I’m performing tonight with the Turko-Balkan dance band ORO! The show starts at 7:30 at the Wolfville curling club. Come on out, have a beer, listen and dance to some cool music!
There’s going to be lots of classical guitar offerings at the TR concert tonight including:
Should be a great night, everything gets started at 7:30.
I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve been invited to join ORO!, a Turkish/Balkan Dance band. We’ve had a few rehearsals and it’s very fun music to play. We also have a number of performances coming up starting with this coming weekend and the Deep Roots Music Festival. Keep an eye on upcoming performances below, and be sure to check out ORO’s website and some of their videos.
So I’ve just gotten home from a few weeks on the road. Edmonton and Montreal were great. I got to hear many good players while I was out, but I’m very happy to be home again. The next thing that I’m getting ready for is another concert playing the great Steve Reich piece 2×5….time to dust off the strat again 🙂
Well it’s official, I’ll be judging the 2012 Montreal Guitar Competition this year again! you can read more about that here. I’ll be playing a concert as well as a masterclass that weekend which is right after I return from adjudicating the Edmonton Kiwanis (busy April this year). Also I’ve added some non-classical-guitar gigs to my upcoming events as well including: 2×5 Steve Reich (an amazing piece for 2 rock bands….I had to dust off the ol’ strat 🙂 and I’ll be playing in the Thomas Regan concert this coming weekend (Friday) with Matt Martin and playing Banjo in Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera on Sunday.
How often have I heard (or more than likely said!) ‘you need to play more legato’
With legato on guitar there are many problems as well as many solutions.
Very often I find that my students simply don’t hear their legato issues. This is usually a result of chopping up phrases in order to learn the piece. Then after some time you hear the choppy melody as being correct. My take on all music, with the exception of a few special circumstances, is that it is always composed of linear (horizontal) lines. I mean that even if you are simply playing from one chord to the next, the chords are not vertical clusters of notes disconnected from each other but are each a collection of individual notes and each note moves by step or leap to another note in the next cluster, or chord if you like. (remember that music, speaking in scientific terms, is sound over time which suggests a linear connection between sounds)
You should try to hear the melody correctly before trying to play the piece. I can hear the music when I look at the score, but if you can’t it might not be a bad idea to try one of the following:
1) play each phrase using only melody notes. Try to make the melody sound exactly as you would like it before moving on.
2) listen to some recordings. Be very careful with this suggestion as I often hear many choppy interpretations on recordings.
3) sight sing the melodies
All three of these methods are an attempt to do one thing: get you to hear the melody correctly before you start to butcher it by trying to play the other supporting voices. After you have the right sound of the melody in your ear, then try to play the music while trying to maintain the melody’s original sound. Also remember that in the case of contrapuntal music there can be more than one melody (look at the Bach Bourree in E minor for a perfect example of music with 2 distinct lines to maintain)
Unfortunately, for guitarists, just about everything is against us on our instrument
1) Left hand: to create a legato line you must:
- a) in the case of a position shift make the position shift at the last possible moment as fast as possible. To fix your shifting try subdividing the beat and making sure your shift happens after the last subdivision (in a fast piece subdividing with 16ths may suffice whereas a slower piece may need sextuplets or 32nds)
- b) when crossing strings always try to use different fingers (if this is not possible I have found that practicing across the break making the movement as fast and clean as possible can yield wonderful results as well…..but only as a last resort)
2) Right hand: when trying to maintain legato it is crucial that you never place the finger on the string before plucking…think of it as scooping the string. You need to set the string in motion without stopping the previous note (remember this is not always the case….there are many instances on guitar where you can easily plant a finger before plucking without sacrificing legato….it’s only if the melody remains on one string for 2 or more consecutive notes)
Now on to the good stuff: the tricks!
1) If you need to make a position shift as well as a string crossing: see if you can’t use some sort of small barre to remove the string crossing….if this is possible, now you only have to deal with the shift
2) leave the melody note on: see if you can’t get the melody note before the break to use a left hand finger which won’t be needed for the note(s) immediately after the break…..this way as the finger holds the melody note, the other fingers can prepare and land the next note(s)
3) *trick: if the last suggestion is impossible sometimes you can let the melody note go and leave other notes ringing while preparing for the next note(s) …..try it!! Unbelievable….if this is done well, it seems even though the melody note is gone, the remaining notes can trick the ear into still hearing the lost note/legato
4) and finally one of the most useful tricks in a professional guitarist’s arsenal to create the illusion of legato is this: (first the situation) let’s say you have a melody with a large position leap in the middle, and this leap causes a break in the phrase (this is taking for granted that you cannot use an open string(s) to provide the legato while you leap). The problem here is that most of the time we are so focused on landing the notes after the break at the right time (metronomically speaking) that we actually cut the notes, before the break, short. What makes this worse is the sooner you cut notes after you pluck them the more noticeable it is (in this instance you can think of guitar as a percussion instrument….when we pluck a string we instantly get the loudest sound from the note and after that the note decays until it is inaudible). So the solution here is to give the note it’s full value or more (this will mess with timing in a minimal way, but it will also let the note decay some as well) and then make the leap as quickly as possible to the next note(s) landing them just a little late. If this is done well the effect is that the note before the break gently fades out and the break is reduced to the point of being negligible
If legato issues plague your playing try some of these techniques out and see if you too can’t become a smooth player.
Obviously people fill tomes about different “practice” methods, and it’s a very complex topic. In this post I just want to write about what I find works for me right now (over the years I’ve tried many different ways of practicing).
Most of the time when I pick up a new piece (or even something I haven’t played in a long time) I find that I can sight read through at least 80-90% of the piece (this is often slow reading at times). With this in mind, I approach the challenge in the following way:
- I take any sections that I can’t read through and play them over a few times each until I can keep it up to tempo with the rest of the piece (I mean slower sight reading tempo, not performance tempo)
*this usually takes me 3-4 days depending on the difficulty of the work
- Once that’s done, I’m ready to start playing through the piece as a whole (in the beginning stages it may take me an hour or so to get through it all if it’s a big work). From this point I start doing 2 things:
- (1) making mental notes of problem areas, that is:
- anything that doesn’t sound good in terms of phrasing, lines, buzz, position leaps, etc… -Remember you are looking for the “consistent” mistakes
- anything that doesn’t feel good in the hands (this can be due to: bad fingerings and/or lack of technique, in which case I have 2 options:
- change the fingering to utilize another technique in which I am strong (if possible)
- if another fingering is not possible, like if the fingering change worsens legato or phrase lines, then I will take the technique, and based on how well I can already execute it, I will: start with extremely slow practice always trying to perform the action with as little effort as possible…..try to find “comfort” in the new technique; once I have the main idea of how to do it, I design a number of exercises to strengthen and improve the speed/accuracy of the technique (all the while trying it out in the context of the music)
- (2) As I play through the piece at slow tempos I start trying out different musical ideas (interpretation). At first I find many passages are not sounding their best, but over time I come up with many good ideas…..and each time I think of a good idea, I play the passage a few times so that I wont forget it
- At this point practice for me becomes, rehearsing the piece from top to bottom and each time I hit a section that isn’t working as well as the rest, I stop for 5-15 minutes to work on making that section more comfortable (mentally and physically)
I could write so much more on this topic, but I’ll leave my first post moderately short