NEWS! Complete Technique Video Course Launch!

Six String Journal just seconds ago launched the online video course Complete Technique for Classical Guitar! To celebrate the launch I’ve discounted the course for Six String Journal readers by 25% discount for the next 30 days. If you are looking for a way to up your guitar game, want a massive project for the summer (seriously, what else are you going to do?!), and want to support our site, this is for you.

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About the course:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique for Classical Guitar Course was developed for the advancing beginner with some experience, the advancing intermediate guitarist, and will even benefit those with lots of playing experience. Though music theory isn’t necessary, a rudimentary understanding of rhythm is helpful.

The course consists of primary movement videos where I will teach the foundational movements that you’ll need in order to master classical guitar. These videos cover topics such as free-stroke, rest-stroke, arpeggios, alternation, scales, hand coordination, slurs, and shifts. These are followed by several series of secondary videos where I’ll apply the techniques and movements in various ways to help you engrain them into your own practice. Stringing the secondary videos into a sequence will teach you how to form an effective practice routine that will maximize your results and get you closer to your musical goals.

Course Includes
  • Hours of focused technique lessons with an award-winning classical guitarist, the founder of Six String Journal, and sought-after educator.
  • Over 50 extensively detailed but digestible videos demonstrating essential foundational movements, technique tips, exercises, routines, and how to implement them into your practice, carefully edited in small bite size videos for easy assimilation and viewing.
  • Printable PDF summarizing the entire course with a condensed visual of the material presented.
  • Loads of bonus content from Six String Journal’s Mastering Diatonic Scales.

 

 

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Katarzyna Smolarek

The brilliant Polish concert guitarist, Katarzyna Smolarek is becoming known for both her breathtaking virtuosity and her magnificent interpretations. In addition to studying at the Mozarteum in Austria and concertizing throughout Europe, Katarzyna has been awarded over 20 international competition prizes over a very short period of time. The silver lining to sheltering in place in Europe is that she was able to find time to sit down and share her experience, philosophies, and wise advise with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

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Personal

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

I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My parents just signed me up for a music school and I think at the time no one was expecting that I would become a professional musician in the future. With time, I developed a love for playing music and I decided to dedicate my life to it.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing all kinds of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music. I think every style has its own proper charm, and I always seek to discover the beauty in each new piece that I learn.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings?

At the moment I perform on a guitar built by Jacek Łozak from 2010. My favourite strings are Savarez Alliance Premium medium tension. Since last year I’m proud to be a part of the Savarez artists family.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you?

Definitely all of my teachers. Lidia Przyłęcka, Ryszard Bałauszko and Marco Tamayo – they have had a huge influence on my progress, for which I will always be grateful. I consider all of them amazing musicians, dedicated teachers and wonderful people. I was extremely lucky to have them along the way.

What recordings are you most proud of?

I actually haven’t done a lot of recordings in my life (but I’m working on it!). I’m certainly most proud of my recent videos made in Siccas Guitars. They are my most professionally done recordings so far.

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

Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of coronavirus a lot of my events have been cancelled. If everything is back to normal soon, I will be able to go to Portugal in June to perform a concert with an orchestra as a part of the International Guitar Festival in Amarante. I am sure I will enjoy it a lot after having such a long break from traveling.

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Technique and Performance

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

The duration of my practice varies depending on many factors. I usually practice around four hours per day, but this amount increases before concerts or competitions (or now, because of the quarantine). On the other hand I practice less when I spend time with my family or when traveling. I’m also no stranger to taking days off to relax and reset. I don’t think I structure my routine in some special way.

Usually after I have finished practicing in the evening, I make a plan for the next day so that my practice sessions are balanced and I don’t neglect anything. When I have a whole day for myself I like to break it out into two sessions: morning and afternoon, 2-3 hours each, with a break for lunch and some other activity.

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

I think there is always room for progress, so in that sense I can say I’m working on every aspect of the guitar performance. I don’t imagine that I will ever have a feeling that there is nothing else to work on and I think it’s a good thing. The constant pursuit of artistic excellence is what brings innovation and life to art.

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

It depends on the piece and the situation. I usually try to learn a piece by memory as soon as possible, so that I can entirely focus on the music. Sometimes the music demands deliberate memorization, and other times the memorization comes naturally after just a few days of playing it. Nevertheless, every now and then I would revise the score, because with time some details might slip away. I also make sure that it’s not only my fingers that remember the piece, but also my brain, in other words that I remember the notes and not only the movements. In order to do that, I play it extremely slowly focusing on every note, or I go through the piece in my mind without touching the guitar at all.

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

I like to play through a couple of slur and scale exercises before I start practicing pieces. However, I’m not a fan of spending a lot of time warming-up, as for me the ultimate goal is to be ready to perform without having to go through a series of technique exercises. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we do not have the possibility to warm up before a concert, and I believe the quality of our performance should not be compromised in those situations.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not at all. Obviously, it’s important to have a good rest and a good meal, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual. Again, I feel like it’s dangerous to have specific pre-concert routines. In situations when we are not able to perform the routines, we might then lose our confidence on stage as a result.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Solve the problems instead of getting discouraged! I get the impression that a lot of young players don’t really know how to practice. They think that repetition is key and when a passage still doesn’t work after having played it 100 times they start thinking things like, “this piece is too difficult”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I need months/years to play it well”. There is nothing worse than having this sort of approach. Practicing should be all about constructive problem-solving. If something doesn’t work we should be able to exactly tell why and the more precise our answer, the better. We should be extremely conscious of our movements and of our choices. This way we can make progress way faster than by mindlessly repeating.

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

I wouldn’t say that there are any specific pieces that one really must play during his education, although I think that it is essential for a student to be familiar with the concepts of all the historical styles. The more repertoire we already know, the more tools we have for our next interpretations. I would also say that it is important to play the standard guitar repertoire; such as Villa-Lobos’ studies, suites by Bach, sonatas by Ponce, pieces by Barrios, Tárrega, Rodrigo, Turina and so on and so on. Nowadays we tend to look for unknown pieces, we make our own transcriptions and we commission new music. I find it wonderful, however as students we need to familiarize ourselves with traditional repertoire first. This will properly facilitate our lives as performers and teachers.

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

I think all recordings, no matter good or bad, have their value. Exactly what we listen to is not so important; the crucial part is that we are able to develop an informed opinion and discern what is of high quality and what’s not. What I find extremely useful is listening to a lot of recordings of the same piece and focusing on the differences between them. This helps me understand many possible ways of thinking about the same piece of music.

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Tangent

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

The last one would be Fahrenheit 451. I love Márquez, Llosa and Murakami for their out-of-this world storytelling.

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

I really like learning new languages. Currently I’m working on my Portuguese. Apart from that I enjoy cooking, reading, dancing salsa and just recently I got terribly hooked on the series “Breaking Bad”.

Mastering Scales, Part 6: Phrasing

Mastering Scales, Part 6: Phrasing

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami

Phrasing your scales using subtle accents, articulations, and dynamics to convey note groupings is one of my favorite ways to think about music while working on scales. A slight change in articulation or accent will make your phrase move forward gracefully or plod along like an elephant. Apply the basic ideas below as a start and then apply it to repertoire.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Use accents or articulation to delineate a group or phrase:Scale 3 repetion 4 articulation.jpg

Scale 3 repetion 3 accents.jpg

Scale 3 repetion 5 articulation.jpg

Use dynamics:

scale dynamics.jpg

Think phrasing:

scale phrasing.jpg

Thanks for reading!

Mastering Scales, Part 5: Fragments

Mastering Scales, Part 5: Fragments

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami

Practicing and developing the ability to play fast or expressive fragments is arguably as important as practicing long scale forms primarily because most repertoire contains small melodic fragments consisting of groups of three to seven notes. Spanish repertoire, in particular the music of Joaquín Rodrigo, is an example of where long scale practice pays off but among the music by every other composer, from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to Heitor Villa-Lobos, it is difficult to find many instances of scale runs beyond two octaves.

Using  familiar scale forms, work on small extracts of 3-7 notes in various ways to discover which right-hand fingerings feel most comfortable and which present challenges to overcome.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Short Fragments

Step 1

Extract a group of notes from a familiar scale form

Scale Fragment 1.jpgStep 2

Develop all possibilities with incremental addition of notes.

Three notes: 134, 341, 413, 431, 314, 143.

Four notes: 1341, 3413, 4134, 1343, 3431, 4313, 1434, 4341, 3414, 4143, 4314, 3143, 1431

Five Notes* (my favorite):  13431, 34313, 43134, 31343, 14341, 43413, 34143, etc…

* not all possibilities listed

 Longer Fragments

 Step 1

Box off a larger group of notes and play in various combinations.

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Step 2

Fiddle with the order of notes to yield and practice melodic fragments:

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Further Development

To both the shorter and longer fragments, add slurs, articulations, accents, and character to experiment with expressivity.

Mastering Scales, Part 3: Scale Patterns

Mastering Scales, Part 3: Scale Patterns

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami

Though by no means extensive, use the following three and four-note scale patterns to develop coordination and to combat awkward string-crossing moments. Combining alternating right-hand fingerings with triplets or three finger patterns with sixteenths will further develop fluidity in your right-hand technique.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Three Note Patterns

Step 1im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa

Pattern 1

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Pattern 2

Scale 3 pattern 3.jpg

 Step 2ami, ima, pmi

 Pattern 1

Scale 3 pattern 2.jpg

Pattern 2

Scale 3 pattern 3.jpg

 

Four Note Paterrns

Step 1im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa

Pattern 1Scale 3 pattern 4.jpg

Pattern 2Scale 3 pattern 5.jpg

Step 2ami, ima, pmi

Pattern 1Scale 3 pattern 4.jpg

Pattern 2Scale 3 pattern 5.jpg

 

 

Mastering Scales, Part 1 – Rhythmic Manipulation

Mastering Scales, Part 1: Rhythmic Manipulation

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami

Applying rhythms to scales is an essential tool for developing speed, reflexes, mental agility, and rhythmic flexibility. Though there are many rhythms, here are the most useful ones to develop.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Two-Note Rhythms

Two-Note Rhythms.jpgExample of the application of rhythm 1.

Scale 3 rhythm 1.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 2.

Scale 3 rhythm 1b.jpg

Three-Note RhythmsThree=Note Rhythms.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 1.Scale 3 rhtyhm 2.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 2.

Scale 3 rhythm 2b.jpg

Four-Note Rhythms

Four-Note Rhythms.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 1

Scale 3 rhtyhm 3.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 5Scale 3 rhythm 3c.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 6.Scale 3 rhtyhm 3b.jpg

 Stay tuned for Part 2!

Tango en Skai – 5 STEPS TO MORE SECURE PLAYING

During a lesson last night, a musically talented young student played Roland Dyens’ Tango en Skai. He had played it a few years ago when he was 9 (!) and had been reworking it for fun. Like most young players excited about guitar, the desire to play is overwhelming to the point that it crowds out actual practice and more importantly, the crucial aspect of practice: reflection. A piece will get to a “pretty good” level and, while it may be pretty well played, it is not mastered or excellent. So, we addressed this by using the first run in Dyens’ Tango as an example of how to actually practice for marked improvement.

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STEP 1 – PLAY RIGHT HAND ALONE SLOWLY

Tango RH.jpgThis step is easy to spend the most time on because it will make you question right hand choices if you have not thought about them in this context. Actually seeing the open strings is different than seeing the original score and imagining the right hand. New patterns are optically sought out and if you are a visual learner, seeing a map is easier than imagining it. We chose to stick with the student’s right hand choice but it was interesting to watch such a talented player struggle to play it very slowly (sixteenth = 60 bpm). We lingered luxuriously in this stage playing at different tempi until we were convinced the right hand’s sense of rhythm and pulse had tightened up.

 

STEP 2 – PLAY RIGHT HAND ALONE WITH DYNAMICS

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STEP 3 – SEARCH FOR STABILITY POINTS

We answered some key questions. Where is thumb? Working out when and where thumb plants on the strings between strokes or in anticipation of strokes greatly increases right hand stability for the rest of the fingers. Where can I plant other fingers? Because the right hand movement is continuously ascending towards string 1, planting helps control dynamics and insures that the fingers are in place before their turn is up. Then, of course, we spent time practicing the incorporation of planting into the right hand choreography. After a few minutes, the right hand was behaving like a true champ: strong, secure, comfortable, happy!

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STEP 4 – ADD LEFT HAND BACK IN

This is where most students who are hyper-focused on left hand and playing are astonished by what they sound like. The playing sounds crisp, exact, musical, and free. Hopefully, at this stage, the aural and physical reward is strong enough to convince the student to start truly practicing and instill the desire to play everything at a level approaching mastery.

*We can go further here by applying rhythms, pushing the tempo to build a reserve, practicing left hand alone, but for now, this is where we left it.

STEP 5 – Take a new passage, and go to step 1!

Hope this helps!

The Secret to Better Hand Coordination

Excerpt from Mastering Diatonic Scales – Preparatory Exercises for Scales

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

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

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

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

Exercise 1 Two Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

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

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

Counter-Coordination

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

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

Exercise 2 Three Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

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

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

Counter-Coordination

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

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

For Exercises 3-7 check out Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Nine Tips for Better Playing

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

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

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

Right Hand

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

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Left Hand

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

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Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!

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

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Bursts

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.