Approaching Different Versions of a Piece on Your Learning Journey

I was having an email conversation recently with a reader on a topic that I thought may be of interest and potentially helpful to others, so I thought I’d share the crux of it with you today.

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Said reader was interested to know my thoughts on two differing transcriptions for guitar of Granados’ repertoire favourite, La Maja de Goya, having read my post from nearly three years ago (eek- time flies!) on the piece. My preference, really only for the simplest reason that I’ve not tried any other transcriptions, is for the Miguel Llobet transcription. A tried, tested, and beautiful sounding transcription (with a few of my own little editorial tweaks and changes here and there, of course!), that a number of the “greats” of the guitar world are known to have used (not that that should always necessarily be a primary guiding principle).

The Llobet version drops the tuning of the bass E and A strings down to D and G respectively, and is written in the key of E Flat. The drop D tuning most guitarists are probably relatively comfortable with, being a relatively common occurrence in the guitar repertoire. The drop G running on the A string is somewhat less common and therefore can present a bit of an initial brain-teaser to the uninitiated. It’s well worth persevering with this (and other alternate tunings in other pieces) as some quite beautifully resonant sounds can result.

So, said reader was looking at this E Flat transcription versus a G transcription and wondering which to focus on, claiming that they didn’t want a dumbed down version, but apparently lacking in “great facility” (to quote them verbatim).

My response to this was that in deciding which of the two tunings to go with, go with your preference and the one that suits your ear and technique. As I eluded to above, just because Segovia or one or other of the “greats” played a particular transcription does not mean we should not explore other versions, other tunings and other approaches.

A lot of the Spanish repertoire represents transcriptions from the original piano music, so I don’t see that we need necessarily get too hung up on things like that. The differing keys obviously have their own particular qualities, so whilst you might not get the same “flavour” as the E Flat version in the G version, something in there that speaks differently may perhaps be found.
And if a particular version or transcription is slightly more accessible for someone in their progression on the guitar, then I’m all for that too. Given that a piece such as La Maja de Goya could be considered a reasonably challenging piece or in an advanced part of the repertoire attempting to play such works before you’re technically or indeed musically ready for such a piece can lead to being driven nuts, disaffection with the instrument an injury or combination of all three! If an alternate transcription allows you to enjoy a fantastic piece of music more readily then I say go for it.  You can always come to more challenging versions at a later point in time when your technique has progressed.
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Selecting Classical Guitar Studies and Études

 

I’ve had some questions recently (and not so recently that I’ve not fully responded to as yet – apologies) with respect to the selection of studies and the role they play in your practice. So I thought I’d put a few words together for you on my thoughts

There’s no doubt that studies, for the beginner, intermediate and even advanced classical guitarist, can be very helpful indeed. But like anything, all in moderation and considered thoughtfully as to their purpose and what you want to achieve by playing or studying these kinds of pieces.

For those not familiar with the term “studies”, these are pieces of music, often relatively short in length, with a particular didactic purpose. This ranges from everything from left hand studies, focussing on things like barrés, upper fret positions, or cross string movements, to right hand studies, focussing on things like “a” finger movements, multi-finger chordal playing or arpeggios and pretty much anything in between. There are even studies relating to playing in different keys, some of which make for pretty interesting playing (think keys with more than one or two flats!).

And there are a whole world of studies out there. More than you could probably every want to play to be honest! And probably more than you’d ever need and find useful too.

So why would you play studies (or études you may also see them called, in French)? Well, if there’s a particular technical difficulty or challenge you’re experiencing in a piece you’re learning or aiming to learn you might want to select a study or two relating to that particular technical aspect. Or if you’re wanting to strengthen a particular part of your playing that you feel is a little weak picking some studies in relation to that aspect can help and give a bit of focus to your technique outside of the repertoire pieces you’re learning or playing.

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In terms of what I use and have used, and to give you some guidance as to potentially where to start, here are some pointers (I can’t give specifics really as we’re all different with differing strengths and weaknesses  – although if any of you want to message with questions on specifics on more than happy to answer here):

  • Think about what it is you want to strengthen or work on – be mindful and focussed on what it is you want to work on to select material that is most helpful right now.
  • The book “Pumping Nylon” by Scott Tennant is a great go-to book with a collection of all sorts of different studies, short and slightly longer, covering pretty much all technical aspects of classical guitar technique. A pretty useful, and cost-effective, approach to picking different studies to work on. I definitely called on this book a fair bit in my developmental years and dip into it every now and then to get back to basics.
  • Giuliani’s 120 right hand studies – wee little vignettes – are fantastic for developing all sorts of right hand techniques. Highly recommend.
  • Some of the more musical examples of great studies and études to incorporate are Fernando Sor’s many études for the guitar. I personally love Op.29  No.13 in B flat major. It’s a really beautiful piece and introduces (or re-introduces) you to the delights (meant non-sarcastically) of playing in this little-used key on the guitar.
  • If you want to check out some brand spanking new study-type pieces check out Dan Nistico’s latest offering looking at the moods, feelings, emotions, and colours of each and every major and minor key: http://danielnistico.weebly.com/books.html

PS – And apparently, for those that are into such things, Classical Guitar n Stuff has been named in Feedspot’s Top 75 Guitar Blogs on the tinterwebs. Hah!