The Classical Guitar, I believe, is still struggling for recognition a bit and with the
passing of Andres Segovia, who saved it from total extinction, and the recent
retirement of Julian Bream, whose individually unique mastery of the instrument,
inspired all Guitarists, it seems to me that there aren’t many “Light Houses”
currently on the concert planks. There are, however many fine players
sprinkled about but I think one or two truly great interpreters are all Humanity will
give us per Century. My humble opinion… feel free to disagree .
A great misconception that many struggle with when it comes to dedication, is the idea
that the closer we get to technical perfection on our instrument, the further we
move away from the aesthetic spirit of spontaneity and expression. I saw this
amongst many artists that I associated with in the early days and although this
phenomenon may not be universal in scope, it did, nonetheless exist amongst
amateur guitarists and perhaps still does today. Hence the absence of the guitar
from the Accepted Classical Music World, at least to the degree to which the violin
and piano exist and the reason there are so many amateur guitarists forever “stuck”
on one playing level. The other half to this equation is “The Fear of Success”
syndrome is a greater force than “The Fear of Failure”. This one is a killer because
when one starts really practicing and then sees real progress, to continue inevitably
means real, long term commitment to the craft. Commitment to anything has many
powerful implications, the least of which is time spent daily or weekly so one of
the first real goals as you set out is to decide, “What kind of time and commitment
level am I going to agree to ?”
Of course, the true value of any art form is the uniquely different way each artist
handles interpretation, for instance, and after all it is the human spirit that pushes
ordinary events into miraculous happenings. One need only to listen to one
particular piece of music performed by several dozen players to have the one or
two true Masters revealed.
The purpose of this little discourse is not to convince the Non-Artist Musician to
support the Music world, although that would be a worthy cause, but rather to urge
all Musicians to personally pursue the path of rigorous technical methodology in
order to unlock, and give voice to, one’s interpretive expressions through the vast
array of music literature out there waiting to be learned.
Now the repetition of technique exercises week in and week out is perhaps the
single least rewarding aspect of musicianship so I developed this Method, for
Classical Guitarists of all levels and abilities , to hopefully put Classical Guitar
Technique into perspective.
Advice I would give Beginners is to not put any music on your stand until your
hands are ready for it. Much preliminary work must be done before one is prepared
to play pieces and this will undoubtedly be a sobering thought for many of you.
Take, for example, what the flute or trumpet student at a Conservatory has to
endure upon entrance to the School. Play only into the mouthpiece, without the rest
of the instrument attached, for six months, then we’ll let you attach the rest of the
instrument and play music. Always remember that the mind will naturally create
clever obstacles plus multiple reasons not to overcome them so a large degree of
determination and discipline will be required when tackling a musical instrument
One great obstacle for the Classical Guitar Student, if he or she is considering
serious study, eventually comes in the form of the question, ” Am I being narrow
minded by devoting so much time and energy to one thing when there are so many
other valuable things in the world to pursue ?”
To answer that question one first has to answer the following question: “Am I open
minded enough to not think that there is only one way to play a given piece?” If the
answer is Yes, then you would also need to possess the quality which would allow
you to work at each piece in such a way as to discover the “universality” of that
Where does all this lead us?
I think to the question of directed talent. If the mind drops hints at us to follow
something that is in our nature, then we must accept the sacrifices. So, in order to
create a physical change in our routine, our mental routines must change as well, if
we are to make decisions about our attitude and pursuits.
THE ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHER
One might take a moment to think of how methodology employed in other fields
relates to Classical Guitar Methodology. It does seem to me that the human mind
works at a higher potential when a technically oriented system is under its control.
Take the sciences, for example. If a person wanted to explore the science of
genetics, then that person must first become familiar with what is known factually
about that field before the brain can analyze new information, interpret it and
advance the field of genetics.
The musician is in a very similar position as the scientist, although the material
with which the scientist must become familiarized with perhaps is more defined
than for the Musician. The real question for me is ” What merit does the work of a
musician or a scientist have if both are completely self taught with little or no
exposure to an historical perspective of their respective crafts?”
To put this in another way, the real goal of the performing arts is to create an “in
between the lines” message to the sub-conscious, or the way that the audience is
“affected” by a performance. I have certainly noticed, through the years of
attending Classical Guitar Recitals, that there is a certain quality about the way that
many performers, even great ones, come off. One can almost hear them reflecting
within themselves about their technical ability, good or bad, as they play. The
result is a performance of “their” psyche rather than the intent of the composer.
(Don’t ever forget the Composer ! Without him or her, you would not be playing anything)
I attended a recital by one the greats in the mid 70’s and was very much looking
forward to it, never having heard this player or owned one of his recordings. But
my teacher at the time was a former student of his so I was excited. He opened the
Recital with two of the Bach Lute Suites, difficult stuff, to be sure, alone in a
practice room, let alone to a packed audience.
By the end of the first Lute Suite, this man was wringing wet, to the point of the
audience’s distraction and I’m sure his own. You could literally hear his inner
voice screaming, “I can’t make a single mistake during these pieces ” I don’t
believe anyone enjoyed the recital because we were all rooting for him silently, in
our seats, hoping upon hope that he wouldn’t make a single mistake because he
was trying so hard not to. Well, he never did make even a little mistake and I have
to say it was the most flawless, emotionally void recital I have ever heard. The only
thing that would have made it worse would have been if he had a metronome
ticking away on a chair next to him during the performance. I certainly heard it
even though it wasn’t physically there.
The performing arts MUST have a quality of vulnerability rather than feeling that
each performance is a safe one, free of error and probably of greatness as well. In a
word, boring. True, musicians and scientists have technical languages that must be
mastered but the musician embarks on journey number two, the world of creativity
and profundity, weaving magical lines one within the other all to create audible
imagery so the composer’s thoughts are captured and presented.
But isn’t this what the scientist does ? Conscientiously advance mankind on many
So in the end, what is the real difference between a great musician and a great
KAIZEN, MY FAVORITE WORD, IN ANY LANGUAGE
Kaizen is the Japanese term for “gradual but continual improvement by taking
something apart and putting it back together in a better way”.
As a young student of the Guitar, I would often find myself sitting, very properly,
guitar at the ready, frustrated as to what to practice first. There were many skills to
develop and if the concept of “purpose” was not identified, one easily became lost,
aimlessly searching for that “right” piece to play, shouldered with just the “right”
exercises to practice. Experience has taught me that one’s self proclaimed idea of
self as it relates to abilities and the lack of ability can greatly confuse the
progression of both musical and technical awareness.
First, technique is not an end to itself; nor, ironically, is it a means to an end. This
may sound paradoxical and even contradictory but let’s examine how a very
“human” quality is revealed here. There is a fine line between the musician who is
capable of feeling the expressions of a fellow musician’s playing and the musician
who is capable of going a step beyond and is able to blend the mind, heart and soul
with discipline so that the true accomplishment of an ideal occurs rather than
simply having the “desire” to actualize that ideal. The latter is when one is inspired
by the efforts of another rather than the efforts of oneself.
Although it is very comforting to have a “mode” to work from, an artist of the
very highest caliber to, in fact, “copy”. The example of “How to play like Julian
Bream”, with his trademark tone and nuance of interpretation is actually taught by
some players, and very well, I might add, but since one cannot truly copy the inner
thoughts and processes of another, one merely becomes a “Player Piano”, put in
the roll and let it rip, guitarist.
During the development phase of learning to play Classical guitar, one’s mind will
go through almost any system of thought patterns necessary in order to convince
itself that true reasons exist for the pursuit of self expression on a musical
instrument. So how does this relate to the statement “technique is not a means to an
end?”. Technique, that very element that opens the gate to artistic expression, can
also hinder artistic expression, if not thought of properly. Few can transcend the
lure of feeling real technical accomplishment as the only goal, leave that world
behind and enter the world of true self expression.
Second, it must be realized with all due sobriety that this path of which I speak
entails years of study and honest refinement. Mastery, both technical and musical,
rarely takes place early in life, when the “illusion” of accomplishment is common
What is it that one feels exactly when one has an awareness of technique on the
Guitar and how does the mind conceive the physical aspects of playing ? The
answers might not seem as obvious as one thinks. Unless a visualization occurs,
not only in the mind’s eye but also in the degree of concentration while playing,
then justice is not being done to the demands of the Guitar by its very existence.
If one can manage to have a sort of projection of self onto the Guitar itself, through
time and care, one can actually begin to “feel” what it must be like to be a Guitar
being played. I don’t intend this idea to be Zen-like but perhaps it is, I don’t know.
What I do know is that if one doesn’t abuse the privilege of playing, then playing
takes on a life of its own and we become caretaker”s of its sounds. For me this
came about through slow daily practice, trying to be aware of even the slightest
movements while playing.
I don’t believe any of this is possible without the necessary technique and tone
production work required to hear the full potential of one’s Guitar.
The word “potential” is very important when describing attitudes in the study of
Musical Instruments. Given that musicians have ( or should have ) feelings that
need to be expressed through music, how can they be expressed without a good
understanding of the factors and variables available as to the full potential of one’s
instrument ? If the instrument’s potential isn’t fully realized, then neither is the
Musician”s expressive potential. What other reason than this is there to practice ?
To merely reproduce the written notes on the page and act out through them rather
than living through them ?
The danger here is that to “feel” musical involvement does not automatically mean
that actual involvement is taking place. Personal commitment to playing is where
the distinction exists and it is this very commitment that turns the amateur into the
artist where freedom from worry regarding purpose occurs, a factor which I believe
is the factor that drives the student out of the practice room, especially if there isn’t
some deadline to meet, such as a performance. This should be the goal of every
teacher: To bring the student to the point where a teacher is no longer required. The
sooner the better, I say !
Practicing is what I call a process whereby results occur on a long term basis and
muscles are atoned accordingly. Scale work must be done slowly, with round tone
and sufficient volume. Unless the resistance of the strings is felt, the fingers will
not respond properly during certain passages in the literature. Believe it or not, the
goal of practicing scales, for instance, is NOT to hear the notes of the scale, it’s to
feel the fingers controlling the notes. Remember this concept, because it will carry
you throughout any CG method.
Efficient practice is a difficult concept to fully grasp on one’s own, what and when
to practice this or that, what are the strengths and how do they influence work on
the weaknesses, etc. A certain amount of exposure to powerful influences should
definitely be a large part of any musician’s growth, various teachers, (never just
one !), pouring over treatises on technique, etc., but for me, I found that after the
initial contact with these aforementioned influences, keeping my eyes and ears
open to lessons offered by classical guitar recordings were by far the greatest of my
influences. Learning to “feel” the players fingers as I listened became my greatest
How one goes about discerning these lessons through recordings, of course, comes
from an initial interest in the subject to begin with, but by listening to my rather
extensive collection of Classical Guitar Recordings, I was able to gain a knowledge
of the repertoire, which pieces really excited me, how I agreed with or disagreed
with their interpretations and why, and how sometimes interpretive understatement
suited a particular piece. A very important point to consider sometimes.
Pinchas Zukerman ( famous Violist / Conductor ) explains it this way, Each time I
pick up my viola, it is like a man who has spent three days and three nights in the
desert and goes to take a drink of water. It is a need. Let your inborn need to play
create its own system designed to handle answers to questions and doubts. Many
amateur musicians never allow this to happen and they quit, never allowing the self
a fighting chance to prevail during the difficult formative years of study.
A WORD TO THE WISE
Classical Guitar Amateurism on a local community level can be very depressing.
You may come across Guitarists who, because they are big fish in a little pond,
take a public position without any real right or earning. Although they play a role
where they wouldn’t normally be one, for the absolute beginner, they often are
merely feeding their own egos at the expense of the student who deludes him or
herself while the Teacher is deluding him or herself.
My humble conclusion to this centuries old problem ? Lack of contact with truly
accomplished players, either in person or via recordings, can turn the student
psyche into a kind of laboratory Petrie dish that will grow as many kinds of mold
as there are people.