Thursday, October 14, 2010

Online Music Theory Course for Classical Guitarists

I couldn't agree with Segovia more when he said "study music more than the guitar". In that vein, I've been notified that there will be an online music theory course for guitarists at the

As I've said, to play classical guitar well you must also understand classical music. This course is specifically designed for classical guitarists and is interactive - you can ask questions and get answers about the material much like a "real" class. If you don't know theory and are interested, this can be an excellent course to get you started.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recordings from the past

I've been taking a bit of a sabbatical from my internet postings which will be over soon. In the meantime, I've decided to put up some live recordings from the past not known to the general public (nor to most who know me personally). These recordings are from 1997 with the fantastic guitarist, Antigoni Goni. For those that don't know Antigoni, I highly recommend getting her recordings. I became friends with Antigoni at Juilliard and we formed a brief duo during the years of 1996-1998. The duo began by concentrating on the Spanish Nationalists - Albeniz, Granados, and De Falla, and using the arrangements of the old guitar masters - primarily Miguel Llobet and Emilio Pujol. Evocation by Albeniz as arranged by Llobet is one of the most colorful guitar arrangements I've had the pleasure to perform. Just studying the score is a complete lesson in guitar orchestration. More can be found at my youtube site

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20

I've been listening to a lot of romantic era music lately, something I've shunned for most of my musical study. I guess I wasn't that interested because the great composers of that time rarely wrote any music which could be played on our instrument - unlike in the Baroque, Renaissance, and 20th century composers.

It always bothered me that I didn't know most of the great masterpieces from Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, etc. If we are classical musicians, then we should be interested in all great art music - not just art music played on the guitar.

Lately my obsession has been Felix Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 which I've been listening to and studying daily. It was composed in the autumn of 1825, when he was just 16. There's something remarkable about the feelings conveyed in this music - it's full of hope, optimism, and drama - typical of a 16 year old. At the same time, the craftsmanship is stunningly mature. If I had heard this when I was 13, I may have taken up the violin.

There's a digital copy of the manuscript online here.

Here is a playlist to the full piece -

Friday, April 9, 2010

Introduction and Passacaglia on "The Golden Flower" for electric guitar - Dusan Bogdanovic

This is from a home recording from 2004-5. It's originally for classical guitar, but this version is for electric guitar with added effects to enhance the "indian" quality of the work. The music is based on the Golden Means ratio - a mathematical ratio found in nature.

I know this blog is mainly for classical guitar, but for those who might also be interested in electric guitar and contemporary music, I'll be putting all my old home recording tracks up at over the next few weeks.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Julian Bream masterclass on "Sevilla"

There's a number of masterclasses by Bream on youtube. I love them. Of course, it's no surprise that Bream always talks about musical ideas and listening, but even more important is the kind of energy he emits. That seems to be the greater, unspoken lesson.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Segovia showing us all how easy it can be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Glenn Gould plays Orlando Gibbons - Allemande (Italian Ground)

This is a recording of Glenn Gould, a pianist I greatly admire playing Orlando Gibbon's glorious Allemande (an Italian Ground). I was mentioning to a few students this week how important instrumental resonance is in playing. In other words, how an instrument "rings" a certain way when it's pushed nicely with natural power, but not brute force. With command, but not with over control. Listening to Gould play demonstrates that well. The whole piano rings with clarity and resonance no matter what the dynamic.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mallorca op 202 played by Julian Bream

Hats off to Julian Bream, who has never tired of exploring music or the instrument. He listens with reverence to the birth and death of every note.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Attitude of Play

"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." - Thich Nhat Hanh

The underlying feeling when practicing should be one of play - experimenting, being creative, being spontaneous, enjoyment of the present. This is how we learn things best and easiest. When the mind is playing and enjoying the process without judgment, it becomes inspired - we get wonderful ideas, feelings, intuitions. This guides us towards right action.

Even when a technique is particularly challenging, we can still retain the attitude of play. I remember in the Fall, sitting in a park and watching a few skateboarders honing their craft. One boy was trying to do a trick where he would lift the skateboard while he jumped onto a bench, and then land back down onto the ground cleanly. He tried and tried, but wasn't getting it. However, he wasn't getting upset - he was playing with the technique. Through playing and experimenting, his mind/body were open to solutions. When he would fail, he just learned a little from it, moved on, and went on to the next try. His mind was not on judgment - which drains us of energy and inspiration. He was just feeling the sensations for each jump with a sort of intense curiosity. Of course he wanted it to be right each time, but he didn't mind that it wasn't. Failing was just a way to understand his instrument better (body and board)- it wasn't something to get upset about or to take personally. He did nail a few jumps towards the end, and although he didn't become fluid at the technique, it was obvious to me that he was going to get it with this kind of practice.

Play doesn't require perfection in every moment. Do we enjoy games only when we win? Of course not. Why should practice be any different? Think of it as a sort of game. Watch yourself and be careful not to fall into harsh criticism of your self or your work. Be interested in the failures as well as the successes - learn from both and stay open to the ideas that come from both. Some of your best ideas will come from failing - if you are open to learning from it.

The attitude of play is one of the key factors in mastering any endeavor. If you read about anyone who is outstanding in their field, you find over and over again that they enjoy their work immensley. They don't do it for the money or fame. Their work is a sort of play for them. Enjoy each step and you'll see that things get easier - as you become easier on yourself. If you have an attitude of play while you work, in many ways you have already succeeded.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Paderewski plays Chopin (1927)

I know this blog is followed mainly by guitarists, but I mentioned the great Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941) to a few students this week and thought I would share a recording of this amazing artist here. Although he wasn't the most technically "polished" pianist (especially compared to todays standards), I always find his playing to be fresh, full of life, and rich with poetic imagination. Listening to him and others while following the score is a fantastic way to learn about interpretation.

Here he plays Chopin's famous Nocturne in F# Major Op.15 No.2 (recorded in 1927).

Here is a link to the score - notice how incredibly imaginative he is with the phrasing and rubato.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Music First

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the guitar dearly. After 25 years of playing it, I'm still captivated by this marvelous instrument with it's complex fingerboard and the array of amazing tones it can produce.

Having stated that, the guitar has always been in the service of studying music. When I played rock guitar as a kid, instinctively I knew that I had to study rock music in order to excel - how it was written, what is commonly used in the style, how to improvise, how to write songs. When I studied Jazz music it was the same - we didn't talk much about how to play the guitar, but how to use the guitar to play Jazz music fluidly.

As students of the classical guitar, we don't necessarily have to know anything about the music we play. We see the notes on the page, and often the editors make sure that most (if not all) of the fingering is added into the score. The only knowledge that is needed to play even the greatest masterpiece is 1. where to put the fingers and 2. what rhythms are being used. This sort of "notational tablature" is one of the biggest problems I see in students.

We cannot excel at any style of music by simply putting our fingers in the correct place at the correct time. There are no excellent jazz guitarists that I know of who don't have an understanding of jazz music. There are no great pop guitarists who don't have an understanding of pop music. And consequently, there are no great classical guitarists who don't understand how classical music is written on the guitar. Often, I think that students forget that they are studying classical music on the guitar - as if the classical guitar is more about the technique than the music. Let me be clear - if you are studying this style, you are studying classical music on the guitar.

If we look at Fernando Sor's Guitar Method we can see clearly that he is instructing the student primarily in the language of classical music - what is commonly used, what chords, what intervals, what each key contains, etc. and THEN - how it is found on the guitar. Sor emphasized learning classical music through the guitar - not learning guitar technique through classical music - which is so often the case in modern methods.

Sor was correct - if you understand classical music and how it is applied on the guitar, you will learn the music faster, sight read better, memorize easier, improve your ear, interpret music more confidently, become technically more fluid, etc. etc. Everything about your playing will improve.

Please also check out Christopher Davis' excellent post on Sor's method of learning notes on the guitar -