More Barré Top Tips

Howdy folks. I thought that for today’s post I’d follow on my recent post on playing barrés (or barré chords) with another on some additional tips for getting your fingers around this technique.

Just to recap, I suggested that you need to think about using the bigger muscles of your arm, its weight and gravity to create the pressure required to sound the notes.

And instead of pressing hard between finger and thumb, actually remove your thumb from the guitar neck and think about moving your hand in toward the neck of the guitar. Yes, don’t be clamping that thumb down like you’re pressing a thumb tack into the wood!

Lightly with the thumb

You don’t have to keep the thumb away from the guitar neck completely and all the time. In fact that may add undue tension itself if you do that to actively. Think about just relaxing the thumb, and just resting it, just placing it on the back of the guitar neck to provide balance and an easy, relaxed touch point (whilst putting into practice previous advice around using the weight of the arm and larger muscles groups).

The thumb is still not actively involved, per se, in producing the barré, but provides a resting point for your thumb. Thinking about the thumb in this relaxed manner can also help with thinking about the rest of the hand and fingers in a relaxed manner too.

Don’t attack it straight on

This one kind of depends a little on the make up of your fingers, but most folks have a harder, bonier outer edge to their first left hand finger and a plumper, fleshier underside. Rotate your first finger slightly towards the outside of the fingers, on the harder, bonier part of the finger – this should make the barré a little easier to produce because (a) it’s a nice, relatively hard surface and (b) you’re not contending with (or contending less with) the grooves of the inside of your knuckles. That is to say, the strings will have less of a tendency to slip into those grooves and produce that oh-so-annoying thunking or buzzing of a string not quite down fully.

Be selective with the application of pressure

Ask yourself the questions – do I need to keep this whole barré down all the time? Do I just need a half or partial barré? Can I change from full to partial or vice versa? Where are the pauses or more relaxed points in the music where you could relax the barré temporarily before reapplying?

Another important question to consider is do I need to apply equal pressure across the whole six strings? Have a look at which strings you’re playing and when. See if you can, in fact, selectively apply pressure to those strings in the barré only as you need them and relaxing the finger or fingers elsewhere.

Soundhole B&W

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Head here if you want to read that previous post again by the way: http://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2015/01/12/how-to-play-barres-without-the-pain/

Your Chance To Contribute To Guitar Trek’s New Album

Happy Australia Day for all my Aussie readers! Yes, here in the Land Down Under we’re celebrating our national day with lamb chops and snags on the barbie, cold beers and some good Aussie music.

But in amongst the INXS, Midnight Oil, John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes, I’ll also be listening to some great Aussie classical guitar music (how could I not, really?!). And some of that great Aussie classical guitar music I’ll definitely listening to is the Aussie guitar quartet, Guitar Trek.

Guitar Trek was launched in 1987 to showcase the Guitar Family (treble, standard, baritone & bass). Canberra-based Timothy Kain is the founding member of Guitar Trek. The current line up includes Timothy Kain, Minh Le Hoang, Bradley Kunda and Matt Withers.

Matt and the rest of the guys in Guitar Trek have launched a crowd funding campaign giving you the chance to contribute directly to their latest recording. The various donation options available also give you the opportunity to score some fantastic rewards including track and album downloads, signed albums, concert tickets, lessons with one the quartet and even your own private concerts.

Check it out here: http://pozi.be/guitartrek

Guitar Trek are aiming to start recording in June and releasing a brand new recording in October this year.

Apparently, the recording will venture into new territory for the quartet with an array of shorter pieces from many different countries and corners of the repertoire. We’re also told to be prepared for a few surprises! Sounds exciting!

Donations will be used to fund 3 days at the prestigious Studio 301 in Sydney, the services of a Sound Engineer for recording, editing and mastering, packaging manufacture, APRA/AMCOS Copyright and venue hire for the launch concert.

If you’re not familiar with Guitar Trek, check out this video of them performing Aussie composer Nigel Westlake’s Sling Jaw Wrasse the fourth movement from the suite Six Fish:

Good luck guys!

Should I Bother Playing Scales?

G’day folks!

A number of you have asked me recently about good ol’ scales – are they worth the time and effort? Why should I do them? Should I bother doing them at all?!

Well, the short answer to that last question is an unequivocal yes!

I last posted on this subject (almost unbelievably) around about two years ago, so time to revist one from the vaults!

My viewpoint, thoughts and approach to scales and their importance hasn’t really changed at all in the last couple of years, so I’ll reiterate the key points here again for you, folks.

In my formative years I struggled to see the point of practicing ones scales. At best, I thought it probably a half decent way of warming up the hands and fingers ready to play. At worst, I thought them a bloody waste of time, a complete drag and just getting in the way of the fun stuff.

In the wisdom and perspective offered by a couple of decades of classical guitar playing under the belt I have, for the last few years now, been able to see the error of my previous thinking.

cropped-photo-17.jpg

Scales are boring and tedious and dull and unexciting?

Nope. Wrong! As with many things, it’s all about your attitude and your approach to them.

We’re musicians right? And we make music? Playing a scale is no different to playing any music. The bare bones of the notes are there for us to shape and phrase, following the contours, playing in different timbres or tone colours, crescendo, decrescendo, legato, staccato and so on. The choices are almost limitless as to how to make music from scales, as with any other musical passages. And then we have consideration of our tone quality to add into the the mix too.

And so what’s the point of all of this?

Well, aside from practicing making music from notes on the page or in our heads there are a number of significant benefits that can really only be derived from regular playing and practice (which means a little every day – better a little every day than a whole lot once or twice a week) of scales.

In a nutshell, these benefits are:

  • Finger dexterity
  • Left and right hand coordination
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the left hand – i.e. programming in that you don’t have to press harder to get a louder volume from the guitar
  • Touch control and sensitivity for the right hand – developing your free and rest strokes
  • Developing a good quality of sound and tone production
  • Securing your knowledge of the fretboard/ fretboard geography
  • Generally facilitating an ease of playing, with things falling much easier under the fingers when you come to play your pieces without you really having to think about it.

Before I leave you to mull on that (and get to your scales and practice of course!) I do have a couple of new thoughts to add into the mix…..

Think about this for a second – what are most melodies made up of? It’s really lots of bits of parts of scales isn’t it? Perhaps just two notes in the scale then a leap of a second, third or fourth, then another grouping of part of a scale. Perhaps an arpeggio or two (which are also important to practice by the way!) in there. And then another wee scale section. Or a whole octave run.

Scales are the very foundation of the music we play. Get rock solid with your scales and I promise you your playing will become so much more secure and sight-reading will become a relative doddle. Why? Your fingers, your muscle memory, will play some things for you via somewhat of an automatic process (well, that’s what it can feel like sometimes, but takes consistent practice) and your fretboard geography will be out of sight!

I’m not saying it’ll happen overnight, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and you’ve got to start somewhere! Just start incorporating scales into your practice, that’s the important thing.

I find them so important to my general maintenance of playing, and further to that really the continued development of my playing and sound cultivation that oftentimes, even if I have only a short time to spend with the guitar practicing I’ll devote time to some mindful scale-playing.

So should you bother? Yes!

Introducing Tiziano Calabrese – And Some Free Music Just For You!

I was contacted at the end of last year by a very endearing classical guitarist by the name of Tiziano Calabrese. Tiziano is an Italian guitarist composer, living on the Greek island of Crete.
Super Tiziano!

Super Tiziano!

Starting today Tiziano’s latest album “A-Live” for classical guitar and percussion will be on streaming for free on his website made especially available for free streaming to Classical Guitar n Stuff readers until Sunday the 25th January. Click Here to get your ears around Tiziano’s wonderful work now!
Tiziano also has a section on his website where one can listen to and download mp3s for free.  Click Here! There are also tutorial videos on the streaming page.
Tiziano has also recently started up his own blog, and in the name of sharing and spreading the classical guitar love here are some of his recent posts:
Check out Tiziano’s website at: www.tizianocalabrese.com Be sure to head on over and check it out.

Cygnus Ensemble With World Premiere Guitar Works Live Webcast From NYC!

I have a pretty cool one for you this morning, folks!

The lovely folks over at LIVAMP (www.livamp.com) got in touch this week to let me and you guys know that there is a very special event coming up this Friday, January 16th.

LIVAMP is an online platform for broadcasting unique performances from handpicked venues globally. They are working with chamber music virtuosos Cygnus Ensemble to help them reach a broader audience through a live broadcast of one of their exciting upcoming performances.

On Friday January 16th at 7:30pm US Eastern Time Cygnus is performing a unique event at SubCulture in New York focused on showcasing the expansion of plucked instrument repertoire. The concert features the much-anticipated premiere of West of the Moon, by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Yehudi Wyner.

Cygnus Ensemble

Cygnus Ensemble

This really sounds like my kind of performance, with a showcase of the wide expressive range of the guitar, its players and its composers, featuring brand, spanking new instrumental and vocal works.

The ensembles Cygnus and Vox ‘n Plux, are joined by soprano, Elizabeth Farnum, baritone Thomas Meglioranza, guitarists Jiyeon Kim and Hao Yang (both students of David Starobin, who will also be conducting a performance of his work at the performance).

You can watch a free live broadcast of the full performance at www.livamp.com (no login required; sign-up online for reminder) Jan 16, 2015 730pm ET live at SubCulture in NYC. How cool is that?!
The performers will be:

Yehudi Wyner:  West of the Moon (flute, oboe, mandolin, guitar, violin, cello)

Michael Starobin:  Blurred (set of arrangements of theatrical songs by Stephen Sondheim, Tom Kitt, and William Finn, featuring Vox n Plux –soprano Elizabeth Farnum, with guitarists William Anderson and Oren Fader)

Paul Lansky: Talking Guitars (for two guitars)

David Starobin:  From Tchaikovsky’s Letters (for baritone & guitar)

William Anderson: Eight Rhythms of Djuna Barnes (for Vox n Plux)

And here’s the full program for you

Michael Starobin:  Blurred (2014)
Arrangements of Stephen Sondheim, William Finn and Tom Kitt.
A Cycle of Theater Songs
1. Losing My Mind
2. Psychopharmacology
3. When The Earth Stopped Turning

Vox n Plux
Elizabeth Farnum, soprano; William Anderson & Oren Fader, guitars
Paul Lansky: Talking Guitars (2014)
A conversation for two guitars
1.  Repeat After Me
2.  Let’s Talk
3.  Fast Talk

William Anderson
Eight Rhythms, Six Songs
Settings of Djuna Barnes
1. Seen From the “L” / Rite of Spring
2. She Passed This Way
3. Crystals
4. The Child Would Be Older
5. Paradise / When the Kissing Flesh Is Gone
6. Pastoral

Vox n Plux, with Sheer Pluck Guitar Orchestra

Intermission

David Starobin
From Tchaikovsky’s Letters
1. In Paris
2. My Opera
3. Three Hundred Rubles
4. The Villa Richelieu
5. The Weather
6. My Future
7. Waves

William Anderson & Thomas Meglioranza

Yehudi Wyner
West of the Moon

Yehudi Wyner

Yehudi Wyner

LIVAMP will be broadcasting the event live on www.livamp.com in high definition for a global audience. How exciting!! Get on it folks and tune in!

To find out a bit more about the performance head here:

http://www.cygnusensemble.com/features/expanding-the-guitar/
http://subculturenewyork.com/event/cygnus-in-five-world-premieres/

 

Check out LIVAMP across their various media locations here:

Website: http://www.livamp.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/livampmedia

Instagram: @livampmedia

 

Find out more about the Cygnus Ensemble here:

Website: http://www.cygnusensemble.com

How To Play Barrés Without The Pain!

Firstly thank you to those of you who’ve sent me emails or dropped me a line via the comments box on your classical guitar questions. It’s really good to hear from you out there! And it means I can really tailor what I’m writing for you guys to cover off those burning issues for you and offer a little help, if I’m able. Do keep them coming.

So, today’s post relates to what seems to be a particularly hot topic for a number of you out there judging by the number of questions I’ve had on this issue.

What issue is that?

The humble, oh so useful, but oft troublesome barré.

Is that sore, hot, burning, achey feeling in the ball of your left thumb (or right thumb for left handed guitarists) familiar? Extreme tension, achey? Hate barrés?

Well, I sympathise. I’ve been there before in my formative years as a guitarist. I thought if I just press harder, just squeeze a bit harder the barré will sound, no buzzes, no dead thunking strings. Sound familiar? Well, all I got was a sore hand, and at some points a cramping, twitching thumb! Does that also sound familiar?

If it does, well it’s highly likely that just like I was, you’re thinking about the approach to the barré in completely the wrong way.

It seems to make sense that if one squeezes very hard with thumb behind the guitar neck and forefinger across the strings that this will achieve the desired result, right?  Incorrect. This squeezing and pressure creates a bad tension which is not only bad for you physically but makes it difficult to play.

But if you think about this away from the guitar, just looking at your hand right now as if you have your hand in a sock puppet, there’s not actually that much force that can be generated by such a small set of muscles is there? These muscles are really about refined movement. The end of a job that needs to be carried out by larger muscles.

Don’t think about squeezing, pressure and tension, particularly in the hand, thumb and fingers.

No, to play beautiful tension-free barrés all day long you need to think about weight, gravity, and using your bigger levers to do the bulk of the work for you.

Instead of pressing hard between finger and thumb, actually remove your thumb from the guitar neck and think about moving your hand in toward the neck of the guitar. The motion is kind of like you’d be patting yourself on the shoulder if there were no guitar there.

When doing this you need to be using primarily the muscles in your arm (your biceps should be doing most of the work), drawing your arm backward. And the weight of your arm should be assisting you in this with gravity drawing your below towards the ground. Use that gravitational force to assist you in hand and fingers into the soundboard. Always make sure your shoulders are not up around your ears, that they’re nice and relaxed.

It’s kind of hard to describe in words! And each one of you will, I’m sure, play in slightly different positions and approach this slightly differently.

If you have a teacher I strongly encourage you to work on this with them, or at least have someone that can watch you and provide pointers.

If not, just experiment with it. Either way I actively encourage you to play around with this and experiment with different angles of the guitar, neck, your arm and hand.

Yes, it will feel weird and completely strange to begin with. I can pretty much promise you that! But do persevere with it as the alternative is not a great option! This is just the beginning of a good barré technique – there are other elements to this technique which I can delve into in further blog posts. Try this for now though.

Once you feel like you’re getting your barré under control a little a great exercise to try is Sor’s Study in B Flat Major. A beautiful little piece that’s a great exercise for developing barrés.

 

My First Practice Session After The Holidays

The Christmas and New Year holidays are a great time for me to take some time away from the guitar – yes, I do this on purpose!

Why?

Well, a lot of things in life benefit from taking a breather from time to time and guitar playing is no different. I find that in the day to day learning, practicing and playing drill one can get stuck in a rut sometimes and lost in the minutiae that perhaps seem overly important at the time or challenging to overcome.

A couple of weeks break, as I’ve just had, allows me to hit the reset button. It allows me the chance to just step back and see those woods for the trees in my practice and playing. Having recharged my batteries it also sets me up ready and raring for a new year ahead of learning.

Having arrived back Down Under last weekend, I commenced on my very first practice session earlier this week. So how did I go about getting back into it?

Very slowly first and foremost!

John Price Guitar

It’s pretty much guaranteed that for the first practice session back after a couple of weeks of zero playing ones hands are going to feel more or less like you’ve had them amputated and replaced by a pair of unwieldy size 12 feet. Well, that’s what it feels like for me anyway.

So, first things first (after having tuned up and settled into position and all that) is to play some Segovia scales. My hands were feeling particularly sleepy (I think they must have had jet lag too…) so I decided to play a few – C major, A minor, F major, D minor, G major and E minor.

I played half free stroke (the first half I played) and then half rest stroke. All of them I played with the full gamut of right hand finger alternatives, namely i-m, m-i, m-a, a-m, i-a, a-i, and i-m-a.

The left hand knows where it’s going around the fingerboard without me really actively having to think about it (the product of years of solid practice), so that bit’s OK. The finger and hand muscles feel slightly strange though, as I said, in moving in this way after a nice cosy break doing nothing more than lifting a fork and glasses of whiskey! By the end of this element of exercise the left hand is starting to loosen up again though and “remember” what it’s supposed to be doing, almost saying “ah yes, here we go again chaps!”.

Similarly the right hand, which after 14 or so days of not playing has lost it’s sharpened edge of reflexive fluidity, begins to stir from its torpor and recall the movements involved in creating a beautiful sound.

And that’s a very important thing to do at this point too. Even in working out the knots of the first couple of slow and careful scale runs I’m listening in to the sound I am creating, tweaking the right hand angle of attack just ever so slightly if necessary to hit the sweetest spot on the nail and settle back into my “go to” sound.

Once I’ve played through these scales, very slowly initially before moving a little faster, playing very mindfully, I then decided to move into playing through the newest piece that I’d been working on prior to going on holidays. Playing nice and slowly of course, and cutting myself some slack that things will be slightly rustier than when I left it I progress through the piece. I progress to the point where I’d gotten to in my learning of the music and then I moved beyond that.

For some reason the reading and the movement of the music, and particularly the sight reading of the previously unstudied bars, seems far easier than when I’d left it a fortnight previously. It seems the break has done me good! See I told you! A bit of stepping back, removing oneself from plugging away at something day in day out can (only from time to time mind you!) can really do wonders.

I then “checked in”, as it were, with a piece which I’m much more familiar with and much further along in its development. Again, dipping into it at a reduced tempo, listening, mindful playing, mentally noting the trickier spots. Time away is good for doing this also – it helps you understand what really has stuck and what does need further work. This list of tricky spots then becomes the basis for my next round of practice sessions.

And that was about it for the first session back. It probably totaled around 30-35 minutes in terms of time and that’s about as much as my body is willing to handle on its first session back practicing. My advice is not to push it too much in terms of your physical time with the guitar in your first session or two after a break. Just slip in, nice and gentle.