Approaching a new classical guitar piece – A closer look at style

Pinch, punch first of the month!

Gibson Classic
Photo credit: Lamerie

As I’m sure you, my learned readers, are more than well aware the classical guitar repertoire runs the full gamut of styles – baroque to blues, minuet to maxixe, classical period to contemporary and everything in-between. OK, not all of it may have been directly written for our instrument for one reason or another, but you get the idea. Plenty to pick from and lots of styles!

As such, when learning a classical guitar piece it can help us to remember this and reflect mindfully on the style of the piece we’re getting to grips with.

We may use the same or very similar techniques whichever piece we’re playing. The approach, however, the feel, the vibe of it (to misquote The Castle – look it up non-Aussies it’s a crackup… Anyway, I digress as per usual…), the intention of the music itself varies considerably depending on what we’re playing. This is one of the reasons why, for example, that examination boards ask candidates to play three or four pieces from different eras or styles – to see how you respond to changes in approach and style, testing out your versatility as a player and see if you can get under the skin of the music and convey the intention of differing styles.

I find that when learning a new piece, taking a few moments to look at its style and it’s impulsion, can help in getting to grips with it much faster. It’s not a magical method that will have you dashing off a brilliant barcarolle or stunning sarabande in five minutes of looking at the music (well, then again it might! I’ve not heard you play!). It will, however, provided you with some good sturdy starting points of a foundation from which to build an edifice of musical awesomeness.

You don’t generally start out on a journey (usually) without some idea of how you’re going to arrive at your destination do you? Doing a bit of research into the style of music you’re learning can act a bit like your roadmap, guidebook and phrasebook all in one, guiding you to the precise musical destination that you intended and helping with those idiomatic local expressions along the way.

How do I do this?

My first tip would be to take a close look at the title of the piece.

  • Is it something quite formal? Is it of a particular era?
  • For example, is it say a gigue or a sarabande, or perhaps some other stylised dance form, typical of the Baroque era? Each movement in a Baroque suite has its own particular idiosyncrasies and feel.
  • What else does the title convey? This question is more appropriate  if the piece in question is written in perhaps a less formalist style.
  • Is the piece intended to reflect a certain place, region or country? If so, have a think about the style and musical approach intended or that may work best to invoke that musical imagery.Is this piece influenced by folk styles? Examples might be such as a choro, fado or tango. When approaching some of these styles be sure to do a wee bit of homework around them as there can be styles within styles within styles!
Baroque guitar made by Tielke
Baroque guitar made by Tielke (Photo credit: D W S)

This process is where Google and YouTube can come in very handy. What did we do before their time?! Pray and hope that the Dewey Decimal system would lead us to the right spot in the library and that there might be something there awaiting the light of day?! Agreed, Google and YouTube are perhaps not very scholarly approaches to research, but they are undeniably more than a great starting place, particularly for listening to and watching new or musical styles previously unknown to oneself. Brill!

Here you go, case in point – a video for you today on the history of fado:

Obviously, there are more styles than I could go into one blog post, or you’d be here reading until August 2013 (or you’d probably just switch off)! So today’s key take away message is to get some background on the piece you’re learning. If you understand even a little of where it is coming from, you can then build on that to take it forwards with greater direction and depth to its intended destination.

If you’d like me to go into more depth on anything else style related, just drop me a comment in the box below and I’ll be happy to help.

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