The Classical Guitar Practice Approach of A Very Busy Person!

To all of you, dear readers, who are playing or learning guitar, at whatever level, whilst studying, working, raising a family, looking after loved ones and/ or generally running around like the proverbial fly with a blue backside, I salute you!

Its not an easy thing to dedicate oneself to learning and developing a craft such as the classical guitar in amongst life. And I know that only too well first hand.

But just because something is challenging does not mean it is impossible. It means one has to think a little differently about what, where and how you practice, what that practice entails, calibrating expectations of yourself (and the self-induced pressure that that all too often entails), what outcomes you’re aiming to achiveve and of course a smattering of discipline and will.

Little Miss Busy - Penguin Books

Little Miss Busy – Penguin Books

I can go into the taking pressure off yourself, calibrating expectations, looking at what you want to achieve and so on in another post, but today I thought it may be helpful to share with you my general approach to practice now that my life has become rather busy. For newcomers here, I took on a fantastic and exciting role about 18 months ago which sees me with some longer hours and travel to some part of Australia on a very frequent basis.

I say “general” approach, as the specifics about what and how I practice can and will change depending on what I’m learning and if I have any concerts coming up. And the specifics will change for you too depending on your current level, what you’re aiming to achieve and so on. The general principles, however, apply just the same across the board,

My practice schedule, almost needless to say, has had to change to reflect my change in circumstance. And that’s fine – to be otherwise would be tantamount to stupidity and a sure fire way of giving myself a nervous breakdown. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is less than desirable!

So here are some of the key insights into the practice regime of a very busy person!

Consistency

One of the key principles that remains the bedrock of my practice regimen and something I’ve spoken about frequently on the blog is CONSISTENCY.

We are what we repeatedly do, or something like that, to partially quote Aristotle. In practical application that means practicing or at the very least playing the guitar (and there’s an important difference I’ll come on to) more days of the week than not. Even if that means just 15 minutes with the guitar because I’m tired and my brain is practically hanging out of my left ear. Something is most definitely better than nothing, especially when there is the potential for a very busy period to be a number of days or longer.

Focus and Purpose

When I do sit down with the guitar at the moment, its typically for one 40 minute session per day,  5 to 6 days per week. And when I do sit down to practice I do so with a very specific purpose in mind.

In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been learning the Fugue from Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998. Not a small work, and not an uncomplicated work (on the LMusA list in fact for when I get back on track with that).  I have been breaking this up into small bite sized chunks, tackling just 8 bars in a 30 – 40 minute sitting, really teasing out knits and tangles, tricky technical challenges, examining and rearranging fingerings, understanding what’s going on in the music, its direction and how I want it to sound. I might spend then 5 or 10 minutes slotting it back into context in the broader section or movement but keep the practice session focussed very much on that 8 bar section, knowing prior to starting that it’s that 8 bar section I want to work on and what I want to have achieved by the end of my session.

I’ll also either start or finish my practice session with a major scale and relative minor with full combination of right hand fingerings. I’ll make my way through the whole range of diatonic scales over a number of days and then go back to beginning.

Breathing Space

Focus and purpose goes out of the window though if I am feeling very tired with poor concentration ability. There’s no point in torturing myself! I have to be very tired though, and in this case I’ll still pick up the guitar and play through either a piece, part of a piece or a few scales just to keep the fingers moving.

I definitely don’t do this for more than one day, but giving myself permission one or two days a week to have some less involved practice time and just playing for the heck of it is as important as it is relaxing. Which is key when one is very busy!

Winners of the Signed Craig Ogden Albums!

Hi Folks just a very quick post for you today to tell you the names of our five very lucky winners of Craig Ogden’s new album, signed by the man himself!

Here you go:

(1) Brett Jarcevic, Australia
(2) Timothy Fuller, USA
(3) Malcolm Honeychurch, New Zealand
(4) James Huckson, Australia
(5) Kristian Brown, Australia
Well done all! And commiserations those that missed out this time!
And for everyone here’s a clip of Craig’s wonderful playing for you!
Check back in here in the next week as I’m currently in the process of formulating a new post for you on the subject of the practice schedule of a busy person! Hopefully will be of interest to some of you.

Your Chance To Win A Signed Copy of Craig Ogden’s New Album!

G’day folks!! It has been a while since the last blog post hasn’t it?! That has got to have been the longest hiatus since I started writing the blog four or so years ago (I think we skipped July altogether)! Anyhoo, on with the show. Today’s hiatus-breaking post is a cracker for you with a prize or five up for grabs for some lucky reader from a fab Aussie guitarist. So read on….. UK-based Australian classical guitar whizz, Craig Ogden, has recently released his latest recording, ‘Craig Ogden and Friends’ for the UK’s Classic FM. And it is riding high at the top of the classical charts over there in UK too no less!

Craig Ogden

Craig Ogden

Australian born guitarist Craig Ogden is one of the most exciting artists of his generation. Craig’s previous Classic FM albums; The Guitarist and Summertime both shot straight to number 1 in the UK classical chart. Craig’s latest CD ‘Craig Ogden and Friends’ released in June 2015 went straight to No. 1 in the classical chart (where I believe it still currently resides). It is a collection of beautiful tracks perfect for the summer months (and reminding of those summer months to come down here this way!!), consisting of a variety of pieces from some of the world’s greatest composers including Bach, Ravel and Albeniz, alongside modern pieces from the likes of Einaudi, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Craig has invited some of his very talented friends to perform with him. Not only are there solo guitar pieces, but string quintet tracks and some stunning duets with an array of different instruments and artists including Gareth Davies on flute, Natalie Clein on cello and Ji Liu on piano. Now the kind folks at Classic FM have offered readers of Classical Guitar n Stuff the chance to win one of five signed copies of the album!! Oooooh!! Exciting! For your chance to win a signed copy of this album, answer the question below; Who features with Craig on track No.2 of his new album, ‘Craig Ogden and Friends?’   A: Patricia Calnan B: Ji Lui C: Gareth Davies Email me your answers to classicalguitarnstuff@gmail.com along with your name and postal address for your chance to win. First five across the line win!! Competition closes Tuesday 11th August 2015 5pm AEST. Craig_Ogden_And_Friends_72dpi And, as you know, I always like to leave you with a bit of music. So here’s a clip of Craig and his friends recording the new album – great playing and looks like they had good fun

My “Real Life” Benefits of Playing Classical Guitar

For those of you who read the blog regularly and follow me on Facebook will know that in the last year or so I’ve been travelling a heck of a lot with my work. That has its ups and downs, but mostly ups because it’s pretty cool work (environmental management and development of sustainable infrastructure in a nutshell), I get to work with some great people and see some nice parts of the world (including 4 Australian states and both islands of New Zealand in the last month alone!). **

On my recent travels over to New Zealand to deliver some training on sustainability I had time to mull over the fact that my experiences in learning classical guitar, playing classical guitar and teaching it really do cross over into other areas of my life, particularly my work life.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the intrinsic value in learning and playing the classical guitar (or any other instrument for that matter) is highly valuable in and of itself. And the title of this blog post is a little bit misleading – music making is definitely a part of “real life”. There’s no denying that from me for sure! But it’s great that there are also added benefits, if you like, that the process of music making can teach or show you and can really help you in perhaps your working life.

During my mulling (which is helped by some quiet down time on various aircraft!), I came to realise that there are some key aspects of the musical journey that have crossed over and definitely shaped (and continue to shape) the way I work. I thought it was an interesting reflection so thought I’d share with you today.

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Here are my top 5 observations of cross over benefits in my journey:

1.There is no substitute for consistent, persistent hard work, or rather smart work – the application of ones energy in the right direction at the right things. Along with the appreciation that new skills take time to master, but can be mastered with the right mindset.

2. Presentation and stage presence – deliver what ever it might be that you’re playing or presenting from the heart, knowing that you’ve put solid work into (you definitely have to number 1 above). Then hold yourself with poise and confidence in its delivery and your audience will be listening.

3. When working with others on new approaches or concepts, show them the ropes but let them hit upon realisations for themselves and find out the best way to do something for themselves (but provide positive guidance along the way).

4. Working with others produces results that just wouldn’t happen playing solo.

5. When working/ playing with others go in with ideas on the outcomes you want, but also be prepared to listen to differing thoughts. The outcomes, musical, work or otherwise, may produce interesting results.

I might come up with some more of these, folks, as I muse on it a little further!

** As a little side note, as a result of my hectic schedule you may notice that I’m not posting with as great a frequency as in the past. Rest assured that I am continuing on with the blog, but for the sake of my sanity and writing posts that are actually useful for you, dear readers, the less regularity thing will continue to be the case for the time being. I’m sure you understand :)

Johannes Möller Back in Melbourne This Week!

Hi folks, just a short yet very sweet post for you today – Johannes Möller is back in concert in Melbourne, courtesy of the Melbourne Guitar Foundation, this coming Thursday. Be sure to catch him, as I promise that you’ll be in for a guitaristic treat of the highest order.

Head along to the Melbourne Guitar Foundation website to nab your tickets: http://www.melbourneguitarfoundation.com/events

And if you needed convincing here’s a clip of Johannes playing one of his spell-binding compositions A Star in the Sky, A Universe Within… at his Melbourne Guitar Foundation concert last year. There are a number of other great clips on the Melbourne Guitar Foundation YouTube page thatI highly recommend you check out.

Technique Tips For Avoiding Injury Whilst Playing Classical Guitar

Following on from my recent top tips for avoiding injury as a classical guitarist, which were based around things to do before and after practicing, I thought I’d some more technique-based tips into the mix.

Now, those who’ve been reading the blog for a while will know that a number of years ago I was struggling with a injury myself – pins and needle sensations in the left wrist and lower hand, tight and sore thumb muscle, sore, tense and quite painful neck and shoulder muscles, sore upper back and tension headaches. Not something I want to repeat!

And there was a decent amount of work in remediating my technique, my posture and so on to alleviate the causes of the issues. But alleviate the issues I did, as well as remediating my technique and going great guns for the last 5 or so years without so much as a twinge.

Having gone through what I did, it’s something that I think about a lot in my approach to practice and what I’m doing pretty much every single time I’m with the guitar. And I also reflect on what I’m doing and what I continue to learn about my body whilst playing.

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So here are my top technique tips, in no particular order, for avoiding injury whilst playing classical guitar!

1. Take your time

This one has many, many benefits – as well as allowing you to get to know and understand the music, ensuring that you’re learning the music and right and left hand finger placements correctly, slow and deliberate practice (especially in the early days of learning a new piece) will really help to avoid build up of tension in both left and right hands and minimise risk of strain and overuse injury.

So slow and steady does it for sustainable playing!

2. Don’t try to do everything at once

Case in point are seemingly tough, four, five, or six notes chords, with your fingers spread all over the finger board. And then leaping to another similar one with fingers in different places. Firstly, take your hand off the fingerboard! Stop – resist the urge to strain too hard and get it, like, right now. Look at how you can break it down. Look at which fingers go where and when they can be moved. And build it up over successive practice sessions. It’s not a race. Take the time to learn it slowly. It’ll “stick” better too, and without undue tension and strain and pain. Oh, and this goes well with the previous one ;)

3. Ensure that your left hand* and arm are in a nice straight line

You need to make sure that 99% of the time whilst playing your left hand and forearm are more or less in a straight line. This needs to be the case regardless of which fret position you’re playing in. To keep everything nice and straight, with that wrist and all the bones, cartilage, nerves, blood vessels, muscles and goodness know what else runs through that little space, you will need to move your arm from the shoulder. Imagine you’re a one-winged chicken, flapping your left wing – go on stick your left hand in your arm pit (arm and hand in a straight line thought) and pretend like you’re a chicken now. Now flap! OK, that’s enough of that…. Hah hah! Ok, so just move your hand out of your armpit and pretend you’re moving your hand up and down the neck of the guitar in that chicken flapping kind of manner. Your lower arm and hand should be in a nice straight line, not doing anything really, and all the movement coming from the shoulder

4. The one killer tip….

With all the above tips in mind, there is one thing that you can do to really improve your chances of either recovering and re-establishing your technique or minimising your chances of developing an over use injury. What is that? That is seek the advice of a good teacher.

Seriously, having a set of eyes (or even more than one set of eyes) that are not your own, that quite possibly even been there before to some extent, that know what to look for and how to correct or change your positioning and technique and work with you over time is the best thing you could do for your physical health as far as playing guitar goes. I know I bang on about this on the blog a bit (for those of you who are long time readers!), but its really important! It really worked for me and I dread to think where I would be had I need sought out some good, solid advice. The worst case scenario is that I wouldn’t be playing today, or would have succumbed to the idea of needing surgery. I shiver at the thought of both!!

So please folks, if you’re not currently with a teacher and are experiencing consistent, persistent pains associated with playing, firstly stop right there! And then seek out a good teacher in your area. Or if you’re already with a teacher then seek some advice from another experienced teacher, one that you can find who is clued up in particular about injury and/ or technique remediation. It’ll be the best thing you ever did I promise you.

* By left hand I mean your fretting hand. For left-handed guitarists, this will be your right hand.

Album Review: Homenaje by R.C. Kohl

It’s been a few months since my last review of a recording and I have a cracking little one you today, folks – a disc called Homenaje by guitarist-composer R.C. Kohl.

This latest recording from R.C. Kohl is a collection of 20 compositions and arrangements by the relatively little-known Mexican guitarist Octaviano Yañez (1865 – 1927?), who hailed from the city of Orizaba in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. According to the liner notes Yañez was one of the very first ever guitarists to be recorded, apparently having done so for Edison and Victor recording companies during the turn of the 20th century.

And it certainly sounds as if he could write a half-decent tune, and some possibly with potential didactic intentions. The disc kicks off with a really nice couple of study-like preludes (Preludio en mi menor and Preludio en la menor). They’re lovely short little pieces that whet your appetite for Yañez’s musical style, I was quite disappointed that the first prelude was so short in fact (clocking in at only 45 seconds!).  Things develop out from there on with some equally lovely, quite delicate and really charming pieces. Último Amor was a particular favourite of mine, with a feel slightly reminiscent of Tarrega, perhaps Sor.

I found the second half of the disc most interesting, with the penultimate track El Encanto de un Vals, a Yañez arrangement of a piece by Viennese composer Oscar Strauss (born just five years later than Yañez). Again a really lovely little piece that, like most of this recording, certainly would not be out of place at a house or salon concert. And in terms of R.C. Kohl’s playing this piece is my favourite – a gorgeous rounded tone, with some nice coloured touches, and a delicately sensitive rubato.

Simply a lovely guitar recording, played with an understated musicality, fine tonal quality and a real appreciation of the composer and his style. Definitely recommended.

For those of you who may not be aware of R.C. Kohl, he is a classical guitarist and composer and is a professor on the Music Faculty of the the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico. Kohl studied initially at the University of California at Santa Cruz, followed then by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, before moving to the Universidad Veracruzana, in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. He has been awarded scholarships and grants in music performance and research from Mexico’s Secretaría de Educación Pública, the East-West Center of Honolulu (EWC) and the Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura (IVEC) (a grant from which enabled this latest recording). He’s also been a member of many prestigious research institutes and universities. Not too shabby!

You can download your own copy of Homenaje (and R.C. Kohl’s other works) over at CD Baby and iTunes.

Click on the hyperlink text to take you right through or copy and paste the following URLs into your browser:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rckohl6

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/homenaje/id984141625

Ooh and yes, before I forget, you can check out my 2012 review of some earlier R.C. Kohl recordings HERE.