Artist Profile and Interview with Rebeca Oliveira

Hailing from Portugal, the talented Rebeca Oliveira recently sat down to share some insight over the course of her journey with guitar so far. There is a lot of wonderful advice for young and old players alike in this interview. Hope it is inspiring to all of you.

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Personal


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

I started to play classical guitar when I was 15 years old. Actually when I think about it, I can’t find the precise moment where I decided that I wanted to learn guitar or become a musician… Before I played Piano but I didn’t want to continue with the lessons, so my mother pushed me into guitar lessons, so I could keep learning music. It just started like a Hobby and at some point I got really interested in music and particularly in classical guitar repertoire. I remember going to a concert of a Spanish guitarist in my hometown and I was really fascinated! I guess it was probably after that, that I decided to become a classical guitarist.

 What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I really enjoy playing “Segovia’s repertoire” like Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Tansman, etc. I also like playing baroque music, specially the one written for harpsichord, like Scarlatti and Carlos Seixas.

 What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

For the last two years I play with a cedar double top guitar made by the German luthier Dieter Müller. I use D’Addario strings (EJ45 – normal tension) and play with a customized Guitarlift made by Felix Justen.

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

Difficult question!! I think I absorbed lots of little things from probably all the guitarists I had the luck to work with or to listen to. But I am sure that the ones that influenced me the most were the ones that I was lucky to have as teachers: Margarita Escarpa, who was my teacher for four years, during my bachelor and who taught me most of the things I know today, and Thomas Müller-Pering, with who I am currently studying my master degree in Weimar, and is helping me so much in finding myself as a musician!

Outside the classical guitar world my biggest influences are Maria João Pires and Alicia de Larrocha.

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

I don’t have any CDs yet, but I am really proud of the video recorded with Open Strings Berlin, where I recorded Sonata 23 by Carlos Seixas.

I would love to record a Cd soon and is something that I have in mind, but unfortunately, right now, I can’t afford the expenses of a cd recording.

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

“Sor: Guitar Music Opp. 17-21” (Naxos, 1999) by Margarita Escarpa and “Grandeur of the Baroque” (Telarc, 2012) by David Russell!

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

Right now I don’t have so many projects planned… I am going to Tallinn next week for the Tallinn Guitar Festival, since I received the Eurostrings Scholarship to go to this festival and I am really excited about it! I will also play in Barcelona in September. I am also thinking in publishing more transcriptions of Carlos Seixas’ music, but nothing planned yet!

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Technique and Performance 


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

It is something that changes so much depending on the repertoire and the projects I have, but I try always to practice six hours per day. Although I believe the most important thing is not the amount of hours one studies but how concentrated, efficient and productive one can be during the practice session. I already know myself and know that I need a bit of time to reach the level I want, at least now. I also believe that the most important thing is to have lots of discipline in order to be strict and have a frequent amount of practice every day.

I always try to adjust my practice depending on what do I have to do and how much time I have. If I need to read new repertoire it will be a completely different study of if I have a concert or a competition. When I have a public performance I spend more time working on memory issues, cleaning difficult passages and I always try to play a lot for my friends, teachers or my colleagues. Chamber music is always part of my practice session also. Besides that, no particular structure on my practicing time!

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

Ufff, so many!!!! The guitar is such a difficult instrument and I think that one is never completely happy with the result and there is always something, probably not “to struggle with”, but that you can improve. Also, my struggling aspects change depending on the repertoire I am working on. Right now I work mostly on the consistency of the sound, dynamics and colors, articulation and timing.

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

I don’t memorize scores extremely easily, and actually that is one of the most important aspects on my practicing session, once I already worked a little bit on the piece. Of course I can memorize a piece after playing it and studying it for a couple of day, but I feel the need of being 100% sure that everything is well memorized. I do mental practice, I play with external distractions (loud music, reading a book, being completely out of tune, etc.), I play with a mute and I always like to have little “safe” spots in the piece, just in case something bad happens during a performance! That way I don’t feel completely lost and can continue from the last “safe spot” on.

I published last month two transcriptions from the Portuguese baroque composer Carlos Seixas. The two sonatas (23 and 24) were published by Les Productions d’Oz and I am thinking in publishing some more transcriptions in the future.

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

Not really… I normally warm up with some easy technical exercises or, when I have too many things going on and not so much time, I just start my practice session with the technical difficult part I have in the pieces that I am studying, and just study them in a really slow tempo.

 Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I don’t think it is a ritual but I like it to have a relaxed day, when it is possible. Sleep enough, drink lots of water, eat well and playing only some excerpts from my repertoire. Before the concert I really like to have time to try the room and to warm up properly.

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

Yes, I do! I don’t have super strong nails so I always need to be very careful with them. I used to take a couple of vitamin supplies for some year, yet I don’t need it anymore. But I always try to have them well hydrated and filled. When I have some important thing going on, in order to be comfortable in the day of the concert or a competition day I normally practice the days before with tape to protect my nails. It doesn’t sound great, but it is the best solution to keep them with the right length.

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Advice to Younger Players


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

To be always aware of everything you do while practicing! One should be always 100% concentrated and demanding while practicing. I also think that is really important to be familiar with the classical guitar world: doing masterclasses, getting in touch with some teachers and players, doing competitions, going to concerts, learning about repertoire, etc.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I think the best thing is to read and play lots of different pieces, so you would get familiar with different styles and interpretation/technical approaches. I find studies really useful for young players, since they normally solve some technical problem and  are not so difficult to read, so it improves sight-reading a lot. The repertoire from the Classic period is always a good choice since it has a little bit of everything: simple harmony, melodic lines, arpeggios, etc. I also find interesting Fernando Sor’s Studies, Villa-Lobos’ Studies, Bach’s Lute Suites, Tárrega’s Preludes, Estudios Sencillos from Leo Brouwer, for example.

Talking about recordings I think every student must hear the historic recordings from Segovia, Bream and Williams, but also the recording from the great masters of our time: Carlo Marchionne, Ricardo Gallén, Zoran Dukic, David Russell, Thomas Müller-Pering, etc.

It is also extremely important to hear recordings of orchestras, piano, violin, string quartets, operas, etc. I believe this is the best way to develop a refined music taste and to improve one’s interpretation skills.

Tangent



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

The last book I read was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” by José Saramago. My favorite authors are Gabriel García Marquez and José Saramago, of course!

Do you meditate in any way? 

Not at all… But I should!! 😀

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

I like to go out with my friend and family, especially when I am in my hometown. When I am not, I like to read, listen to music, go to concerts, and watch Netflix series!


Check out Rebeca’s YouTube channel!

 

Artist Profile and Interview – Andrea Gónzalez Caballero

Spectacular Spanish guitarist, Andrea Gónzalez Caballero, recently sat down to share a few personal details and thoughts on guitar. In addition to several videos showcasing her wonderfully musical and solid and sensitive interpretations of music by guitarist and composer Joaquín Clerch, Manuel Ponce, and Joaquín Malats, I’ve linked to her debut CD with Naxos. Hope this inspires all of you loyal readers!

Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? I started playing guitar when I was 7 years old, maybe because my mother is guitar teacher and I saw her with a guitar.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? I love playing Spanish music because I feel it is part of me.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings? I have a Fernando Mazza spruce guitar and D’addario strings.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you? The biggest influence for me has been (and still is) Joaquín Clerch, who has been my teacher since I was 12 years old.
What recording/s are you most proud of? I think my last CD recorded with Naxos has been a great opportunity to show my work of the last years.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for
guitar? It is difficult to say that. I think that on the old recordings we can admire a more pure sound of the instrument and feel it closer to us.
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? I have concerts in different countries but one of the most exciting concerts for me will be to be back in Mexico, after 5 years and perform there!

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way? It depends a lot on the time I have but I try to practice 4 hours a day. I don’t have a particular way, I just think of a goal I want to achieve each day and try to do it. In this way I think that my work is done.
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on? When I start a new piece, I always find things on which I have to work harder. Difficult passages or even a simple phrase which has to be played legato and expressive can be very difficult because of the guitar limitations.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory? I usually don’t force myself to learn the music but sometimes, I don’t have time and have to learn pieces very fast so I try to find the similitudes in the music and patterns that are repeated or to see what the different voices are doing to have a wider perspective of the music…I think there is no one way to do that.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future? I haven’t published anything yet, but who knows in the future…

 

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? I like stretching and warming up my hand and arm muscles before taking the guitar. 
Do you have any pre-concert rituals? Nothing special..I usually arrive one hour before to the concert hall, I play in the hall and the most important point is to find a chair that I like.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players? I think the most important thing is to be persistent and have a regular plan of practicing. 
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? I love the “Estudios sencillos” by Leo Brouwer because they help to know the guitar, the positions, articulation…and Fernando Sor’s Etudes are very nice and we can practice the phrasing, legato, sound…
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why? I remember when I was a child I listened to David Russell a lot and his recording of the complete works for Guitar by Francisco Tárrega. I loved his playing!

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s? Last book I read was “Patria” by F. Aramburu.
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? When I am at home and not traveling I try to go three times a week to a fitness studio and do some exercise. I don’t follow a diet…this is difficult for me (haha).
Do you meditate in any way? No
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing? I love painting or going out to find nice places, restaurants, and meeting my friends and family…

David Russell Interview

Marcelo Kayath’s project, The Guitar Coop, once again publishes a wonderful interview in two parts. This time with guitar hero, David Russell. They talk technique, transcriptions, interpretations, ornamentation, guitars, and more.

Have a good weekend!

Artist Profile and Interview – Gohar Vardanyan

Gohar Vardanyan

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Admired for her evocative and virtuosic interpretations, Armenian guitarist Gohar Vardanyan has taken some time off from her busy performing and teaching schedule to share some details about her life and her art. From her advice to practice slowly to her passion for pushing the limits in her performances, I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did about this young and phenomenal guitarist!

Personal

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

I started playing when I was about 5 years old. My dad is a guitarist and he started teaching me as soon as he could. I grew up with guitar being played in the house all the time, either by my dad’s friends, students, or on recordings.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I tend to gravitate towards music that has beautiful melodies and is emotionally moving. Not really into cute pieces or contemporary music. I love to play Bach, but because of the time and maintenance required to perfect it I don’t program it in concert. I play it at home for my own enjoyment.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play on a 2012 cedar Jean Rompré guitar. Currently I use Royal Classic Recital strings (medium tension). I also love Savarez Cantigas and Knobloch Actives QZ Nylon. I only use normal or medium tension strings.

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

Growing up it was all about Paco de Lucia, I wanted to play just like him, but then I chose classical guitar as a career, so that didn’t quite work out. I listen to many different musicians, not just guitarists, but I can’t say there was one in particular. It’s a mix. All my teachers had tremendous influence on my playing now; Antigoni Goni, John Wunsch, Manuel Barrueco and Sharon Isbin.

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

I like all of David Russell’s later albums. I would love to have that kind of full and beautiful sound on my next CD.

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I just started a new series on my YouTube channel called Guitar Etudes. I have been making videos for Strings by Mail for a few years now, mini guitar lessons we call Lessonettes and Unexplored Repertoire Series from sheet music in their collection. But for a few months now I’ve been thinking of doing something other than just my repertoire videos on my own channel as well. Something that would be beneficial for my own students and guitar students in general. So I thought that recording various guitar etudes and talking about their technical or music benefit would make for a good video series. I finally started it. I’m going to try to upload a video every Monday. As I write this, there are 4 out already and the 5th one is scheduled to go LIVE on next Monday.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice?

When I was in school I practiced about 4 hours a day, everyday. Now life doesn’t really allow for that luxury. Between teaching, making videos, answering emails, and all sorts of other little things, 4 hours of practice every single day becomes more of a chore. Whenever I have a break between concerts I slack off a little bit. I practice, of course, but it’s not 4 hours and some days I skip altogether. When concerts are lined up, then of course I prioritize practicing and practice as much as needed.

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

In terms of structuring, I personally don’t have a rigid structure. I don’t think I ever did. I work on whatever needs to be worked on and for as long as it needs to be worked on. Of course, I try to find the most effective and efficient way to do it, but it’s not a set structure like 30 mins of technique, 2 hours of rep, 1 hour of reading, etc… If I’ve been playing regularly, I might do a 15 minute technical warm up then dive right into what needs to be worked on. If I’ve been a little lax with practicing and I feel like my hands aren’t as in shape as they need to be, I might do 1 hour of different technical exercises for a couple days. I’ve tried keeping logs and practice journals both on paper and electronically. It would last for a few days then I’d drop it. So I decided instead of wasting time writing and planning, I rather just sit down and do it. I’m better off just remembering and going by feel. However, that doesn’t work well for everyone. For a lot of my students, keeping a log or having a specific structure to their practice is better. This also really depends on your level. When you are still in the developmental stage, you need to do technique everyday, because you are still building your technique and that takes consistency. After years of experience, you know what you need to do at that particular moment to improve your playing. I usually have some sort of goal, fixing a specific passage, or working on specific phrasing, or building my stamina for a particularly difficult or fast piece, etc… And that keeps me organized enough.

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

I wouldn’t really call it struggle, but I think there is always something that needs to improve. If we stopped trying to be better than before, then we give up and stop growing. Every time I learn a new piece, it’s a challenge. I tend to always choose pieces that are pretty difficult either because they are transcriptions or because I gravitate towards pieces that are passionate, emotional, sometimes fast paced and rhythmic. And to add to the fire, so to say, I like to push them to their limit. Usually, I already have an idea of how I want it to sound. I never want them to sound like they’re difficult, in other words I want the technique to be invisible. At the same time, making the technical execution seamless and effortless while keeping the energy and the passion of the piece alive, makes it way more difficult to play. It’s easier to take it down a notch and play things neutral and straight, but that sounds boring to me. I always end up pushing it to the limit in volume or speed, and that gets me if I’m not two hundred percent prepared. So I’d say my struggle is to take it down a notch.

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

I do make a point of memorizing the piece as soon as I can, but since usually I don’t have a set deadline for it I just let it happen naturally. Whenever I did have deadlines, I would break it down into small sections and deliberately memorize it, either by visualizing in addition to playing it, or playing and trying to actively make my brain understand what’s happening so I can repeat it without the music. If you do it in small enough sections then put it together, it becomes less of a daunting task. I think memorizing makes us play the piece better, we can connect with it better without being distracted by looking at the music. And from the technical point, when you have to fly around the fretboard, it’s a lot easier to land in the right place if you see where you’re going.

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

I have four books published for Mel Bay Publications, but those are instructional books. In terms of editions, I haven’t really made my own. Honestly, a lot of it is the time commitment. It requires a lot of time to transcribe something, and then to also put it into legible notation. The transcription of La Vida Breve that I did, I just memorized, because rewriting everything is a task I didn’t have time for.

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

One of my books is on warm up (Complete Warm-up for Classical Guitar), in it I share the main drills that I do to warm up. It’s nothing fancy, it’s short, but it covers all the bases I feel that I need.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not really, no. I like to keep it simple. I prefer to sleep in as late as possible and I prefer not to have to do anything else like teach that afternoon, that way my brain is fresh for the evening concert. I wouldn’t really call it a ritual though, because sometimes you won’t be able to do any of it and if I had something I relied on for a good performance, it would be like a crutch and who knows what would happen if I wasn’t able to get it. So aiming for some rest and peace is good enough for me.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Don’t just play, actually practice. And practice super slow, I mean painfully slow. It’s amazing how much you can see when you zoom into time like that and analyze what happens with fingers in between notes. I’m talking about 50 on the metronome, for each note you play (sometimes two notes, depends on the piece).

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

I don’t think there is a specific set of pieces everyone absolutely has to play. We’re all different and our tastes are different. However, I think it’s important to learn music from all different genres, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary. Learn them, even if you don’t like them, and when you leave school you can choose never to play them again but I think some familiarity with the different genres is important.

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

I think we should all be familiar with the guitar legends, Segovia, Bream, Williams… they are part of our history. However, we should also keep up with current times because guitar is constantly growing, better and better players are coming up every day. With YouTube and the Internet in general, we have incredible access to so much. We shouldn’t be stuck in the past, explore and find what you love.

Tangent

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

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is the last book I “read.” I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, lately I’ve been using audiobooks on my commutes. And for authors – I loved all the books by Dan Brown and Alexander Dumas. They are fun to read.

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

I got into running about 2.5 years ago. For almost a year I did it regularly, 4 times a week at minimum and even ran a 25K trail race (took about 3 hours though, not much of a threat to everyone else on the trails). Now I go when I can for a 5K in my neighborhood or if I have a long enough chunk in my day, a 10K loop around Central Park (NYC).

I don’t have a particular diet. I usually eat pretty healthy, not into fast foods or fried foods. My weakness is sweets, but only chocolate, gelato and pastries (with chocolate), no random candies. So as a responsible human who cares about not eating too much unhealthy sweets, I try to limit those. I don’t always succeed.

No specific pre-concert food. I usually go for a late lunch of whatever that will carry my through the end of the concert. I try not to be high maintenance for the people who are hosting me or the presenters who invited me.

Do you meditate in any way? 

No, I can’t sit still for that long.

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

I like walking around the city or going on hikes.

Nails!

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David Russell’s nail shape.

Finding the right nail shape to express yourself on the guitar is an elusive science. To make the puzzle more complicated are the facts that nails are organic, are continuously growing, and are affected by variables like weather and diet. Because everyone attacks the strings with variable angles and tensions in the fingertips and because we all have an ideal sound we are after one shape may not be as effective as another. Some guitarists have a “sound” with little sonic variance while some use color and gradations of timbre to interpret their music. So, whether you are a beginner starting to experiment or an advanced player looking to expand your knowledge, the following videos are the best I’ve found so far to see exactly what the pros do and how they approach nail shape.

In french with subtitles, Six String Journal favorite Thomas Viloteau shows an ingenious method for adapting the shape of the nail to your stroke.

Here is a screen shot from a video of Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén checking his nails before his recording of the Bach lute works.

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Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén checking nails before recording.

Last but not least, Cuban virtuoso Marco Tamayo details the steps he uses to shape his nails.

Years ago, when Marco was visiting he drew this diagram out when I asked about nails.

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Marco Tamayo’s nail shaping diagram.

Go shape then pluck!

Interview with Enno Voorhorst

Enno Voorhorst

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Photo Credit: Kim Jun Su

Dutch guitarist extraordinaire, Enno Voorhorst, took some time out from his busy schedule to give Six String Journal readers insight into his personal and musical life. From eating bananas before a performance, reading García Márquez, to his upcoming project of recording late Roland Dyens’s Concerto Metis, hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Personal

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

I was thirteen when I got my first guitar and was immediately sold. I had played the violin for 6 years already, so the development went very quickly because of this advantage and that was of course very stimulating.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

My repertoire preference is music with nice melody lines. I see the guitar more as a melodic instrument than as a chordal instrument. A piano or harp can’t influence the sound after playing, nor do they have much the sound variety that a guitar has! This is the same like all other melodic instruments.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play a Simplicio model moderno copy from 1930. It is made by Federico Sheppard and it has a double soundhole on both sides of the fingerboard. I like the sound possibilities and the clear full bass. For that I use Savarez Corum hard tension.

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

Of course my first teacher influenced me the most, Hein Sanderink. He came from the school of Ida Presti and was very concerned with a good sound but he is also a fantastic and clever musician. After that, I studied with Huber Kappel and had masterclasses with David Russell who both influenced me a lot. Kappel because of his expression and Russell because of his mastery and open mindset.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

Every next recording I think is the better. My last recording is the most mature; Bach, Pärt, Desprez. I think here I played the most freely and expressively with a program that suits me well.

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

This is hard to say. As a musician I listen to the music first and when I like it I also like the recording but I know that I’m probably not objective…

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

In September 22-25 2017 there is a Camino Artes festival where I will perform a new duo with Laura Young. David Russell will also be there to celebrate the 500th concert in this series of concerts for the pilgrims walking towards Santiago the Compostela in beautiful old churches. After that I will record a CD of Roland Dyens’s music consisting of many solo pieces and his Concerto Metis with one of the best string orchestras of the Netherlands. I’m really looking forward to this as a tribute to this great person, friend, and unique composer.

Technique and Performance

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

Yes I practise a lot, still 4 hours a day or more. It depends on the concerts I have to play and the programs I have to prepare. I also play in two duos what I like very much for the repertoire; one with oboe and one with the viola. Great combinations!

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

Technically, many problems have been solved over the years, but relaxation always remains an important issue. Of course relaxation of the whole body, but also of the fingers that have nothing to do. This gives the possibility to prepare the next finger movement. A well prepared finger is half the work!

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

I like to memorize the music because it settles better in my brain that way. A memory is actually an association you make with notes, rhythm, harmony, movement, etc. The more associations you make the better it is, so a good understanding of solfège and harmony is important. Playing a piece from memory should be an automatism!

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

There have been some publications. At the moment I do not take the effort to have more transcriptions published because of a lack of time. But I’m happy to share them with anybody who asks me by mail. The guitar world is small and I like this feeling of connection with each other.

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

My warming up consists of some scales, slurs, and arpeggios. Furthermore, playing tremolo pieces relaxes and balances my right hand and helps the left hand find the strings more precisely.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I eat one or two bananas.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Never lose the joy in playing, so play the pieces you love. When you don’t feel like practicing something, first do what you desire to do. The guitar is your friend and not the opponent.

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

The studies by Fernando Sor are definitely very important because of the quality of counterpoint, structure, and refined harmony and melody.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with?

Listen as much as possible the music you love over and over again. All music, not only guitar! I listened to Glenn Gould playing Bach very often or the duo Presti/Lagoya.

Tangent

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

The last book I read was Ida Presti Her Art about the life of Ida Presti. It is written by her daughter Elisabeth. It is very interesting to read how the guitar developed after the second World War. One of my favorite authors is Gabriel García Márquez with his magic realism…

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet?

I like to go running with my dog in the woods behind my house and that gives me energy. I think that good health is important to play an instrument on a high level, not only physically but also mentally.

For more on Enno Voorhorst visit his page!

Motivation from David Russell

Though the following video is in Spanish, David Russell offers a bit of an intimate motivational talk after a festival in Ecuador.

What I love hearing from him and what I hope students take away from this is the key and central point of hard work. As David says, “There are no shortcuts.”

Other bits of wisdom from the talk:

“Demand the most from yourself without losing sight of why you started in the first place.”

“Like compound interest, the hard work you do now will pay you back many times over in the future.”

And, this is where dedicated hard work gets you:

David Russell Technique Talk

David Russell is a guitar hero for many reasons but one of them is for his ability to make everything he plays look effortless. Here is another masterclass snippet where he provides insightful guidance on the importance of a proper warm-up routine. He makes the analogy to sports, where warming up the muscles for practice helps to refine the motion and muscles necessary to perform efficiently. If muscles are not warmed up, larger muscles take over causing imbalance and tension.


Even if you do not speak Spanish, you can follow David’s crystal clear and carefully conceived approach to warming up. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize a few key points:

  1. Start with very simple movements in the left hand like ascending slurs with all the pairs of fingers (12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14).
  2. Move on to the right hand and work on perfecting a single finger free-stroke with each finger (i, m, a, p)
  3. Go back to the left hand and work on descending slurs (21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41).
  4. Back to the right hand to work on alternation between pairs of fingers (im, mi, ma, am, etc.). During this time, focus on the effort and resistance it takes each finger to pull through the string. Adjust nails as necessary to create equal resistance. Otherwise, there is imbalance and this will compromise your fluidity. Also, moving from i to m may be easier than moving from m to i. Your job is to make both directions feel as equal as possible.
  5. Move on to imimim, ama, mam, etc., then incorporate slight accents imi, imiama, ama, etc…
  6. Back to the left hand to try compound movements (121, 212, 232, 323, 343, 434, etc…)
  7. Back to right hand to work on imim, mimi, amam, mama, etc… then try doing these movements cross-string.
  8. Then bring the warm-up to a close by spending 10+ minutes coordinating both hands with scale fragments: im with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, mi with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, etc…

If you’d like a bit more detail and a program that follows this approach please check out my recent publication, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar.

New Publication: Mastering Tremolo

After lots of hard work, I’m excited to announce to all of you the publication of my new book, Mastering Tremolo.

Here is a description: Leonardo Garcia’s Mastering Tremolo is an extensive guide for all aspiring guitarists wishing to develop solid tremolo technique. From a multitude of preliminary technical exercises and drills to develop a foundation for your tremolo and invigorate your technique, to more than a dozen active practice techniques detailed with musical examples to develop rhythmic precision, note consistency, tone, and speed, to the mental game of playing tremolo, this book will help improve your tremolo and playing regardless of your level.

It’s available in print and on Kindle.

Over the next few weeks I will post some content for Six String Journal readers!

Artist Profile and Interview: Piotr Pakhomkin

Six String Journal Artist Profile and Interview

From practice and listening advice to pre-concert rituals, competition-winning guitar powerhouse Piotr Pakhomkin provides a wealth of valuable insight to both beginning and advanced guitarists. Hope you enjoy reading this one!

Hailed by Classical Guitar Magazine as “one of the bright lights of the younger generation of classical musicians, a player of tremendous skill and sensitivity,” Russian-American guitarist, Piotr Pakhomkin has extensively performed and given masterclasses in Europe, Central America, and the U.S.   Based in Washington, D.C., he was the only guitarist to be featured at Strathmore, Kennedy Center, and Phillips Collection series in the span of a single concert season in 2014.

After finishing his studies with Manuel Barrueco at Peabody, Piotr became the First Prize winner of the 2012 Mexican International Guitar Competition in Culiacan and has taken top prizes at the 2012 Boston GuitarFest International Guitar Competition, Great Lakes Guitar Competition, Montreal International Guitar Competition, and the European International Guitar Competition, “Enrico Mercatali,” in Italy. After finishing the prestigious Strathmore Artist-in-Residence program in 2014, he returned to serve as a faculty member and mentor in their Institute for Artistic Development.

As the winner of the 2016 Respighi International Soloist Competition, he will make his concerto and solo debut at Carnegie Hall in the Chamber Orchestra of New York’s “Masterwork Series” in June 2018. Piotr plays exclusively on a 2010 Ross Gutmeier Guitar using Oasis GPX strings.

Here are three links to Piotr’s website (lots of great videos, his recording, and an insightful left-hand workout routine).

Piotr’s Website

Piotr’s recording Virtuoso Guitar Collection 

Piotr’s Guitar Gymnastics: 5 Day Workout for the Left Hand

Personal

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

My high school music teacher, Matt Hartman played Bach’s Sleeper’s Awake (performed by Christopher Parkening) in a music appreciation class. The ability to play multiple voices on the guitar had me floored – a full ensemble was hiding inside this little instrument. I was about 16 at the time and I knew I had a ton of work ahead of me. My enjoyment of the challenge and the process was a deciding factor in pursuing the guitar full-time.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I have the most fun venturing into new territory with arranging. After hearing Jordi Savall’s playing in the French movie, “All the Mornings of the World”, I fell in love with viola da gamba repertoire. I started with Marin Marais and then graduated to Carl Friedrich Abel. When working with single-line string music, I love the creative freedom involved in filling out the implied counterpoint. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play on a custom 2010 Cedar double-top by American luthier, Ross Gutmeier with Oasis GPX strings.

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

Teachers have had more influence on me than any single recording. I wouldn’t be a guitarist if it wasn’t for my first teacher, Paul Moeller. My current students will find it hard to believe but my first few lessons as a teenage novice were very difficult. Everything was a struggle– sight-reading, right hand patterns, accuracy, memory and rhythm. Despite my lack of training, Moeller was so encouraging. He built up my confidence in my own ability, and taught me the techniques for performing consistently under pressure (slow practice, visualization, left and right-hand separation training). His coaching brought me to a professional technical level in less than two years. 

When I started studying with Manuel Barrueco, his ear and meticulous labor over the meaning of every note was a huge source inspiration for me. I was so focused on playing with my hands but he was always teaching us to play with our ears. 

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

Manuel Barrueco’s 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces for the Vox Label. I have those recordings in every format: CD, MP3 and vinyl. The warm sound, attention to detail in voice separation, and precision on those recordings shaped all of my values for learning, recording, and performing music. 

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

In March 2018 I’ll perform with the New York Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Playing in that venue is one of those goals that I set when I began, so it’s an honor to finally see it happen.

Technique and Performance

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

I try to put in 5 hours on average. The quantity really depends on my workload and what stages my pieces are in.

Slow practice takes longer and the hands can withstand more of it. On the other hand, playing at faster tempos is more strenuous and too much repetition without pause can cause injury. 

My focus is higher earlier in the day so the earlier portion of the practice session revolves around isolated passages, very slow tempos (roughly one quarter of the concert tempo) and exercises derived from the most difficult aspects of the pieces. I’ll go through the music phrase-by-phrase between 1 and 3 times without errors. I never repeat anything more than that in a single sitting. I think that it’s potentially harmful because it leads to indefinitely long practice sessions, fatigue, more errors, and it wastes time. 

Later in the day, I’m working more on the entire performance of each piece at concert tempo. In other words, “work” in the morning and “play” at night. If the pieces aren’t ready to be played at tempo, I’ll spend more time working slowly. 

In terms of structure, I keep a list of the goals I have for the practice session with each piece. To maintain interest, I’ll change the order of the passages I’m practicing. If I went through it more chronologically one day, then the next time I’ll start at the end. Without some routine, we can get disorganized but too much routine can numb our focus.

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

One challenge is to consolidate your practice regimen to fit the needs of traveling, where you have so much less time. It’s a luxury to practice a lot so when that time isn’t available to you it’s a real test of efficiency, careful planning and time management. I usually plan my daily practice sessions on the airplane, preparing for a worse-case scenario. 

Another obstacle for many guitarists is breaking away from the bubble of your own instrument and exploring the much larger world of classical music. Intense focus is a wonderful thing but in this case it can harm you if it keeps you from being well-rounded. It’s important to attend symphonic and choral concerts, for instance. At the very least, you can hear new pieces of music and get new programming ideas from these experiences. I also get a lot of benefit from hearing young players in the Chopin or Van Cliburn competitions instead of just following guitar contests. Hearing an instrument different from the one you play at home with different repertoire allows you to be less judgmental and gives you more freedom in your listening experience.

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

Visualizing every single note of a concert program is essential for a performance free of memory slips. To maintain focus under pressure I sometimes play through my program with loud music playing in the background. If I can push through, even when I can’t hear myself, I know that my focus is strong. 

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

Admittedly, I haven’t had much time to do work in this direction. I’d like to expand our romantic repertoire to include transcriptions of works by Scriabin, Rubinstein, Glinka and Mussorgsky. I hope to publish these in the near future.

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

I swap out my exercises on a weekly basis as they get easier. I like this linear chromatic scale exercise because it helps with precise shifting, which is needed in just about every piece. The aim is to make every fingering variation have the same legato quality, rather than broken groupings of four, three, two, and one. [Check out Piotr’s Guitar Gymnastics Publication for more like this. -L]

Piotr's Chromatic Linear Scale.jpg

Left hand fingerings to use:

0 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc.

0 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 etc.

0 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 etc.

0 1 2 1 2 etc.

0 2 3 2 3 etc.

0 3 4 3 4 etc.

0 1 1 1 1 etc.

0 2 2 2 2 etc.

0 3 3 3 3 etc.

0 4 4 4 4 etc.

Record them and work on making them all sound like the same fingering, ridding yourself of accents after every shift. This is a great time to work on getting rid of fret noise as well.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Before the concert, I try to meditate for at least 5 minutes to clear my head. I notice a big difference when I don’t get to do this so this is a priority. I use the Neurolinguistic Programming techniques for meditation. 

Advice to Younger Players

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

This is a simple piece of advice but it’s easier said than done. I would encourage young players to spend the most time working on their weakest qualities in the early stages of development. With a good teacher’s supervision, get out of your comfort zone and make a game out of the struggle. This is the only way to grow. 

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

I think Bach’s Lute Suites (Frank Koonce edition) are a priority. Developing a singing quality with Bach’s long phrases is extremely demanding. Achieving clarity and balance in the counterpoint is an enormous technical feat. Another reason for working through this repertoire is that you can use a wide variety of non-guitar recordings to aid your interpretation. You can learn the the BWV 998 (Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro) along with Sviatoslav Richter or Gustav Leonhardt. You can approach it from opposing standpoints–the romantics as well as the period instrumentalists. 

For general technique, it’s important to go through the Villa-Lobos Etudes. They instantly reveal weaknesses and give you a concrete goal to master them when you finally perform each Etude in concert. Etude no. 1 is impossible to play smoothly with a weak m-a-m arpeggio combination. Etude no. 2 will fall apart with excessive left hand tension. 

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

I recommend:

300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces (Manuel Barrueco) for the clarity, consistency, and hierarchy in voice separation. 

Vivaldi Four Seasons (Venice Baroque Orchestra) for the energy and new life they pump into this very famous music. Some of the themes have been relegated to the “wedding-music” genre but with this recording, you completely forget that. 

Handel, Bach, Scarlatti (David Russell) for the creative and lyrical cross-string ornamentation. 

Chopin Nocturnes (Arthur Rubinstein) for the ability to play note-for-note with the light feeling of improvisation on every flourish.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? 

The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser

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

Absolutely. I think that performing music is so physical that you have to care for your body like an athlete. I get my protein from fish, vegetables and legumes. I stay away from starches and refined sugars. Healthy fats like avocados and coconut oil are fantastic for fingernail health – both topically and as part of your diet. 

Before a concert, I always eat a few bananas. They’re always safe to eat when you’re traveling because of the protective peel. Also bananas are calorie dense and rich in potassium, which I’ve always read is a natural beta-blocker. 

Musicians generally fear weigh-training but there are safe ways to approach it. I do do the eccentric portion of every lift very slowly, allowing lighter weights to feel much heavier. This puts less stress on my hands. I also jump rope to keep my heart healthy. With the jump-rope the exercise session will be much shorter and more intense than distance running. This is perfect for a musician’s busy schedule. 

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

I love hiking and the outdoors. In the cold months, you’ll find me catching up on new independent films and documentaries.