The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #2 – An Example of A Day’s Practice

Last weekend we were treated to a fantastic four day long weekend with the Easter break – yes!

This meant plenty of available practice time and plenty of unadulterated, non-tired-from-10-hours-at-work type practice too! It also meant I could get stuck into two practice sessions in the one day a couple of times too. I find this a particularly effective way of practicing as it means your concentration remains focussed across a shorter time period (you’re not trying to concentrate for 3 or 4 hours straight), which tends to mean the practice is of higher quality. It also means that it gives the brain a chance to rest, digest and assimilate the new information coming in. A bit like an athlete, I understand that it’s when you’re at rest that changes occur, when your muscles  and neural pathways repair, rebuild, adapt and grow (so long as you’ve put in the right kind of high quality training prior to taking that rest).Classical Guitar

Last Friday was such an example of a double header practice day. A great 1.5 hour session in the morning concentrating on reading through and getting under the fingers for the first time the second section of La Maja de Goya. This didn’t involve just reading from the start of that section through to the end though. I initially focussed on the first 10 bars of that section, understanding the musical shapes, direction and the mechanics of the music – where the right hand needed to be (which strings and initial thoughts on tone colour) and where the left hand needed to be too, examining fingering choices – and scribbling notes furiously into the score. I then did this with the following 18 bars of the section, really focussed in on deliberate, slow movements, concentrating on accurate placement of left and right hand fingers to start building the muscle memory in the way I intend from the get go. Going back to fix up a bad habit that you’ve played over and over or a niggling little knot that you’ve ignored can be a real pain in the backside, so I think it’s worth taking the time at the start of a piece. Even if you’re playing it ridiculously slowly it will pay dividends as you become more familiar and comfortable with the piece.

And then in the afternoon, coming back to the guitar for another hour or so, I honed straight in on the most tricky elements of the material I had been working on in the morning, before then working on stitching that together to the first section that I’d been working on in the week prior. That probably took me around 45 minutes all up (not that time is really of significance, I believe – these things take as long as they need to). I then spent some time on the second section of the Fuga from J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite BWV 997 (a favourite of mine to play and a constant on my music stand in recent months), pulling out specific bars and phrases and treating them as left hand accuracy exercises (Bach’s great for that!).

And continuing on with the Bach theme I then did around 5 minutes sight reading with the Fuga from BWV 998 (the first 28 bars to be precise). This piece is on the repertoire list for the LMusA diploma, so was keen to start exploring it and definitely keen to get working on it as a possible part of the program  for the exam.

So, yes, two practice sessions in a day, where I can fit it in, I find really helpful and my progress shoots along, even if the practice periods themselves are on the shorter side. The upshot of a total of five days of practice in a similar manner to this across the last week (including a three day trip to outback Queensland!) means that I now have the entirety of La Maja de Goya underway, it starting to really come together, a great foundation to get stuck into the details of the material and sound like the semblances of a fantastic piece of music.


The Start of a New Journey – The LMusA Diploma

So, I decided very recently to start preparations to take the AMEB LMusA (licentiate diploma) exam* –,_Australia . And when I say start preparations I mean pouring over the syllabus and checking out which pieces I’d like to start getting under the fingers, working on and working up. This is literally the start of a new journey and a new journey I’d like to share with you, dear reader.

Why the LMusA Diploma Exam? What’s my motivation?

We all have different motivations for wanting to take exams/ qualifications (or otherwise!). For me personally the motivation is twofold. Firstly I really enjoy the journey in preparing for something like this (a big event, a big concert, an exam). Secondly I do enjoy setting myself goals and timeframes – structure, if you will – in sharpening the mind and helping to push me onwards. And OK, I’ll admit there is a third motivation here – it is quite cool (I think) to get another qualification under my belt and another set of letters after my name.

It is mostly about the journey though, and how I learn and develop along the way – as a guitarist, musician and human being (I don’t mean to sound all “far out”, but you really do learn a lot about yourself on this kind of journey). And I think whenever you take an exam, or commit to something of a similar nature, the journey has to feature largely in your motivation or at least be significant for you in some way – think about how long an exam may be (anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour tops) and how long you’re preparing for it. You’ve got to make the most of that journey!

So, I’m in no hurry to take the examination (plus I’ve got to sit the theory component of it too before the practical, recital type exam). Realistically I’ll probably not look to take the exam earlier than the next 18-24 months. That sounds like a long time to some I’d probably guess, but I’m more than happy to allow myself the time to really get to know the pieces, technically and musically. To let the pieces take on a life of their own.

I’m more than happy to give myself time, once I’ve got to know a few pieces reasonably well, to pick out which are my favourite or have the greatest connection with, winnow out those which I’m less connected with. Then allow that final selection of pieces to seep into my very being so they’re indelibly etched into my musical memory, my aural memory, my visual memory, my kinesthetic memory, my finger and hand muscle memory. I’ll play them to various people, various audiences at various stages of development, so playing them for living, breathing, warm to the touch audiences is a standard occurrence.

The first piece I’ve selected to work on (and I officially started working on it on Sunday) is La Maja de Goya by Enrique Granados. An absolute favourite of mine and a classic piece in the classical guitar repertoire. If you’re not familiar with it head over to YouTube and check out Julian Bream playing it – it’s just beautiful!

Over the next few weeks and months, I’d love to share this journey with you – my ups, my downs, my thoughts, quandaries, decisions, concerts, approaches to learning, practice, how pieces are developing and so on. I may even share with you snippets (or more) of pieces as they develop. And hopefully it helps some of you, dear readers, which is always my key aim.


* Which reminds me, it’s high time I complete the series of posts I started late last year on preparing for an exam. Watch this space!