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.

Soundhole B&W

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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Observations on becoming familiar with a piece – sheet music, shapes and movements

John Price Guitar

I thought I’d share with you some brief thoughts today on an observation I’ve had in recent days.

In the last couple of months or so I’ve been practicing, working out niggles and challenging little transitions and fingerings and generally burnishing up a piece of music that I had originally learnt to about a 90% level a couple of years ago. The piece is the Fugue from Bach’s Lute Suite in A Minor BWV 997, the second movement from the Lute Suite that I’m aiming to have learnt to play in its entirety this year.

And the observation I’ve made in the last few weeks of getting to real grips with the piece again and really getting it under my skin, is that whilst I’m continuing to use the music when practicing and playing it I’m not “reading” the sheet music as such.

I’ve definitely not got the music embedded in memory for playing with out the sheet music – I’ve tested that. I get so far, but there are still big holes in the memory.

When I play the piece, with the sheet music, it feels a little like reading words in a book (or a blog site!). When we read words on a page we don’t tend to read every single letter, we recognise the shapes of words and collections of words. So I feel it’s a little like that – not having memorised the music but recognising and having embedded the shapes and sounds and flow of the piece, not reading every single note or chord, yet still relying on the shapes on the page, connecting the shapes on the page with the movements of my left and right hands and fingers.

I find it an interesting observation, and perhaps a step that I’d not been really mindful of before in really learning a piece of music.