Eliot Fisk and Paco Peña Tiny Desk Concert

G’day folks!

A great little post today sharing a fantastic little concert I stumbled across online this week. NPR Music, a US-based public radio offering current and archival podcasts, live concert webcasts, reviews, music lists, news, studio sessions, and interviews, have a series of video podcast concerts under the banner Tiny Desk Concerts.

The concerts feature literally all types of musicians and genres of music – classical, jazz, pop, rock, country, electronic and everything else in between.

And on this wonderful goldmine of musical nuggets I came across a 20 minute concert featuring two giants of the guitar world – Eliot Fisk and Paco Peña. The concert features them playing Scarlatti and BAch before moving into some flamenco including a Peña-penned piece.

Check it out here:


And be sure to head back this way early next week for my review of Joseph Tawadros’ Melbourne Recital Centre concert this Saturday night.

Guitar Practice? Go Hard or Go Home!

Hah hah! Go hard or go home – a phrase borrowed from various training partners and competitors that I used to hear bandied around a lot when training for and participating in bicycle racing (days long since banished when I realised the risks were relatively high of breaking a collarbone, arm, hand or other fairly important appendage for a guitarist!).

Now this phrase is full of machismo, “I’m harder than nails me” sensibility which is really not what we’re about in learning and crafting our art on the guitar. It’s not that element of the phase that I’m talking about.

What I am talking about is the element of perpetually challenging ones self. Not physically, but mentally and musically. Not taking the easy option to play what is known, but to tease out knots, to sight-read, to develop technique. That is what I mean by “going hard”.

Now I’ve just literally this weekend come out the other side of an extremely busy 6 months or so. This busy-ness has meant I’ve had to cut back on my practice time – that’s ok; there are things one needs to turn ones attention to in life aside from the guitar (believe it or not!) from time to time.

But now is time to climb back on the metaphorical bicycle, and get back into some good solid practice with the guitar again.

So in my practice sessions this weekend I got to thinking about a former training acquaintance of mine on the bike – every couple of weeks I saw him it would be “ah yep, been off the bike a while so just doing something easy“. He was always doing something easy. Never pushing himself, never challenging what he could do. Perpetually using the excuse of having been away and doing something else as a reason to coast and just tap the pedals over.

I thought to myself “I don’t want to be Coaster Guy! I don’t want to use the excuse of just easing into it“. Not that I ever really do or did, to be honest, but I like to check in with myself to make sure I’m not falling into the coasting trap! It’s easily done.

And so I got to thinking of that phrase “go hard or go home“. I got to thinking about it in terms of the challenge it urges one to take every time one straps on a pair of running shoes, steps on a bike, or something else physical and I applied that to my approach to guitar practice.

I emphasise that this is not about physical challenge (that should never be the case with the guitar), but a mental challenge. Challenging myself to solve at least one issue per session. I’ve said this on many occasion on this blog, but to progress on the guitar (and any other instrument), you’ve got to have some very focussed, deliberate practice to progress. Practice focussing on the bits you can’t do so well yet, and being mindful of how you’re working those knots out as opposed to practicing in mistakes by playing the same thing over and over. And focussing on the bits you can’t pull of so well yet means things being a little bit tough.

I read a great little article this week from the AMEB website about practice, which echoes a lot of the advice and thoughts I expound on this blog. And I enjoyed one paragraph in particular:

Skip the easy stuff!

Let’s face it, we LOVE the easy parts. I love to hear myself fly through the passages I have down pat, only to slam on the brakes when it comes to a new or difficult section. Don’t waste time practising what you can already play well. Go right to the problem sections at the start of your practice time and sort them out first. Just playing the easy parts may be fun but it is not productive. Tackle the hard stuff first!

From http://www.ameb.edu.au/top-10-practice-tips-for-2014

So now it is time to climb back on the metaphorical bicycle, and get back into some good solid practice with the guitar again. No excuses. So I challenge you to go hard or go home too! Challenge yourself mentally and musically with every session and experience your playing really progress.

Oud Virtuoso Joseph Tawadros – Solo Live & Intimate at MRC March 28th

Howdy folks! Apologies for being off the radar a bit recently – I’ve been a tad on the busy side travelling, setting up my new music room in my new house, building gates, cleaning out ponds and the like! I’ve not forgotten about you (or my own practice for that matter!) and things will be getting back on track in the next week or two.

Aaaaanyhoo, on with the show! There’s a very exciting event coming up the weekend after next in Melbourne. The ARIA award-winning, mind-bogglingly virtuousic (and wearer of a glorious moustache!) oud player Joseph Tawadros is playing an intimate solo recital at the Melbourne Recital Centre on March 28th (4pm and 8pm).

Tawadros’ latest recording, Permission to Evaporate, has been hailed as ‘a masterpiece’ (5 stars) in The Australian and earned a 2014 Independent Music Award nomination. And did I mention he’s won an ARIA award or three? Joseph won ‘Best World Music Album’ in 2012, 2013 and 2014,  not to mention 11 ARIA-nominated albums. Not too shabby eh?

The March 28th gig will be a very rare opportunity to hear Joseph up close and intimate in the Salon. And I promise you, if you’re in Melbourne you need to check it out!!

Head here for more info and tickets:


Joseph is somewhat prolific too. He has another new recording coming out April 17. For a little taste of Joseph’s amazing playing (and a taste of his new album) check this out:

Check Out The Latest Stuff from Melbourne Guitar Foundation

Morning folks (or afternoon, or evening depending on where you are in the world!). You may have noticed that I’ve not been posting with quite the regularity in the past couple of weeks that I usually do. That’s because I’ve been super busy doing the moving house thing, whilst simultaneously working interstate for part of the week. That means I’m a very busy bunny at the moment, and unfortunately something has to give (don’t tell anyone I’ve not touched my guitar for a week! Eeek!). Normal service will be resuming in the next couple of weeks though.

Some other folks who have also been very busy bunnies are Michael MacManus and Evan Hopkins of the Melbourne Guitar Foundation. You may remember a few months ago I posted up an interview with upcoming young Aussie guitarist Andrew Blanch, on the even of his Melbourne concert presented by the Melbourne Guitar Foundation (and his first Australian tour)?

Well, Michael and Evan have posted up this fantastic video to the MGF YouTube channel of Andrew playing a Scarlatti piece (K175) from his Melbourne concert. Check it out:

The guys have also posted up this great video from Matt Withers on how to be successful as a guitarist. Some great tips and well worth a watch:

Am I Playing Loud Enough?

Well, I have another post for you today off of the back of a couple of folks emailing me with similar questions, so I thought I’d share the responses. Thank you for your questions and emails, by the way – keep them coming!

So, a couple of folks have emailed me recently* concerned that their playing volume is not sufficient enough.

I can understand that this may be a concern if you’re playing just for yourself a lot, and with little feedback perhaps from a teacher or an audience of some description.

We all know that compared with some of our electrified siblings or bowed string cousins we’re a lot quieter, with notes generally decaying a lot quicker. If playing in ensemble with other instruments, then yes, we want to make sure we’re playing out and in balance with other, potentially “louder” instruments.

Other than that, I’d say don’t concern yourself overly with volume in an of itself. Volume, or dynamics, when playing guitar (or any other instrument for that matter) is all relative really. Its a case of making sure your fortes and fortissimos are somewhat louder than your pianos and pianissimos. Those will vary from piece to piece, with differing styles, genres and eras of music and even within a piece too.

Soundhole B&W

Dynamics, and the volumes at which you’re playing, are much more relative rather than absolute. So concern yourself with the variation in your dynamic range rather than loudness per se. We should always aim to play at a suitable dynamic, with dynamic range, sympathetic to the music we’re playing at the time.
Concern yourself with your level of projection and communication. One can play the softest of pianissimos and still project that sound to your audience and be heard crystal clear. And there are always adjustments in projection and general dynamic level to be made depending on the room or environment in which you’re playing.

If you’re not working with a teacher (or even if you are), I suggest playing for others and experimenting, asking them how you sound, how the dynamics come across.

Think about what you’re producing, how you want the music to “speak” to your audience, and – of course – the quality of the sound you’re making.

Keep tuned in to what you’re playing and the rest will fall into place.

* Thank you – you know who you are!

The Benefits of Playing In Ensemble for Classical Guitarists

The classical guitar tends to be rather a solo instrument with seemingly fewer opportunities for group playing than our orchestral or band-focussed buddies.  Well, perhaps, but only to a degree I think (depending on where you live I suppose). Where there are two or more guitarists, or yourself and another musician there lies an opportunity to play together, learn from and experience a new form of playing and of course have fun.

I was reminded this weekend by the first rehearsal of the season for the CGSV Classical Guitar Orchestra that by playing music with others is a wonderful experience. And playing with other musicians, be they at a similar level or a peg or two above or below you in their technical development can really present some excellent developmental opportunities.


Playing with others, be it in a duo, trio, ensemble or orchestra, can deliver a umber of benefits to a guitarist. These include:

  • Encouraging you to listen to how others play and exposing you to different sounds and approaches.
  • Encouraging you to listen harder to your own sound.
  • And in combination of the first two dot points, encouraging you to listen to how your sound blends with others in terms of quality, tone colour, volume and dynamics
  • Encouraging you to listen and “feel” the music in synchronisation with others. That pause, that placement, the movement of a line. Of course the conductor helps in this regard, but there are somethings which are definitely “felt” and playing with others helps exercise this.
  • Getting you to look up from your score and watch someone else for cues, timing and pulse.
  • Picking up a pulse and taking it on (whilst watching the conductor of course) and exercising keeping a steady and even pulse, resisting the urge to push on or pull things back.
  • Pushing you a little beyond your comfort zone in playing stuff you wouldn’t otherwise play on your own
  • Improving your sight-reading and fretboard geography
  • Increasing your musical understanding and appreciation of working with others to achieve a musical outcome.
  • And, one of the most important of all, having a lot of fun!!

So, its well worth seeing if there’s an ensemble in your area (just classical guitar or mixed) or playing some duets or trios with another classical guitar (or other instrumentalist) friend. Playing classical guitar is good fun, but it’s even better when shared with others, in my opinion.

Want To Hear Amazing Original Musical Talent? Check This Out….

I saw a great video and read an equally great article this week that I thought I’d share with you, dear readers. I thought I’d share with you in the name of sharing fantastic new music by a fantastic artist playing an instrument no doubt related to our beloved classical guitar.

The instrument is the oud, which is kind of like a Middle Eastern lute, and the musician is the superbly eclectic Joseph Tawadros. The Australian (Egyptian born) oud player is really about mixing it up. He takes traditional Middle Eastern music, western classical music and jazz, blends it all together to create a wonderful musical experience.

Check out this promo video for his upcoming new album, featuring giants of the jazz world Christian McBride (bass), Mike Stern (electric guitar) and Matt McMahon (piano). It also features his brother, James, with some amazing percussion playing (playing the req and bendir). Inspirational stuff that demonstrates very clearly that great music and great musicians know no boundaries! Anyway, the video will speak for itself without me rattling on any further! Enjoy!

And here’s the article: