Expanding Your Musical Horizons – Shaun Rigney

Howdy folks! I want to take the opportunity today to share with you the music of the wonderful Australian composer Shaun Rigney. I’ve been listening quite a bit recently to Slava Grigoryan’s 2004 recording AfterImage – Slave Grigoryan plays the music of Shaun Rigney.

My particular favourite of mine from that recording is Guitar Concerto Lapis Lazuli. It’s really quite hauntingly beautiful music, with a highly guitaristic quality to it. Once I get into listening to this I have to keep putting it on repeat as one listen is never enough! Shaun is a super-talented composer (and a lovely chap to boot – he’s a fellow member of the CGSV Guitar Orchestra) and his music (particularly his guitar works, from a purely selfish point of view!) really should be heard by a greater audience!

Have a listen to the following clip to understand why and then head out and pick up a copy of Afterimage – Slava Grigoryan plays the music of Shaun Rigney (ABC Classics). A recording that should be in the collection of all classical guitar fans!

Performance Nerves and Confidence

I’m revisiting one (a part of one at least) from the archives today folks on one of my favourite topics on the blog and that’s performance anxiety. I’m revisiting as I believe that what I had to say on the subject a couple of years ago is still very much true. Having said that there’s one element missing that I’ve experienced directly as being very helpful in a performance situation.  Read on and I’ll make my new addition at the bottom…..

I, of all people, know what it is like to be an adult student of the guitar and facing a performance situation ….It’s bloody scary! Although I’d had quite some training in the performing arts (dance as well as music) throughout my youth, when I came back to my classical guitar studies some time in my mid-ish twenties, when I picked up the guitar again a few years ago the idea of performing again at once excited me (getting to share my rekindled passion with others again) and bloody scared the pants off me!

What if I sounded terrible? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I stuffed up? What if people hated it and I should really just forget this idea of picking up the guitar properly again? What if I forgot what I should be playing? What if I lost my place in the music? There were some serious levels of anxiety and nerves there.

Over the last five years or so, however (Oct 2014 – clocking in for seven years now!), I have tried and tested numerous techniques for dealing with that anxiety. Some of them have worked really well for me and I still use them today; some have worked less well for me and I have consigned to the “errrr, not quite for me” bin.

There are a heap of things I could share with you about dealing with performance anxiety, but wanted to share some without turning this into a book of Ben Hur proportions. So I have condensed down some crucial thoughts and ideas on techniques that have been more successful for me.

What is making you anxious?

Can you identify what is the most prominent or over-riding cause of your anxiety? Recognising the answer to this question can help you address it.

One big issue for a lot of people is worrying about “stuffing up”. However, that in itself is not really a considerable issue, as most people, myself included, are pretty happy playing along in their lounge room or bedroom when we fluff a note or two.  “Ah well”, we say to ourselves, “no great shakes”, and keep on playing.

Most often the key source of anxiety related to “stuffing up” is the embarrassment factor and worrying about what people might think of you. We don’t want to look or sound bad in front of our audience. We don’t want them to judge us badly.


Have a think on these:


  •  So you fluff a note or two – big deal! It’s the whole piece that counts. You don’t tend to look at every single brushstroke of a luscious Monet landscape; you admire the image as a whole. Similarly, I’ll bet your performance of the whole is gorgeous and fantastic and you! In five minutes time no one will even have remembered any fluffs or stumbles (or what you think is a stumble or fluff…).


  •  Chances are, the mistake is super-amplified in your own mind; I’ll bet you it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as you think it sounds.


  •  Most people probably won’t even have recognized that you made a little fluff. Just don’t screw your face up and start swearing! Just tell yourself that’s how it sounds.


  •  And even if they do recognize a little fluff, so what?! Your audience are hardly likely to say to you during or after the performance “oh my god, you so stuffed up that section!” are they?


  •  If it were you listening to someone in your position performing, you enjoy listening to the whole thing. As a listener you’re probably not really worried at all about a few glitches here and there are you?


  •  What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if you stuff up? Are you going to die? Are you going to be injured? Possibly not.



Accept your anxiety and nervousness

It is not a bad thing to be nervous or anxious. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or something you need to try and hide. How can it be when it is programmed into every single one of us?! Everyone feels it to a greater or lesser degree. A lot of professional performers have learnt to harness the energy and channel it into their performance.


Simply give yourself permission to be nervous; accept that it is there. Blocking it out is not the way forward! I do this by actually saying out loud to myself “yes, I feel slightly nervous – hello my old friend- and that is ok”. You might feel a bit of a banana saying that to yourself, but I find it helps me to accept those feelings.



Trust Yourself

How long have you been practicing and playing your piece or pieces? Chances are it has been a reasonable amount of time, in that you feel you can play it reasonably well. It flows, it moves along, you really enjoy playing it. We’ll come to the subject of piece selection in another blog post.


Trust in yourself that you can play the music. You know you can and you’ve proved it to yourself countless times.


And remember that your interpretation or way of playing something is just as valid as anyone else’s. It doesn’t really matter what others think about your interpretation. How you play it is your unique style. That’s what ultimately makes it “good” and a heartfelt performance.



We are all different and act and behave in different ways so you may find different techniques work better for you than others. There is no silver bullet to dealing with performance anxiety; its a process of discovery about what works for you personally.



And the October 2014 addition?


I’m not saying you suddenly have to conjure up self-assuredness from thin air. I am saying though go out there in a whole-hearted manner. Put your whole heart into your performance. Embrace what you’re about to do. Give it your full focus and energy. That may help a little. And then pretend! Pretend that you’re a super-confident performer, slip into a character that’s confident even. In my personal experience I’ve found that confidence begets confidence. In performance situations where I’ve acted confident has really helped to settle the nerves, given my brain evidence that I can do this and am quite good in spite of feeling like a trembling jelly on the side with my heart threatening to pound through my chest! The next it wasn’t nearly so bad (the brain-evidence thing at work there), and so I felt a little more confident. And so on and so forth.

Give it a whirl – slap on your best cheesy grin, puff out your chest and hold you head high as you walk next time you walk onto the stage!

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra 2015 Season Launch!

This is one of those times where I call upon the “n Stuff” element of the blog’s title! Hah hah!

As you know (if you’ve been following the blog) I’m keen on promoting and bringing to a wider audience the various facets of our instrument, the classical guitar – classical guitarists well known and rising, classical guitar music also both well known and less so, the “hardware” associated with the art form, approaches to learning it, developing technique and so on.

I’m also extremely keen on helping breakdown the notion that classical music is some rarified and “special thing”. As I’ve said on the “About Me” page for a long time – Yes, it is special in that all music is special, but not special in that it should be accessed by only a privileged few. Classical music is for all. I’m keen as mustard, one might say, to encourage people to experience the wonders of Western classical music.

One of my favourite things to do is to experience a symphonic orchestra in full-flight. Witnessing 80 highly-skilled musicians, professionals at the top of their game, working to produce such beautiful (mostly!) music together is astounding. I fully encourage others to share that experience too, particularly guitarists who are often singular creatures by nature and who don’t often experience that wonderful experience of playing with a vast collection of other musicians. I find sitting back and letting those other musicians do all the hard work whilst enjoying the fruits of their labours is really quite inspiring thing for myself as a guitarist!

I was privileged this week to be invited to the launch of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s 2015 season launch. I was rather excited! And I was rather excited to see some fantastic works coming up  – some more Tan Dun works (including one featuring the composer himself as conductor), film scores played live with screenings of their respective movies including Star Trek and Babe, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust featuring Welsh superstar bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, a full revisit of Beethoven’s famous 5 hour epic 1808 Vienna concert, a festival of all new music including the Jonny Greenwood’s (of Radiohead fame) orchestral suite There Will Be Blood and Britten’s War Requiem played as the MSO’s tribute to the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli in World War One.

I am also rather excited to say that I will be extremely privileged over the coming months to feature previews and reviews, for you dear readers, of the marvelous Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (whoop!).

Head along to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra website to check out the 2015 performance schedule – http://www.mso.com.au/whats-on/list?series%5B1105%5D=1105

And of course I can’t leave you without some music, so here’s a taste of the orchestra with a YouTube playlist. Enjoy!

The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #7 – Taking The Pressure Off

Morning (or evening depending on where you are) folks!

Well, I’ve come to the realisation that this journey of progressing towards the LMusA is going to take a little longer than I’d anticipated at the start of this year. And that’s fine. I’m not under any time constraints with this – there’s no “must do” here, there’s no tangible, external reason for undertaking this. No outside force saying “you must do this, before you can do this” or anything like that. It’s purely an internal reason. That’s to say this is really largely about the journey for me and seeing how far I can take my playing. And that internal reasoning, in the past, has caused more pressure than an external driver! I can be a real pain in the backside to my own self sometimes! Or used to, I should say.

I have absolutely no doubt that I can achieve the LMusA. I say that without an ounce of arrogance and quite seriously. It’s just a matter of time. Well, that’s not quite correct. It’s a matter of putting in the right amount of quality practice with my chosen repertoire pieces to really get to know them, understand them, feel them, subsume them into my psyche. This does, of course, have a time element associated with it.

Like most of you (probably, I’m making assumptions here of course), dear reader, I too have a “normal” life, a non-guitar life. At the start of this year I actually ceased teaching and freelancing to focus on an exciting employment opportunity. So as well as working towards my own guitar goals and playing development, I’m also working a 40 hours (minimum) managerial level job that takes me around the country, with all the exciting and sometimes stressful challenges that go along with that. Plus, you know, family life, keeping fit and healthy, having time out for myself, looking after the dog, painting my apartment, looking for a new house to move to for a bit of a tree-change and all of that!

So as important and a significant part of my life as playing classical guitar is, I’ve realised, however, one has to be flexible with these things. If you want to set a strict timeline for yourself and you find that a really good driver for yourself personally, go for it and all power to you! For myself though, over the last few years I’ve realised I thrive and develop and actually play at my best when I take some of the pressure off of myself. In this instance this is a time pressure. I’ve released the pressure valve by saying ” you know Nicole, you know when you’ll be ready. Keep working whenever you can, in that focussed manner and we’ll get there. No rush. No due date”.

I’ve found that when I get the time to practice, which I still aim to do most days of the week in some form or other, I’m super focussed on what I’m doing. I’ve also found my output (for want of a better term) is almost fast-tracked relative to the time I put in – I’m focusing on quality practice, sorting out niggles. I’m focussing on beautiful sound, and a clarity in my sound. I’m focussing on clarity of direction.  As a result of releasing the pressure from myself, I’m having a lot of fun with it, it’s adding a new dimension to my playing, and my playing is better than ever!

Dear readers –  What are your drivers? Do you need to release any pressure or tension – actual, perceived, physical, mental? And if so, where?  Some food for thought……


Andrey Lebedev Presented By The Julian Bream Trust With 2 World Premiere Performances

Well, its fair to say that we Australians (and Victorians in particular) have had a good share of the envy-inducing classical guitar gigs of late. Now it’s the turn of the UK (again) to make us Antipodeans green around the gills, via an upcoming Australian talent no less!

The legendary Julian Bream and his Trust, together with the young Australian Andrey Lebedev, have come together to extend recently written repertoire for the instrument.

Amongst other things, the Julian Bream Trust was formed to present substantial and often ignored music written for the guitar, with a particular focus on new literature. Andrey Lebedev’s concert has the unusual inclusion of two world premieres of works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Leo Brouwer, both commissioned by the Trust.

Andrey, who was personally chosen by Julian Bream for this particular concert (nice!!), has been visiting Bream from time to time at his home in Wiltshire (I’m not envious at all Andrey…..). They have collaborated closely, working through the new music as well as the more conventional works in the programme.

Birtwistle’s piece is inspired by Picasso’s Construction with Guitar Player. It’s an immense and very dense work,” says Lebedev, “built around a short piece he wrote for his wife’s funeral and played by their son Silas. It’s a great honour for me to be giving the first public performance of a work written by one of the foremost composers of our time.

Leo Brouwer’s Sonata No.5 Ars Combinatoria, is the second sonata he has written for Julian Bream. “It sparkles with Brouwer’s personal and richly resonant guitar writing, developed in his youth as a gifted concert guitarist and refined over decades of brilliant writing for the instrument” says Bream.

Andrey Lebedev  Photo: Shannon Morris

Andrey Lebedev
Photo: Shannon Morris

Andrey Lebedev is at present a post-graduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, partially assisted by The Julian Bream Trust and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).


7.30pm, Thursday, 4 December, 2014
St John’s Smith Square, London, SW1P 3HA
Andrey Lebedev guitar, presented by The Julian Bream Trust

Andrey will be playing:
JS Bach Partita in D minor BWV 1004
Harrison Birtwistle Beyond the White Hand – Construction with Guitar Player World Premiere
Leo Brouwer Sonata No. 5 “Ars Combinatoria” World Premiere
Takemitsu In the Woods – Three pieces for guitar
Ginastera Sonata for Guitar, Op. 47
Tickets: £20 / £15 / £10
Box Office: +(0)20 7222 1061 / http://www.sjss.org.uk

Check out more about the event here:

And check out more about Andrey at his website:

The 12 Stages of Practicing

Hi Folks!  A short and sweet one from me today.

As you know (well, those of you who hang around here regularly) I talk a fair bit about practice and how you may get best bang for your practice buck, maximising your time available, seeking quality practice, the power of focus and all that. Well, I found a rather humerous little article this week, courtesy of UK classical music radio station, Classic FM, entitled The 12 Stages of Practicing A Musical Instrument. I’m pretty sure I’ve done or felt all the 12 steps at one time or another!

Check it out (with one word of warning – please don’t do number 9!):



I also discovered this equally amusing little piece on the worst things about being a guitarist. Some of them are definitely true in the early stages (burning pain in the fingertips whilst your callouses are forming for example!). I disagree with number 10 though – anyone who plays classical guitar is beautiful!!




Whilst I’m sharing a lighter post with you guys today I’d like to emphasise that I write this blog to share thoughts, ideas, experiences and helpful (and humorous, like today) information with the wider music and guitar-loving world. From time to time I also have guests feature their own posts on the blog – just a reminder that I’m always happy to receive your own thoughts, ideas, experiences and information on classical guitar and associated subjects. If there’s anything you’d like to share with the wider world please drop me a line at classicalguitarnstuff @ gmail.com (no advertising or business promotion kind of stuff though please, you know the dealio).

I’ve got some pretty cool stuff coming up on Classical Guitar n Stuff in the next few weeks – album reviews, gear reviews, more artist interview and Q&As, practice and development pieces.

If there are any particular subjects you’d like me to cover, anything you have questions on, stuff you’d like to know more about, please let me know :)

Concert Review: Xuefei Yang Solo Recital, Geelong, 7th October 2014

Hi Folks!  Well, if you read my last blog post you’ll know that I was eagerly anticipating the Geelong solo concert of Chinese guitariste extraordinaire, Xuefei Yang, this week.

Oh boy what a treat it was.  Myself and a lucky group of around 80 or so music and guitar fans cosied into the sumptuous surrounds of Sacred Heart College’s Chapel to witness Xuefei just completely own one of the most seriously impressive, big, fat, chunky solo programmes I’ve had the pleasure to see or hear. She clearly demonstrated that she’s equally at home on the smaller, more informal salon-type stage as she is on the large concert hall stage.

Fei kicked off the proceedings with her own arrangements of five of the six movements from Isaac Albeniz’s Espana: Seis Hojas de Album suite (the PreludeTangoMalaguenaCapricho Catalan and Zortico). This selection, featured on her Rodrigo albumwas a simply delightful start to the evening. Fei played the pieces with the requisite Spanish-inflected sentiment, yet balanced that with a delightfully delicate touch and elegant poise reminiscent of a classical ballet dancer. I particularly enjoyed the subtle Tango and the Zortico. Beautiful.

The Albeniz was followed by three Schubert songs (arranged by Merz) – Lob der Thranen, Aufenhalt and Standchen. As Fei announced, she’s a big Schubert fan and this was apparent from her playing. The lyrical, sentimentality of these songs was treated in the most graceful and delicate manner by Fei – elegant, simple, sensitive. And quite possibly some of the most pianissimo pianissimos I’ve ever witnessed! A super light, relaxed and delicate right hand.  I want a pianissimo touch like that!

The first half of the evening was rounded out by a phenomenal (I’m going to run out of superlatives here!) interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. The arrangement, again, was Fei’s own – a masterwork of masterworks, played by a master of the instrument. This Chaconne was simply fantastic (there was even a moment where I thought a rather excitable audience member was going to start applauding about a quarter of a way into the epic piece!) – a demonstration of dexterity, left hand shenanigans and right hand wizardry. Oh yes, and let’s not forget a beautiful sound too.

The second half of the programme featured a Chinese piece arranged by Fei, transcribed from the pipa or Chinese lute. This was followed by Song from a Bird by John Williams from his album of the same name. A fitting place to play such a piece, as he was inspired by the song of an Australian bird in writing this piece.

The next three pieces I’m not quite sure what to say about them to be honest. Words don’t really do them justice….. We were treated to Rodrigo’s Invocacion y danza. Wow. Wow. Wow.  This was off the chain (to coin an Australian phrase). A pure demonstration of virtuosity in guitar playing and musicality. Head over to YouTube for a taste of what I mean.


Xuefei waiting backstage, just a few moments before the start of the recital in Geelong. Photo: Neil Muir (borrowed from Xuefei’s Facebook page)



Fei then presented us with her arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 1. This was of particular interest given that it’s normally played by two instruments, guitar and something else (another guitar or piano). Fei decided apparently that she wanted to be able to play this tune without a duet partner, so took it upon herself to arrange it for solo guitar. What?! A glutton for punshiment surely in undertaking such an exercise (she admitted it was a pretty hard thing to do), but was well worth the effort. A fantastic arrangement, delivered as if it was intended to sit at home on the one instrument. It takes a fair bit of talent to be able to do that!

The end of the main programme featured Leo Brouwer’s Sonata para Guitarre Sola. Definitely not saving the easiest pieces till last! Brilliant. A spell-binding performance again delivered with Fei’s trademark poise and grace.  To round out the evening Fei left us with a cheeky little transcription of Plum Blossoms In The Snow (arranged by Gerald Garcia) from her latest recording, Sojourn. A delicious little “dessert” to finish the evening.

An absolutely wonderful evening of classical guitar performance. And all played from memory, to boot! Just phenomenal. As I said to the audience on the night (I was honoured with presenting Xuefei a gift from the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria), you would seriously be hard pressed to find a greater guitar talent in the world right now.  We all hope she comes back to Australia and Melbourne again very soon.