Look Where You’re Going

This is a good point! I’d also add that a problem could be the player is watching where their hands are currently and not where they need to go. Both of these are common problems that I see when students miss a large jump to a higher or lower position. Find the fret with your eyes, then your hands will follow!

Classical Guitar n Stuff

This is an interesting little thing that I’ve noticed a pattern with over the last couple of years with a number of my students. Thinking back on it, it’s something I used to do (or rather didn’t do) until someone (thanks Philip Houghton) pointed out to me that there’s a really simple little thing you can do to make quite a difference in your playing.

What is that something?B&W Down Fretboard shot

Looking where you’re going.

When I say looking where you’re going I mean where your left hand (or right hand if you’re a left handed player) is going on the fretboard.

I’ve noticed that a number of intermediate level players want to look away from the fretboard most of the time, often treating it like it like it’s a badge of honour not to look at their left hand! Others don’t necessarily have that active “want” to look away from the…

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5 Hacks for Faster Music Learning

When I start learning a new piece of music I take time to familiarize myself with the score before I ever pick up my guitar. This allows me to have a much better understanding of the piece before I begin rehearsing, which translates into my learning the piece much faster than trying to study as I play.

Part of what I do when studying my score is I mark it up! Get some color pencils and highlighters and try this with the piece you’re currently working on.

  1. Highlight Dynamics in Yellow – Just as it says, mark anything related to dynamics in yellow. Volume markings, crescendo’s, diminuendo’s…everything related to dynamics.  Few things irritate me more than hearing a skilled performer play a piece with little or no dynamic contrast.  This is often a result of the “I’ll add that later when I can play the piece…” mentality.  If you begin including the dynamic variations from the moment you start playing a piece then even your very first performances will be musical.
  2. Circle Accidentals in Red – The last time I was coaching a student preparing for the Texas State Solo & Ensemble Contest, I noticed that repeatedly he was playing Bb as marked in the key signature, but virtually every occurrence of the note in the piece was a B natural accidental.  This was after the regional round was completed.  The student had developed such muscle memory that it became extremely challenging to break his habits of playing the Bb.  Marking these accidentals in red before ever playing the piece will certainly help eliminate this headache later!
  3. Translate Terms in Pencil – Why pencil?  Some musical terms apply differently to the piece.  For instance, tempo rubato may indicate something very different when playing Bach than it does when playing Villa-Lobos.  I’ll use The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Oxford Paperback Reference) to mark the possible meanings of the term.  As I become more familiar with the piece and the composer I might amend this definition to fit the character of the piece and the tendencies of the composer.  This is why I use pencil, and I always prefer Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased #2 Pencils, Box of 12, Black (13953).  It erases cleanly but is easy to read.  The best pencil made in my opinion. I love them so much and talk about them constantly to the point that my students buy them for me as Christmas gifts!
  4. Mark Performance Decisions in the Score – If you decide on a certain left or right hand fingering for a passage, if you make a decision about tone or color, or anything else that can be left up to interpretation, write it down!  I’ve been playing guitar long enough for a piece to drop out of my repertoire and later decide to work the piece back up to performance standards.  When this happens, it’s nice to be able to look at previous decisions I made about the piece instead of having to struggle through making them again.  Does this mean I’ll always play a piece the same way? No. I write these things in pencil so I can erase and make changes, but it does give me a starting place for the second time I work on a piece.  Even if you won’t have a long break on a piece, this step will help you remember choices between practice sessions, which is sometimes not as easy as we might think.
  5. Highlight Articulations, if needed, in Pink – This is the marking that I use sparingly because it can make a score difficult to read at times.  If you are playing a work by a composer who loves to use articulations on every note written, then you’d have lots of pink on your page, and too much of anything makes it not stand out.  I usually reserve this highlighting to very important moments in the music, or sections that are very different from the majority.  If nearly every note in the piece is marked staccato then I might use the highlighter to circle, or draw an arrow to the notes that are not staccato so my attention is brought to what is different.

Learning a new piece is almost always a challenge, but there’s no need to make it more difficult than it has to be.  A little work with some pencils and highlighters before you pick up your instrument can save yourself hours of frustration later. Happy playing!

Discussion Question: What tips do you have for learning music faster?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Strategies to Memorize Music

Some great ideas here from the Pure Musician Blog! I’ve used most of these personally, including mistuning your guitar (it’s harder to play than you think!) If you want to get that muscle memory down, it’s definitely worth your time to try each of these tips! Happy reading!

pure musician

Momorize a pieceOne of the obstacles in playing an instrument is to memorize pieces. The next concern is how to make sure we won’t forget the piece during an exam, a performance or a recording session. Anyhow, memorizing the music is an important skill, regardless of the genre and the style of music. Certainly, one can play a piece much better when he/she can play it by heart rather than reading off of the score (sight reading). Naturally, one can be more confident when he/she knows the music by heart as well.

Here are some helpful suggestions to memorize the musical pieces and to make sure we won’t forget them during a performance, exam or recording session (the following suggestions are for all instruments):

1- Analyze the piece before playing it. It shouldn’t necessarily be a thorough analysis. Even a quick and simple analysis can help a lot, as long as you…

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5 Steps to Better Sight Reading in Record Time!

One of the most stressful, frustrating, and intimidating things about playing a guitar is learning how to read music for the first time, or relearning how to read after many years away from an instrument.  The good news is that there are some easy tried and true ways to improve your music reading skills while not subjecting yourself to endless hours in a practice room!  Here’s 5 shortcuts for Better Sight Reading!

1) Start with good music!

One of the most important things in learning how to read music is starting with music that’s appropriate for your reading level and your instrument. Many books move way to fast into difficult content leaving students confused and frustrated. The method I use personally for my sight reading practice, and for my students is Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level I-III” and Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level IV-V”.  These two method books take the student all the way from whole note exercises on a single string to finely honed sight reading skills  that can be applied to learning any piece in the classical guitar repertoire. In my opinion there’s simply not a better sight reading method for guitar available.


Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level I-III”


Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level IV-V”

2) Start with a plan!

Never practice without a plan!  Always approach sight reading just as you would a regular practice session, by setting a very clear and definable goal for yourself.  If you only have a minute or two to devote to your sight reading, then keep it simple.  Maybe you’re goal is to study one line of music and play it perfectly.  If you have more time then plan accordingly, but always have a clearly defined plan.  Without this plan, it become very hard to measure success!

3) Sight read daily!

The only way to get better at something is to do it often!  If I want to play golf like Tiger Woods you better believe that I’ll be swinging the golf club daily!  If I don’t I’ll end up playing golf like Dorf.  You are much more likely to succeed at sight reading if you’ll practice daily.  I can’t stress this point enough!

4) Record yourself!

It sounds a little strange, but it really works!  By recording yourself using audio or video you’ll be able to see some things you’re doing without even realizing it.  Perhaps you always mess up when it comes to playing your A above the staff.  I had a student that lost their place when sight reading because their hand was in a bad position to reach this note with their pinky.  Chances are if you are able to see or hear yourself sight read you can find a pattern or trigger that causes some of your mistakes. For basic video just place your cell phone on your music stand and video yourself! If you’re looking for a high quality audio recording for regularly analyzing your playing, or making high quality recordings to distribute, try the Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder.

5) Stick with it!

This point ties in with point 3 (I told you I couldn’t stress this point enough!) Even if you aren’t able to sight read every day, or you plan to and miss a day or two, get back on the horse and try again (though you’ll find it difficult to maintain good form and play accurately on horseback).  In all seriousness, it’s easy to become distracted when practicing.  New pieces of music demand your attention, pending performance or test deadlines, or pure boredom can all cause you to neglect your sight reading.  DON’T!  All great guitarists sight read on a regular basis.  As you get better at reading you can transition your sight reading skills to new pieces of music, but for now keep it simple.  Make sight reading a regular part of your practice routine, and you’ll get there soon enough!

Discussion Question: What are some ways you have improved your sight reading skills?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.