Technical work – a vital part of every guitarist’s recipe book

Whatever level you’re currently at with your guitar playing, whether you have a teacher or not, whether you’re a performer or not, whether you are a teacher yourself or not, one cannot overlook the fact that technical work, technical exercises and so on are an absolute must. It’s the foundation upon which you can build a magnificent edifice of guitar playing and take you forwards in pretty much any direction you care to take your playing.

Some may say, well it’s kind of boring though. In response to that I say this – well, you’re the one playing it; it’s up to you to make it interesting and musical!!

Just like the veggies on your dinner plate are a vitally nutritious part of a healthy diet, so are your scales and exercises a healthy and “nutritious” part of your playing and learning “diet”. The petulant child doesn’t want to eat their veggies – perhaps they’ve been presented in a very dull, uninspiring and limp kind of manner, perhaps said child has been over-indulged in the alternatives and now only wants to eat the meat or the ice cream following on from the mains. If you only eat meat or ice cream it’ll keep you going for a while, but you’ll perhaps not be the healthiest, you won’t be able to perform at your physical (and perhaps even mental) optimum, you may even find yourself getting….ahem….bunged up…

If you don’t work on your scales, your exercises and technical development you’ll get so far, but, just as if you don’t eat your veggies, you may in fact be stunting your development and you may well get bunged up too, in a manner of speaking! And there are no vitamin pills or shots to be taken to supplement your practice!! You gotta eat it up!

And so, instead of presenting yourself (or, teachers, presenting students) with limp, dull and uninspiring technical exercises that seem to be there just for the sake of being there, and a chore to eat down, you’ve got to flip that around!

How can you add some zest? How can you add spice? How can the pieces you’re currently playing or learning be complemented? What scales or exercises will really help you extract the greatest “flavour” and “taste” from those pieces? Your teacher should certainly be able to help, if they’re not doing so already. If they are – pay attention! Hah hah!  If not, I’m always happy to provide advice if you want to get in contact directly.

It’s difficult to provide specific advice through a simple, relatively small blog post, as you, dear readers, are many and varied with as many different needs. But, if your technical work has taken a back seat for a while, or has dropped off altogether, to get you back on track you can’t go past the good ol’ scales.

And these can be played in sooooo many ways – piano, forte, rising and falling dynamics, staccato, legato, etouffe, ponticello, tasto with all of the right handing fingering combinations at your disposal, apoyando, tirando, various rhythmic variations, pulses for building speed and accuracy and so on……all together in all sorts of combinations that I’m sure you’re imaginative enough to concoct. If you go through all the diatonic scales too it has the added benefit of assisting you to brush up on your key signatures, and knowledge of the circle of fifths – a double whammy! Now that’s what I call a supersize meal deal! Eat up!

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The art of sight reading

Sight reading. Striking fear into the hearts of classical guitarists the length and breadth of the country, nay the world, since time immemorial. Which is a little bit silly really. They’re just notes after all. I’ll bet you won’t go up in flames if you, dare I say it, play a wrong note!

Why do we sight read?

Well, it’s an extremely useful skill to have if playing with others – sometimes we may be called on to read through a brand new piece or part. Being able to do that without saying something along the lines of “errrr, well, I, errrrr…… Sugar” or words to that effect is a very useful thing. Your fellow musicians will probably appreciate it too!

Sight reading is a useful skills in itself to practice and cultivate as it tests your fingerboard geography, tests your ability to think and play on your feet and strengthens your recognition of scale and chord patterns. All of these mean that, even if you hardly ever, or never, find yourself in a position playing with others or being called upon to play something at short notice, the skill of sight reading makes learning a brand new piece much quicker and easier.

It’s also a very useful skills for would-be teachers out there…..You’ve got to be able to play and demonstrate something your students are learning, right?

How do we sight read?

So rationally we know that they’re only notes on a page and we know that nothing bad is going to happen to us. So why does it bother some guitarists so?

There are a number of reasons for this and all are highly variable person to person. The reasons could be:

* Insecurity and lack of confidence in your own abilities

* Worrying that you’ll play a wrong note or five

* Worrying what your teacher or others listening will think

* Worrying that you’re not good enough

The list could probably go on, but those are usually the main culprits.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you when I say that worrying never did anyone any good, especially when it comes to playing music, sight reading or otherwise. If you focus on “problem” and “difficulty” and “I’m no good at this” then what are you likely to be getting for yourself? Problem, difficulty and being “no good”?

What if, when sight reading, you could relinquish that need to be perfect (of which there is no such thing anyway…..) and play to your strengths (pun absolutely intended)? What might happen then?

My top ten tips for sight reading are:

  1. Take your time – don’t just dive in to the music straight away. Breathe. Look over the music first.
  2. Take note of time signature and any changes.
  3. Take note of key signature, any modulations and accidentals.
  4. Take note of starting position and any movements around the fretboard.
  5. Take note of the intended pace of the music and play as slowly as may be appropriately acceptable for the style and comfortable for you.
  6. When reading music that has been edited with fingering, if the fingering is potentially confusing to you on a first sight read through go with the notes rather where the editing might be directing to play a note.
  7. When you start playing DON’T STOP! No “oops”, no going back to “fix” a wrong note, no stopping to check if that was really supposed to be a B flat or whatever.
  8. Rhythmic pulse is the same as the heartbeat of the music – without it it’s dead! Keep the sense of the pulse and the music flowing along wrong notes or not.
  9. After pulse, maintain the sense of the rhythm, so take time to tap out the rhythm before you start playing to make sure you’re comfortable with what it is. Notice if there are any unusual rhythms in the music and tap those out first too.
  10. It’s a skill and like any other skill the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

Don’t be afraid. They’re only notes 🙂