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!

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Andrew Rubin Interview -Part Two

If you didn’t catch the first part of my interview with young up-and-coming guitarist/ composer/ multi-talented young musician, Andrew Rubin, then be sure to head here: Introducing Andrew Rubin and a New Guitar Concerto! Interview – Part 1

Here’s the second and final instalment of my inspiring interview with Andrew – I promise you it’ll make you want to go grab your guitar and do something new and different!

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So you’re a bit of multi-talented individual – you’ve come from a rock background, with your Dark Days project very funky kind of stuff, and The Magician a really interesting, cool piece of work with the animation along with your wonderful piece of music. I think you have a gift for orchestration. Do you see yourself working on these different kinds of projects going forwards?

Absolutely, and that’s the thing is that even though half of me is leaning towards going towards orchestration and scoring and stuff like that, I don’t want necessarily to….. I guess in music I like to jump from genre to genre. Even listening wise, you know. I could be on jazz for a while or even electronic music. I love artists like Frank Zappa who crossed over many different genres and just went wherever their muses took them. I aspire to be that same way, I would love to do orchestration and film score kind of stuff, but I also have a soft spot for writing pop songs like Dark Days. I want to do it all!

What’s next for you? What’s your next project?

For 2017 I kind of two projects going on right now. Dark Days was kind of the first song off of this four or five song EP that I was going to put out, with collaborations with different people. All sort of in a similar vein of two to three minute long, simple songs. And then at the same time I’ve been trying to construct a new classical piece, leaning towards a ballet kind of thing. I’ve been really inspired by Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and that vein. It’s one avenue I’ve not really explored yet, so it’s really exciting.

And so you’re playing some gigs this year too?

Yeah, actually at this very moment, in 25 minutes! Yeah, I’m very fortunate to live on the central coast of California, which has a lot of wineries and a lot of really nice places to play. It’s really nice here, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to play most weekends. And today is my first attempt at being able to perform the concerto with a backing track and doing a live thing today. So it will be a fun experiment.

How do you prepare for gigs?

If you’re going out there doing it by yourself definitely make a checklist! There’s so much stuff to remember. I’ve been to gigs before where I’ve forgotten the head of the PA. Be organised!

It’s important to not lose the aspect of improvising. I don’t like to make set lists, because you have to read the room, and know that you don’t want to put your best song at the beginning when the room hasn’t filled up yet and stuff like that. It’s fun to be spontaneous and have that element of uncertainty. That can lead to really cool ideas and really cool performances. Some of the best performances have been off the cuff, in the moment sort of things and so it’s always this constant balance of structure and letting go with music and performances.

Who are your inspirations as a musician? You spoke about Frank Zappa, who else or what else inspires you?

I think as I’ve gotten a little older I really look up to artists who, kind of like what I mentioned before, like Frank Zappa. I may not know his entire catalogue or all the music that he’s done, but as an artist what he was able to do. Very similar to David Bowie and Miles Davis. Individuals like that who were always reinventing  themselves and never kind of stuck with one thing, I really look up to those kind of individuals and aspire to be to that same way in my own career. God willing if I could be that way it’d be awesome!

As far as musical influences, as I mentioned before, that kind of changes from a classical angle I love Debussy, Stravinsky and Sibelius. And those people that really stood for what they believed in artistically, and did whatever they wanted and didn’t really care what other people thought. That inspires me.

What top tips would you have for folks out there who are perhaps aspiring to start composing or writing or start arranging or doing something different?

Well, I would say get out of your comfort zone and don’t ever say that you can’t do something, or think you can’t do something. Because the greatest things that have happened to me in my time of being a musician have been because I thought “why not?”. I’d have never gotten into orchestration if I hadn’t said to myself “why not try doing this?”. You know, I’m not formally educated in doing that, but kind of by stretching myself and trying it, you never know what can happen. So don’t ever box yourself into a “I’m only a singer-songwriter”, “I’m only a guitarist”, “I only do this” – try anything you want and go with it because you need know what might happen.

So you’re self-taught on the guitar?

Yes, for many years that was sort of my thing, it was just a lot of practice, a lot of bedroom practice just all the time. And when it came for orchestration it was a lot of reading books and self-study, and it wasn’t until about halfway through that process where I actually got a teacher, he actually showed refine it technically – “here’s the correct way of doing things”, “here’s the theory behind this and that” you know.

But up until that point it was a lot of reading books, a lot of listening to music, a lot of intuitive processes. Trial and error definitely.

So what do you do get up to when you’re not writing or playing?

Well, I love hanging out with my dogs. I’ve got two dogs – they’re like my kids. I’ve got an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie. They’ve got lots of energy all the time so they tire me out when I have my down time. So I like to spend time with them.

But I do music so much it’s kind of funny to think of my down time. I’m always like “what am I going to do next?”

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Well, after that interview and checking out some of Andrew’s recent work I’m sure you, dear readers, are as curious and excited as I am to see what this talented young man does do next.