Nine Tips for Better Playing

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

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

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

Right Hand

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

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Left Hand

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

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Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!

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

Artist Interview: Carlo Marchione

The great Italian guitarist Carlo Marchione likely needs no introduction to a classical guitar blog. A consummate virtuoso, teacher, and arranger, Carlo has had a life full of music and has graced many, many stages across the world. Carlo recently took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his insights and philosophies with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!


Personal

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

I started at the age of 10 to regularly study guitar. In my family, everybody played at least one instrument so it was quite natural for me to come close to music. But it wasn’t until I made a trip to Spain to visit my brother (who was living there by then) that I chose to play guitar.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

Uff, that’s like asking which food you prefer…I have not really preferences, my programs follow my mood of the moment, my emotional needs, so to speak.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play by now a guitar constructed by Daniele Chiesa, with Savarez string on it.

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

Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Mozart.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I don’t really want to look snooty, but I love all my recordings. Each of them has its strong and weak points and has been done with profound enthusiasm and conviction.

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

The Tilman Hoppstock ones.

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

I am excited about any concert or project, if I wasn’t I would not go into it. In the next weeks I will be performing in Berlin and Moscow. As regards to my projects, besides my teaching activity in 4 different Academies in Europe (Lille, Maastricht, Palma de Mallorca and Rome), I am very much into my online activities such as teaching, lecturing and publishing my transcriptions at my Online Shop (www.carlo-marchione.com/shop). It is a great thing which is going fantastically well.


Technique and Performance

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

Due to my super narrow schedule I try to optimize the few time I have at disposal for practicing. I can stay 2 days without touching the guitar and 2 days practicing 8h, it is difficult to make a monthly average from it. To me, it works very well to memorize a piece and understand its structure and then to work on the problematic passages.

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

Well, all of them, one doesn’t really finish to learn things! Due to the particular shape of my pinkie finger of the left hand, I have always to be very creative in finding alternative fingerings, so, as you see, that’s something I will work lifelong on…

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

As a kid I was always encouraged to read prima vista and learn fast the new pieces. On the top of this, I had a fantastic harmony and composition teacher. This makes possible that I can learn by heart a piece very quickly. For some kind of musical styles (like baroque or classic) I already know it by heart after reading the piece from beginning to end. Natural predisposition, solid knowledge of the music and prima vista reading, that’s the best combination for memorizing a piece fast and good.

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

Some of my transcriptions had been already published in the past (Scarlatti’s Sonatas K.208 & 380, for instance) but, as I mentioned before, in the last years I have been working very much with my online activities and among them there is my own online shop where I publish my guitar solo/ensembles transcriptions. This was possible only thanks to my fiancée, Merce Font, who constantly develops and runs my website. Among many other things, one can find transcriptions, from Schumann to Telemann’s solo flute Fantasias, from Wagner to Haydn or Mozart, Albéniz or Paradisi. We are enormously happy and proud of it!

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

To me it helps very much a short program with pieces containing tremolo on one or different strings.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Actually, I don’t, but I could never go to play without getting the last “break a leg!” from my sweetheart… : )

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

Well, I think everybody does it according to the type of nail she/he has. I know just by looking at my nails which must be the length and the basic shape, after this, I polish them until I get a clean finish to have a smooth sound.


Advice to Younger Players

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

My advice would be: get to know as much music as you can, but not only in terms of “I heard the 6th Symphony by Mahler”. Always keep deepening your own knowledge of the harmony and musical form, google and find the score and listen the music with the score, try to make your own analysis, ‘feel’ the emotional-philosophical message of the composer (maybe starting with something easier : ) ). Piano Sonatas by Mozart are true gold for this. It is needless to say that for this generation it is a piece of cake to find scores and recordings on the web. Just catch the chance.

As a second advice, I would like to give to them this: if you want to participate in competitions it is really fine, they are a great spotlight for your carrier, but don’t let them limit you as a musician. I see too often young terrific players traveling with the same 3-4 pieces already years and years. Enlarge your repertoire as much as you can.

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

Among really wonderful things, I still consider the whole studies by Sor like the real “must” of a guitar player.

Why?

Because they teach the student from the very simple ones to deal with articulation, polyphony, phrasing and structure. In particular, they are the best exercises one can do for the left hand. Besides that, they contain true jewels of our repertoire (hence, they are good also as concert pieces).

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

Complete Cantatas by Bach with Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Bach. I think it is needless to say why. : )


Tangent

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

Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven and Clara Janes’ La vida callada de Federico Mompou.

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

I do really try, but my schedule of life makes it very challenging to keep a structure on that. As a pre-concert food I love pasta or potatoes, they give to the body lots of energy and are not heavy to digest.

Do you meditate in any way? 

Actually, I don’t…my best friends in Italy are both top yoga teachers and I meditated with them many times, so according to them, I am really good at it even though it’s not a regular practice of mine. I feel I need a different kind of action. Of course, from time to time I take a time out from my crazy schedule, but I guess you refer to another kind of meditation. I can say that making music is my way of meditating.

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

I love to stay with my fiancée (she is also musician) and travel together. This summer we have been in Salzburg during the Festspiele. It was amazing! But if you refer to the free time during the day, well, in the free time I listen to music, read music, transcribe music…I do really think I am 24-7 for the music there. Ah, I like to watch series on Netflix, when the time allows it to me (really seldom).

Any things else you’d like to add?

Yes, thank you very much for asking to me to participate to your blog! : )