If I could turn back time!

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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Adam Puryear
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Location: Chattanooga, TN

If I could turn back time!

Post by Adam Puryear » Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:37 pm

As a classically trained pianist I realize that the struggle to develop my technique has existed since I began my journey and will continue to exist until the day I can no longer play. I know when I was young I wanted everything to progress very quickly. I guess the desire for instant gratification run rampant in me, and I would often pay little attention to detail as long as I could play something fast, loud, and seemingly impressive. To say the least, this left giant holes in my musicianship for many years, until I began to study at the university and realized my deficiencies. Now as I work on a Chopin Etude (op.10 no. 2) I tend to get a stitch in my back after I have worked on it over an hour or so. Again, when I am practicing the 'Waldstein' Sonata of Beethoven and I can't quite get the trills near the end fast or even enough while I have to play a melody over them with the same hand. How well I have come to know that these problems are very much technique related.
Now as I am attempting to learn this new instrument, the guitar, I come to an important thought. As technique is an essential musical element we develop and gain over time. I would certainly like to go back in time and adjust my brain to think differently on more than a few things,teach myself to practice in a more focused and detailed manner, and to absolutely rearrange my priorities. I have a blank technical slate with this guitar, and I am trying to do things right in molding my hands to play correctly. I am really finding my right hand movements to be a challenge at times to produce a good sound, but right now, sometimes it's a struggle to pluck the correct string. I am going slowly just as I would advise a new piano student.
If you all could go back and give your best advice to yourselves on how to really get a handle on good guitar technique, what, how, and why would you do things to gain a really good start?

llch
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by llch » Mon Jun 12, 2017 2:21 am

Same thing! Actually do everything much slower, do it with a metronome, do more repetitive exercises and increase tempo after muscle memory has kicked in.

jgreenwd
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by jgreenwd » Mon Jun 12, 2017 6:20 am

If I could turn back time... I would take more advantage of the different ensembles available during university. I really should have stayed in jazz band after my freshman year.

Luis_Br
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by Luis_Br » Mon Jun 12, 2017 1:27 pm

The most important point to me was when I realized that evolution means change.
I used to work over long repetitions with metronome, but without too much success. It worked fine at the beginning, but I would soon get stuck in some speed wall. Then I realized that repetition is not change, it is not evolution, it is just memorization, which is actually the easiest part. The easiest part is to repeat always the same and memorize it. The difficult part is to know how to do it in an easier way.
So I changed all my technical practice to avoid repetition by all means and focus on how to change internally to get better, how to use less effort, less movement, how to relax internal muscles, to enhance internal perception and so on. Practicing very slowly helps with this, because you can pay attention to more details and change them to get better. As well as other strategies such as visualization, practice hands separate, practice playing lightly or strongly, singing the music parts and others.
I think musicality is born also from trying different approaches instead of getting stuck into a lot of repetition. Repetition is still useful to the memorization part, but I let this only to things I will need for actual playing, for memorizing piece patterns, such as a tremolo or quick passages. But for repetition to be effective, you need really to repeat, it must be slow and very consistent (always exactly the same).

I think there is actually a constant fight between changing for better technique and memorization for solidification of current state of knowledge, so you have to wisely manage this dichotomy in your practice and development.

kmurdick
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by kmurdick » Mon Jun 12, 2017 2:32 pm

Adam, if you are as serious as you sound, you must get a teacher. I would recommend finding a Shearer school teacher but that's because that's the technique I am most familiar with. I'm pretty sure there are Shearer teachers in Chattanooga. I usually send people to watch my videos, not to advocate a particular school of guitar playing, but to show the kind of detail which is necessary for good guitar playing regardless of the particular school. If your teacher is not into this kind of detail, find a new teacher.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... D7FA3F7B59

CactusWren
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by CactusWren » Mon Jun 12, 2017 4:17 pm

Yes, go progressive. Start with small chunks and hit them with lots of repetition, maybe 10-20 minutes; then come back to the next day. Don't move on until you have a feeling of ease and inevitability in that particular chunk (you mastered it). Practice the chunk until you have that feeling when you pick up the guitar fresh on a new day. Then you don't have to practice (repeat) that chunk again. So you can practice as many chunks in one day as you have 10-20 minute sessions.

This feeling of ease and mastery and security is very important, and you can obtain it in one session if you choose the right level and size of passage to practice. If you don't choose well, you will never master it.

Realize that the motions used in slow playing are different than those in fast playing. You can set yourself up for fast playing by seeing how fast players do it and modeling them. Most things that feel hard after doing it a few times are wrong.

Selecting what to practice and what motions to use is relatively easy for an advanced player, and nearly impossible for a novice. That's why you need a teacher. You'll probably need several teachers. You usually aren't going to find one teacher who can give you everything you need, but if the planets line up and you do, you're very lucky. It seems a lot of teachers think _they_ are that one special teacher, but they aren't!

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eno
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by eno » Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:52 pm

Adam, you are in a good position because you must have already developed a strong musicality from your piano playing experience. Methods for developing hand/finger motion techniques I beleive are similar between piano and guitar but there a still few a major differences. One is the sound. Unlike piano the sound you make on the guitar substantially depends on how exactly you produce the sound with your fingers. Guitar has a very rich paliter of timbres and sounds and there is no "right" guitar sound but one can produce a vast variety of sounds depending on how the strings are plucked, ranging from very ugly to very beautiful, from bright to dark, from sharp to mellow an so on. So the key thing is to experiment with different ways to pluck the strings at different positions along the soundboard, different angles, plucking depths, different nail shapes (or no nails at all), and find the sounds that appeal to you. Once you learned how to produce those sounds then you can train you muscles and hands with slow repetitive excersizes to automatically reproduce them. This process takes years but one needs a constant attention to the quality of sound when practicing.

Another difference compared to piano is that playing guitar tends to produce a lot of unwanted sounds (sting buzzing from insufficient left hand finger pressure, right or left hand fingers touching adjacent strings, touching strings by bare nails of right hand fingers, skweaks from left hand finger movements on lower wound strings etc.). Learning to avoid those bad sounds is a big challenge on the guitar, you have to constantly pay attention to minor details of your playing and to those bad sounds. Also, as opposed to piano, to play clean and avoid those sounds you need much higher, almost sub-mm precision of finger movements. Those sounds are easy to ignore and miss when you tend to play fast.

Once you get these two key things sorted out you can progress much faster, the rest is just getting enough hours of efficient and focused practice which is pretty similar to piano practicing. Of course I did not mention obvious things that you also need to learn like right posture, relaxation etc, I assume those are similar to piano or any other instrument. Also, good quality guitar with the sound to your taste and right guitar setup (like string action) is also very important.
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Adam Puryear
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by Adam Puryear » Tue Jun 13, 2017 3:36 pm

Eh, I am serious as a pianist, I would rather teach this to myself. I have been a classical musician for many many years, and I know well the approach to technique and the manipulation of the body's mechanisms. There are enough resources available for me to gain a grasp on this... if I progress to the point where I think a teacher would be beneficial I may get one.... but for now, my best approach is to memorize the fingerboard. Then focus more on my right hand technique... right now It's slow go as I have only had this guitar for about a month.
Last edited by Adam Puryear on Wed Jun 14, 2017 4:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

kmurdick
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by kmurdick » Tue Jun 13, 2017 8:50 pm

Adam says, " if I progress to the point where I think a teach would be beneficial I may get one.... but for now, my best approach is to memorize the fingerboard."

Adam, IMO, you are already making a big mistake. Because you don't have a teacher, you don't know what your best appoach is. Memorizing the fingerboard is perhaps the least important task for you right now. Ask yourself this: how many self-taught pianists have you met who play at the university level or the concert level? The answer, of course, is none. Same with classical guitar.

Adam Puryear
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by Adam Puryear » Wed Jun 14, 2017 5:01 am

I plan on checking out the lessons here on the DelCamp site if they resume in September. I am careful not to ingrain bad habits. (e.g. build up tendencies of tension in the hands) My best idea of what to do with my right hand is to basically keep my largest hand joints (where fingers connect to the hand) over the strings with the movement coming from those same joints. The strings should be plucked without collapsing the other joints, while tension is kept out of the hand. I have taken college courses regarding Alexander Technique and it's basic ideas seem to run parallel across the spectrum of musical instruments. I didn't become proficient as a pianist by relying on teachers, I had their ideas about how things should be done. But I had to teach myself how to apply those ideas to come into my own as a musician. Segovia taught himself how to play during his early years so I have read. I have had good and bad music teachers over the years. But I really wish I could have myself now as a teacher when I was younger because only I know my own best personal methods of absorbing knowledge. Not to sound like a big headed know it all, I am not meaning this like that at all. I just want to establish that I have a decent enough background to approach this with care.

nightflight
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by nightflight » Wed Jun 14, 2017 5:59 am

Adam,

Piano was my first instrument, and although I am not a professional musician, I was quite advanced on piano (when I picked up the guitar).

I picked up guitar at first, playing folk, singer-songwriter sorts of things. When I was in college, I looked for a guitar teacher, and when we ran out of folkie things to do, we migrated to classical (he was a college student majoring in classical guitar). I first had to learn to read music for the guitar. Because I already read music fluently, this came relatively easily. Also, I was well versed in music theory and had studied some improv on the piano.

I was lucky with my guitar teacher - he taught me well. I developed good technique, a good, if somewhat light, touch, and an expressive approach. I will tell you that I would never have gotten comfortable learning the various aspects of technique without the guidance I received. The problem is that you don't know what you don't know. It is not just a matter of tension in the hand, but so many other things.

We are all different, and perhaps you are comfortable with these aspects of technique. But now, after a long hiatus, I am once agains studying (guitar) with a teacher. It is relaxed. Sometimes I choose a piece; sometimes my teacher does. Sometimes I put a piece down and move to another. But my teacher's input in invaluable. He helps me work out fingerings and gets me through sticky spots on a piece. I've even written an arrangement or two, and we've discussed writing accompaniments. In addition, I've learned a music notation software, so I can record my arrangements, or edit something I'm working on.

So while I won't tell you that you should study with a teacher, I will tell you that I've found it invaluable.

kmurdick
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by kmurdick » Wed Jun 14, 2017 7:33 pm

Adam, says,"My best idea of what to do with my right hand is to basically keep my largest hand joints......"

Having studied the guitar all my life with some very fine teachers, I can tell you unequivocally that you have no clue as to what you are doing. Segovia, BTW, was an extremely talented ( and perhaps somewhat lucky) innovator who did teach himself. The teaching of the classical guitar has come a long way since Segovia. Today, Segovia would not be considered a top tier player. Even so, the chances of you reproducing the success of Segovia is about zero.

dtoh
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by dtoh » Wed Jun 14, 2017 11:21 pm

This is always a controversial topic so I'm reluctant to comment, but in a sense I'm someone who did turn back time. I studied classical guitar with an instructor about 20 years ago, but then dropped it for a variety of reasons. I took up guitar again about 2 1/2 years ago. I travel 11 months out of the year so an instructor is not really practical, but I have guitars stashed around the globe and typically practice a couple of hours a day. A few observations.
  • I don't worry about progress and just enjoy the practice. This has made guitar a lot more fun.
  • Not having a teacher takes the pressure off and allows me to practice what I enjoy and what I think is important. As a result I practice a lot more.
  • The RH is mostly technique.
  • The LH (at least for the first few years) is about muscular strength and development (lumbricals and interossei). Spending time on exercises that develop these muscles is a much more effective use of time than trying to perfect pieces that your under-developed LH muscles are simply not capable of playing correctly.
  • I spend a lot of time listening very carefully to tone and for unwanted string noises.
  • Videos are your friend. You can learn a huge amount about technique from some very good players/instructors (Segovia, Williams, Bream, Romero etc., etc.), and self-videos are an easy way to instantly see flaws in your own technique. I spend at least several hours a week watching videos.
  • I don't spend as much time with a metronome as I should. (Lack of discipline.)
  • I've spent a lot of time learning the entire fretboard. You just need to get this out of the way.
  • Being able to sight read opens up a lot of material and vastly increases your repertoire. I spend a lot of time on sight reading and really enjoy it. Often when I'm sight reading and find something that's hard to finger, I'll use it as an exercise and just work on it for 20 or 30 minutes.
  • I do a lot of very slow deliberate practice trying to get sound and movement absolutely perfect.
  • The mental processes associated with playing an instrument are complex and fascinating. I wish I understood these better.
  • Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus" is a great instructional guide.
  • Everyone I've ever met whose livelihood depends on teaching guitar will say that an instructor is indispensable. I don't buy that. Might be true for some people but not for everyone.
  • There's plenty of incompetent teachers, and there is no way for a beginner to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher.
  • That said, if I had a less transient lifestyle I'd love to work with a teacher.

kmurdick
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by kmurdick » Fri Jun 16, 2017 12:53 pm

Nightflight says:
1) "Everyone I've ever met whose livelihood depends on teaching guitar will say that an instructor is indispensable. I don't buy that. Might be true for some people but not for everyone."

2) "There's plenty of incompetent teachers, and there is no way for a beginner to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher."

I disagree with that first statement. 99.9% of classical musicians will say that a competent teacher is indispensable. Of course the problem is that #2 is absolutely correct.

dtoh
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Re: If I could turn back time!

Post by dtoh » Sat Jun 17, 2017 12:46 am

kmurdick wrote:
Fri Jun 16, 2017 12:53 pm
Nightflight says:
1) "Everyone I've ever met whose livelihood depends on teaching guitar will say that an instructor is indispensable. I don't buy that. Might be true for some people but not for everyone."

2) "There's plenty of incompetent teachers, and there is no way for a beginner to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher."

I disagree with that first statement. 99.9% of classical musicians will say that a competent teacher is indispensable. Of course the problem is that #2 is absolutely correct.
Obviously written by a musician and not a logician.

1. How can you disagree with the first statement? Are you saying that "NOT everyone I ever met who teaches guitar thinks an instructor is indispensable." Do you even know any of the guitar teachers that I've met?

2. I guess it depends how you define classical musician and also "indispensable" for what purpose. Certainly an instructor is needed to reach the highest performance levels, but not I think for getting started or even reaching modest levels of competence for some people.

3. BTW - You videos on YouTube are great. Maybe even indispensable. :D I've watched them all many times.

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