Coordination and Right Hand Arpeggios

One of the easiest ways to improve right-hand arpeggio studies like Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Etude Nº1, Leo Brouwer’s Etude Nº6, or Francisco Tárrega’s Estudio Brillante, or the parts of pieces where arpeggios occur for an extended time is understanding when exactly the left-hand fingers must place or release to prepare for the next note or chord formation. Often, fingers are placed too early or too late, and both situations either overexert the fingers, the nerves, or worst of all, the musical intent. Arpeggios are, after all, broken chords. It is very rare that all fingers should place at once if they come in ‘broken’.

Sequential planting of the left-hand fingers is a skill that choreographs left hand movement to a deeper and more subtle level than simply grabbing at the next chord frantically at the start of a measure.

Here is a simple but effective exercise to help develop the principle of timely left-hand finger placement. The key is to time the placement of the new finger in relation to the meter and when it is due to enter and to avoid arbitrarily placing it at the beginning of the measure.

Go through each exercise a few times plucking every single note of the arpeggio. Once this feels comfortable and the timing is starting to feel synced with both hands, slur the entering note in time to develop a sense of pulse in the left hand, too.

Exercise 1

right hand ar[eggio coordination.jpg

Exercise 2

right hand ar[eggio coordination 2.jpg

Exercise 3

right hand ar[eggio coordination 3.jpg

Exercise 4

right hand ar[eggio coordination 4.jpg

There are infinite ways to expand this concept but one of my favorites is to move into cross-rhythms with accents. My idea of fun!

Exercise 5

right hand ar[eggio coordination 5.jpg

Explore your arpeggio pieces to see if you can apply this concept and let me know if it helps!

Ricardo Gallén on Technique

I just came across some newly posted videos of Spanish guitarist extraordinaire, Ricardo Gallén, performing Leo Brouwer’s Sonata Nº4 Sonata del Pensador. The piece is dedicated to Ricardo and whether or not this is the premier or not, it is a fabulous performance.

Then, as often happens, I find myself watching more videos than I really have time for. There is too much to learn. In the next video, Ricardo gives a masterclass with demonstrations and a tremendous amount of insight. Some of the topics he discusses relate to using percussive practice in the left hand when playing fast, drawing on the metaphor of the difference between walking and running. When we walk, our feet plant fully as we balance to lift and take the next step. When we run, we are pounding lightly a bit more percussively. Translated back to guitar, if the left hand holds down and luxuriates on the fret, energy is lost and tempo slows. Ricardo plays an excerpt of Villa-Lobos Etude Nº2 to demonstrate (around minute 17). The key point is that because the left hand is acting more percussively when playing fast, part of the sound comes from the left hand, so that the right hand can relax, aiding in speed.

Another point he makes (around minute 19) is the unbalanced nature of playing guitar. Instinctually our hands want to act together (thought on this in a recent post about neural coupling), squeeze together, let go together. When playing softly or piano in the left hand but the right hand plays loudly or forte we must practice compensating for the discrepancy in energy between both hands. These are brilliant points to ponder. Undoubtably, there are more insights but I’m dying to go practice…

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Zaira Meneses

Known as Mexico’s “First Lady of the classical guitar”,  Zaira Meneses, has been praised by the New York Times as “an arresting performer full of colorful touches” and has built a stellar reputation for her dark sound, powerful technique, and superb musicality. As a performer, she has graced the greatest stages of the world including New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Boston’s Jordan Hall, Salzburg’s Wiener Saal, and the Great Hall of the Shanghai Conservatory. As a recording artist, she has released the CD Latina and is releasing three new CDs on the Centaur label. Zaira is also active in the contemporary music scene and has had works dedicated to her by the great American composer, Robert Beaser, and by award-winning composer Stephanie Ann Boyd. Besides her collaborations with prominent musicians, like her husband Eliot Fisk, the flamenco virtuoso Grisha Goryachev, flutist Viviana Guzman, among others, Zaira is active  as educator at the New England Conservatory’s Preparatory Division and as an outreach coordinator for the Boston Guitar Festival.

Here she is performing a beautiful voice and guitar piece followed by a stunning 3rd movement from Leo Brouwer’s Sonata.

When I mentioned featuring Zaira on Six String Journal, we thought it might be nice to add some personal details in a short magazine style interview so here it is:

What’s the most recent news in your guitar activities?  I’ve become a baroque guitar soloist. I’ve also created a new guitar performance art approach with Latin American Collages where I combine guitar, poetry, acting, and singing. Another thing I’ve been enjoying lately is improvising with my requinto and jarana “jarocha” instruments from native Veracruz Son Jarocho music. I’ve also performed in some great venues this year: Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall in Boston, and at the Mozarteum.

When did you start playing? At age of 7 years old.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? Music that is rich in counterpoint, and that has interesting harmony, rhythms, and phrasing, such as Bach , Santiago de Murcia, Gaspar Sanz, and latin american music especially from Mexico and Cuba.

How much do you practice? It depends, if I have a performance coming up I don’t notice the time. On regular days I practice two to three hours.

Do you structure your practice? Yes. For concerts I prioritize memory reinforcement, sound projection, and how to connect with my audience.

Do you have a system or favorite drills you use to warm up? I start by playing the song I can’t wait to play because it will bring the best out of me. Then I practice the passages that I need to be improve.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals? I always meditate but before a concert I meditate to specific passages of the concert.   I also do mind/rehearse [visualize] the music in the sauna and steam room a week before concert. Sometimes I run with the music I will be performing. I fall asleep reading the music. It really depends what performance I’m presenting but more or less I breath music as much as I can.  

What is the last book that you read? Or the greatest book you’ve read this last year… Oh my gosh! I love the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. He’s a great writer and his books are full of imagination and detail. My favorite book is his short stories of “Forgotten Dreams”.

Any advice about practicing to younger players? Practice only if you want to practice. Practicing should come from your gut. Practicing is not a labor, it’s a need. It has to become your need otherwise its not worth doing it.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? I use a guitar built by Stephan Connor and a Spanish baroque guitar.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Oscar Ghiglia, Eliot Fisk, Joaquin Clerch.

Are there any recordings of guitar music that you think every young guitarist should be familiar with? Alirio Diaz’s Venezuelan Waltzes, Andres Segovia playing Spanish composers, any of Oscar Ghiglia’s Manuel Ponce recordings, Eliot Fisk’s playing Bach, Latin American guitar music, and his recordings of music by Robert Beaser.

Do you exercise? Do you think it helps your playing? YES absolutely! I run outdoors when it’s super cold and when it’s super hot. This helps me adjust my body to any hall circumstances.

What do you eat before a concert? If I can, my daughter Raquel’s best shake for performances:   banana, almond milk, oatmeal, and chia seeds. If I’m in a hotel, I eat turkey or white meat and avocados. If I’m in hotels I also like to order Chinese steam ed vegetarian dumplings.

Artist Spotlight – Mabel Millán

I recently stumbled upon this great artist’s videos on youtube while looking for a worthwhile performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Fandango from his Tres piezas españolas. With over 30 awards and 19 (!) 1st prizes from both solo competitions and chamber music competitions, Spanish guitarist Mabel Millán is often in the spotlight as one of the emerging young concert guitarists of her generation. What is so impressive is that she is in her early twenties and is also getting a law degree while she pursues an active concert career. Her playing is so fluid and lyrical that it is easy to overlook the fact that she is playing some of the most demanding guitar repertoire effortlessly. Here she is performing Joaquín Rodrigo’s Fandango and Zapateado, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne, and William Walton’s 3rd Bagatelle. It’s hard to imagine it could be performed better.

Mabel’s latest news is that she will be performing Manuel Ponce’s Concierto del Sur in Madrid’s Teatro Monumental and will be the first woman to record the concerto. Also, her first CD will be released on the Mexican label AdlibMusic MX with a rendition of Leo Brouwer’s Sonata of the Black Decameron. Below is a take of her recording Antonio Ruiz-Pipó’s Canción y Danza Nº1.

Hope that inspires everyone!

Artist Spotlight: Yuri Liberzon

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Russian born and Israeli raised classical guitarist, Yuri Liberzon, is certainly carving out a name for himself in the rising generation of gifted classical guitarists. Watching Yuri play elicits incredulity at his extreme level of control. And once you get past the impressiveness of it all, you realize that what holds your attention is both the beauty, subtlety, and intensity of his musical interpretations.

A graduate of the most elite conservatories in the world, Yuri’s time with acclaimed guitarist, Manuel Barrueco, is most noticeable in his playing and in his repertoire. In a recent concert, he played through Scarlatti, Bach, Piazzolla, and Brouwer with an abundance of elegance and refinement. Active as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist, he also spends time teaching and publishing very detailed editions of his repertoire.

Stay tuned for one of Yuri’s favorite warm-up exercises and an interview!

Legato and Dissonance

Creating a beautiful melody on the guitar is challenging due to the fact that every note you pluck decays from that moment on. If you play two consecutive melodic notes on one string, the touch requires extreme precision to give the impression of legato. At certain times, it is easier to achieve a sense of legato by using cross string fingerings. But there is a fine timing line between achieving beautiful legato and dissonance with cross strings and it requires the use of controlled damping – sometimes with the left hand and sometimes with the right.

Here is a great example from Leo Brouwer’s beautiful piece Un dia de noviembre. For a benign light passage there is a lot to think about musically.

Dia de Noviembre Ex.1.jpg

Notice that in the example above muting occurs the moment after the new melodic note turns on. This is a great way to exploit the resonance of the guitar. Of course, there are many variations on this, including one where you would turn off the notes simultaneously with the entrance of the new note but this would achieve a less legato line.

Coming soon, I’m going to post a workout based on Leo Brouwer’s Axioms!

 

Leo Brouwer’s Axioms

Years ago, I came across an article on a Spanish site guitarra.artepulsado.com posted by Oscar López who had taken notes during a summer course with the great Cuban composer and guitarist, Leo Brouwer. The title of the post was Axiomas básicos de Leo Brouwer. I found the word file and thought I’d translate it for all non-Spanish speakers. It provides a wealth of advice. I’ve added a few commentaries below to expand the ideas a bit. Hope they are helpful.

Warm Up

Use chromatic octaves for the left hand and arpeggios and rasgueados for the right hand. Play close to the body in higher resonant positions upon starting your practice.

*I think this may mean to start your practice without having the left hand in an extended position. Starting in higher positions is less stressful for the left hand.

Speed and Scales

Use fixed, non-shifting positions in the left hand that are close to the body (i.e. higher positions) to play short bursts of notes. Play bursts in short crescendos (soft to loud or light to intense). Start on one string, then expand to two strings. Add one note at a time and pause between each mini-scale.

Add color and articulations to scales.

Left Hand Shifting

Left-hand notes should be played staccato (*perhaps he means before a shift). Focus on the arrival (not the departure) as you shift from 1st to 2nd, 1st to 3rd, 1st to 4th, etc., position.

Left Hand Independence

With a fixed first finger bar, play slurs and scales across all the strings with the rest of the fingers. Try all combinations possible.

Memory

To avoid embedding errors, do not start memorizing at the very beginning of learning a piece.

Fingerings

There are never definitive fingerings.

*What Brouwer most likely means to covey here is that fingerings evolve throughout the lifetime of learning a piece. Inevitably, we discover better, more efficient, more musical, more interesting ways to play passages and discard or change older fingerings as our familiarity with the piece increases.

Color

Exploit the three primary sonorous zones of the guitar: over the sound hole (resonant zone), over right part of the rosette (resonant and clarity zone), and near the bridge (clarity zone).

Harmonics

Do not pluck harmonics diagonally.

More Advice

  • The position of the guitar to your body should remain consistent.
  • Remember that the 2nd and 3rd strings tend to be the weakest so we must compensate when necessary.
  • Pluck consonant chords with no arpeggiation. Pluck rare (dissonant) chords with arpeggiation for clarity.
  • Velocity contains impulse and direction.
  • Cadential ornaments should be in time.
  • Resonance is at the heart of the guitar.
  • Vibrato is used for intensity not rest.
  • The thumb (left-hand) acts as a pivot during slurs.
  • Forte is found at the limit of a beautiful sound.
  • Breathe between phrases and project energy towards the end.
  • During rasgueados the energy is channeled towards the 1st string.
  • Anything that is repeated should be varied. Change either the color or the volume or the timbre.