The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #1

I decided at the start of this month to begin a brand new journey on the guitar – one that isn’t necessarily going to be easy or short, but one that I will learn a lot from (and have an awesome bunch of repertoire to brandish), and that’s the journey towards taking my LMusA diploma.

If you missed it, or want to recap, here’s my first post about the start of the journey: The Start of A New Journey – The LMusA Diploma.

So, in the spirit of sharing (as I’m all about on this blog), I’d give you folks an update every couple of weeks as to how I’m progressing. And so here is the first official update for you!cropped-2010_09_25_guitars_003-scaled1000.jpg

What have I been up to this past fortnight?

Well, this past fortnight has really been about getting to grips with the first couple of pages (or the first major section really) of Granados’ La Maja de Goya. As I’ve said before this is an all-time favourite piece of mine so it has been quite exciting (in a total guitar geek kind of way) to be playing this piece – kind of like meeting your guitar hero, but in a non-tangible (and non-human, obviously), musical form.

I’m currently learning from and studying the Llobet transcription (the music was originally written as a song for piano and voice) which has some interesting editorial markings. At the end of this last couple of weeks I’m finding the first two pages (which I’ve been focussing on thus far) is covered in pencil marks! Whilst an editor or transcriber may be very skilled, talented and so on, I’m of the belief that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me adding my own thoughts, fingerings and approaches into the mix – and I’m going to town so far on this one! I’m going all out with scratching out Pizz. markings, putting things up the octave, all with a desired musical outcome in mind. The desired outcome may change, and so may my pencil stratchings, as I really get to grips with the music, but for now I’m very happy to experiment and trust my own judgment.

Well, that and that of Julian Bream’s too. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t strongly influenced by the English maestro in (a) playing the piece in the first place, and (b) his gorgeous approach to playing it. That said, there is one small elements that I’ve chosen to alter from Bream’s rendition, which is more in line with the line with the print score. This is an element that I felt on closer inspection and listening would allow greater clarity in the musical line and consistency with previous material. I’m sure there will be many more elements like this as I study the music more closely, listen to and develop my own thoughts on approach.

I’ve also started to think about what else from the syllabus repertoire list I’d like to play. A big, fat, multi-movement work is definitely on the cards and would really be expected (if it’s not already a specified requirement in the syllabus – I should check that just out of interest….). At the moment, I’m weighing up the prospect of Leo Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro (a three movement suite of around 15-17 minute I think) and Federico Mompou’s luscious Suite Compostelana (a six movement suite, written for Segovia in 1962, clocking in at around the 20 – 22 minute mark). I’m leaning towards the Mompou at the moment as it’s really quite beautiful. Very melodic, with an impressionistic kind of quality to it.

What’s on for the next fortnight?

Well, we’ve got the Easter public holidays coming up and ANZAC Day public holiday on 24th April, so lots of available practice time! Yay! If I can, I like to try and fit in a couple of focused one hour sessions on these days. And when I say focused I mean focused. Going into the practice session knowing exactly what it is I want to work on and doing just that. No phone. No computer. A “Do not disturb” sign hung on the door (not really, but people know that I’ve gone into my music room to work). No other distractions.

In my practice I’ll be consolidating my work on the opening section of La Maja de Goya and venturing further into the piece, gettings notes under the fingers, making any fundamental editorial changes and exploring fingerings.

I’ll also be checking out further some of the other listed repertoire pieces, listening to various recordings of pieces, whittling down my favourites and pieces that will make a good combination in the recital and checking out some more scores.

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Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Five: Practice and things to focus on 8-12 weeks out from the exam

Today’s post is the next in the series I’ve been writing on preparing for an exam on the classical guitar. If you missed the first four parts, or want to recap, here are the links:

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part One – Deciding When The Time Is Right

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Two – Picking Your Repertoire

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Three – Working On The Technical Elements

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Four – Aural and General Knowledge Elements

The intention of this post is not to give you an absolutely prescriptive outline of precisely what you should be doing in the 8-12 week period before your exam as we all have our different strengths and weaknesses (and so things that we need to focus on over other things) and the requirements for different syllabi and different grades within those syllabi. The intention of this post is to give you a bit of a guideline as to how to you may consider going about your practice in this phase.

OK, so about two or three months out from your exam date or proposed exam session if you don’t have a precise date yet, you probably want to have your pieces picked out by now. If not, you’d better get cracking! Hopefully you’ve got a nice selection of pieces (well, at least two) from each of the required lists, so if you’ve not decided yet about three months out is probably the latest you’d want to leave it to get choosing your favourites from each of the lists.

How often: if you’re practicing regularly and consistently at this stage you need to start doing this now. A good aim is for some good quality practice on at least 5 days out of 7, with 1 day of complete rest away from the guitar.

How long for: well, this really all depends on your grade level and the time you have available in your day too. The bare minimum that you may want to be looking at is around 30 minutes for the lower grades and 45-60 minutes for the higher grades. Of course, I’m talking about purely good quality, focussed practice – fluffing around not included! Hah hah! If you can spend longer then that’s absolutely fantastic, just make sure it’s (yes, I’m beginning to sound a lot like a parrot) focussed and useful practice and make sufficient time for brain breaks and to move around and get the blood moving.

Technical work:  you should definitely be doing some kind of technical work on each day you’re practicing. You don’t have to go through everything, every scale, every possible fingering, every exercise each and every time, but at this stage you should be starting to incorporate all the required exercises and so on across the whole week so everything is getting a look in on a regular basis. You’ll then start to understand which exercises perhaps require more attention than others.

Repertoire: again, you don’t have to play each and every single piece all the way through every single time you practice – that’s a sure fire way to get tired of all of your pieces very quickly and probably also not really address the knots that need unpicking in a piece! I’d recommend, at this stage, perhaps looking at two pieces in depth in a week, with perhaps just keeping in touch with your other pieces with quick play throughs (and noting where the challenging spots are still). When I say looking at pieces in depth I really mean really getting down to the heart of those tricky spots straight away, addressing those before slotting them back into context and playing a phrase, section or the whole piece in its entirety.

Sight-reading: this is something that you start doing on a regular basis at this stage too. If you can start looking at some sight reading, just for 5 or 10 minutes, 3 or 4 times per week that will stand you in good stead. Of course, if you can manage this more frequently then that’s fantastic!

Aural: this aspect doesn’t need to be as difficult to practice on your own as you may suspect. There are plenty of audio and audio and book packages on the market to help you build up, practice and test your aural skills – listening, singing back, chord and interval identification and so on. Again if you can start to fit this in for around 5 or 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times per week that will stand you in good stead.

General knowledge: last but not least, don’t forget this important aspect! Whilst you’re away from the guitar or on your rest days you can be genning up on the titles of pieces, their composers, any unknown words, directions or symbols in the music, the style, musical forms.