To conclude our video series covering right-hand technique development in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use the concept of bursts (another rhythmic manipulation) to develop speed and further strengthen right-hand rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.
To continue with our video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use various rhythms to develop rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.
Hope this helps!
After repeated requests for more videos, I’m eager to share this post and upcoming video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. In this first part I’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of the standard fingering that Andrés Segovia wrote in the published edition. I’ll then offer some options for practicing the Etude. In Part 2, I’ll go through some options to overcome the disadvantages and finally arrive at my preferred fingering.
For a reduction of this, check out my first post on Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1.
Here are a few of the twelve Heitor Villa-Lobos Etudes performed by a simply outstanding young musician, Leonora Spagenberger. While I’ve heard some great guitarists perform these over the years, Leonora’s interpretations, despite her age (13) at the time of the recording, stand among the best of them. They are profoundly moving. This is inspiring on many levels. Bravissimo!
The image I hold while playing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1 is one where I am sailing above the canopy of the amazon rainforest as if it were an endless gentle green ocean. Putting this image into practice presents many challenges for the guitarist but simply having an image helps to move the fingers smoothly and with little resistance. Commanding the right-hand to execute the arpeggio to comfortably create the waves of this amazonian ocean, the crescendos and decrescendos, requires some persistence, though. And to truly master the image, it is equally important to investigate how the left hand moves from harmony to harmony, how softly we transition from chord to chord, and how the right hand waxes and wanes over the strings. Ocean waves have an inherent softness to them. To approach this quality in both hands, I’ve brainstormed a bit to list some key tips that I’ve focused on over the years:
- Release the finger responsible for the first note of the next harmony either at the fourth quarter note or last eighth note of the previous measure.
- Practice the transitions from the end of each measure into the following measure. For example, practice the last 4 sixteenth notes of a measure with the first four sixteenth notes of the following measure.
- Do not think block chords! Instead, imagine the left hand placing fingers more subtly. When possible, prioritize the left hand finger placement in the order that the notes are plucked.
- Work on avoiding finger noise in the second part of the etude by lifting slightly or shifting on the softer parts of the fingertips.
- Release pressure on inactive fingers to keep the left hand light.
- In order to build endurance for the right hand, practice it alone while visualizing the left hand. What does it feel like to play the arpeggio with rhythmic precision 48 times? This is the amount of times you would play it in the Etude before getting a break with the slurs.
- Once the right hand feels locked in, bring the left hand back. Are there pauses to adjust for the left hand?
- Think of the right hand in eighth notes, quarter notes, half-notes, and whole notes.
- Practice bringing out upbeats.
- Explore dynamic schemes to develop your own interpretation.
- Use aural refocus to think in larger gestures.
- Use rhythms to develop a thorough understanding of the patterns, transitional strengths, and transitional weaknesses.
- Practice planting a from the beginning and then a quarter note after it is played for right hand stability.
- If you use the standard right hand fingering, try planting both m and a.
- Use other right-hand fingerings to extract more insight from this wonderful etude!
Hope this helps.
Here is a moving performance of Israeli guitarist, Tal Hurwitz magnificently interpreting Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s Un Sueño en la Floresta. The elements of this video are spectacular. From Tal, who seems to invoke Barrios’ spirit effortlessly, to the hall’s acoustics, to the rich sounding guitar (Friedrich?), to the production (Sanel Redzic), all the elements of the video come together into a piece of art.
While there is no doubt of Tal’s mastery, I’ve seen very few who so effortlessly and musically perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2.
And to contrast from the south American composers, we can step back into the delightful world of Dionisio Aguado’s Rondo, Op. 2, Nº2.
Very inspiring on so many levels!
Six String Journal Artist Profile and Interview
From practice and listening advice to pre-concert rituals, competition-winning guitar powerhouse Piotr Pakhomkin provides a wealth of valuable insight to both beginning and advanced guitarists. Hope you enjoy reading this one!
Hailed by Classical Guitar Magazine as “one of the bright lights of the younger generation of classical musicians, a player of tremendous skill and sensitivity,” Russian-American guitarist, Piotr Pakhomkin has extensively performed and given masterclasses in Europe, Central America, and the U.S. Based in Washington, D.C., he was the only guitarist to be featured at Strathmore, Kennedy Center, and Phillips Collection series in the span of a single concert season in 2014.
After finishing his studies with Manuel Barrueco at Peabody, Piotr became the First Prize winner of the 2012 Mexican International Guitar Competition in Culiacan and has taken top prizes at the 2012 Boston GuitarFest International Guitar Competition, Great Lakes Guitar Competition, Montreal International Guitar Competition, and the European International Guitar Competition, “Enrico Mercatali,” in Italy. After finishing the prestigious Strathmore Artist-in-Residence program in 2014, he returned to serve as a faculty member and mentor in their Institute for Artistic Development.
As the winner of the 2016 Respighi International Soloist Competition, he will make his concerto and solo debut at Carnegie Hall in the Chamber Orchestra of New York’s “Masterwork Series” in June 2018. Piotr plays exclusively on a 2010 Ross Gutmeier Guitar using Oasis GPX strings.
Here are three links to Piotr’s website (lots of great videos, his recording, and an insightful left-hand workout routine).
Piotr’s recording Virtuoso Guitar Collection
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
My high school music teacher, Matt Hartman played Bach’s Sleeper’s Awake (performed by Christopher Parkening) in a music appreciation class. The ability to play multiple voices on the guitar had me floored – a full ensemble was hiding inside this little instrument. I was about 16 at the time and I knew I had a ton of work ahead of me. My enjoyment of the challenge and the process was a deciding factor in pursuing the guitar full-time.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I have the most fun venturing into new territory with arranging. After hearing Jordi Savall’s playing in the French movie, “All the Mornings of the World”, I fell in love with viola da gamba repertoire. I started with Marin Marais and then graduated to Carl Friedrich Abel. When working with single-line string music, I love the creative freedom involved in filling out the implied counterpoint.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Teachers have had more influence on me than any single recording. I wouldn’t be a guitarist if it wasn’t for my first teacher, Paul Moeller. My current students will find it hard to believe but my first few lessons as a teenage novice were very difficult. Everything was a struggle– sight-reading, right hand patterns, accuracy, memory and rhythm. Despite my lack of training, Moeller was so encouraging. He built up my confidence in my own ability, and taught me the techniques for performing consistently under pressure (slow practice, visualization, left and right-hand separation training). His coaching brought me to a professional technical level in less than two years.
When I started studying with Manuel Barrueco, his ear and meticulous labor over the meaning of every note was a huge source inspiration for me. I was so focused on playing with my hands but he was always teaching us to play with our ears.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
Manuel Barrueco’s 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces for the Vox Label. I have those recordings in every format: CD, MP3 and vinyl. The warm sound, attention to detail in voice separation, and precision on those recordings shaped all of my values for learning, recording, and performing music.
What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?
In March 2018 I’ll perform with the New York Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Playing in that venue is one of those goals that I set when I began, so it’s an honor to finally see it happen.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I try to put in 5 hours on average. The quantity really depends on my workload and what stages my pieces are in.
Slow practice takes longer and the hands can withstand more of it. On the other hand, playing at faster tempos is more strenuous and too much repetition without pause can cause injury.
My focus is higher earlier in the day so the earlier portion of the practice session revolves around isolated passages, very slow tempos (roughly one quarter of the concert tempo) and exercises derived from the most difficult aspects of the pieces. I’ll go through the music phrase-by-phrase between 1 and 3 times without errors. I never repeat anything more than that in a single sitting. I think that it’s potentially harmful because it leads to indefinitely long practice sessions, fatigue, more errors, and it wastes time.
Later in the day, I’m working more on the entire performance of each piece at concert tempo. In other words, “work” in the morning and “play” at night. If the pieces aren’t ready to be played at tempo, I’ll spend more time working slowly.
In terms of structure, I keep a list of the goals I have for the practice session with each piece. To maintain interest, I’ll change the order of the passages I’m practicing. If I went through it more chronologically one day, then the next time I’ll start at the end. Without some routine, we can get disorganized but too much routine can numb our focus.
Are there aspects of the guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
One challenge is to consolidate your practice regimen to fit the needs of traveling, where you have so much less time. It’s a luxury to practice a lot so when that time isn’t available to you it’s a real test of efficiency, careful planning and time management. I usually plan my daily practice sessions on the airplane, preparing for a worse-case scenario.
Another obstacle for many guitarists is breaking away from the bubble of your own instrument and exploring the much larger world of classical music. Intense focus is a wonderful thing but in this case it can harm you if it keeps you from being well-rounded. It’s important to attend symphonic and choral concerts, for instance. At the very least, you can hear new pieces of music and get new programming ideas from these experiences. I also get a lot of benefit from hearing young players in the Chopin or Van Cliburn competitions instead of just following guitar contests. Hearing an instrument different from the one you play at home with different repertoire allows you to be less judgmental and gives you more freedom in your listening experience.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
Visualizing every single note of a concert program is essential for a performance free of memory slips. To maintain focus under pressure I sometimes play through my program with loud music playing in the background. If I can push through, even when I can’t hear myself, I know that my focus is strong.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Admittedly, I haven’t had much time to do work in this direction. I’d like to expand our romantic repertoire to include transcriptions of works by Scriabin, Rubinstein, Glinka and Mussorgsky. I hope to publish these in the near future.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
I swap out my exercises on a weekly basis as they get easier. I like this linear chromatic scale exercise because it helps with precise shifting, which is needed in just about every piece. The aim is to make every fingering variation have the same legato quality, rather than broken groupings of four, three, two, and one. [Check out Piotr’s Guitar Gymnastics Publication for more like this. -L]
Left hand fingerings to use:
0 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc.
0 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 etc.
0 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 etc.
0 1 2 1 2 etc.
0 2 3 2 3 etc.
0 3 4 3 4 etc.
0 1 1 1 1 etc.
0 2 2 2 2 etc.
0 3 3 3 3 etc.
0 4 4 4 4 etc.
Record them and work on making them all sound like the same fingering, ridding yourself of accents after every shift. This is a great time to work on getting rid of fret noise as well.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Before the concert, I try to meditate for at least 5 minutes to clear my head. I notice a big difference when I don’t get to do this so this is a priority. I use the Neurolinguistic Programming techniques for meditation.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
This is a simple piece of advice but it’s easier said than done. I would encourage young players to spend the most time working on their weakest qualities in the early stages of development. With a good teacher’s supervision, get out of your comfort zone and make a game out of the struggle. This is the only way to grow.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
I think Bach’s Lute Suites (Frank Koonce edition) are a priority. Developing a singing quality with Bach’s long phrases is extremely demanding. Achieving clarity and balance in the counterpoint is an enormous technical feat. Another reason for working through this repertoire is that you can use a wide variety of non-guitar recordings to aid your interpretation. You can learn the the BWV 998 (Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro) along with Sviatoslav Richter or Gustav Leonhardt. You can approach it from opposing standpoints–the romantics as well as the period instrumentalists.
For general technique, it’s important to go through the Villa-Lobos Etudes. They instantly reveal weaknesses and give you a concrete goal to master them when you finally perform each Etude in concert. Etude no. 1 is impossible to play smoothly with a weak m-a-m arpeggio combination. Etude no. 2 will fall apart with excessive left hand tension.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
–300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces (Manuel Barrueco) for the clarity, consistency, and hierarchy in voice separation.
–Vivaldi Four Seasons (Venice Baroque Orchestra) for the energy and new life they pump into this very famous music. Some of the themes have been relegated to the “wedding-music” genre but with this recording, you completely forget that.
–Handel, Bach, Scarlatti (David Russell) for the creative and lyrical cross-string ornamentation.
–Chopin Nocturnes (Arthur Rubinstein) for the ability to play note-for-note with the light feeling of improvisation on every flourish.
What is the last book that you read?
The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
Absolutely. I think that performing music is so physical that you have to care for your body like an athlete. I get my protein from fish, vegetables and legumes. I stay away from starches and refined sugars. Healthy fats like avocados and coconut oil are fantastic for fingernail health – both topically and as part of your diet.
Before a concert, I always eat a few bananas. They’re always safe to eat when you’re traveling because of the protective peel. Also bananas are calorie dense and rich in potassium, which I’ve always read is a natural beta-blocker.
Musicians generally fear weigh-training but there are safe ways to approach it. I do do the eccentric portion of every lift very slowly, allowing lighter weights to feel much heavier. This puts less stress on my hands. I also jump rope to keep my heart healthy. With the jump-rope the exercise session will be much shorter and more intense than distance running. This is perfect for a musician’s busy schedule.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I love hiking and the outdoors. In the cold months, you’ll find me catching up on new independent films and documentaries.
I just came across some newly posted videos of Spanish guitarist extraordinaire, Ricardo Gallén, performing Leo Brouwer’s Sonata Nº4 Sonata del Pensador. The piece is dedicated to Ricardo and whether or not this is the premier or not, it is a fabulous performance.
Then, as often happens, I find myself watching more videos than I really have time for. There is too much to learn. In the next video, Ricardo gives a masterclass with demonstrations and a tremendous amount of insight. Some of the topics he discusses relate to using percussive practice in the left hand when playing fast, drawing on the metaphor of the difference between walking and running. When we walk, our feet plant fully as we balance to lift and take the next step. When we run, we are pounding lightly a bit more percussively. Translated back to guitar, if the left hand holds down and luxuriates on the fret, energy is lost and tempo slows. Ricardo plays an excerpt of Villa-Lobos Etude Nº2 to demonstrate (around minute 17). The key point is that because the left hand is acting more percussively when playing fast, part of the sound comes from the left hand, so that the right hand can relax, aiding in speed.
Another point he makes (around minute 19) is the unbalanced nature of playing guitar. Instinctually our hands want to act together (thought on this in a recent post about neural coupling), squeeze together, let go together. When playing softly or piano in the left hand but the right hand plays loudly or forte we must practice compensating for the discrepancy in energy between both hands. These are brilliant points to ponder. Undoubtably, there are more insights but I’m dying to go practice…
Yuri and I recently got together in my studio to play guitars, talk shop, and brainstorm advice to share with Six String Journal readers. Originally, we were going to post a list of tips and common mistakes guitarists of all levels should watch out for but there is so much valuable insight in what I recorded – from the warm up exercises below, to learning new repertoire, and more – that I’m simply going to post it as an interview next time. Perhaps a formal podcast is up next but in the meantime this will certainly keep everyone’s fingers busy.
Here is Yuri demonstrating one of his favorite warm up exercises (and the music) with videos of him playing it in various ways.
This next video, he demonstrates what he likes to do before building up to the exercise above. Notice that he plays through the scale with i, m, a, and c, before moving onto im and am.
Here is true gold, Yuri works on extensors and ami, too.
And, finally, here is Yuri commenting on balance and tone.
Hope that inspires everyone!
I was going to write about a warm up sequence that builds right hand endurance, speed, pulse, and legato. It was going to be a good one. But, I walked past my music stand and Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Etude Nº2 was taunting me.
So here are a few more thoughts and approaches I’ve found helpful while working on this over the last few weeks.
Right Hand Alone
We all know the value in practicing the right hand alone. It allows us to focus on what might be a potential lack of understanding as to where the trouble in a passage lies. Focusing on the right hand also allows us to feel the rhythm correctly without the hindrance of a faulty left hand or a left hand that cannot keep up. In this particular etude, there are two movements that recur often. Practice these movements or if necessary, build them up to comfortably play them at your target tempo (120+ bpm). .
Sweeping with p:
Cross-string arpeggio with various fingerings:
Slow and progressive warm up on these two movements helps develop a more ‘in the pocket’ feel and if you can retain the feel when incorporating the left hand, forces the left hand to behave more reliably. Remind yourself that if you cannot play those movements well at your target tempo, you will simply not be able to play the piece at that speed. So, set that metronome and get to work.
Left Hand Without Shifts
Though shifting in this piece does not present too many challenges, there are a few. Practicing a passage without a shift allows us to deconstruct a movement with two potential problems: the change in hand position and the shift. Try playing the first measure with no shift and focus on how it feels. Then, once that feels fluid, incorporate the shift while retaining the fluidity.
Resting the Right Hand Thumb
Do you know when and on what strings your thumb rests when not using it? Instead of randomly placing it for stability, find spots to rest it that coincide with the next note it will play. Not always possible but it certainly helps when you can get away with it.
Hope that helps. Stay tuned for the super warm up exercise and another Artist Spotlight…