Thursday, June 25, 2009

¡Viva España!

I'm off to Spain to visit some old and new friends, study, research, and clear my head for a few days. What better place to go than the birthplace of the guitar?

In the meantime, I recently had an interview for guitar theory in depth - a great site for those who want to get more into music theory on the guitar (very important in my opinion). Most of the interview deals with my "Jeckyll and Hyde" personality in regards to the guitar (classical guitar and electric guitar) but other topics are covered as well.

Kevin Gallagher interview for Guitar Theory in Depth

Many thanks to Alex Cortes for the interview.

Hope you all are enjoying the new summer,


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

fingering vs fretboard

As a teacher of this fantastic art, I often learn more from my students than from the books I've studied or the teachers I've had. Since the study of the guitar is directly influenced by our perceptions, I thought I would share this insight I recently had in a lesson.

As a boy, I never had problems memorizing or understanding what I was playing on the guitar. In fact, the first lesson I ever had was learning a I - IV - V blues progression and the chords and scales that went along with it. When I learned scales or songs at that time, "proper" fingering was never really thought about. I basically would see the notes or tablature, put my fingers where I was supposed to, and off I went. I memorized the shapes of the chords and the scales without really thinking much about how to finger them.

In a recent lesson, I noticed a student perform the correct left hand fingering - but on the wrong string. Most of the time I would have just politely pointed out the error and moved on, but something about this kind of mistake struck me as being deeper than a technical slip. As an experiment, I asked him to play me a scale he knew - which he did. I then asked him to play the same scale using only the index finger of the left hand. To my amazement, the student could not remember the scale - even though he had been playing it for years with the "proper" fingering.

It suddenly dawned on me - some people memorize fingering patterns, but not fretboard patterns. They know the fingering for the scale is 2-4-1-2-4-1-3-4 on the left hand, but they don't know the exact frets and strings the fingering belongs to. Or - they may know a chord's fingering, but because they don't know the fretboard shape of the chord well, they can't easily change to another fingering.

Knowing where you are placing your fingers is more important to memorize than fingering. Fingering is simply the way to get to the frets - the real target and the real knowledge is knowing the fret/string we are playing. Once we have that clear in our head, the fingering can be altered and refined while the proper target (the fret/string) is always in our sights.

Try this for an exercise -

1. Take a 3 octave scale you know well, and play the whole thing with one finger - can you do it? Now start the scale from the top note and go down with one finger. Now start the scale from the 7th note instead of the 1st. If any of this is difficult to do, you've probably memorized the fingering, but not the scale's fretboard pattern. If that is the case, play the scale as you normally would, but this time pay attention to the fretboard pattern of the scale - not your fingering. Really look and study the frets/strings you are playing. After a few repeats, try the exercise again. Also try starting at random spots in the scale. See if you can keep the scale's fretboard shape firmly in your mind regardless of the fingering you choose.

2. Take a simple piece that you have memorized - something very easy to play or can sight read well. Now, change the fingering randomly but don't change positions. If you played a chord with 1st and 2nd fingers, use 3rd and 4th instead. If you played a scale passage with 4-1-0 as the fingering, change it to 1-3-0. Don't make any of the fingering logical or smooth - that's not the point. The point is to be able to change fingerings randomly and still keep the fretboard shapes clearly in your mind.

I've always wondered why rock and jazz guitarists seem to learn classical guitar music easily and I think this is one of the reasons. Pick up any rock or jazz guitar method book and you'll see that fingering is rarely talked about, while fretboard diagrams, and scale/chord shapes are everywhere. From the beginning, these players start looking at the fretboard shapes - while in classical guitar, we tend to emphasise the fingering of the shapes. Fingering is extremely important, but without the proper target, we can only hope that the fingers will land correctly. Know clearly where you want to go and you'll find the way to get there.