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.



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!


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.


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 – Tal Hurwitz

ta-hu-01-0070b.jpgIsraeli guitarist extraordinaire, Tal Hurwitz, recently sat down to share some of his thoughts, philosophies, and experience through an interview for Six String Journal readers. From his thoughts on practicing and recording to his influences, this is a fascinating glimpse into the world of a true artist.

Tal is available for lessons via skype and can be reached at


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

There was always music in the house as I grew up. My father was a big rock fan, he used to play amateur bass and sing, and when I was 9, he took me to a concert of the legendary band Deep Purple. It left a huge impression on me. That is when I started taking guitar lessons. Every kid wants to be a rock star. I, too, was counting on becoming one. I also played a lot of jazz music as a kid until one day a friend said he had a free ticket to a classical guitar concert.

The performer was Aniello Desiderio. That concert completely blew my mind. The next day I started taking classical guitar lessons and since then, it has become an inseparable part of me.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing a variety of styles, but if I have to choose one, I go for Bach. We have to feel extremely lucky to have Bach as part of our repertoire. Unfortunately most of the great composers did not write for the guitar, or it is not possible to make descent transcriptions to their music, but the greatest one of all, Johann Sebastian Bach, is very playable and that is a blessing.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Over my career, I have played and owned many guitars: Paco Santiago Marin, Daniel Friederich, Simon Marty, Jose Romanillos, Andreas Kirmse, and Andrea Tacchi. Since last year I am playing a beautiful Andrea Tacchi made of Birdseye maple back and sides and a gorgeous piece of cedar top. The quest after the perfect guitar is a journey of a lifetime. As a matter of fact, there is no perfect guitar, but the ongoing search always fills me with enthusiasm. I have always played Savarez strings. I use a mix of them: 1st string nylon, 2nd and 3rd carbon. All trebles I use normal tension, while the bases are high tension. I really like the balance this combination makes.

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

Wow, I could count so many names, but I’ll try to keep it short. Very naturally some of my teachers have had a great influence on me, Marco Tamayo, Carlo Marchione, Ricardo Gallen, Joaquin Clerch and Costas Cotsiolis and my composition teacher, Adam Stratyevsky. All of them are amazing musicians and have influenced me greatly in different ways.

From the non-guitarists, I think about two very special musicians to me. The violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the pianist Grigory Sokolov. Both make you completely forget that they are playing an instrument, they become music, and that should be the goal of all of us.

My great friend, Ariel Mann who is one of the most diverse musicians I have ever met. We grew up together in Israel, and since we were kids, were pushing each-other and explored music day and night. Today he is living in California and is composing music for Walt Disney.

I could think about at least 200 more names but I think we better stop here.

Being influenced by others is a most important thing. It helps you build up your own character, and if you are smart, you can take all this influence and make something original out of it. This ´something’ is you!

What recording/s are you most proud of?

To be honest, I am never really happy about my recordings. I always think to myself, “Oh, if I had another chance I would do this or that better.” This is just my nature. I feel that the fantasy in my head is always better than the outcome.  I prefer live concerts. What I am trying to say is, when you make a recording, you have to accept that in the eyes of your listeners, this is who you are – for good! You can’t change that. I love changing constantly my interpretation and that makes it difficult to live in peace with recordings.

Technique and Performance

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

I rarely practice more than 1.5 hours a day.  I believe that when a guitarist has explored the instrument enough to understand its anatomy and the relation between body-fingers-guitar,  namely developed a good technique, he should not over practice. In fact, over practicing can harm one’s development and eliminate the joy of making music. Music is a mirror of the soul of the artist, and should express feelings. If someone sits down to practice between four walls, eight hours a day, he can’t have much of a life outside of that room. If there’s not much living, there’s not much to express.

Also, I rather spend quality time with my guitar and give every note I play full attention and love. If I do that 8 hours a day, I don’t think I could focus my mind the same way. We as performers, have to educate our mind and fingers to always execute with full commitment, so that in a concert situation, we will feel just like any other day. If someone is used to practice without full attention, he should not expect a miracle to happen come concert day.

One of the worst ways to practice is in front of a TV!! My students know that it is absolutely forbidden. Practicing without focus will make you play concerts out of focus.

It is important for me to clarify that as a kid and as a music student, I used to work much more every day. I wanted to play cleaner, faster and just to push myself. However, as I grew older, I realized, I could never be the cleanest player on earth, nor the fastest… but what I could do the best, is be myself. Bring out my expression which is unique to me, the best I can. This concept lowers your stress levels and allows you to be a happier person and actually a better artist.

I do however spend much time with the score (no guitar at hands). This helps me to understand the music better and to develop an interpretation. It also definitely increases a musical fantasy. I think that in general, we guitarists, are too preoccupied with the fingers, and too less with the mind. The music comes from the mind and not from the fingers.

I also spend much time thinking of the music and visualizing my repertoire, while on trips, a flight, a train, and also before falling asleep.

Do I structure my practice? I used to do it as a student. Actually writing a diary, and write down times that are devoted to any material I was working on at the time, for example: warm up, scales, arpeggios, and individual phrases that I had trouble with.

Today I can tell you with all honesty, I haven’t practiced anything like scales or arpeggios for more than 10 years. I rather devote my time to the interpretation. I sit down with the score, read it once or twice, thinking on how I would like to play it, visualizing it in my head, and then I take the guitar and try find ways to execute ideas. That procedure really saves time, and make you more confident in your interpretation.

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

Basically there are three main ways to memorize music. Fingers (muscle memory), inner hearing (hear the music in your head) and photographic memory. I try to devote time to each, and each of them is kind of a back up plan for the other. If you work on all of them, you are basically covered.

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

I haven’t published any editions. If someone is curious or interested enough in my opinion, they can always take lessons with me [Tal teaches over skype and can be reached at]. However, some of my own music as a composer, is published by Berben editions.

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

When I am at home, sometimes before starting to play, I’ll do a a very short warm up, that includes very slow rasgueados. And single notes for the left hand with vibrato. All in a slow tempo, just to get the blood flowing into the fingers. That does not take more than 2 minutes.

For concerts, I do need more than that of course. Before concerts I perform an exercise I learned from a pianist friend. He claims that this exercise was invented by Franz Liszt. It is practicing on extremely slow and consistent movements of each of the joints on each finger. I imagine that a weight is tied to my finger and I have to lift it in an upwards movement. On the down movement, I imagine that the finger has to push a heavy weight down. This is an amazing warm-up exercise, that takes quite long to complete, but when I am done with it, I feel fire in my fingers.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I do actually. Like many other musicians I find it very difficult to go on stage without having a banana before. It calms down my mind as well as my stomach. I also do half an hour of the Liszt warm up mentioned above. I have another habit that is quite terrible: over-polishing my nails until they are too short!

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

Each of us has different nail form, different technique, and different sound preference. That means that each guitarist has to find his or her own nail shape that suits him or her better. With that said, I am following the tradition of creating some kind of a ramp on the left side of the nail. That allows a point of grabbing the string, sliding a bit on it like a bow, and then the point of releasing the string. I do try to give attention to both sides of the nail, and use the qualities of both of them. An important rule of thumb for me is not to have them too long to play rest strokes OR not too short for free strokes. It is a delicate balance!

Advice to Younger Players

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

Train your mind, at least as much as you train your fingers. Don’t let your fingers lead you, the fingers are your servants not your boss.  Be more curious about the music you are working on. And most importantly, Practice with full concentration and passion. Once you feel you are not at your best, just take a break. More general advice would be: choose your teachers carefully. There are no excuses. In this era, we can even study  with teachers from other continents. I teach guitarists from different parts of the world on Skype and it is very useful.

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

I consider the music from the classical period, like Giuliani and Carcassi, well suited to learn and develop one’s guitaristic abilities. These composers offer a bit of everything: melodic lines, simple tonal harmony, arpeggios, scales, a little bit of polyphony, and so on. The music from that period is usually very idiomatic to the instrument, too. Music from the Baroque period, for example, is often too complicated for beginners to establish a healthy connection to the guitar. However, I think it is also important that the pupils are attracted to the music they learn, so that they want to put the effort and the work into it.

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

Every guitarist should know the historic recordings of Segovia, Bream, and Williams. From the modern guitarists, just to name a few, I like the recordings of Carlo Marchione, Marco Tamayo, and Ricardo Gallen. I think it is more important to focus on recordings from the great pianists, violinists, orchestras, and opera. Learning from them will be the only way to raise the classical guitar to the level of true classical music.



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!

Ricardo Gallén plays Bach

Spanish virtuoso, Ricardo Gallén performs another beautiful rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude from Lute Suite Nº2, BWV 997. Ricardo performs this on a replica of an 1820 instrument. The combination of the filming, Ricardo’s playing, and this instrument really evokes something magical.

If you’ve not seen the previous posts on Ricardo check them out!

Artist Spotlight: Ricardo Gallén

Ricardo Gallén on Technique


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: Ricardo Gallén

This is the first Artist Spotlight piece where I hope to share a bit of news about very high level guitarists, highlight some of their videos, and point you in the right direction to explore their musical world.

The first artist I’d like to feature is Spanish guitarist, Ricardo Gallén. I met Ricardo briefly in 1999 at a guitar festival in Granada. He was teaching masterclasses as Eliot Fisk’s assistant and while I played for Eliot in that festival, I realize now that I missed an immense learning opportunity by not having taken a class from Ricardo!

Ricardo Gallén has been praised by countless great musicians, critics, and colleagues as a supreme virtuoso with an intense and wide-ranging musical intellectuality. The great Cuban composer and conductor, Leo Brouwer, has said that Gallén possesses, “great creativity and virtuosity that is felt only by looking at his hands.” Besides performing and teaching all over the world to high acclaim, he is becoming known for his recordings and performances of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and in particular, his lute suites.

For a long time, the standard recording of the great John Williams was the required listening as an introduction to these works but I would venture to say that Ricardo Gallén’s recording holds equal footing on many levels and perhaps even surpasses it in his highly nuanced and stylistic interpretations. Another strength that Ricardo possesses is his range in interpreting music from the great classical period guitar composers, Mauro Giuliani, Fernando Sor, to premiering new contemporary works by composers like Leo Brouwer.

Here is Ricardo’s webpage and his Facebook page for more current news on his musical activities. Below are some links to his recordings and a few beautifully filmed videos. Hope this inspires you all!