Introducing the Melbourne Guitar Foundation

Just a wee post this morning folks to introduce to you a brand new initiative by young Melbourne guitarists, Michael MacManus and Evan Hopkins – the Melbourne Guitar Foundation.

The guys have launched this Foundation with mission to promote and cultivate the classical guitar in Australia.


Their vision is of an engaged local community of guitarists contributing towards a culture of learning, support and sharing of ideas to create the best musical and artistic environment in Australia.

Through masterclasses, individual lessons, concerts, competitions, scholarships and festivals, the Melbourne Guitar Foundation is seeking to engage the Australian community with the best classical guitarists throughout the world. By nurturing and developing an Australian wide guitar family made up of professional concert artists, teachers, amateurs and enthusiasts alike they aim to encourage the next generation of Australian classical guitar concert artists.

The Melbourne Guitar Foundation (or MGF for short) will be presenting an exciting concert series program in 2015 among other activities, so stay tuned!

The recent concert in Melbourne of Swedish guitarist Johannes Möller was in fact the very first presentation by the MGF. Check out this live recording taken during Möller’s Melbourne performance.

I’m sure there will be many more exciting performances to come!

So you don’t miss out head along and sign up to the MGF Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/314234658742583/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDuuXX6R3Gp_rSCCQiKrOVA

 

Valuable Lessons Learnt from Playing Classical Guitar

In spite of having played some form of musical instrument for around 25 years – and the classical guitar itself for around 20 of those – there are still lessons that are sinking into this ol’ noggin of mine. It’s a funny thing.

In a philosophical kind of way it has taken this intense journey, over the last 7 or so years in particular, for me to begin to realise these lessons. It seems as if in any one moment over that time I’ve felt quite “switched on” in a “yep, I’ve got this practicing/ playing/ performing/technical development thing down pat“. Then I look back on where I was six months ago, or a year ago or two years ago and realised how little I seemingly know then, how far I have actually come, how much I have developed, changed and learnt, not just in my playing but also in my thinking and my approach to learning and playing.

That’s not to belittle or diminish my efforts or my thoughts of 2, 3, 5, whatever years ago – I believe we’re always doing the very best with whatever we have available to us in a given moment, be it knowledge, experience or physical resources. It’s just a reflection on how much the journey shapes us and changes us. We have to let it though. And this can be a difficult thing to do as it can mean at once recognising our plus points in what we’re doing at the same time as recognising areas that require improvement. It requires us to be aware of our own self-deception too, which can also be a very hard and confronting thing to do.

But do it we must if we are to grow and develop, not only as guitarists, but also as individuals. I have personally found some considerable benefits crossing over into other areas of my life by taking the valuable lessons learnt from classical guitar practice and playing.

Classical Guitar

Here are my most valuable lessons learnt (so far!) from playing classical guitar:

If you’re going to do something do it with your full attention and energy

Always approach your practice, your playing, a piece or sections of a piece with your utmost attention, focus and energy. Be single-minded about it for that moment. It’s part of that old adage really – if something is worth doing, do it well. If you’re going to spend your time playing guitar, make it count. Don’t play in a half-hearted way. Don’t practice in a half-hearted way. Commit and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards technically and musically.

Be honest with yourself

If you don’t want to play, don’t. Be honest. But understand the repercussions of not practicing this time when you could be. If you do want to play, then do, and give it your undivided attention (see item above!).

Forget time and focus

A bit like the clock-watchers in the office – folks that are probably not the most productive as they’re focussed on time rather what is being done and how it’s being done – watching the clock, or being overly mindful of time is quite an unproductive way to practice. How much fun is it watching a clock? About as fun as sticking needles in your eyeballs. Or worrying about how much time you have/ haven’t/ should be devoting to your practice? Same. A pointlessly painful exercise. Forget time in your practice and think about what you’re producing and how you’re producing it.

I’m not kidding you when I say I’ve increased my productivity (just to carry on the work-type analogy) on the guitar in the last 6 – 12 months by taking my focus right off of time and putting it squarely onto what I’m achieving when I sit down with the guitar. And incidentally, I’m actually spending less time practicing than I have done in the past 5 or so years, but achieving more. Yes sure there’s a compounding factor of all the practice that has gone before, but I’ve stopped messing around. I’ve stopped the useless fluffing around and focussed my attention on what really requires my attention.

Forget time spent, lose that worry and put your energy into focus and what you want to achieve. An incredibly hard thing to do (well, it has been for me!), and I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do at all. But like anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Listen to your tone, but listen to your body too

Listening doesn’t just reside with our ears. We’re listening to our sound, our tone quality, how we’re playing, but it’s also vitally important to listen to your body. Treat it well. Rest when you need to rest and don’t push through your practice session. If I’m overly tired and try to practice three things happen for me (a) I get really frustrated and cross with myself for really no apparent reason very quickly, (b) I make silly mistakes and (c) I can push back my progress rather than push it forward. And don’t practice or play hungry either!

Listen to your body in terms of any aches and pains too. Playing guitar should not be a painful pursuit. It should be relaxing. If it hurts – stop! And if it continues to hurt seek some professional help – medical and musical.

Johannes Möller In Concert

I’ve seen a lot of guitar recitals in my time – some good, some not so good, some average, some spectacular. Well folks, let me tell you that the recital that I saw on a cold and foggy Tuesday evening here this week in Melbourne is one of those that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was exciting, enthralling and enchanting all at the same time.

Netherlands-based, Swedish guitarist and composer, Johannes Möller (who I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing a couple of weeks ago – check it out here if you missed it), held the audience captive with the weaving of a truly astounding display of guitar playing virtuosity, authentic and generous musicianship and some of the most imaginative (yet least contrived) use of the guitar as a musical medium I have witnessed. I know I’m prone to using superlatives rather freely on this blog, but please believe me when I say that this concert was simply breathtaking. Guitar playing of the highest order. Möller, dare I say it, could possibly be one of the best guitarists currently actively playing…..

And this wasn’t just my opinion either it seems. The reception from the audience all round was one of amazement and excitement. My friend sitting next to me turned to me on a couple of occasions and we just smiled and nodded at the simply fantastic playing and beautiful original music presented. No words necessary.

I was impressed by his super sensitive and well-thought out dynamics in the classic pieces presented (including Barrios’ Un Sueno en la Floresta and Albeniz’s Asturias (Leyenda)), his super soft (and masterfully controlled) pianissimo  playing that drew you in and urged you to pay close attention and his vigorous and refreshing approach to these classic pieces.

I was even more impressed by his original material. The first of these was a piece called From Her Source To The Sea – an effective musical reflection on the journey of the River Ganges from it’s source in the Himalayas, picking up speed and size before flowing out gracefully to the Bay of Bengal. This piece is one of Johannes many pieces inspired by north Indian classical music, with re-tuning of various strings on the guitar, to create an impressive sitar-esque sound. At one point during the performance of this piece I had to do a double-check of his right hand fingers – I couldn’t quite believe the masterful strumming and simultaneous rapid arpeggios. Incredible. This piece was followed by the incredibly beautiful and moving Song To The Mother, a particular favourite of mine and no less spine-tingling in the flesh (I just love the harmonics in this piece).

We were treated to some new works too, including 8 beautiful little Preludes (which will eventually turn into 24 Preludes in each of the musical keys) and a gorgeous Nocturne, apparently completed just two weeks ago (can’t wait for that one to be published as I’d love to play it myself). And we were also treated to a lovely, little-heard Regondi Nocturne and an inspiring original piece A Star in the Sky, a Universe Within…an exquisitely elegant philosophical reflection and musical exploration of the night sky – and an impressive exploration of the capabilities of the instrument including the highest pitches I think I’ve ever heard play on a standard classical guitar.

The standout piece in the concert for me was The Night Flame – a piece based on an Indian night raga (a raga is an Indian classical scale or mode). This was not only a fantastic display of Johannes’ outstanding capability as a composer, but also as a true virtuoso of the guitar. The passion and 100% commitment to the music and its delivery was awe-inspiring stuff. An intensely, energetic musical performance that is very hard to put into words. You have to see, hear and experience for yourself.

Overall I was really impressed with the incredible creativity and imagination that Johannes infuses into his pieces – use of harmonics, alternate tunings and non-Western classical influences, use of capo across half the fretboard, a number of different left and right hand techniques, tone colours, rhythmic interest and beautiful melodies.

What I was most impressed with was the authenticity, dedication, passion and love for the guitar that was evident in this concert. This is 5 star stuff. It doesn’t come much better.

 

If you’re in Australia, Johannes’ remaining tour dates are: the Araluen Arts Centre today (24th July), Sydney (25th July), Canberra (26th July) and Perth (23rd August). He has a number of tour dates lined up this year in the USA and Europe and I strongly encourage you to head along to your nearest show. Check out Johannes website for more details: http://johannesmoller.com/tour/

In summary, Johannes presented the audience with some stunning, mind (and technique) expanding playing that can only inspire players and guitar aficiondos of all types. The future of the guitar and its repertoire is very safe in the hands of this maestro. Bravo Johannes! 10 out of 10!

What To Look For When Buying A Classical Guitar

There are lots of folks out there who are interested in learning to play the classical guitar, but are not really too sure what to look for when picking out an instrument. For a newbie this is completely understandable as there are so many different choices available these days, many for some very alluring prices too. Today’s post is really aimed at the beginner or those looking for the market entry point student guitar.

A guitar’s a guitar right?

Not quite. At the entry level side of the market we see guitars with cheap, roughly made plywood tops, often painted or dyed a bright orange or yellow. They tend to look cheap and nasty and they tend to play cheap and nasty too – no better than the orange boxes they’re made from really. These guitars, whilst seriously, cheap could potentially put you off playing! They are often poorly built, roughly finished, difficult to play (which you may not realise if you’ve just started out) and sound terrible.

Solid top

Look out for a guitar with a solid top (the part of the guitar facing away from you when you’re holding it to play it), as this is the part of the instrument (aside from the strings) that most significantly influences the nature of the sound coming out. Solid top guitars will either be spruce (usually a lighter coloured wood, producing a bright sound) or cedar (usually a darker wood, producing a warmer sound than the spruce).

John Price Guitar

Cedar top


Action

The “action” on a guitar is the height of the strings from the fretboard. Oftentimes the higher the action, the more difficult a guitar can be to play, particularly for the beginner as you’ve got to use more pressure to press the strings down. So check this out when you’re testing out an instrument (always test out if you can) and play the instrument for a while. You may be able to cope with a reasonably high action for 5 minutes or so, but you don’t want to feel like you’re running a marathon when playing your new instrument for 10 minutes or longer.

Extraneous noises

Watch out, or rather listen out, for any buzzes, hums, rattles or any other unusual noises. Even at the cheaper end of the scale you shouldn’t really be getting any of these annoying noises that will be detracting from your playing and enjoyment of the instrument. Sometimes it may just be a case of a loose machine head, which can be easily tightened up, or the end of a string vibrating against the instrument (solved by just trimming the string down). If the source of a buzz or rattle is harder to find I’d say that’s a big warning sign not to buy.

Sizing

Not all guitars are made the same size – whilst all “standard” instruments are of a similar size there are subtle variations which can make a big difference over time whilst playing. Try out a few guitars and how they “feel” whilst you’re seated and playing them. How is the body depth? Do you feel you have to reach your arm a little too far? How is the width and the depth of the neck? Can you move your hand comfortably up and down then neck? Can you reach and play chords and barre chords with relative ease? If you’re smaller of stature, buying for a younger child or you have hands and fingers on the smaller size you may even want to check out a 3/4 size guitar or similar.

So, which brand or make of guitar should I buy?

Well, for a dirt cheap beginner’s instrument, for minimal investment of your cool hard cash (just in case you don’t like it after all), the Yamaha student guitars are not a bad bet. Don’t get me wrong – these guitars in the overall scheme of things are not the most beautiful sounding, but they are solid as a rock. For around AUD$140 they represent better value for money than other guitars at a similar price point. These entry-level student instruments have a solid top rather than plywood too.

I would then recommend taking a look at the entry-level student range from Alhambra. The Alhmabra 1C is actually a pretty bloody good instrument for the cash (around $500) and you can take your pick between a cedar or a spruce top. The playability of these guitars is very nice indeed, the finish is of very high quality and they are capable of making a pretty decent sound. Definitely a better pick of instrument than any of the others I’ve tried at this price point.  

Most importantly of all – if you can try a few guitars out before you buy, I highly recommend doing so. Then you’re not just taking my word for it! Happy guitar hunting!  

The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #5 – 3 Months In & Keeping On Keeping On!

Hi Folks, I thought I’d do a bit of an update this week on my LMusA diploma journey, seeing as the last one was a couple of months ago already. How time flies!

For those of you new to the blog (or this wee series I’ve started building) or those that want a recap, I decided to start preparations for taking the LMusA diploma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licentiate_in_Music,_Australia) in April this year.

So where are things three months into the journey?

Well, I’ll say from the outset here that I believe I’m really still in the initial stages of this journey. I’m under no illusions as to the complexity of the pieces I’m learning, will be learning and getting to know inside out over the next couple of years. And I’m under no illusions about the level expected of me going into the eventual recital examination. This all sounds very “heavy”, so don’t get me wrong – I’m finding this an overall journey so far most enjoyable and challenging in the most positive ways!

So, yes, I decided to start out with learning an absolute all-time favourite piece of mine – La Maja de Goya by Granados. And three months in I feel it’s coming together really very well indeed. It’s getting that feel of being a whole piece, not just bits of phrases or sections stitched together with some fluffy bits in between. I’m getting a handle on the more technically tricky bars to the point where there are really only three, perhaps four of these throughout the whole piece. I’m also becoming more and more certain about the direction I’d like to take the music and its “feel” (i.e. colours, dynamics etc.).B&W Down Fretboard shot

What are the next steps, over the next three months, with this piece for me?

(a) Continuing working on the tricky bits until they’re under my control.

(b) Continue to play sections, then halves of the piece, and then the whole of the piece at 75% tempo, 90% tempo and 100% tempo to continue cementing it as a whole thing, a whole piece of work with clear direction and intention throughout, that I can play consistently each time I approach it.

(c) Play it for a live, breathing audience – the first airing of a piece is important as it gives you good feedback about what you feel is working well and what needs further work.

(d) Continue playing it more, and developing my thoughts and ideas on approach, energy levels, dynamics, colours and so on.

(e) Continue the memorisation of the piece (which is probably around 80% of the whole at present as a result of studying the piece closely, not just where my hands are moving).

But this is not going to be it for my classical guitar playing workload over the next three months. Oh no, being the glutton for work that I am, I’ve also made a start in the last week on my next  piece to add into the recital program – and this is a biggie – the whole of the Suite Compostelana by Frederic Mompou. The best way, for myself at least, is to really break this down and get stuck into learning it a page or rather a large section at a time.  I’ll keep you updated as to how I go!

—-

For the previous posts in this series head here:

Update #4 – Keeping Going Through the Frustration

Update #3 – Practicing Whilst Travelling

Update #2 – An Example of a Day’s Practice

Update #1 – The LMusA Diploma Journey

The Start of a New Journey – The LMusA Diploma

Top Tips for Learning Classical Guitar On Your Own

Hello dear readers!

I’ve been contacted recently by a reader who’s just started learning in the last three months, but in a position time-wise and financially where taking lessons just isn’t a possibility.  And I would imagine that said reader is not alone in this.

Yes, it’s ideal if you can take lessons on a weekly basis, but just because you’re not able to do this for whatever reason that should absolutely not be any kind of roadblock or reason not to start learning, playing and enjoying the wonderful instrument that is the classical guitar. I’m all about sharing and helping, so here are my thoughts and top tips for kick-starting your classical guitar journey solo-style.

(1) You don’t have to do it on your own!

With the wonders of the internet these days, you don’t actually have to do anything anymore in isolation. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as learning things in a tailored one-on-one environment, but checking out videos online, seeing if there are any quick “pointers” videos out there – or even blogs like this! – makes things a heck of a lot better, easier and far more pleasant than sitting in your lounge room or bedroom wondering if you’re doing something “right”!

In fact above encourage any of you seeking advice or if you have thoughts on a topic you’d like me to cover to get in touch and ask away. I’m always keen to help if and where I can. I might even be able to post up a video or photo to help with a dilemma or an issue.

(2) Keep on practicing, even just a little bit, every day

We are our habits, and the more frequently you do something, the more ingrained the behaviour comes. Get used to practicing, even if it’s just five minutes – even 2 minutes! – every single day or at the very least 5 days out of 7. This is where you’ll find your development sneaks up on you without you noticing!

(3) Immerse yourself in guitar music and its many sounds

Get to know your favourite players and their sounds inside out. Watch them on YouTube – listen and watch how they produce their sounds. Seek out and get to know guitarists you’ve not heard of before and do the same. Listen, listen, listen. Get to know, feel and understand what good sound sounds like to you. It will take a lot of listening over a period of time to appreciate the subtleties in sound quality, like getting to appreciate good wines or whiskies, but overtime your ear will discern finer and finer differences in sound.

Why is this important?

It will impact on your own playing significantly. Not having someone like a teacher to give you feedback on your sound production and sound quality means it may take a little more time (or not!) for you to understand and appreciate (a) what “good” sound could sound like and (b) how you personally can physically produce a “good” sound (which is totally subjective of course).

By effectively training your ear to become more sensitive to variations in sounds (and observing, where possible, how they’re produced) will mean your own sound production will become more sensitive and informed by what you’re hearing.

(4) Use a well-known and recommended method book

There are plenty out there, and most will give you a reasonable start in learning the guitar. A New Tune A Day For Classical Guitar by Michael McCartney is not a bad book to check out and comes with a CD that plays the tunes, and acompaniments. If you feel you’re not moving ahead with the book you’ve chosen feel free to drop me a line and I can help suggest some alternatives. Similarly, if you feel you’ve moved beyond the book you’ve been using and don’t know where to go to next please feel free to drop me a line.

 

Thanks again for the reader (you know who you are) for getting in touch. Just to reiterate, as I said above encourage any of you seeking advice or if you have thoughts on a topic you’d like me to cover to do the same. I’m always keen to help if and where I can – Nicole.

 

It Takes Three To Tango!

Acclaimed composer and performer Máximo Pujol is bringing his tango trio direct from Buenos Aires to Australia for the first time ever – and his first stop is Melbourne this weekend!!

Having honed his skills playing milongas and tangos in the clubs of Buenos Aires, Pujol’s vibrant and melodically rich music is founded on these styles, and makes full use of the expressive powers of the guitar in dialogue with stellar bandoneonista Eleonora Ferreyra and double bass player Daniel Falasca.

If you like a bit of Latin flair then head along to Melba Hall at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Royal Parade this Saturday 12th July at 7:30m. You’ll be in for a serious (and very rare) treat. I promise!

Book tickets at:  http://www.ticketbookings.com.au/ events/classicalguitar

In addition, you might like to attend the Tango Lecture Demonstration and Milonga by The Maximo Pujol Trio at Sidewalk Tango at 2:00pm on Sunday 13th July 2014 at 327 Swan Street, Richmond.  Book tickets at: www.sidewalktango.com.au

Check out the Maximo Pujol Trio in action……