Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prelude no. 5 in E Major - Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)

For the anniversary of the great master's death.

Francisco Tárrega (21 November 1852 — 15 December 1909).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Menuet in G, Opus 3. by Fernando Sor (1778-1839)

I'm getting back to some recording after a hiatus. One of my favorite Menuets by the great Fernando Sor.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Andantino No.3 op.2 F.Sor

The great Miguel Llobet (1878 - 1938) performing this lovely piece by Sor. I love the wide dynamics, violin tone, and the way the rhythms are played with. This was recorded in 1925 - straight to vinyl.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Art of Repetition

I recently saw the movie "Groundhog Day" (one of my favorites) for probably the 50th time. In the movie, Bill Murray plays a cynical, self - centered reporter who repeatedly wakes up to the same day over and over again encountering the same situations and people. Once he realizes what is happening, he first fights against the situation, then manipulates it, and then finally comes to embrace it. By the end of the movie, he has transformed himself - and by doing so, transforms his situation. Although it is a comedy, the spiritual and psychological ramifications of this message are potent.

In life, we cannot relive the same day repeatedly - but as musicians, we enter into the same musical situations repeatedly through the the art of repetition. Taking a phrase, a passage, or a full piece and playing it over and over again is absolutely necessary for memory, technique, understanding, endurance, listening, etc. However, the one aspect of repetition which is most often overlooked is how we feel when we repeat. By being conscious about how we want to feel during each repetition, we can progress much faster.

For example, a few days ago I taught someone who was having difficulty with a fast passage and was explaining to me how he had been "drilling and drilling this bit, but it doesn't seem to get any better". We checked fingering, preparation, etc. Everything seemed to be fine. I then asked him to play the passage for me a few times. Sure enough, each time he played it, I could tell that he was feeling like he couldn't do it. He kept repeating the situation with the same mindset - and therefore getting similar results.

I then asked him to take a little time, breathe, relax, sit up straight, and think about how it would feel to be fully confident when playing the passage. Feel confident and stay focused on that feeling while playing. Now we began to repeat again. The first few repeats were no different than before, but this time instead of reacting to the mistakes, I asked him to keep refocusing on the feeling of confidence before and during the passage. Sometimes I would just tell him to say "this is easy" and imagine what it would feel like to be a player who had that kind of belief. Each time he would make a mistake, we would reset the feeling of confidence and repeat again.

Now this might seem like fantasy, but after about 6 or 7 repeats, he began to play the passage more accurately and fluidly. His body started to relax, his concentration increased, and although we were focusing on simply getting the passage accurate, even his tone and rhythm improved. At times, he would slip back to the old way (mental habits are hard to break) but the feeling of confidence or ease has to be practiced like anything else for it to take root. Awareness is key here, because it's so easy to do and not feel. Feeling is often totally overlooked, but I'm finding that it has to be practiced hand in hand with doing. One of the best questions you can ask when you are practicing is "how am I feeling?" and then "how do I want to feel?". Observe this as often as you can when you are working and keep refocusing on the feelings you want - practice having them now.

As in "Groundhog Day", as we change how we feel towards a situation, that situation over time begins to change. By practicing the feelings we want when we play, we gradually change ourselves - which has to change our playing for the better. This is one of the most important aspects of effective practice.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998) live in November, 1992

Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998), a guitarist unknown to me until today. I love the fact that this was recorded in 1992, but it sounds like it's from the 50's. His playing is divine - full of color, passion, and freedom.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Digital Manuscripts

While looking for original Tarrega manuscripts, I found this cool little site http://www.theguitarmuseum.com/

I didn't know it existed. Guitarists can see the original manuscripts of Tarrega, Sor and other greats. Tarrega's handwriting is especially beautiful. I still get excited about this stuff after all these years.

Enjoy!

Kevin

Friday, October 23, 2009

Folías (2nd version) by Gaspar Sanz (ca. 1640-c.1710)

2nd Version. I couldn't decide between the two versions, so I decided to post both.

Folías - Gaspar Sanz (c.1640 - c.1710)

Music for the fall.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Classical Guitar Lesson - Op 51 #2 by Mauro Giuliani + PDF of Music Notation

A new lesson - I hope you enjoy.

the PDf of the music notation can be found at http://www.guitar69.com/videos.html


Best wishes

Kevin

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Domenico Scarlatti - Sonata in A Major K208

I've been studying and arranging a number of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas these days and ran across this wonderful performance of the brilliant K208, as played by Andreas Staier. I love the way his rhythm bends, dips, falls apart, comes to full stop, and yet always feels human and expressive. It's a sort of improvisation in many ways - a form of speaking.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Visualizing

Ordinary people believe only in the possible. Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible. - Cherie Carter-Scott


Above all else, we must see ourselves playing the way we want to play and keep that image in our mind - no matter what the present reality of our playing is. All physical practice must be guided by this image. If we don't imagine ourselves playing well, if we are constantly thinking about how we don't play well, if we continually speak to others about how we don't play well, no amount of physical work can overcome that self image.

The common problem among most people (myself included) is that we become hypnotized by the outer world (see my last post). We see ourselves with deficiencies in tone, accuracy, memorization, confidence, etc. and we keep thinking and focusing on our problems. This continues to manifest them.

Let's understand a little bit about how the mind works. When we have an image of ourselves (positive or negative) continually repeated in the conscious mind, the subconscious tries to find ways to create that image. An interesting fact about the subconscious is - it cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination. If we continually think that we can't play well because of our present circumstances, the subconscious will find ways to continue to create that reality. On the other hand, if we create a positive image of our playing in our imagination and repeatedly see ourselves in that way, the subconscious mind begins to look for ways to create that reality.

So, we start by creating the positive image of our playing in our imagination regardless of the present situation. 5-10 minutes a day is enough. You want to see and feel yourself playing the way you wish as if it is happening NOW. It's important to think and feel like you are playing this way NOW because the subconscious doesn't understand the future. The subconscious only works with NOW feelings and images. Remember to always visualize as if you have what you want NOW. Don't worry if the mind wanders or if the image is hazy - just keep bringing it back to the image for 5-10 minutes. Once in a while, the image will become clear and you will lose yourself in it - that's wonderful, enjoy it! Even if the visualizing feels cold and mechanical - that's ok too. The important point is to do it every day so it becomes a habit.

You want to do this daily for 5-10 minutes a day. Momentum in visualizing is key. It's like we are planting a seed. We must cultivate and nourish the seed everyday. At first, when we repeat this new image of ourselves playing well, nothing seems to be happening. Be patient - there has to be momentum in the new idea for it to grow. A seed grows underground and out of sight for weeks. Keep visualizing the positive image every day even if you don't see results.

After a few weeks of visualizing the positive playing, you'll start getting little insights. The playing will be exactly the same, but you begin to have new ideas about how to overcome the problem areas. You might notice yourself finding articles and videos which help you rethink your playing. You may find yourself trying new approaches, new ways of listening, new ways of feeling as you practice. This is all part of the process.

After more time visualizing daily, you'll see tangible progress. You'll notice that the accumulation of the insights begin to take root physically. You might not be 100% there, but you'll see evidence of progress. Some days will be better than others - that's normal. Keep visualizing yourself playing as you wish and progress will be made towards that image.

Now, let me state the obvious here. You do have to physically practice! I'm not saying that you just visualize every day and BAM! - suddenly you play like your favorite guitarist. What I am saying is - by visualizing the way you want to play daily, the subconscious mind has no choice but to look for ways through your physical practice to create that image. This means that while you practice, you are going to get new insights about your playing - so be aware of that small voice or intuition. If it tells you to try another approach - by all means try it. Insights may come while you are practicing, or they might come while you walk in the park, or while you are talking to a friend, or in your dreams. Be grateful when they come.

Also, understand that everyone progresses differently. Some people will get tremendous insights in a few weeks while others might take longer. Don't keep asking "when is it going to happen". Be patient, enjoy the visualization of yourself playing well every day, practice well and keep your mind open to the new ideas. Stay relaxed - don't try to force this. Remember, if you continually visualize the positive image daily, you are guiding yourself to that image. This isn't wishful thinking - this is mental science. Take the time and dedicate yourself to this everyday. Over time, you'll see wonderful results from this simple, yet powerful technique.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Inner World

"The outer world not only influences our inner world - it bullies it, it dominates it, it mesmerizes it. We're hypnotized by the outer world" - John Kehoe

We all live in two worlds - the inner world and the outer world. The outer world is where our playing is. The inner world is where our emotions and thoughts are. These two worlds are connected - they influence each other.

We are taught from when we are children to be hypnotized by the outer world. If something bad happens to us, we think about it and our attitude becomes negative. If something good happens to us, we think about it and our attitude becomes positive. It is very important to understand that the outer world DOES NOT have to affect the inner world. We can choose our own thoughts and feelings regardless of what is happening.

When we are practicing, we want to also practice the correct attitudes no matter how "difficult" something seems to be for us. Even if the practice is going badly, we want to remember to not let the outer world affect our attitude. I admit that this isn't easy, but if we can remember to practice attitude as much as finger movement, we will see that the playing will begin to reflect that attitude.

I'm not suggesting this so we can all feel better about playing badly. What I'm saying is this - the attitude of confidence, the attitude of expressiveness, the attitude of spontaneity, the attitude of enjoyment, the attitude of ease, all the positive (as well as negative) attitudes that we have when we practice and perform DIRECTLY affect our physical playing. If you want to play better, you must also practice the attitude of the great players - confidence, calmness of mind, enjoyment, ease, etc. Do not wait for your playing to be perfect in order to practice the right attitudes. Practice your attidues now with the understanding that it will directly affect your playing. In doing this consistently, you are using the inner world to affect your outer world.

Experiment and play with this idea. Have fun with it. Write down the attitudes you would like to have when playing and keep the list in front of you while you practice. Watch great performers and notice their attitudes as they play. Don't worry if you slip or become negative - just try to reset your attitude whenever you can. Keep practicing and cultivate your positive attitudes and "act as if" you are playing the way you want. If you stick with it, you will see how important this is.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Music for the Guitar Getaway on August 1-3

To those who are interested in the Guitar Getaway in the Poconos from August 1-3, I've chosen the music that we will perform as a guitar ensemble. Those who have reserved a spot will recieve the parts via email within a day or two. In the meantime, you can look at the scores and listen to the HQ midi files of the pieces.

First, you'll need to Download the Sibelius "Scorch" Plugin

Then, you can go here to view the scores and listen to each piece.

Susato - Rondo and Salterello

Telemann - Quartet in D

Faure - Berceuse

Dowland - Lachrimae


Some of the scores have downloadable Midi Files which you can use to practice with - something I would suggest. We still have some openings for the getaway, so if you are interested but have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at kevinrgallagher at earthlink.net

Best wishes,

Kevin

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interests

We must be careful in our study to be interested in what helps us and not what hurts us. Often, when we practice we become focused on what is negative in our playing. There's nothing wrong with noticing what needs improvement, but we want to make sure that we are interested in what makes us better - and not focus on the problem. By this, I don't mean to just ignore mistakes, but to make sure we are continually focusing on what we want.

For example, let's say we have two students practicing a fast scale at 120bpm and both of them are having problems with part of it. Student #1 may think "I can't play this scale this fast - this is hard!" while Student #2 may think "I made a mistake, but that's ok - I want to play this scale fluidly"

In both mental attitudes, the students may slow down and work on the scale, but with Student #1, the interest is now on the difficulty, while Student #2's interest is on playing the scale fast and fluid.

This might seem trivial to some, but understand the fact that "The only thing that can grow is the thing you give energy to" (Emerson). Both students may physically work on the scale in the same way, but because one is looking at the difficulty while the other looks for the solution, the results will be different. Student #1 may keep thinking about how hard it is and tense up every time the scale is played, thereby making it harder to play and reinforcing his belief that "this is hard!". Student #2's search for fluidity gets him to eventually relax and enjoy the feeling of speed. As he keeps relaxing, he builds the belief that "this is easy".

I know this example is black and white. Often, we have a mix of emotions while we practice. For example, there are probably days where Student #2 feels that the scale is too difficult and doubts his abilities. But if he can keep the majority of his thoughts on what he wants, and continually imagines what he wants, and keeps interested in only what he wants, with time, what he wants will start to appear.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

¡Viva España!

I'm off to Spain to visit some old and new friends, study, research, and clear my head for a few days. What better place to go than the birthplace of the guitar?

In the meantime, I recently had an interview for guitar theory in depth - a great site for those who want to get more into music theory on the guitar (very important in my opinion). Most of the interview deals with my "Jeckyll and Hyde" personality in regards to the guitar (classical guitar and electric guitar) but other topics are covered as well.

Kevin Gallagher interview for Guitar Theory in Depth

Many thanks to Alex Cortes for the interview.

Hope you all are enjoying the new summer,

Kevin

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

fingering vs fretboard

As a teacher of this fantastic art, I often learn more from my students than from the books I've studied or the teachers I've had. Since the study of the guitar is directly influenced by our perceptions, I thought I would share this insight I recently had in a lesson.

As a boy, I never had problems memorizing or understanding what I was playing on the guitar. In fact, the first lesson I ever had was learning a I - IV - V blues progression and the chords and scales that went along with it. When I learned scales or songs at that time, "proper" fingering was never really thought about. I basically would see the notes or tablature, put my fingers where I was supposed to, and off I went. I memorized the shapes of the chords and the scales without really thinking much about how to finger them.

In a recent lesson, I noticed a student perform the correct left hand fingering - but on the wrong string. Most of the time I would have just politely pointed out the error and moved on, but something about this kind of mistake struck me as being deeper than a technical slip. As an experiment, I asked him to play me a scale he knew - which he did. I then asked him to play the same scale using only the index finger of the left hand. To my amazement, the student could not remember the scale - even though he had been playing it for years with the "proper" fingering.

It suddenly dawned on me - some people memorize fingering patterns, but not fretboard patterns. They know the fingering for the scale is 2-4-1-2-4-1-3-4 on the left hand, but they don't know the exact frets and strings the fingering belongs to. Or - they may know a chord's fingering, but because they don't know the fretboard shape of the chord well, they can't easily change to another fingering.

Knowing where you are placing your fingers is more important to memorize than fingering. Fingering is simply the way to get to the frets - the real target and the real knowledge is knowing the fret/string we are playing. Once we have that clear in our head, the fingering can be altered and refined while the proper target (the fret/string) is always in our sights.

Try this for an exercise -

1. Take a 3 octave scale you know well, and play the whole thing with one finger - can you do it? Now start the scale from the top note and go down with one finger. Now start the scale from the 7th note instead of the 1st. If any of this is difficult to do, you've probably memorized the fingering, but not the scale's fretboard pattern. If that is the case, play the scale as you normally would, but this time pay attention to the fretboard pattern of the scale - not your fingering. Really look and study the frets/strings you are playing. After a few repeats, try the exercise again. Also try starting at random spots in the scale. See if you can keep the scale's fretboard shape firmly in your mind regardless of the fingering you choose.

2. Take a simple piece that you have memorized - something very easy to play or can sight read well. Now, change the fingering randomly but don't change positions. If you played a chord with 1st and 2nd fingers, use 3rd and 4th instead. If you played a scale passage with 4-1-0 as the fingering, change it to 1-3-0. Don't make any of the fingering logical or smooth - that's not the point. The point is to be able to change fingerings randomly and still keep the fretboard shapes clearly in your mind.

I've always wondered why rock and jazz guitarists seem to learn classical guitar music easily and I think this is one of the reasons. Pick up any rock or jazz guitar method book and you'll see that fingering is rarely talked about, while fretboard diagrams, and scale/chord shapes are everywhere. From the beginning, these players start looking at the fretboard shapes - while in classical guitar, we tend to emphasise the fingering of the shapes. Fingering is extremely important, but without the proper target, we can only hope that the fingers will land correctly. Know clearly where you want to go and you'll find the way to get there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Guitar Getaway in the Pocono Mountains August 1-4, 2009

Dear Friends,

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be holding a three day guitar “camp” in the Pocono Mountains from Saturday, August 1 to Tuesday, August 4th. The Camp has enough beds for 8 students. I’m gearing this weekend for adults who are advanced beginning to intermediate level and are over the age of 30.

For room, board, and lessons the cost is just $350 per person. Although the emphasis of this weekend is to study and enjoy the classical guitar, there will be plenty of time to take in the wondrous beauty of the mountains and lake of Mount Pocono. All students should bring portable music stands - we will be performing and recording chamber music together as a guitar octet!

I hope you’ll join me for this weekend getaway filled with music and good times. Please contact me directly if you’d like to attend - kevinrgallagher (at) earthlink.net


Payment for the Guitar Getaway can be made with a credit card by using Paypal

Click Here to Make your Reservation




You can see photos of the camp here –

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28439328@N08/sets/72157618746362203/


Travel to the camp is very easy by bus from New York City on Martz Trailways out of the Port Authority to Mount Pocono.

Bus schedule - http://www.martztrailways.com/from-nyc.asp




Schedule of Events for "Guitar Getaway in the Pocono Mountains" August 1-3, 2009


Saturday, August 1

Students arrival – after 2pm please! There are buses from NYC leaving at 1:05 pm and 3:15 pm.

2-6 pm – arrival, rest, relaxation, walking, practicing, etc.

6 – 8pm - Ensemble Practice (guitar octet)

8- 11pm Dinner, Wine, Socializing


Sunday, August 2nd


8 - 10am - breakfast

10 - 12pm - Masterclass 1

12 - 2pm - break, snack, walking, relaxing etc.

2 - 4pm - Masterclass 2

5 - 7pm - Dinner

7 - 10pm - Ensemble practice


Monday, August 3rd

8 - 10am - Breakfast

10 - 12pm - Masterclass 1

12 - 2pm - break, snack, walking, relaxing etc.

2 - 4pm - Masterclass 2

5 - 7pm - Dinner

7 - ? Ensemble video and audio recording session, wine drinking, party


Tuesday, August 4th

8 - 10am breakfast

11am - Departure – bus leaves at 11:10am with arrival into NYC at 1:30pm



Please feel free to pass on this information to those who may be interested. Many thanks and hope to see you this summer.

Best wishes,


Kevin Gallagher


www.guitar69.com

Scholarships for the Summer

I'm offering 2 scholarships for free private lessons this summer from June 1 - September 1. I'd like the guitarists to be music majors at college looking for extra guidance and inspiration during the summer. The level of the guitarist is not as important to me as is his or her enthusiasm and love for the art. Lessons will be bi - weekly and will be at my studio (not over internet webcam).

For consideration, please send me your name, a well written email (one or two paragraphs) with your background information, what you'd like concentrate on (playing Baroque music, Technique, Contemporary Music, etc.), and a sample of your playing - video or audio. Please do not sent the video or audio to my email - use www.yousendit.com and send me links to the files.

Best wishes,

Kevin

Traveling to Madrid

I'll be in Madrid, Spain between June 26 - July 2nd. I'll be doing some light work there, as well as visiting with some of my favorite people. I'm looking forward to this trip - I haven't been to Spain in almost 10 years now.

If any guitarists in the area would like to take a coaching with me, or just grab a coffee and see some sights, please feel free to contct me at kevinrgallagher (at) earthlink.net

Gracias,

Kevin

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chromatic Octaves Study for Guitar + free Pdf

I made a video lesson today based on one of my favorite left hand exercises - Chromatic Octaves. The music is available here - http://www.guitar69.com/videos.html.

Enjoy and best wishes,

Kevin

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Further thoughts on recording

Recording is like looking in the mirror. By simply looking (or in this case, listening) we can make instant adjustments and improvements. When I talk to students about recording, I encourage them to really experiment with how they feel. There are three basic mental states I like to play around with when the recording light is on - trying, carelessness, and relaxed observing.

Trying is what most people gravitate towards - especially when recording or performing. We try to control everything. When events don't go as we like, we try harder to control the outcome. This is a fearful and stressful way to play. Many teachers would tell you to avoid that, but my advice is to try as hard as you can for a few run throughs - really feel the trying and stress completely. Let yourself get upset. By embracing it and letting it be (as opposed to avoiding it), it will have less effect on us for the following run throughs.

The second way is the way most people are never told to play - carelessly. As you record, let yourself play as carelessly as possible. Make mistakes, move freely without a care in the world - really go for it and enjoy the feeling. Imagine that you are playing it perfectly. Remember being a kid and making a mess with joy? That's the state we want. Don't focus on the notes - focus on the feeling of total freedom of motion. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but doing this frees up the body and mind and reminds us how good it feels to simply move without judgement.

Finally, we've warmed up and you want to allow yourself to play with a state of relaxed observation. Move the hands as you want, but just observe and listen to the guitar. Remember the freedom of motion from your "careless" playing, but now aim for accuracy. If you miss, keep the mental state relaxed - like in the careless playing. Stay open. If you notice that you start to try hard again, that's fine - let yourself try - embrace it as before. Let the trying be there and then go back to relaxed, open observing. Keep observing your mental states as you do this and notice how your playing changes accordingly. Focus more on how you feel than on the notes. When you feel well, the notes will take care of themselves.

The most important thing I can say is to make friends with your enemies. In other words - let the trying and carelessness that you don't like be allowed. Don't fight them off. Welcome them and smile at them. As you let them be, you'll start to go beyond them. This is the joy of recording - we study how we feel as we play. When we feel well, we play well - as within, so without.

Recording Classical Guitar with the Edirol R-09HR

I wanted to make this video for those who would like to record but don't have a lot of money to spend on a recording project. As fearful as it might be, recording is probably one of the most important exercises a musician at any level can do. The beauty of the classical guitar is that we are able to record whenever we want. I hope this helps those who would like to record, but may have been thinking that it's too complicated or expensive to do. We are very lucky to be living in a time when it's not.


Please support this video by purchasing the Edirol R-09HR at Amazon - thank you

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Lady Hunssdon's Allemande (P.54) by John Dowland

recorded last night last night during the full moon....

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Clever Salesman

This is a interesting topic, as my mind can trick me into focusing on what I don't want. Today, I realized that I fell into the same trap yet again. I had to laugh out loud when I saw it.

We want to focus on what we want. What do we want? To play faster, louder, more fluidly, more confidently, with more joy. What do we focus on? - not making mistakes, not getting tense, not cracking notes by playing too loudly. You cannot get what you want by focusing on what you don't want. It may seem to be a subtle difference in language, but in terms of results, the difference is tremendous.

Children don't seem to have these issues as much as adults. Many people think children pick up music quickly because of certain physical attributes, but I believe it's because most children have less critical minds. They make mistakes and it doesn't distract them from feeling good when they play. They don't take the mistakes personally, so they are not fearful of making mistakes while they go for what they want. This is incredibly important to understand.

We adults tend to think that we can have joy in playing only when we are playing well. This is the critical mind at work. The paradox is this - to play well we must feel well inside. If you want to play open and freely, you must feel that way inside. As my teacher has told me many times - go after what you want and feel well no matter what befalls you. How simple, and yet how easy it is to forget this.

The critical mind is a clever salesman, but for today, I will not buy.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Video Interview

I was interviewed a few days ago for Chris Davis' excellent Classical Guitar Blog. We recorded our Skype video chat. the entire video playlist is here - Kevin Gallagher Interview on Youtube

Chris's Blog is highly recommended reading

Classical Guitar Blog http://www.classicalguitarblog.net

I'll be recording this weekend and hope to put up more videos soon.

have a great weekend,

Kevin

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Beyond Labels

It's our job as story tellers to express what is happening in the music we play. I don't mean this in an analytical sort of way - i.e. "this is the major 7th chord", or "this is a polyrhythm". All theoretical knowledge is empowering, but at some point we really want to look past the labels and feel the music purely - without any definitions.

It's very easy for the mind to be attracted to labels. I remember being in school, delighted that I could label all the advanced harmonies that were presented to me. I was lucky to have teachers and friends who were fluent at music theory. It's extremely valuable to understand theory, but sometimes theory can become more important than listening. It can become a way of knowing music without really listening to it - like a scientist who studies an animal and knows everything about that particular species, but never takes the time to know each one uniquely.

Lately I've been playing through some very old pieces - I've played some of them for as long as I can remember. When I play them, I practice listening - to the sound of the guitar, the voices as they interact, the variety of intervals, the attacks, the silences, etc. Just listening carefully and discovering - looking it over like a fine jewel. The labels still pop up in my mind, but I'm not so interested in them.

It's very helpful to start your practice this way - just play a basic piece and listen to it from as many angles as you can. Listen to each voice, feel the rhythms fully, try different moods, listen to how the voices interact. Become very interested in all the sounds and silences which create the piece. You will see how much depth can be found in even the simplest forms of music. This awareness will carry over into everything you play or listen to.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"The Earl of Essex's Galliard" (John Dowland) called "Can She Excuse My Wrong" by The Julian Bream Consort(21)

I found this and couldn't help but to enjoy the supreme rhythmic bounce of Julian Bream. Also lovely to hear him speak.



lyrics

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Beauty of the Ordinary

In this rare audio interview with Glenn Gould, I noticed he says something which is very important to all of us. As he talks about wearing a business suit as opposed to a suit and tails at 7:22, he goes on to say that he thinks it's a "bad strategy to let yourself think that anything is a special event". He then says "the easiest way to be happy at this business of making music is to treat every concert as if it were a days work of any kind. The more things that you do to indicate this is something special or apart from everyday pursuits, the more likely you are going to succumb to nervous tension". The interviewer doesn't quite get the depth of the statement, but it's obvious to me that Gould knew very much about his psychology while playing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Inner Ear

“We are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision.” Anon

When I was young, I learned music by ear. I would meet with my band every week for many hours, and we would decide on what songs we wanted to learn (heavy metal covers mostly). Then we would learn the songs together or separately.

The nice thing about learning music by ear is that you always have a clear vision (the recording) of what the music should sound like when you play it. You can keep checking to see if what you are doing sounds like the recording you are learning. Eventually, the recording gets into your inner ear and you can tell if what you are doing sounds correct. This is how I learned to play music.

With classical guitar, we learn music by reading written notes. One of the advantages to this is we don't have to guess what the notes are - unlike learning by ear. All the answers are there. However, one of the disadvantages is that we can practice a piece without knowing it. We can get into the habit of reading rather than hearing the piece with the inner ear. For example - the student will practice a piece, but slows down at difficult passages. Most of the time, they don't know that they are adjusting the rhythm. They can't know because they have nothing to compare it to - the correct version is not in their inner ear.

I believe the inner ear is one of the most important and overlooked parts of musicianship. Our inner ear is our "recording". It's our vision. The clearer our inner ear hears the piece, the easier it is to follow it and express it - just like a real recording.

Guitarists tend to do most of their practice with the guitar in hand, but it's equally important to practice the inner ear - read the score, feel the rhythm in the body, let your imagination run free with ideas. Do this without the guitar every day. This strengthens the "inner ear recording" of the piece. By doing this you'll see great gains in your rhythm, memorizing and overall musicianship.

Keep in mind that we are ALWAYS expressing our idea of the piece - whether it's clear of not. The word "express" is defined as "to put thought into words; utter or state: to express an idea clearly. Focus on getting the idea clear so that you know what it is you are reaching for in your physical practice. It seems basic, but is overlooked by most of us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recording as Therapy

As you might have noticed, I've been recording quite a bit since getting back from Portugal. Recording is extremely therapeutic because it documents how I'm feeling while playing the guitar.

I've come to the realization that underneath the notes, dynamics, colors, etc, what we are actually hearing is the way a person feels. There have been quite a few cases where I played a piece "perfectly" - clean, accurate, nice rubato, good phrasing - and yet when I listen back to it I'm not really drawn to the playing. I can tell that I'm not really playing the guitar - there's a subtle feeling of "work" there - a "wanting" to make it clean, accurate, with nice rubato, with good phrasing etc.

There's a beautiful line between wanting something, and letting it happen. Recording has become the study of letting it happen - of letting go and letting myself disappear completely into the play of the present moment.

Check out this video from the great Alan Watts - "Work as Play" It's ironic that he uses "playing the guitar" as an example of playful activity.

Fernando Sor - Study in B minor Opus 35, No.22

Probably the most famous study by the great Fernando Sor. It was one of the first pieces I performed in public.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fernando Sor - Study in F Major - Op.31, No. 11



A little piece by Sor that I was reading through late last night. i think it's a lovely gem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Charles Combe (1961-2009)

My friend Charlie Combe died last week. He was a great friend who loved music and the guitar dearly. He will be missed by many.

The last coversation we had included our mutual praise of the Spanish guitarist, Miguel Llobet. I dedicate this Llobet arrangement to him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC8J4t6zCYs


Monday, March 2, 2009

Portugal

Coming back from Guitarmania in Portugal, I'm very happy to report that the entire week was wonderful - the teachers, performances, the audiences, the students - everyone was in a great sense of harmony throughout it all. The weather was sublime and work and play were often blurred. Even the guitar competition had a warm sense of camaraderie rarely seen by this competition veteran.

My good friend, Dejan Ivanovic invited me. He ran the festival, taught 10-12 hours per day, judged the competition, and performed a huge new program twice with his duet partner Michalis Kontaxakis. Michalis is very warm and friendly and a wonderful talent on the guitar - he has a great sound and expression. He and Dejan had only a few days to learn a program of an hour and 15 minutes worth of music! To think that I was nervous because my program wasn't entirely learned a month ago. Needless to say, their concert was stunning. Dejan and Michalis are good friends and play like one person with 4 hands - completely together, wonderful clarity, phrasing, and a wide variety of colors. It was a real treat to hear them at the beautiful Capuchos Convent - one of the best halls for guitar I've experienced. Every concert was sold out at this festival - there were no problems finding an enthusiastic audience for the classical guitar in Lisbon.

Also at Guitarmania were the wonderful performers and teachers Marco Socias and Carlo Marchione. It was the first time I had met Carlo and Marco, but we got along like old friends, going out to eat whenever we had time, chatting at length about experiences as competitors, performers, teachers, and sharing our love for music and the guitar. Both Marco and Carlo are amazing musicians of rare talent - I encourage those who don't know them to find their recordings and videos.

Carlo Marchione



Marco Socias






The three unsung heroes of the week were Paulo Lourenco, Rosa, and Pedro. Paulo in particular put more than 600 miles on his car for the week - picking up teachers, performers and driving them everywhere - concerts, dinners, masterclasses, even hospitals. Paulo himself is a great conductor and teacher but dedicates his help to the festival every year. It is because of his help that the festival has grown so rapidly. Rosa and Pedro also helped drive us everywhere we needed to go, making sure our schedules were correct, making sure the checks were ready, making sure the students knew where the teachers would be, making sure that concert halls were prepared etc. etc. etc. These are not small tasks - one small mistake could mean complete confusion for everyone involved. With their help, everything ran smoothly.

The competition was at a very high level and in the end the prizes were split - one first prize to Mateus De la Fonte of Brazil, and two 2nd prize and two 3rd prize winners. Judging was smooth - no drama or arguments. Mateus had it all - beautiful tone, wonderful musicianship, solid technique, and well balanced program. He will perform next year a full concert at Guitarmania 2010.

Finally, I'll speak of the students. How inspiring to see people so in love with the classical guitar and it's music. There is something incredibly touching to see a person struggling with a new way of thinking, trying it out, experimenting, and the whole time being enthusiastic about new possibilities. Some of the lessons were extra special for me to teach, because I could see that the students were just at the cusp of finding their musical voice - the searching was almost over. I felt like a guide at the bottom of a great mountain giving them an idea of what's ahead now that they've gone this far. It was a great privilege and I feel in the end that we all increased each others lives.

It's good to be back in NYC and to have finally gotten some sleep. I've posted some photos from the festival at Flickr - and included some March 1st snow photos for those who are enjoying the 60 degree weather back in Lisboa....

Guitarmania 2009 photos


Abraçoes,

Kevin

Monday, February 9, 2009

3 Exercises for Barre Technique

It was bothering me that my Barre Technique lesson on youtube didn't have a set of logical exercises for it, so I created some yesterday. In the style of the old masters, I tried to make them musical - or as they might say - "pleasing to the ear". All three use the circle of fifths progression. The third is particularly difficult and fun.

3 Exercises for Barre Technique


Enjoy,

Kevin

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Faith

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. - Thomas Aquinas

Practice having faith when you play. Have faith that your hands will do exactly what you've asked of them. Trust your magnificent body. Excessive tension is a physical manifestation of fear brought about by doubt and worry. It keeps the body from acting in a natural way. Train your body well through practice, but let go of the need to control it. Relax and observe your hands with a continuous strong faith and you will be highly rewarded.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Efficient Action

Do, everyday, all that can be done that day - doing each separate act in an efficient manner - Wallace Wattles

Efficient action is a topic I've been studying carefully as of late. It's an incredibly simple idea, and perhaps this is why it is often overlooked. Action can either be strong or weak - efficient or inefficient. Strong action is guided by a concentrated mental vision, while weak action is derived from a distracted mind.

It's not the number of things you do in your practice which matters - it's the full concentration behind each seperate act which matters. Remember that the the body/mind is one unit. If the mind is not fully present, the physical act will represent that. We want to be fully present in each act with a clear mental vision guiding us.

I recently had a wonderful lesson with a student who was having problems with buzzes in the left hand. We tried many "tricks" to get her left hand to fret cleanly, but the problems persisted. I suddenly realized that the student was not guiding the left hand with her mind. She was pressing on the correct frets, but because she didn't have a clean sound in her mind, the left hand was acting inefficiently.

I then asked her to hear the piece clearly without buzzes in her mind. I told her to keep that imagined sound in her mind as she played through the piece no matter what happens. By concentrating on the clean sound, her body started to find the way to get that sound. The playing instantly became much cleaner. This is efficient action.

Keep your mind on the vision of what you want while you work - no matter how distracting the mistakes may be. Stay focused upon what you want and act towards it with your full concentration. When a mistake appears, acknowledge it - but stay focused upon what you want and continue to act with the clear mental vision guiding you. You can only progress with this kind of work.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Furthur use of the Will

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for power equal to your tasks.” - Phillip Brooks

If we want things to change, we must study the use of the will. If you have excellent will power, you can accomplish whatever you want.

Practicing the will can be done every day. Notice when you want or need to do something, but you find excuses not to do it. This is where the will can be practiced.

Practice it on little things at first - washing the dishes now instead of waiting for them to pile up, cleaning your apartment even though you don't feel like it, writing an email to someone even though it's going to take time and effort, going to the gym even though it's freezing out (like this morning in NYC) or - writing practice goals on an index card and then doing them one by one. All of this strengthens the will. Make it into a game - play with this idea.

With time, your will will become very strong. You'll begin to face challenges straight away and take action even though you may not feel comfortable with them. We are using the will to get out of the comfort zone. This is how we grow and learn.

In the following days I will write about efficient action.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Discipline

"Discipline is being able to give yourself a command and then follow it" - Bob Proctor


It's very easy to play the guitar, but practicing is something else. We want to know exactly what we are reaching for in our practice sessions.

Since learning this new program for Portugal, I write down exactly what I'm going to work on during the day. I put the session's work on an index card which is placed in clear view on my music stand. Since I'm practicing 3-4 hours per day, the list usually consists of 5-6 ideas I want to accomplish that day.

I used to write goals for the day in a note book, but invariably, the goals wouldn't be within clear view at all times, and I would easily forget what I wanted to accomplish. With the index card right in front of my eyes at all times, this does not happen.

Every task is clearly written so that I don't fall into the trap of simply "playing" all day. There's a time to play through the repertoire, but while I'm learning music, practice is the top priority.

For example

Sunday, Jan 11, 2009

1. Right Hand arpeggios - working on speed, volume and fluidity (30 - 45 minutes)

a. Tremolo technique and Pami arpeggios
b. Villa Lobos Etude 1 arpeggio

2. Left hand Technique -

a. Chromatic Scale in slurs
b. Scale bursts working on 431 patterns


3. Right hand fingering for Conde Claros. Write in fingering for all difficult sections and drill.

4. Decide left hand fingering for B section of Movement 3 / Sonata Romantica - write in fingering

5. Work on phrasing for Kreneck Suite Movements 2 and 3. Write in ideas.

6. Memorize opening of Sor Fantasia Opus 7. Circle areas which are not clear in memory and drill them.


If I don't get something done that day, it goes onto the next days list. Notice how much writing is done in the session. The reason I write everything down is because I want to record the idea and anchor the idea clearly in my mind. It has been proven that writing ideas down become fixed in the memory far more easily than not writing them down.

This practice list is a lot for most people, but I'm used to this kind of work load. Make sure that you choose goals which you feel you can accomplish in that day - no matter how small. You might decide to solve the fingering for 1 measure - that's fine. If you accomplish that, you've succeeded. If you don't get everything done - just put it on the next days list. Eventually you will get a feel for the amount of work you can do in one day.

It's vitally important that you walk away from the guitar feeling like you've gotten some work done no matter how small it is. Every feeling of success in your practice leads to larger successes. It cannot be any other way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Performance and Masterclasses in Portugal

I'll be perforning and teaching in Lisbon, Portugal at "Guitarmania" from February 22-27th. It's very exciting to be returning to the concert stage in Europe. It would be wonderful to see some of you there. The information for the festival is here -

http://www.guitarmania.ipiaget.org/en/index.htm

Lagrima - Video Lesson

Part one of a video lesson on Lagrima. "Lagrima" by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) is one of the classical guitar's most popular romantic pieces.

In this videos I demonstrate the right hand technique used in this piece - particularly the use of rest strokes, or apoyando.

Using rest strokes fluidly and creatively is one of the hallmarks of the "Tarrega School" of playing, represented by such great artists as Miguel Llobet, Andres Segovia, Rey de la Torre, Julian Bream and John Williams, among many others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0PlECAp_cE