Leo Garcia plays Villa-Lobos Prelude Nº1

This is the first of five wonderful preludes by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. With his gift for sorrowful lyrical melodies to the rhythmic and joyful interlude with its changing meters and Spanish flair, Villa Lobos creates a true guitar masterpiece which fully exploits the richness, emotional depth, and colors of the guitar. Hope you enjoy it.

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


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


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


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

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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Identifying Problems in Your Tremolo with Thomas Viloteau

This is a guest post from tonebase.

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

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

What is a good tremolo?

A good tremolo allows for three things:

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

How to spot problems in your tremolo?

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

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

What are the different types of tremolo?

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

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

Bonus Tips

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

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

Featured Artist Interview – Bokyung Byun

Praised by Classical Guitar Magazine as “confident and quite extraordinary,” Korean guitarist, Bokyung Byun​ enjoys a reputation as one of the most sought-after guitarists of her generation. Notably, she is the first female winner of the prestigious JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. She has also taken first-prize finishes at the Frances Walton Competition, the Montreal International Classical Guitar Competition, and the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Competition. In recent seasons, Bokyung has performed as a soloist with orchestras, including the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Utah Symphony, West Los Angeles Symphony, among others. Bokyung’s debut recording has been praised as “a very beautiful disc. From the first notes of the “Gallarda” from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Escarraman, we are treated to extraordinary musicianship, technical assurance, and beauty of sound” (Soundboard Magazine). Fortunately for us, Bokyung recently sat down to share some of her experience with Six String Journal!


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

I started playing the guitar when I was six years old. One day I was watching tv with my mom, and a guitarist was performing on the tv. I was instantly fascinated by the instrument and loved the way it sounded. I told my mom I wanted to learn that instrument. We went to a local guitar school for lessons, and the teacher happened to be a classical guitarist so I began with the classical guitar.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

It keeps changing depending on what I’m working on at the moment. In general, I love and enjoy playing Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Dowland’s music. I feel closely related to the way their music speaks to me. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play the guitar made by Dieter Mueller paired with Paragon blue strings from Augustine. 

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?

I recently released a CD with my all-time favorites. It includes compositions by Ponce, Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Sierra. Each piece in this album is presented with a little bit of a twist. For example, I played one of Ponce’s most beloved pieces, Theme, Variations, and Finale, but I played the urtext version of it, which includes several movements that were not part of the Segovia edition, and all of the movements are presented in a completely different order. 

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

I co-founded a new music initiative called, the Sounding Board Project back in 2019. Our mission is to provide collaborative relationships between guitarists and composers to promote the creation of new music for the guitar. Each year we have produced and premiered innovative works for guitar in collaboration with a diverse group of guitarists and composers. This year we have invited guitarists, composers, and choreographers to collaborate and explore the inseparable bond between music and dance to create multidimensional works for guitar accompanied by choreographed dance. The premiere is set to be released in mid-August. I am very excited about this year’s project. If you would like to find more about the initiative, additional information and videos from the past projects can be found on our website (soundingboardfest.com).

Technique and Performance

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

I try to concentrate on the quality of practice rather than the quantity. I believe one hour of an organized and concentrated practice session is way more helpful than three hours of unfocused practice. I generally practice for about 3-4 hours a day. I prioritize the pieces that I have just started learning or will be performing soon. Then I practice the other pieces to maintain the general level of preparedness on them.

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

For me, I think it depends on how much time I have to learn a piece. For example, if I am given only a short amount of time before I have to perform the piece, I will try to intentionally memorize as I learn. On the other hand, if I have plenty of time between learning and performing the piece, I will let my muscle memory do most of the work first. Then I train to deliberately memorize the whole piece in my head as well. I sit down without the guitar and try to visualize in my head where the fingers need to go from the beginning to the end of the piece to check how much of the piece I have actually memorized. 

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

My go-to drills for warm-ups are Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 1 and Carcassi’s Etude No. 1. 

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not in particular, but I tend to wash my hands with warm water before going on stage to prevent them from getting sticky.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I wasn’t sure how to describe the shape of my nails clearly in words, so I’ve included photos which I hope will show the shape. Growing up I was very fortunate to have healthy, strong nails that I never had to use anything to help strengthen them. However, as time went on, and as I started practicing more vigorously for competitions and concerts, I realized my nails could no longer withstand hours and hours of strenuous practice sessions. I’ve tried different types of nail strengthening methods, but I settled on using gel nails. I find them to be soft enough that it doesn’t sound as harsh as artificial nails but strong enough to prevent the nails from breaking. 

Advice to Younger Players

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

I would like to emphasize the importance of mindful and organized practicing. I am also guilty of having unproductive practice sessions when I was young, playing a piece from the beginning to the end over and over again in hopes that it will eventually improve. Rember that the pace at which you will progress will be much faster if you practice more mindfully and in an organized manner. What I mean by that is to try to come up with a list of things you have to practice per session, set goals for each piece/exercise, and single out the sections that are troublesome for you. 

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

I would recommend learning all of the “essential guitar repertoires,” such as Brouwer, Britten, Bach, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Tarrega, just to name a few.  They have been the favorites for a reason! They are great music that you can always program in your concerts, and through these pieces, you will become familiar with the idiomatic writing style of each composer. These pieces also have numerous masterful recordings that students can learn from by dissecting and comparing different interpretations. 

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

The Julian Bream collection! I grew up listening to and being inspired by his recordings as well. His recordings are full of his unique humor and expressive interpretations that we can learn from. His repertoire includes such a variety of music that it will also help young guitarists expose themselves to all kinds of music from different eras, genres, and styles.


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

I try to stay healthy. I find that I can focus better when I’m regularly working out. I love walking and yoga – it really helps relieve tension in my lower back and arms. 

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

I am a foodie! I love trying different cuisines from different countries. I also love spending time with my husband and watching comedy shows together. 

website – bokyungbyun.com

instagram – instagram.com/bokyungbyun

sounding board project – soundingboardfest.com

How to Visualize Your Pieces

Very early on my guitar adventure, my teacher at the time said that he would never perform anything unless he could see it physically happen in his head. He had me read a few articles on visualizing and, because I tried to be a good student and wanted to be a good guitarist, tried his advice. It was hard work. I SO much preferred to “do”. Close my eyes and sweat mentally to “see” my fingers on the fretboard? No thank you.

But, I persisted. And, from reading enough about it, am convinced it has helped me in many ways. For one, I feel more secure if I can imagine everything. Two, it inevitably builds your ability to focus. Three, I’m not sure to what degree it helps but I like to think of it as a memory safety net, one of many safety nets (mental and physical) that come with mastering pieces and eventually performing them.

At this point in my playing, I enjoy doing it. When I close my eyes, it is nice to play and hear a piece unfold in my head. Visualizing frees my musical imagination in ways that are not confined by the physical struggles of the early stages of learning new music and cold fingers.

Here is a list of visualizing techniques that I have found helpful at some point or another, some are easier than others and can be used as training wheels until you get the hang of it. Or, you’ll find the ones that work well for you and that you enjoy doing. Like exercise, the best visualizing is the visualizing you’ll actually do. From easier to more difficult:

  1. Read through the score of your piece without the guitar in hand. Try to hear it all in your head and imagine your hands playing it as your eyes scan the music.
  2. Watch a video of your favorite player and play along in your head. This is light visualization.
  3. Listen to your favorite player or a good recording of yourself and play along in your head trying to stay with it. No backtracking. If there are spots or large chunks that are blurry, work on those carefully next time you physically practice.
  4. Close your eyes, imagine a stage and where you would sit. Perform the piece in as much detail as possible with extra attention to your left hand choreography as the piece unfolds. Try the same but with the right hand.
  5. Try doing the previous step with a metronome set to an ultra slow tempo and see the piece unfold, matrix-like. Try with an ultra fast tempo. How much can you keep up? What goes blurry?

Don’t forget to smile, breathe calmly, and to remain optimistic. Happy visualizing.


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How to Play Cross-Stringed Ornaments

A renewed Scarlatti obsession, hearing French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, and a recent David Russell workshop posted by the Bolton Guitar Series have me thinking about ornamentation on the guitar more than usual.

It’s been about 25 years since I took several masterclasses with David Russell in a tiny Andean village in Venezuela. Besides being a tremendously talented guitarist, David is a wonderful teacher: clear, patient, and able to make you sound better almost instantly. I learned a lot from him there and fortunately have continued to learn from him over the years thanks to videos of him working with students throughout the world. In the video (linked below), David explains his approach to ornamentation very clearly and demonstrates every example with his guitar. If you have lots of time, watch it and extract as much as you can! Here I’ll summarize the points I took away after watching it this morning.

Here is a summary of the basic cross-stringed ornaments and the common (and maybe not so common) ways to execute them (the repeated right hand finger is a sweep):

And here are some of the points David mentions in the workshop:

  1. Most baroque trills begin on the upper neighbor.
  2. A brighter sound is better for ornaments. This can be achieved by attacking the string with less of a right-hand angle or by angling the right hand to a more perpendicular angle to the strings.
  3. Cadential trills are important but ornaments within the piece are more personal as to their inclusion, length, etc…
  4. Practice the entrances and exits of ornaments with turns.
  5. Mute the dissonance after the trill. This is usually done with a right-hand finger.
  6. Dynamics are important within the ornament and the musical line.
  7. A shorter trill is better than a longer out of rhythm trill unless it is cadential (where time is suspended to a greater degree)
  8. Cross-string ornaments allow baroque interpretations to vary stylistically from other periods of music.
  9. Have a higher wrist for trills.

Here are a few additional points that I cannot remember whether they are in the workshop but that I think about:

  1. The ornamented note should be in time. In order to achieve this a slight acceleration into the ornament or starting the ornament before the beat helps to achieve the correct feel.
  2. Play ornaments slower in slower melodic lines.

Check out the post I did a while ago: Cross-Stringed Ornaments, Part 1

Bolton Guitar Series: Ornament Workshop with David Russell


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Yuri Liberzon – New recording of Bach’s Violin Sonatas

Internationally acclaimed guitar virtuoso Yuri Liberzon is poised to release his third and most ambitious recording yet – Johann Sebastian Bach’s 3 Violin Sonatas (BWV 1001, 1003, 1005).

Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo violin works are familiar to most classical guitarist as transcriptions. In this instance, Yuri has chosen to record Manuel Barrueco’s transcriptions of the sonatas. These works pose countless complex challenges both interpretively and technically for the artist brave enough to tackle them. The slow movements require extremely refined technique to ornament and distill the beauty of the implied lines, the fugues demand the utmost skill in maintaining the subjects, countersubjects, and counterpoint, and the allegros and prestos push the interpreter to technical limits. All this while communicating Johann Sebastian Bach’s singular and perfect command of form, harmony, and lyricism.

Yuri meets every one of the demands with elegance and finesse, two aspects I admire in his playing. From the opening lushness of the first track, the adagio from the G Minor Sonata, Yuri sets the stage for the entire recording by slowly and calculatedly pulling the listener into a world rich with introspection and beauty. The strengths of this release are many but what perhaps stands out as a theme is how grounded Yuri’s playing is while moving you with a subtle forward momentum. For instance, the allegro from the A Minor Sonata was not taken at a blistering pace but somehow managed to convey a strong, steady energy, much like a tidal wave and the inevitability of its arrival. Another highlight was the monumental Fuga from the C Major Sonata. Again, it is Yuri’s calming but steady sense of structure that moves this movement forward and manages to bring out the overall arc of the piece. The counterpoint is crystalline and phrased beautifully. This does not happen unless it is intentional and that is what is fascinating about Yuri’s playing. It’s like magic – the sum is far greater than the parts. To achieve the effect of such a long line requires an architecturally gifted mind.

I’ve always enjoyed Yuri’s playing. It is similar to Manuel Barrueco’s for all of the perfection but Yuri’s caring and elegant sensibilities, and understated virtuosity, mark his interpretations as none other than his very own.

Overall, this ambitious project is wonderfully produced by both Yuri and Grammy Award-winning producer Nahuel Bronzini. The warmth and crispness that Yuri extracts from his Ruck and is captured in this recording are absolutely delightful to sink into. It may be his best recording yet.

Check out a great interview and technique talk with Yuri from the early days of Six String Journal.


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.

Tango 1.jpg



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.



Tango dynamics.jpg



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!

Dyens plant.jpg



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!

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.