Aspiring musicians often have many questions that are answered, but the answers are soon forgotten due to the cognitive load of learning new skills that are in need of becoming part of procedural memory. John Williams, classical guitarist, discusses his early years of studying guitar. The “thirty-minute practice time” resonates with me and my early years of learning an instrument. It is crucial to learn to practice in a manner that allows an aspiring musician to move forward.
Any discussion of guitar seems a bit empty without discussing its role in popular music. Much else is discussed in this part of the interview, but what catches my attention is listening to John Williams discern how classical guitar, its European tradition to be more specific, differs from guitar traditions in other parts of the world.
Dance is critical to understand how to play music from many countries and different time periods. In a future post, I will cite some sources for people interested in the fascinating connections between dance and music. For now, I hope that John Williams discussing the connections will pique your interest in the subject enough to consider learning some new dances!
Helping aspiring guitarists to learn to practice at a microscopically slow pace while watching their movements in order to become comfortable before playing fast is something that needs to be emphasized over and over or else progress becomes much slower as pieces of music become more difficult. John Williams also discusses the metronome, which some aspiring guitarists view as an enemy. It really isn’t!
As Monday will be quite busy, I want to wish everybody a wonderful Family Day (2020 version) in advance. It certainly is pleasant to have a holiday in February. Although it is the shortest month of the year, it can, at times, feel rather long when the cold really sets in. The magic guitar of Sabicas will, I trust, make a difference this month as well.
There is so much written about flamenco that it is difficult to know where to start to discuss things of interest to musicians. However, most musicians are interested in harmony, to risk stating the obvious, so I put this in the resources section in case you have twenty minutes to spare and a lifetime to enjoy flamenco. There are subtitles in English, which is great in case you want to note anything for future reference.
Who can navigate websites well? Not me! I struggle to find things online, I reckon, because I am easily distracted by work that needs to be done. This past week I needed a few things so asked a friend where I should have a look online to find the things I needed. He laughed and told me that I knew the very website I needed to visit to find what I needed. Well, he was right. There are plenty of places to get one or maybe two of the accessories that I needed so I did not understand why he was so right immediately. After I was unsuccessful in trying to order online, I sent a message. Within a reasonable amount of time my mobile phone rang. I answered, ordered what I needed, and even had a brief discussion about the next classical guitar I will probably purchase, which is no small matter. Accessories such as guitar armor, which uses static cling to protect a guitar, a padded sleeve to help protect forearm nerves, and a guitar support cushion to protect one’s body from improper posture make me realize that a great service is very difficult to provide. I feel lucky to live somewhere that makes it possible to do so much with a minimum of effort. It allows me to have much more time for students and their needs.
My interest in instrumental music began long ago, but it is rooted in a classical music education encouraged by teachers at the music school I attended from a young age. Regardless of my roots, I have lived long enough to to discover that there are some amazing musicians playing instrumental music in Canada. I am not sure whether this group still performs or whether it is creating another CD at this time. Wherever the group is, it is still exceptionally talented. I hope that you enjoy this group’s music as much as I do. It is very difficult to find their recorded output so I hope this live version of “Oh The Fusion” will be as enjoyable for you as it is for me.
A student of mine once asked me who I would like to play electric guitar like if I could chose one person. I had a hard time choosing somebody as I usually think about classical guitarists and fingerstyle guitarists. As tempted as I was to say “Oh, Tal Farlow, of course,” I actually answered with the name, “Joe Pass,” in hope that I would make a point of promoting fingerstyle playing. I may or may not have been successful in promoting fingerstyle playing. However that answer sounded then I really do not know. Now, I must admit that I might answer the question differently at this point in my life. The tone that Tal Farlow gets from an electric guitar is more and more on my mind these days as I see electric guitars becoming less popular than they once were, though sales of acoustic guitars remain steady. I really hope that more people take an interest in instrumental music. And, maybe just maybe, somebody will take an interest in Tal Farlow.
As in language acquisition, there are many commonly held beliefs about when it is best to start to learn a musical instrument. Examine your own beliefs and see whether they are your own or “folk wisdom” passed along from other people that has stayed in your memory. I can still hear the voice of a music teacher from long ago lamenting that I had not started on my instrument much earlier in life. I started to learn a musical instrument when I was seven years old.
I suppose that had I not witnessed the joy of so many adults learning a musical instrument I could have come to that same conclusion that music teacher from long ago did that there is an optimal age to begin learning a musical instrument. There might be such an age for X or Y individual, were it possible to make copies of people and find out which age and situation promoted the greatest amount of learning. However, it is much more amazing to forsake cloning and simply witness the cognitive capabilities of adult learners who decide to study a musical instrument. Also, the motivation that teenagers bring to music education is most instructive. Skateboarding and music or volleyball and music or hockey and music instead of it being demanded of teenagers to choose between interests as though they are always competing. I was told to choose between such interests as a teenager. I never chose. I did as much as I could. Did it alienate coaches? Yes, it did, and I am pleased that my parents supported those decisions of mine.
There are so many activities to pursue, but I trust that if you have read this far you might still be interested in music. If age is used as a reason not to pursue music, I hope that you reconsider that reasoning. Much in life can be lost through aging, but music stays with us for a long time. There is so much fun to be had playing music. Perhaps guitar is not your instrument. That’s great. Find another one and have at it! If I know anybody who can help, I will certainly do my utmost to help you find somebody to teach you music.
The cognitive load that playing a musical instrument presents is a well-documented fact. I was picking up a guitar from a luthier last week when he mentioned that fact to me. I hadn’t thought about it in much detail for a long time. Today, I was reading through a copy of the monthly AFM (https://www.afm.org/) publication I receive due to being a member. I was reading through and thinking about an article to do with the business of music, in particular streaming revenues, and wondered aloud how long it would be until streaming is a thing of the past.
Live music is quite incredible when one considers how much it takes to create it, perform it, and so on. The fact that a music studio whether a physical one as it was once known or its more modern equivalent, a computer in a dorm room, is a world of its own has never much moved me, although one of my old friends encourages me to care much more about such things than I do at present. I suppose his being nominated for a Grammy for his production work might have something to do with that focus on sound production. Regardless, I was also wondering aloud why somebody as impressive to me as William Beauvais remains about 100 years ahead of his time. When guitarists put it all together, which includes tone, transitions across strings, shifts in position, legato, and so on it is an amazing experience. That somebody as talented as Mariette Stephenson chose “Moonglow” for The Kitchener-Waterloo Guitar Orchestra to perform is, to my mind, fantastic. I understand it won’t create streaming revenue or be the subject of study in a sound production course, but it is wonderful to hear a piece of music written by William Beauvais being interpreted expertly. I hope that anybody reading this has a good, long listen to the piece of music I have linked to below.
This week has seen a number of GES students begin working on a Sor study (Etude No. 3 from 12 Studies, Op. 6). As luck would have it, there is an excellent PDF available (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Txo3iFBSm4pU0yguJnfxMHaU9XsJcFi-/view) for fingering suggestions made by Edson Lopes, who is incredibly generous for providing these suggestions for free.
It has been a pleasure to start teaching classical guitar in St. Marys, Ontario. Many thanks to the community for its support of classical guitar music, fingerstyle guitar playing, and flamenco guitar as well . If we haven’t met yet, it is only a matter of time until we do in lovely downtown, or near the Little Falls, or at a game on a Friday night.