand technique. Here is a read-through for those of you not familiar with it.

First Step

Try to build flexibility into your right hand by playing the etude as written with the following right hand patterns:

piai, pimi, piâi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 1.jpg

Variation 1

Once these are reliably developed, you’re ready for some fun. Use the following pattern to help develop the weaker alternation with these patterns:

piaiaiai, piamamam, pimimimi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 2.jpg

Variation 3

Or, another option could be to explore moving out of a right hand arpeggio position into a more right hand scalar position with:

piaiamim, piaiaimi, piaiamia, piaiamam

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 3.jpg

Variation 4

Or, if you are feeling musically creative, explore adding a note to complement the melody within the key:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 4.jpg

Variation 5

Change it up a bit to get in your triplets:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 6.jpg

Or, if you prefer:

pimamiamiami, piamipamiami, etc…

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 5.jpg

There are so many places to go with these little gems. Fun!

Download the edition of my score for free: Fernando Sor Etude Op. 35, Nº9

Mauro Giuliani’s Folias, Op. 45

A few months ago I edited a new edition of Mauro Giuliani’s Variations on Las Folias de España, Op. 45 and have just made it available. Since I recently posted an article on the value of practicing chromatic octaves to build left hand coordination, I thought I’d post the 4th variation from Giuliani’s great work for all of you to test your abilities!

For this month, I’ve set up a discount code for Six String Journal Readers who’d like to download the score. Just enter the code “GiulianiRocks!” and you’ll get 50% off!

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Intervals, Part 1 – Chromatic Octaves

If Mauro Giuliani’s works are in your repertoire, or those of 340px-Mauro_Giulianiany classical period composer, you will know that interval runs of octaves, sixths, and thirds are used to great effect. Think the fourth variation of Giuliani’s Folias Variations (Op. 45) or the grand finale to his 1st Rossiniana (Op. 119)! Interval runs are everywhere in our repertoire and it’s worth studying them either through repertoire or through scale practice.

The two chromatic octave exercises below should get you started. They are useful for warming up, coordinating the hands, independence and opposing movement in the left hand fingers, and can even serve as a vehicle for right-hand development, too. Here are a few ways to focus on them:

  1. Start very slowly and pluck both notes with simultaneously. No rolling!
  2. Keep the wrist relatively still so that the fingers of the left hand are extending and contracting vertically (i.e. often moving in opposite directions from each other).
  3. Keep the left hand fingers soft and close to the fretboard.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpapm pipi pm, pa pm, pm papa piand pi pa.

Chromatic Octave.jpg

Once this feels comfortable and in control, explore some variations like the one below.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpa, pm pipipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.

Chromatic Octave 2.jpg

Let me know if you find this helpful. Part 2 coming soon!

 

Interview with Thomas Viloteau

French guitar superstar, Thomas Viloteau, is one of the finest guitarists on the international scene these days. From winning the world’s most prestigious competitions to searching out the finest beers, Thomas recently sat down to share some details about his life and what he is currently up to with Six String Journal readers.

Personal

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

I started playing at 12. There was a music school in the small town I lived in at the time with my parents, in southern France, and we decided it would be good for me to take music lessons. I got to choose which instrument I wanted to play, and since I already had a harmonica and saw a guy on TV play the guitar and harmonica at the same time, I thought I really needed to have a guitar. I wasn’t even really thinking about playing it at this point, just owning a guitar sounded cool to me. I had already tried learning the violin with my dad but that didn’t go well at all, I had no idea where to put the fingers. I remember when my dad told me the guitar had frets, I thought that was like cheating. To me that was just a matter of putting the finger at the right fret and plucking the string.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

The ‘classical’ guitar is a unique instrument in the sense that we have repertoire ranging from the Renaissance to modern days, but there isn’t truly enough repertoire in each style to specialize yourself in a certain style of music—it would be hard for example to say you’re a Romantic guitar specialist and spend a lifetime only playing guitar music from the 19th century without getting bored at some point. This almost forces us to play music from all eras, which can be a little surprising for audiences who are used to hearing certain players perform a certain kind of repertoire. But in the end, even if I could choose to spend my life playing only one repertoire, I’m not sure I would. I enjoy playing Bach just as much as I enjoy playing Sor or a Brazilian piece by Assad. To me, style is everything when it comes to music, and I try as hard as I can to become a totally different player from one piece to the next, which makes any repertoire fun to play.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I’ve played on my Smallman since 2006 with Savarez Alliance strings on it. I’ve also acquired a Bastien Burlot guitar a few years ago which I love.

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

I think my teachers were mostly my source of inspiration when I was growing up. It was before Youtube, so knowledge was much more localized back then! When I moved to Paris in the early 2000s, I met a huge amount of amazing players and teachers. There are too many to cite them all, but every one I met and heard at some point has been an influence on some level.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

Hopefully the ones I haven’t done yet!

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

All the recordings made by Norbert Kraft are magnificent. When I master my own CD’s, I’ll compare them with the recording I did with him for Naxos when I won the GFA. Apart from those, ‘Nuages’ by Dyens was always a gem to me.

You seem to have a cinematographer in you, too. Would you share your set-up and process of recording casual but high quality videos for the world?

I have a couple camcorders by Canon I got a few years back. The biggest one is a xha1, which is a great 1080p camera. Technology is always moving though and with 4k now I’ll have to switch gears at some point. I record the sound with two AKG’s C414 which I love. With good placement and a good room, they sound great. I edit audio into Cubase, and video with Premiere pro.

Technique and Performance

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

It really depends about deadlines for me. If I don’t have concerts and don’t need to learn a new piece, I’ll practice very little. I can even spend weeks without touching the guitar. If I have to learn a new program and a concert is coming up, then I’ll practice up to 6-8 hours a day, although I haven’t done that in quite a while. If I’m touring, the first few concerts require work, but after that I’ll stop practicing altogether. I’ve practiced a ton when I was younger, for many years, and I think that allows me to slow down a bit now. Of course, I can always tell I play better after I practice a lot, still!

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

The tremolo has been a long time enemy of mine, so I’ve started practicing it, just to prove myself I could do it. It’s still not as good as some other players I see on Youtube, but I don’t think I’ll have the patience to take it much farther. To me it’s just a special technique and it should never get in front of the piece and the music. I’ll probably record a few more pieces that use it and let it go!

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

I always had a good memory when it comes to music, but I also try to understand the score as much as I can. If I understand the harmony, the global shape and the details of form, the structure of the phrases etc., I usually can memorize something after a couple read-through’s.

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

Me and Gabriel Bianco have published a set of Scarlatti Sonatas a couple years ago. I’ve done my own version of the BWV1004 partita, too, but since I like changing things around I always find it difficult to print something and tell people this is the way I play it—because it’s mostly never true. When people ask me for the scores of my arrangements, I always advise them to work on their own transcriptions from the best possible source available for a given piece.

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

I’ll confess I don’t warm up. It takes me a bit to get the fingers going, but I’ll just play the pieces slowly if I have to warm up.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to do a bit of stretching and breathing exercises (pranayama). I also feel better on the stage if I’ve played each piece of the program at least once the day of a concert. This is true only of the first couple concerts in a tour, if I haven’t played for more than a month. If I’m playing regularly, I can literally do anything I want pre-concert.

Advice to Younger Players

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

I think there’s a thing going around that says you don’t need to practice a lot, just a couple of very focused hours can be better than six hours not focused. It’s true. Although I don’t see why we can’t play for six hours focused. The more you practice the better, that’s the short answer. As long as you fix problems of posture when they occur, to make sure you don’t hurt yourself, go and practice all day. It becomes second nature. There’s no short cut.

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

Young players are developing their musical technique, and ears. On a purely musical level, there is so much to do in the Baroque repertoire or the Renaissance repertoire that it can be a little complicated for students to get into those. The 19th century repertoire is closer to our own traditions that it can feel more natural for students to play it. As far as learning technique, it’s also a very important repertoire to get into. 20th century music is also very important and will teach you the new, weird techniques. Basically I’d stay away from too many transcriptions, and stick to repertoire from the 19th and 20th centuries. When students know more about performance practices for the 16th to 18th centuries, then they should get into this repertoire. To me, playing Bach’s Chaconne when I was 18 was a great experience musically speaking, but I can’t say I learned a lot technically speaking. Sor studies are much more valuable in the regard.

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

I can’t name a few that are vital to know, but I’d advise students to listen to all types of music in general, not just guitar. It’s a little limited to listen to other players when you learn a piece; you want to get to the source, and listening to other players will only give you an interpretation of what you’re seeking. It’s a bit like reading a book review; you’ll understand it much better if you read the actual book yourself. If you’re faced with a Rossiniana, go listen to some Rossini; that sounds stupid but lots of students will base their version on what they’ve heard other players do. If you’re playing some Assad, go listen to popular Brazilian music, singers, bands, not just what other classical guitarists make of this music. Get to the source.

Tangent

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

I’m studying for the comprehensive exams at Eastman here in Rochester, which will be the end of my doctoral studies, so I haven’t read anything else than music theory and history related books in a while. Before that, when I had a normal life, authors I loved were Kundera, Vian, Sartre, Camus… but that was before!

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

I try to exercise and work out as much as I can, although these past years have been quite busy with studying. A special diet of mine is going around trying all kinds of good beers whenever I can, as well as drinking lots of espresso. All very healthy.

Do you meditate in any way?

I’ll spend a little bit of time relaxing before concerts if I feel I’m a bit nervous, but I don’t do it on a regular basis.

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

I love to cook, make coffee, drink beer, watch movies, and play with my cats!


Check out Thomas Viloteau’s latest technique book and CD on itunes:

In-the-Black-Box-1-1website

 

Ricardo Gallén plays Bach

Spanish virtuoso, Ricardo Gallén performs another beautiful rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude from Lute Suite Nº2, BWV 997. Ricardo performs this on a replica of an 1820 instrument. The combination of the filming, Ricardo’s playing, and this instrument really evokes something magical.

If you’ve not seen the previous posts on Ricardo check them out!

Artist Spotlight: Ricardo Gallén

Ricardo Gallén on Technique

 

The Science of Practicing Effectively

Annie Bosler and Don Greene’s TED-Ed talk “How to Practice Effectively” provides a great summary of how to get the most from your practice sessions.

Here are the tips given for more effective practice:

  1. Focus on the task on hand. Minimize distractions (turn off screens and phones!).
  2. Start slowly or in slow motion. Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions you have a better chance of doing them correctly.
  3. Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Many divide their time for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions.
  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail. Visualize everything. Once a physical motion has been established it can be reinforced just by imagining it.

 

Concert Preparation 101

Greater confidence leads to stronger performances. There is a great difference in the confidence of a runner who approaches the start of a marathon having done the bare minimum training and that of the runner who has trained with variety, intensity, creativity, and persistence (and supplemented that training with a healthy diet, careful recovery, and mental preparation).

As a concert approaches, vary your study approach, take notes, and explore as much as possible to gain a better understanding of what yields the best results on stage and what makes you perform at your best. Depending on how well I know the music, I may start preparing months ahead of time or a few weeks from the date. Here is a checklist of actions that start to occur during the preparatory stage that are true confidence builders:

  1. Warm-up with a focus on relaxation.
  2. Befriend your metronome. Play all your pieces at a very slow tempo (for example, the Allegro from Barrios’ La Catedral at 1 sixteenth note/second, or a tremolo piece 1 note/second). I pick a quarter of the program and make sure that by the end of 2-3 days, I’ve practiced everything at a VERY slow tempo. Manuel Barrueco thinks slow-practice may be the best way to practice.
  3. Build a list of troublesome passages or excerpts that do not feel effortless. Practice right hand and left hand alone going from very slow to as far beyond concert tempo for repetitions, practice in rhythms, analyze the space between notes, watch youtube videos of someone wonderful playing them to glean possible modifications, exhaust your resources to make the passages in question effortless. Before increasing tempo, try to nail 5 repetitions in a row. Keep a record of tempo and tally how many repetitions you’ve successfully done.  When focus fades, move on to a different excerpt or take a little brake.
  4. Record yourself. I’m not a fan of this but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to improve. If you truly want to assess what you sound like, it is necessary.
  5. Exit practice mode and enter performance mode by performing run-throughs. Play a run-through of each half of the concert at least once every two days over the course of the month preceding the actual concert. Two weeks from the performance, videotape the entire concert or perform it for a friend, a student, or colleague. Several full-length run-throughs always help to improve concentration. If you have time, experiment with performing run-throughs when you are tired, not warmed-up, or cranky. Perform it while the radio is on, perform it in the dark, etc… Learn to turn on your performance mode.
  6. Break up your practice into several sessions a day. For example, instead of one large chunk of time (9AM – 1PM), try 9-11, another session 1-3, and then another 9-10. Don’t go more than 12-14 hours without touching that guitar.
  7. Visualize the performance before falling asleep. Imagine the stage, imagine yourself on it, imagine every piece from the first note to the last. If you can’t ‘see’ what your fingers are doing, you probably do not know the piece as well as you think you do. If you have trouble visualizing, create a playlist of your favorite guitarist/s or of your best performance of the pieces and listen to it while you play along in your head. The music will serve as a bit of an anchor for your mind’s inner ear while you try to visualize along. Another technique is to watch someone play it and play along in your head.
  8. Meditate often. A simple focus on your breathing for 5-10 minute periods throughout the day is a good start. I’ll write more on this in the future, but as a long time practitioner of yoga, pranayama, and other modes of meditation, meditation is one of a few things that always improves my day and centers my mind.

Good luck!