Top Classical Guitar Tips of the Year

Hi Folks, here are some of my favourite top tips featured on the blog from some of the fantastic classical guitarists I’ve been privileged to interview this year. Read on for some top tips from the likes of Xuefei Yang, Lily Afshar and Johannes Möller!

Andrew Blanch’s top tips for someone thinking of picking up the classical guitar:

I guess have fun is pretty important! Having a good teacher probably helps a lot too.

In fact, you know what, I think it can be really tough for adult learners. They’re often really good at what they do, wherever they work. That’s their thing that they’ve been going at – I teach people from the public service, something like that. They’re experts at something. And maybe the skills involved in music aren’t necessarily the same as the ones in whatever they’re doing. It can be hard learning from someone younger than you too. A lot of teachers are students and that sort of thing.

With regards to getting a teacher I think, as a classical guitarist, is assumed. I’d really think about what the teacher is saying. Really just have some trust, I would say. Allow yourself to trust this new concept, this new way of thinking and approaching a way they may be trying to get you to think. Just have trust and just give it a go, thinking in the way they’re teaching you. And don’t necessarily assume that the thought processes to do what you’re doing are going to music as well.


Check out the full interview here:


Xuefei Yang’s Top Tips for somebody just starting out on the guitar:

For beginners – that’s a hard question! Hmmm….to be honest for beginners, I think it’s really important to have a good teacher. I really think so. I think that with the violin, the piano, the reason why they have so many great players is that they have a longer tradition of teaching and they have more perfect systems of teaching, that’s why they can produce so many good players. I think in way, I personally feel that the guitar teaching system is still developing, we don’t have such a tradition. As a beginner, it’s very important to have the right method, for your technique. It’s very important, for adults or children, it’s very important. I really think that a good teacher is very important for beginners.

But I do want to say something to more advanced students – I just feel that lots of guitarists, guitar students, or maybe amateurs, tend to focus on the guitar world. Maybe they play the guitar because simply they love the instrument, which is no problem at all, nothing wrong with that. But I just feel that they’re more fanatic about the instrument. I hope that they can put themselves in the sea of music. Myself I love guitar as an instrument, but I think of guitar just as a method, just as a medium, of music. It’s a media to express music and I like to think about music more than about the instrument. I think that  for more advance students, if they want to be a musician, to make a career, I think it’s quite important to put yourself in the sea of music and think more generally about music, rather than just guitar.

Since I moved to London I play concerto a lot, I play chamber music a lot, and this has helped meimmensely! Musically and technically too. Musically, you know, if you just play solo guitar, which is a beautiful instrument, there is a great limitation. But if you play chamber music, or you listen to an orchestra the music becomes richer, so much more possibility. If you’re soaked in that music and you’re forced to do more on your instrument, do more musically, that forces you to push your technique. It forces you to do the things that you want. So I really feel that the technique improves, in the more advanced stage, when you want to play more music.

The beautiful Xuefei Yang Photo credit: Neil Muir
The beautiful Xuefei Yang Photo credit: Neil Muir

Check out the three part interview here:


Rick Alexander’s top tips for someone currently learning or thinking of learning the guitar and/ or writing their own material?

To the extent that I’m qualified to give tips – here goes!   For someone starting out playing, I think that the key thing is to find guitar music at your level that you love hearing and then work on that with a good teacher.  There’s good, interesting, modern music even at the earliest stages. For example, Andrew York’s Denouement album has some great early level pieces which are very musical and fit on the CD perfectly well with the more advanced pieces. Set yourself the challenge of playing pieces you love as well as you can, with a feel and sound that you make your own.

For someone thinking of writing their own material:  If, like I did, you find it hard to start writing I would advise persevering and keep trying. You have to start somewhere and I’ve found that writing has gotten easier as I’ve gone along. It’s something that practice improves, just like playing. I think that the main point is that you don’t have to apply any rules. Just experiment, noodle around on the guitar and find what sounds good to you. For example, make up a 20-30 second chord progression that sounds good to you by starting with an arbitrary chord and then experiment to find a chord that sounds good after it. Then one after that, and so on.  Record it on your phone and then play it back on a loop and experiment to see if you can find a melody line that sounds good over the top of it.

For the full interview with Rick head here:


Johannes Möller’s top tip for beginners on the classical guitar:

“The most important thing, the number one, is to practice every day. I think even it’s just 10 minutes it’s better than doing one hour just once a week. Because that creates a routine, you create space for it.

It’s also because it becomes discouraging sometimes, but if you do a little bit every day things develop along very well I think. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Regularity!

And for those progressing a bit further, or slightly more advanced students, on the classical guitar:

“It’s important to practice the very basic technical aspects, the very simple things, like doing the perfect stroke, doing the perfect slur even if it’s just one. The very most basic things. Because whatever you can’t do on its own, really slowly, you’re not going to be able to do it fast. So that’s kind of the secret. If you can’t play it slowly, you’re not going to play it any better fast! We all know that!

Guitar is a very difficult instrument, and so you do need to practice the technique separately to just playing the pieces. You can destroy pieces by playing them in so technical a way. If your technique already is strong you’ll much quicker master a piece.”

For the full interview with Johannes head here:

Interview with Classical Guitarist Xuefei Yang – Part 1 of 3

Last week I was extremely honoured to Skype with none other than guitarist extraordinaire Xuefei Yang!!

On the eve of her first  tour Down Under and world premiere of a new guitar concerto by Chinese composer Tan Dun we had a fantastic chat about what she’ll be playing and how she goes about preparing for such a tour. Fei also shared some words of wisdom for students of the classical guitarist. We had such a great chat that I’ve decided to split it across three posts. Here in part one today you can read about Fei’s thoughts on playing classic and brand new repertoire, keeping things fresh, and the classical guitar repertoire.

(c) Neil Muir
Xuefei Yang (c) Neil Muir

You’re coming over to Australia very soon and we’re super excited to have you here! You’re going to be playing some classic repertoire and some new with the Tan Dun concerto premiere. Tell us a bit about the preparations for playing both the well known and the brand new repertoire.

In fact I just met him (Tan Dun) last month in Beijing, after a concert. I always wanted to meet him and he’s a very nice guy, he’s someone who works so hard and he’s already very famous, but he’s working everyday. He has so many ideas about music,  and he’s so enthusiastic. I think he’s trying to bring music to be relevant to people’s life now and I think that’s great. And he’s trying to bring the audience, and young people, to listen to new music and all of that sounds great I think.

You know I am very happy that the orchestra asked me to play a new piece, because especially guitarists, they complain “why always Aranjuez?! why always Aranjuez?!“, but you know I have to say that mostly it’s not our choice, you now! Mostly it’s the orchestra that makes the choice because they have their season, they have their programming, they have a concerto they have to hire a soloist to fit in their theme, so usually I don’t get to choose. Unless you’re John Williams then maybe – may be he can choose!

It’s kind of a good way to do it though, have the Aranjuez which is the “crowd pleaser” or the “crowd drawerer”, but then also introduce the audience to something new.

Yes, yes exactly. I think it’s a good idea. All the classic pieces they will draw the audience, you know, may be they want to hear this piece, but at the same time they have to hear the new piece which is great I think. And Tan Dun he’s always putting some Chinese element in his music which is great, I think that’s what we should do more. As I grow older I try to bring our culture into what I play, so it’s a great opportunity for me.

How do you go about keeping things such as the Aranjuez fresh, which you must know so well?

To be honest to Aranjuez I know it very very well, especially after recording. After you’ve recorded something you really know that music! But in a way it’s still….I never get bored of it. My theory is that with great music you never get bored. For example, in my recital I’m going to play the Chaconne by Bach, that is a piece that I never get bored of playing it. And in fact you change your feeling and your understanding and your interpretation of that piece over the years. So my theory is that if the music is great, then you don’t get bored. And the listener doesn’t get bored.

The other thing is also because playing concerto is quite different to playing solo, to be honest my first times playing concerto I was like dealing with my nerves! I was really quite nervous to play in front of an orchestra. But in recent years with my experience I can find that I’m more and more into the music because I get more used to playing a concerto in front of an orchestra and with amplification. More and more I really feel now I can really get the music out. So yes, I  haven’t gotten bored of it.

In fact, the other thing about playing a concerto is that every time you play with a different orchestra, you work with a different conductor and the venues are different, the sound and the audiences are different. So with all this combination each time is a new experience – honestly! Especially with concerto because you have to collaborate with other people. With solo its just myself. So in terms of Aranjuez I never get bored. In fact I think I’m getting better and better!

With all that I’m quite happy with my recording, but I feel in a way, especially the second movement, I’m playing a but different. I think the recording is like a snapshot of that particular moment of your life. So I’m really looking forward to play with an Australian orchestra this piece. Now sometimes after I’ve played the second movement, I get goosebumps myself! Like “oooh I’m really in the zone!“. I also lots of times after the performance some audience members have come to say to me that they were really moved, and moved into tears. For me that’s the greatest reward, it’s the most rewarding thing to hear, yeah! So hoping I can touch some hearts in Australia!

It deserves to be played a lot, but at the same time I wish there were other guitar concertos that could be played more too! The thing of playing contemporary music is that  we don’t know which one will become the “classic” one because time is the ultimate test. Those that are lucky enough to live after another 100 years will know which one will become the classic piece! So I think we just need to keep trying new pieces. The players levels these days are getting higher and higher and that can encourage the composer so they know what we can do on the instrument so they can write more interesting pieces. It’s like a loop, so our playing affects their compositions and their compositions affects our playing, like a loop. It all gets better and better and that way we can get more interesting repertoire.

But to be honest I think the repertoire is very very important for the instrument. I feel the development of the instrument, of the repertoire, is so so important. Why is it that we hear so much piano and violin, the orchestra, everyday in the concert hall? It’s because of the repertoire. There are too many great pieces to play.

I think other musicians usually say the guitar has a smaller repertoire, which I don’t actually agree with. I think the guitar repertoire is big but we don’t have a big mainstream repertoire. We don’t have the German, Austrian, mainstream repertoire. That’s almost a zero. That’s the problem there. You go to Germany and you’re not likely to hear our music, it’s not their tradition. But can only start to work from now. Well from Segovia he did, he promoted lots of composer, lots of repertoire. And Julian Bream, John Williams, we can enjoy playing those players repertoire, so we need to keep doing the same. The next generation can then have more music.

Be sure to head back this way on Thursday for part two where you can hear about what Fei is playing in her solo Australian and what else she’s working on at the moment.