Three Steps to a Balanced Right Hand

by Leonardo Garcia

I wrote this for the Tonebase blog a while ago and thought I’d share it here. Hope it helps!

A crucial aspect of right-hand technique is the ability to control the stroke of each finger when it interacts with the string. During this interaction, the energy of the stroke determines the volume of the note and, if well done, does not displace the other right-hand fingers in the process. This requires right-hand finger independence. To this end, I like to walk students through a series of activities utilizing a fixed right-hand finger with the focus of keeping the hand and inactive finger calm.

During the sequence and patterns, watch the right hand as carefully as possible for any extraneous or micro movements. Ask yourself whether it is possible to pare these movements down to stillness. Does the thumb stroke overwhelm the hand? Are there any fingers or combinations that are more uncomfortable or weak? Is the stroke efficient?

To start, place all right-hand fingers (p, i, m ,a) on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings respectively. I recommend using a metronome (quarter note = 60).

Step 1

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Go slowly and spend enough time on each pattern (a minute or two) before moving to the next one. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: a should remain fixed on string 1

Repeat Step 1 but impose the metrical accent. Think: 1 and 2 and 1 and 2 and, etc. Weak beats (the ands) should be slightly softer. For fun, drop the strong beats to the background and play the weaker beats with more energy. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make deliberate adjustments until it feels groovy, balanced, and comfortable. Experiment with volume. Experiment with tempo.

Step 2

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: m should remain fixed on string 2

Repeat Step 2 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

Step 3

You know the drill. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: i should remain fixed on string 3.

Repeat Step 3 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

It is nice to follow these three steps with some arpeggio etudes. 

Hope this helps you reach your musical goals!

Best GEAR Recommendations for Student Guitarists

© by Leo García

For the number of times I get asked for recommendations, you would think that I would just make a page like this. Well, here it is with links and brief descriptions of what I recommend to students as they get further into their guitar ambitions.

GUITARS – Up to about $1500, your best bet is a Cordoba student guitar. They are set up extremely well, are well-balanced and well-made, and they sound great. For a factory made guitar Córdoba has really cornered the market in quality because of how consistently good the guitars are at each price point. Both my children grew up playing the Cordoba fractional guitars and they are hands down the best out there. Now they use an all solid Cordoba C10 when they have their guitars at school or for travel but they do prefer to borrow my concert guitars when they are home. Lucky kids.

Spruce or cedar? It really depends on taste but the nuances of a truly great spruce or a truly great cedar concert guitar don’t make as big a difference in student guitars so I usually recommend cedars for their response, warmth, and open sound. Spruce will sound a bit more firm and it may take some playing to get the sound to open up a bit.

The C5 is there introductory model with a solid top:

Cordoba C5

The C7 and C9 are both a big step up for not much more:

Cordoba C9
Cordoba C7

GUITAR CASES

Again, Córdoba’s humicase line is a great option. Even for traveling. But if you want a sturdier case and want the ease your nerves when checking the guitar, I would recommend a TKL Crossrock, Hiscox, BAM, or Visesnut or even a Carlton or Leona if you really want overkill. But for a student guitar it might be worth more than the guitar.

Humicase Hardshell Case
Crossrock Poly Carbon Case

THINGS YOU NEED IN YOUR GUITAR CASE

STRINGS AND STRING WINDER – I’ve experimented with Savarez, Knobloch, Aquila, Galli, and a few others over the years but I seem to always come back to D’Addario. Some guitars don’t do well with higher tension strings but some sound great. Your left hand might appreciate normal tension if you practice a lot. Don’t forget the string winder. If you change strings once every week or two, you want one.

D’Addario EJ45 normal tension strings
D’Addario EJ46 hard tension strings
D’Addario String winder and clipper

NAIL FILES AND SANDPAPER – You need a rough diamond or glass file (I’ve used the same one for over a decade), this specific sandpaper, and a nail buffer to get your nails to a glass finish. I’ll cover shaping in another post but you check this post out if you want to get to the bottom of it.

3M 500 Grit Open Coat Sandpaper

Nail Buffer

Revlon Nail File

CAPO – I think the Schubb classical capo is the best one. Classical guitar capos are different than steel string capos because the contour of the neck is more flat in a classical.

Schubb classical capo

TUNER – I think most electric tuners work the same way. I like the Korg tuner because the battery fits in the attached part and the tuner is super slim.

Korg Pitch Clip

THINGS YOU NEED IN YOUR PRACTICE ROOM

METRONOME – You would think that the sheer number of metronome apps available would render this metronome obsolete but I love it. The percussive click is so satisfying and if you are tired of staring at screens, this is the way to go. By the way, what do you call a dwarf who hangs out in the subways of Paris?

Seiko Quartz Tuner

FOOTSTOOL AND SUPPORTS – For the most part, I still prefer using a footstool and the one below is my favorite. It’s solid and adjustable. I’ve experimented with most of the supports out there and while they do provide some comfort because you can sit in a more centered way, the idea of suction cups possibly popping off while performing has always stopped me from fully embracing them. However, I know many performers who love them.

K&M Footstool
Ergoplay

CHAIR – This is more important than you think. Face it, you are going to be sitting for many hours of your day if you practice a lot. I’ve searched and searched over the years for a chair that was comfortable, affordable, adjustable, ergonomic, practical, and passably stylish to use in a performance. So far, while it’s not perfect it’s what I’ve settled on until I find better. I love that it is adjustable and it tilts slightly forward to promote better posture.

Adjustrite Practice Chair

MUSIC STAND – There are plenty to choose from but I stay away from the wire music stands where you can’t write or balance more than a few scores on. Who needs that type of frustration? So I prefer the old school Manhasset. I have several in the house but my favorite is the lower one because it is good for performing. It does not block the performer like the higher stands and it sort of sympathetically resonates a bit if you listen.

Manhasset Music Stand

While that doesn’t quite cover all the gear, it’s a start. I’ll post another soon with fake nail, recording, and other stuff that I’ve found useful in my practice room…

Disclosure: some links earn a commission and as a KinderGuitar educator I offer Cordoba guitars to my students.

Great Exercise for Building Your Right Hand Skills

by Leo Garcia, © 2022

If you’ve been working on right hand arpeggios or etudes and find that alternation between m and a is not as comfortable as i and m (or i and a) then you’ve come to the right place. The exercises below will help remedy this problem. Simply because of our hand anatomy, independence between m and a is more difficult to develop, so I often suggest adding a bit of extra mama to the basic patterns most students use to develop their right hand position and their arpeggios. Adding a little bit extra mama consistently will pay off over the course of weeks, so keep at it.

Here are the six patterns I encourage students to practice regularly:

Here is pima with extra mama (I like to add some activity in the left hand but it is not necessary):

pima + mama

Continue through the other patterns in a similar way. As always, use a metronome, strive for a consistent sound, and relax your right hand.

piam + amam

pmia + mama

piam + amam

pami + mama or amam

paim + amam

Good luck!

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Artist Spotlight and Interview: Jason Vieaux

A consummate soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux recently sat down to share some of his thoughts and insights with our readers. Hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did and check out Jason’s new recording, Bach Volume 2: Violin Works.

photo: Tyler Boye

Personal

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

Initially I was drawn to the guitar and drums through listening to my parents record collection, which was mostly my mother’s soul, R&B and rock records. Seeing the Bay City Rollers on TV as a 5-year old, eg, was a very exciting thing to me, and I regularly drew pictures of drum kits and guitars as a kid. Seeing Roy Clark and Buck Owens on TV regularly at 3-4 years old, Owens’ red, white, and blue guitar is an iconic image for me. I was also a big fan of The Beatles music from age 3, and I heard a lot of my Dad’s jazz records. This keen interest prompted my mother to buy me a 3/4-size classical guitar one day when I was 5; she might have known it as a “Spanish Guitar”. The Buffalo Guitar Quartet did an outreach program at my school when I was 7, and my mother’s secretary work happened to be in the school library during that time. So that summer I began classical guitar training with Jeremy Sparks.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I don’t really have a preference for the style or period; just particular pieces that I’m working on at the time. It’s such a luxury for me when I get to actually work on something with any kind of regularity, since I professionally have always dealt in “volume”, if you will. With the way my career developed professionally, I don’t usually get to choose what or when, unless I’m preparing a recording. I just try to dive as deeply as I can into whatever I’m working on for live performance at the time – and I’ve enjoyed that rhythm or process. I’m very much geared/wired toward live performance, and so I feel blessed to have either performed or recorded some 60-70 hours or so of stuff. I perform a lot of pieces just once or twice every year, or every 5 years, like Castelnuovo-Tedesco Quintet, for example.

But Bach is the most satisfying when everything is going well, I’m almost always working on his music for something. And I never tire of playing Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez – mainly because I keep getting better every year at the passagework. Aranjuez is probably like Pebble Beach or Augusta National for a professional golfer, I suppose.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I only have one concert guitar, my hope is to acquire another. My guitar is by Gernot Wagner, who is based in Frankfurt. And I like Augustine Regal strings.

photo: Tyler Boye

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

As far as the guitar corner of things, the classical guitarists that had the biggest influence on me are probably Julian Bream, David Russell and Manuel Barrueco, mainly because I got to hear them live, although Bream’s records I enjoyed the most as a kid. And prior to age 15, “non-classical” guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Andy Summers were influences, mainly because you couldn’t really escape Van Halen, The Police, Led Zeppelin on the radio or TV then, especially if you were a drums-and-guitar fan like me. And every kid then had a clock radio to wake up to, so many guitar solos from the Top 40 in the 80s are burned into my memory.

But even more so, it’s specific pieces or albums that were impactful before age 20: Bach Chaconne, 3rd Cello Suite, Villa-Lobos etudes, “Drei Tentos” by Henze, all Fernando Sor, Beethoven Symphonies, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Copland, Ravel, Debussy, so many Spanish and Latin American guitar pieces. Getting to know Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” especially was a real experience (and temporary obsession) for me.

Hearing Cleveland Orchestra often in college at CIM, and being exposed to way more live orchestral and ensemble music had a big impact, particularly latter 19th C, and tons of modern music (Erb, Carter, Ives, Varese, Stockhausen, Glass, Reich, Sessions, Boulez). Also certain early hip-hop albums (Public Enemy, ATCQ), certain albums by Miles Davis, Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny. Attending Cleveland Orchestra performances of Strauss “Metamorphosen”, and Mahler 2nd Symphony, eg, were kind of life-changing experiences for me.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I’m kinda enjoying my latest Bach recording. It’s nice to hear what I was doing at the time (2019) with the ornamentation, and how my Bach playing is less stiff/stuffy on this record. It’s a more accurate representation of what my live playing is like.

But it’s nice to see how particularly the Images of Metheny (2005), Ponce Sonatas (2001), Albeniz (2003), PLAY (2014), the 1996 Naxos CD, and the previous Bach record have been so well-received by people, and not just by guitar players. I’ve read so many notes over the years from people and musicians about how those records were influences or references for them.

I’m also really glad I got to make those ensemble and chamber recordings over the last 20 years with regular collaborators, like Gary Schocker, Julien Labro, Yolanda Kondonassis, the Eschers, and all the “one-offs”, like recording the Ginastera Sonata, Jeff Beal and Jonathan Leshnoff concertos, etc.

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

I don’t listen to many guitar records, unless I’m researching something, and that’s only because I’m always so “inside” of my own playing and musical work as a professional musician. And really I just prefer ensemble music or solo piano anyway, when I get free time to just listen for pleasure. But I have to say, especially since David Russell is now a label-mate on Azica Records, I recently heard his latest CD at their studios, and it sounds absolutely terrific – in my opinion, Azica has really captured the majesty of David’s sound. I did hear some early Bream Westminster LPs on a friend’s good stereo about 10 years ago, and that was kind of a revelation, the recorded guitar aspect. It’s like Bream playing in your living room.

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

I’m looking forward to getting my re-tooled BWV 1001 and 1007 on the road again. The pandemic halted what was just starting to really cook. Also my new record with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is out this May, so we’re hoping to play that material over the next 2 years. My next San Francisco residency concert will be with mezzo Sasha Cooke at Herbst Theater. We’ve been trying to play together again live for a few years. Also, Avner Dorman is making a concerto version of his quintet that I premiered in 2016, “How To Love”, and I’m performing that with Gerard Schwarz and the EMF (Eastern Music Festival) Orchestra this July. We’ve always done a guitar concerto together every summer at my guitar program there, really due to Maestro Schwarz’s efforts and support – that’s a really great thing for the guitar. (link?) And playing concerts with the great Escher Quartet is always a blast, we’re good friends.

Technique and Performance

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

I’d love to practice 4 hours a day, but it’s just not possible with all the other responsibilities. I get about 2 hours most days, sometimes 3 in a day.

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

Not really. The experience and hours of different challenges and situations in all the repertoire I’ve played ended up adding aspects to my technique, mechanics, performance comfort, etc., that I wouldn’t have had if I were just playing solo pieces. We’d all like to have faster scales and arpeggios, etc. We all want more. I actually have gigs where I wish I was more nervous, where there’s no nerves at all, and still some where I wish I was more relaxed.

photo: Tyler Boye

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

Memorization came fairly easily to me, although once the repertoire crunches came, I was able to teach students how I made up the deficits in time through visualization techniques, repetition strategies, fingerings, etc.

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

Not really, mainly because I’m often discovering new things and thus changing fingerings, every time I come back to those core repertoire pieces. My fingerings are often “weird” anyway, which is why I prescribe (and demonstrate) 2-4 different fingerings per questionable passage to my Curtis and CIM students. I don’t hand out a score photocopy with fingerings on it to a student. We work on them together, guitars on laps, playing.

Do you have a favorite drill or set of exercises you use to warm up?

I mainly use passagework from approaching deadlines, that works great to develop your technique over time. The more puzzles you put in front of your hands and brain, the better.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I used to have no rituals for the longest time, because it was so often a disappointment to not be able to keep the ritual, if things went wrong or were disorganized beyond your control. So my takeaway from that in the early days was to have little to no ritual. I learned that from Gary Schocker. Nowadays, it’s better, more folks allow me to have some personal time. As long as I can have 90-120 minutes on everything I’m playing that evening, I’m happy.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Practice as much as you can, without burning yourself out, because you have to WANT to do this, for yourself; not for anyone else.

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

19th century stuff, especially Sor. He was the best musician we know of in that century that played guitar, except maybe Regondi, and he wrote almost entirely in parts/voices. His music is solvent, and it really isn’t all that “idiomatic” in terms of ease. So it prepares you for everything else written by a proper composer, except ornate Baroque transcriptions, or modern/dissonant textures. But when I hear guitarists joke about “easy Sor studies” it makes me laugh. Most guitarists play Sor very poorly, because you have to play his music with your ears, not your fingers. Your fingers have to follow.

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

OK, this is a long answer. Classical Guitarists seem like they are already very familiar with Dyens, Morel, Assad, which is great, and important, but they should also at least familiarize themselves with player-composer-arranger-improvisers like Rabello, Yamandu, Lagrene, etc. And in jazz you can’t go wrong with Christian, Green, Montgomery, Pass, Hall, Bertoncini, Benson, McLaughlin, Metheny, Scofield. I lost track of almost all of the newer “cats” due to my professional and family life, but Rosenwinkel, Kreisberg, Hekselman, Monder – heavy. I love it.

In classical playing, can’t go wrong with the usual suspects, but it’s important to hear their best stuff: Segovia, Barrios, Díaz, Yepes, Presti, Bream, Ghiglia, Williams, Starobin, Barrueco, Russell, Fernandez, Galbraith, Holmquist, Tanenbaum, Isbin, Fisk, etc etc (maybe leaving out like 20-30 players). 

For me, Galbraith and Barrueco were crucial players for me to hear conceptually, and quite possibly had the biggest impact on me as a guitar player right now, even though many would rightly say I sound nothing like them at all. As many know already, my favorite contemporaries that are well-known are Micheli, Dukic, Dylla, Vidovic, Gallen, Desidrio, Azabagic, maybe some others I can’t remember now. But too many people are absolutely sleeping on Colin Davin, Petra Polackova, JiYeon Kim (Jiji), Hao Yang, and Jordan Dodson.

photo: Tyler Boye

Tangent

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

The autobiography of Larry Rivers, “What Did I Do?”, the Keith Richards autobiography.  

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

I try. Getting better each year. I walk a lot. My weight is optimal, but I have to remind myself to strengthen my core. No real pre-concert foods (again, the road plus my background sort of taught me to not get too particular.)

Do you meditate in any way? 

In some different ways, even if it’s for 30 seconds. It’s like practicing an instrument, it’s often better to practice 45 minutes 6 times a day than to practice 4.5 hours in one stretch. Same with meditation. Unless you’re independently wealthy.

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

Walking long distances in our neck of the woods or on the road. Watching sports, especially NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, PGA – in that order (I almost never get to do this anymore). Being with my kids, helping them with school work, answering questions, board games, listening to their stories/musings. I take them to the park a lot on the days I’m home. Listening to music, although that’s mostly now during making school lunches and/or breakfast at home. That’s about it. I really need to see that Beatles “Get Back” Peter Jackson thing.

Any things else you’d like to add?

Bach Volume 2 is finally out. Go to live concerts if you love music; there’s no comparison between live and virtual, just like anything else in life. Don’t kid yourself.


Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin is now available on most music streaming and purchase services!
Spotify: buff.ly/3IXMTJd
Amazon: buff.ly/3iWqHok
Apple Music: buff.ly/3tYaxAV

New Release: Jason Vieaux – Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin

Jason Vieaux – Bach Volume 2: Works for Guitar reviewed by Leonardo Garcia

While Grammy Award winning guitarist extraordinaire Jason Vieaux needs no introduction here, it is worth posting when he releases a new solo recording, particularly when it is one by Johann Sebastian Bach. Released on the Azica label, Jason’s Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin includes Violin Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Sonata in C Major, BWV1005, and Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001. This recording comes almost a decade after the release of Bach Volume 1: Works for Lute. And, after listening to both, I can assure you it was worth the wait.

Jason’s strengths as a musician seem well channelled through Bach’s works. His fluidity in phrasing coupled with his rich and expressive sound solidify his interpretations as ones that are definitive. He is clearly up for the task after such a convincing and erudite reading of Bach’s Lute works.

Starting with Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Jason plays the often heard and recorded suite with a familiarity of an old friend. Clear, energetic, and expressive as always, the virtuosic playing in the prelude paves the way for the other dances. The Gavotte en Rondeau has some wonderful and original ornamentation which breathes new life into somewhat overplayed movements. The lines of the Bourree and Gigue are crafted beautifully as if Jason were highlighting a dance between the melodic and harmonic lines as would a master conductor. Though the exalted Partita in E Major follows the Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 in the series of violin sonatas and partitas, it does serve as a great opener for the recording.

The Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 has one of the most demanding fugues (or movements in general after the Ciaccona from BWV1004) for solo violin and though it is considerably easier to craft the counterpoint with the guitar, it makes the movement no less challenging as it opens yet another element to control and balance with the whole and contrapuntal motion of the lines. Jason’s comfortable tempo never relents but still manages to provide enough space to let voices breathe and sing while letting the harmonic architecture remain audible to the listener.

The Largo, one of my favorite movements of all the violin works, is approached simply and elegantly. Jason allows the purity of the melodic lines, always at the forefront of the interpretation, to sing openly. The end of this movement is magical with Jason’s ornamentation sounding more violinistic as it fades to the Allegro. While the E Major Partita was transcribed for Lute by Bach himself adding subtle harmonic support to the violin score, the Sonatas were not (with the exception of the Fugue in the G Minor Sonata). Jason has tastefully added supporting voices to the Allegro to enhance the sheer joy and rise of spirit as Bach approaches the end of the violin cycle of solo works.

What struck me first while listening to Jason’s interpretation of the Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001 was how relaxed it was – more like the telling of a story where the pace allows the energy to build versus one where everything is given away too soon. The exquisite ornamental lines of the Adagio, to the crispness of the voices in the Fugue, which is one of the finest renditions I have heard to date of this movement, all point to Jason’s natural ease with the complexity of what is truly before him. Clear, crisp, while also resonant and rich, this quality cannot be attributed to the wand alone. Jason’s playing sparkles here and to put it as my teenage sons often say, “it just vibes!”

And as a fantastic way to end the journey with Jason and Bach through this recording, he leaves us with the Presto. Virtuosically played with joy and intensity, a statement more than a suggestion, “This is how it is!”

To paraphrase Jason when he says that Bach is always there for us to explore, Jason’s explorations are of the highest kind – ones with a clear command of the instrument, a prodigious musical mind, and what sounds like a heart in the right place. Here’s hoping there is a Volume 3!


Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin is now available on most music streaming and purchase services!
Spotify: buff.ly/3IXMTJd
Amazon: buff.ly/3iWqHok
Apple Music: buff.ly/3tYaxAV

Artist Profile and Interview: Marc Teicholz

American virtuoso and 1989 Guitar Foundation of America Winner, Marc Teicholz has been heralded by the Los Angeles Times as, “technically gifted and musical to the core.” An active performer, recording artist, chamber musician, and teacher, Marc seems to have done it all. He’s collaborated with some of the world’s greatest musicians, premiered countless new works for guitar, and given masterclasses all over the world. He teaches at Cal State University at East Bay and is also part of the esteemed faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and has taught there for many decades.

On a personal note, the first time I heard Marc play was on his GFA tour where he received both a standing ovation and my instant admiration. Years after that, when I moved to Oakland, Benjamin Verdery insisted that I look Marc up. We’ve been great friends ever since. Over the years that I’ve gotten to know him, besides being the great guitarist who seems to learn massive amounts of repertoire from one day to the next, I’ve been the fortunate recipient of both his guidance and his friendship. It’s a treat to finally feature him here where he shares insight and some advice with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

Personal

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

I was drawn to the guitar through American folk music and singing songs around the campfire.  My first musical heroes were Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.  I found a local music store in Berkeley, CA (where I grew up) that offered guitar lessons.  The teacher was primarily a classical guitar teacher who told me that learning classical guitar would prepare me for any kind of music that I might want to learn later (totally untrue, by the way!).  But when she played for me a few bars of Villa-Lobos (I later learned), I was instantly hooked.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I don’t want to specialize.  I enjoy playing a variety of music. I think my tastes are usually a bit old-fashioned although I can think of a few times where I have gotten involved in some contemporary chamber music projects that I really enjoyed even though they involved playing music that I wasn’t initially attracted to.  So I think it is important for me to occasionally try music that is outside of my comfort zone.  

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

 I am ashamed to say that I currently own eight guitars. But I try to be loyal to each of them!  I usually perform on either my cedar top Stephan Connor or my Spruce/Cedar double top Glenn Canin, especially when I am concerned about issues of projection and volume.  But I have performed on all of my guitars.  I get emotionally attached to them which makes them hard to sell even though I obviously don’t need that many.  I usually play on hard tension D’addario strings although some guitars sound better with other strings.

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

Some of the many players that I have listened to obsessively include: Pete Seeger, Glenn Gould, Julian Bream, the Assads, Yo Yo Ma, Vladimir Horowitz, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Itzhak Perlman.  And although he is not as famous as the others, violinist Ian Swensen has also made a big impact on me.  But it would be presumptuous of me to say that these players have influenced me other than to say that they have put me in my place. 

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I am not proud of any of them but recording “Valseana” was very exciting because I was exposed to so many amazing guitars and it was a lot of fun to choose the “right” guitar for each piece.  

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

The two records that come to my mind are Bream’s Granados and Albeniz album and his 1st duo album with Williams.  The 1st pieces on each record (the Granados Dedicatoria and the Lawes duo) sounded so creamy and lush that they sent a shiver down my back.  

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

I am currently involved in recording some videos for a new website called “Guitar by Masters” which allows guitarists to study the pieces in an interactive way.  I have so far recorded 3 pieces by Sergio Assad (Imbricatta, Phyllis’ Portrait, and Seis Brevidades.)  I am glad I have had this opportunity to promote these great pieces.

Technique and Performance

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

I try to practice a lot and irregularly.  I usually tailor my practice to whatever performing obligations I have in front of me.  But in these last few pandemic years I just starting to go down my wish list of pieces that I have wanted to learn.  As far as practice methods are concerned, I usually go back and forth between playing pieces through and practicing in tiny little pieces.  There are endlessly different ways to practice.  I think each way has their advantages and disadvantages. 

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

I struggle with everything!  Every area of my technique could be so much better.  

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

 I have tried different methods but I don’t have a magic bullet and still struggle with memory slips.  I would say the one that probably works best for me is to learn the music in little bite-size bits.  Thomas Viloteau wrote in his technique book that we can only focus on seven little things at a time.  I think that sounds about right.  

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

I have published a book of my fingerings of some of Sor’s greatest “hits” and a book of my fingerings of Sergio Assad’s arrangements of Ernesto Nazareth.  I have made a lot of transcriptions. Perhaps I will try to publish some of those.

Do you have a favorite drill or set of exercises you use to warm up?

I like to sight-read new music to warm up.  I also like to play very slowly at first.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to take a nap in the afternoon.  But I enjoy naps anytime!  I used to make funny faces in front of a mirror backstage in order to loosen up but I haven’t done that for a while.   But I probably should because I think it helped.

Advice to Younger Players

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

I think practicing should be fun and interesting because most of us have to do a lot of it.  I try to feel like I am learning something new about the music or my technique each time I practice.

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

I think students should listen to as much music as they can (as long as it doesn’t become a burdensome chore.)  They should be able to recognize all the main pieces in our repertoire.  Most of the music they play should be pieces that they are excited to play but I think they should also try some music that is outside of their immediate interests in order to experience the feeling of broadening one’s taste.  It is also helpful to learn pieces that develop their technique.

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

That is probably an outdated question.  I listened to all the Segovia, Bream, Williams and Parkening recordings when I grew up (to name just a few) but that is not how people listen to music these days.  But all of the professional musicians I know have a passionate relationship to the music (and not just guitar music) they listened to when they were young.  I think that is the most important thing.  

Tangent

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

RIght now, I am reading a book by Walter Isaacson called “The Code Breaker” which is a biography of Jennifer Doudna.  She helped pioneer the technique of CRISPR which is form of genetic engineering that has many amazing and terrifying implications for the future.  But I like to read almost anything.  I loved the book that you once recommended to me about searching for buried treasure under the sea (“Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea”.)

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

I like to walk.  And listening to you tell me about your long runs makes me sweat.  I don’t have a favorite pre-concert food but I always enjoy cookies!

Do you meditate in any way? 

I have tried some breathing exercises.  I think they are a good idea but I am not disciplined about it. 

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

I like to walk and read.  I started doing jigsaw puzzles during Covid and they are addictive.  Netflix gets too much attention.  I like annoying my daughter.  I like playing duos with you!

Any thing else you’d like to add?  

I am just very grateful that I have had the guitar in my life.  Although there have been many times when I have been frustrated with my limitations, its struggles and pleasures have given meaning to my life.  It has allowed me to meet many wonderful people, it is special to have an activity that combines all together the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of life, and I like feeling that there is always so much more to learn.

Website: Marc Teicholz

San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Marc

Recording: Valseana

The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing

The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing by Leo Garcia

If you’ve worked through both Part 1 and Part 2 to improve your right hand confidence, you can add this exercise to the bunch. I teach this one to students who are working on developing tremolo. But, it’s very useful for mastering the subtlety of string crossing with other right-hand fingerings. Use it to develop your basic right-hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Then try the basic pattern for tremolo pami or even go nutty with ami and ima. : )

Don’t forget to start slowly, with a metronome, and enjoy discovering which right-hand fingerings are your strongest and which ones need work.

Creeping Tremolo Exercise

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Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2

Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2 by Leo Garcia

The most important movements to confident right hand technique include alternation between pairs and groups of fingers and how these fingers move across strings. Now we’ll take the idea a bit further than we did in Part 1. Remember to use these exercises consistently as part of your daily warm-up. Try the next several exercises using various speeds and the most common right hand fingerings: im, mi, am, ma in both rest stroke and free stroke. If you have extra time, add in the following fingerings in free stroke: ia, ai, ami, pi, pm, pa.

Here are several key practice points:

  1. Strive to play with a sense of pulse, resisting the urge to play every note with the same intensity.
  2. Focus on the quality of sound and whether it is consistent from finger to finger.
  3. When not using thumb (p), rest it lightly on the lower string adjacent to the string that is played. Experiment with resting it two or three strings away and sense the subtlety of how it influences the alternating fingers.
  4. Stay close to the strings.
  5. Use a metronome. Record your progress in terms of tempo.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

The following exercises shift the downbeat after the crossing. Maintaining a sense of pulse for the quarter note is essential to reap the benefits of this exercise. Keep focus on the downbeat. Again, use a metronome and work on basic right hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Push your tempo only after you are secure and solid.

Exercise 3a

Exercise 3b

And now we’ll take the idea into sixteenths. Speed is not the goal. Instead focus on groove and the subtlety of crossing at different moments in the beat.

Exercise 4

Exercise 4a

Exercise 4b

Exercise 4c

Hope this helps.

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Andrea González Caballero premieres Triptych by Clarice Assad through Proyecto Identidade

I came across a wonderful project that Spanish virtuosa Andrea González Caballero has been immersed in recently. Proyecto Identidade is a project centered around women from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds, united to create new works. Proyecto Identidade was founded by Andrea, flutist Amalia Tortajada, and Celia Ruiz Artacho as the producer. The project is premiering four new projects by internationally acclaimed composers, like Clarice Assad, Elisenda Fábregas, Johanny Navarro, among a total of eleven women. And, this week, Andrea and flutist, Amalia Tortajada Zanón, premiered a piece by Clarice Assad titled Triptych.

Besides the playing which is always world class when Andrea is involved, Clarice Assad’s new piece is a wonderful and serious contribution to the flute and guitar repertoire. Triptych is composed in three movements, I. Spirals, II. A Quiet Place, III. Rio, 1991. Flanked by a talented team of videographers, a stellar producer, and designers, the project so far has produced real and important new music for the world.

Read Andrea’s Six String Journal interview, here.

photo credits: Anna Tena

Leo Garcia plays Etude Nº1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos

Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Twelve Etudes form part of the foundational pillars of modern guitar technique. Etude Nº1 in E Minor begins the cycle by setting an impressionistic harmonic stage for the evolution of the remaining eleven.

This particular etude has right-hand fingerings suggested by Segovia which over the years I’ve used but I like experimenting and have recently found that I like a different pattern. Each pattern yields a slightly different feel. Here I am using p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i but also warm up using many others. I love working on this etude and come back to it often when I have lots of time to practice. Try these patterns to see if any work or to simply improve your command of the instrument.

p i p i

p m p m

p a p a

p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i – I use this one in the video above.

p m p i p m i a i a i m p i p i – I find this one to help with the transition into each measure. Honestly, I think it is the best one for me but I need to be warmed up for it to feel great.

p m i a p m i a p i p i p i p i – I think this one is nuts but I saw someone do it really well.

p m p m p m p m p i p i p i p i – This one retains the natural right hand finger position in relation to the thumb.

Any others that you all use?

I’ll try to get a video post of chaining to show how you can practice at tempo. It’s a valuable practice technique for a piece like this.

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