Asturias (Leyenda) by Isaac Albeniz

Here South Korean brother and sister (Soojin  and Seongjun Lee) play Asturias (Leyenda) Op. 47 by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). This well-known classical guitar piece, although usually played as a solo performance, was originally written for piano, so a duo arrangement probably comes closer to the composer’s original intent.

Humidity and your classical guitar

Too little moisture in the air for too long and your guitar could crack; too much moisture and it can swell and become hard to play. The measure of the moisture in the air relative to temperature is called Relative Humidity (RH) and this is expressed as a percentage of the airs ability to hold water.

The best way to control your guitars environment is to purchase a hygrometer that has an external gauge and display plus a wireless secondary instrument that you can insert into your guitar case. I have been using one by Acurite for over a year now and I have found it reliable enough for the purpose. There are few places in SouthA frica where the RH is extreamly low or excessively high for long periods of time but anything above 70% or below 30% for more than a few days is problamatic. However, if the change is slow then the guitar would probably handle these extremes reasonably well.

The simpist and cheepest way of controling the RH is to keep your guitar in its case whenver you are not actually palying it. In addition to this, make a simply humidifyer and place it in the guitar case just under the headstock right up against the small accessories compartment. Here is how you make the humdiifyer:

1. Take an empty plastic butter/buttro container about 150mm x 100 x 50 and drill or cut a number of holes in its lid.
2. Cut a piece of sponge to size (the type you use for washing your car is ideal) and place it inside the container, ensuring that there is a gap of about 10mm between the sponge and the lid.
3. Dampen the sponge well but not excessively with one water and one part propylene glycol. However, when you top up you usualy need to only add water as the propylene glycol will remain in the sponge for quite some time. I have forund that in typical South African conditions 50/50 propylene glycol to water works fine and keeps the RH at about 45-50%.

As the RH drops the sponge will release moisture into the air within the guitar case. However, what is not often mentioned, is that it will also remove excess moisture when the RH is high. By mixing propylene glycol to the water you can control the maximum amount of moisture the humidifyer will release. You will have to experiment a little with just how much propylene glycol to use to get the stabilty point at arround 45% to 50 % RH. You can order the propylene glycol from Propylene glycol is both an antibacterial and antifungal agent preventing mold from growing in the container.

With this simple humidifyer you should be able to keep your guitar all year round at a RH level it is happy with and avoid any of the nasty problems that could otherwise occur.

La Catedral

Ana Vidovic plays La Catedral by Augustine Barrios, one of the hardest classical guitar pieces  to play.

Ana is of Croatian origin and started playing the classical guitar at five years of age. She started performing at the age of eight and is now 37 years of age (as at 2017) and is an internationally recognised performing and recording artist. She plays classical guitars designed and built by the Australian luthier Jim Redgate.

I have featured another piece written by Barrios in my previous post.

Performance anxiety

Stage fright, or performance anxiety as some call it, is sometimes a problem for even professional guitarists. I only play before small groups of people yet I tend to mess up the simplist pieces. As these easy tunes are the first I play in my repertoire, the rest of the performance is an anxious time for me and my audience.

Reading through a post on this subject on the Delcamp guitar forum I picked up this invaluable piece of advice which I paraphrase as, ‘Do not stop or even pause when you make a mistake. Smile and keep on playing even if you have to doddle around just a little before you can pick up the line of music again.” The person giving this advice then went on to point out that few people in the audience are likely to know the piece you are playing, and even fewer will pick up the fact that you made a mistake.

I tried this out the other day when performing for a group of about twenty people in a very casual and supportive environment. Sure enough, I made a major boo-boo in the opening set of three very simple pieces. Instead of pausing I simply added a few bars of improvisation in the same key and then picked the tune up again at the start of the section where I bombed. The result was that my confidence rose immediately and I was able to play even the hardest pieces without major problems. After the performance, I asked someone in the audience if she had noticed anything odd in the piece in question and she said that she had not and had enjoyed it.

Here is a video demonstration by Laura Oltman and Michael Newman on the Strings by Mail’s lessons section that makes the same point.

Leo Brouwer Un Dia de Noviembre by Tatyana Ryzhkova

A wonderfully lyrical and somewhat wistful composition by the Cuban composer and classical guitarist Leo Brouwer. Some people find this kind of music a little too sombre, but I think that it is ideally suited to the classical guitar. Tatyana is an accomplished player and both good to listen to and to look at 🙂


Great guitar tuner apps for Android Smartphones and Tablets

I have used and evaluated no less than seventeen Android tuner applications and have found most of them wanting in one or more vital areas like accuracy, ease of use, clarity, and so on. However, there are a few exceptions which are well worth using and passing on. This short article covers my personal top five.

The best of the best tuning apps– Pitchlab Pro

Let me start with my all-time favourite guitar tuning application, PitchLab Pro. I have been using this application for two years and no matter what new apps I try out, I always come back to this one. It shows the name of the nearest note, the Hz reading of the note you are playing, and the difference in cents from perfect pitch. It also has visual cues to show when you are in tune and whether you have to tune up or down. It is very accurate and will also register notes a full octave higher than the open strings allowing you to check intonation at the 12th fret.

I seldom use the other screens available but here they are:

Stage Tuner: A large, clear tuning display, optimised for hands-free operation at a distance incorporating a true radial and waterfall strobe for fine-tuning accuracy and responsiveness.

Chord Matrix: Grid-based estimation display of common chord types (maj/min, maj7/min7, dom7/dim7), ideal for quickly determining chords for a tune.

Pitch Spectrogram: Scrolling display of live sound analysis, showing the perceived pitch of a wide range of sound types.

Tone Generator: An 8-octave, polyphonic keyboard display that enables you to play reference notes in the musical scale. Includes a selection of tone waveform types and the ability to quickly switch between single-note or multi-note mode.

Strobe Tuner: A true 6-band, multi-mode strobe display combined with a chromatic ribbon tuner for rapid and accurate instrument tuning.

Split Screen: Split the screen and use any two tuning views at the same time

The most useful app for tuning up new strings

The other tuner that I use from time to time, particularly when I am changing strings, is GuitarLab Tuner. This is an excellent application that has two unique features. Not only does it allow you to lock onto one particular string (6th String E in the illustration, but it displays arrows indicating how far you are from fine-tuning range. In the illustration, the arrows show that the note being played is way too low. If the note played was far too high then arrows would appear to the right of the display. This is a very useful application when fitting new strings. The other great feature is the ‘Smart’ mode which averages the inputs through the mic and applies an algorithm that displays a stable reading of the note you are playing. The note displayed does not therefore decay or waver as is common when tuning the higher strings. This mode is a little slow because of the computer processing required but it is quite useful.

An oldie but goodie tuning app reborn

A tuner that has been around for a long time is gStrings. It was replaced for a while with Waves tuner but it was then reworked from scratch and is now a very accurate and easy to use application. Two things I particularly like are the big analogue-type display, and the fact that it displays the Hz reading of the note you are playing as well as the frequency of the note you are trying to achieve. In the illustration, the note is D at 146.8 Hz shown just above the needle and the string being plucked is in a little too high at 147.1 Hz. This application also registers notes played at the 12th fret and so allows you to check your intonation.

A quick and easy app for any tuning occasion

Another old favourite among guitarists is Guitar Tuna. This application has a big and clear display and both a visual and an audio signal when you are in tune. It is fast and accurate, and well suited to a quick tune-up on the fly. Like several other applications of this type, it includes a chord library and a metronome.

The display combines some helpful elements that make tuning a breez. However, its developers claim more for it than just simplicity of use. According to them, it contains ‘award winning audio technology:
• Built on the world’s most advanced audio recognition algorithm – the same technology powering Yousician
• Professional accuracy for advanced players
• Auto mode tuner (for super fast tuning, hands-free, string by string)’.

One for the sound engineers among us

One other tuning application that warrants a mention is TE Tuner. Its main screen is different to the usual analogue-type displays but does provide all the information needed to bring each string to pitch. It incorporates a metronome, but its main contribution is the display showing an analysis of frequency and harmonic energy, along with a scrolling waveform display. This is why TE in its name stands for ‘tonal energy’. I don’t find much use for this but it is available for those who want to take tuning to a more technical and detailed level.

The two I use over and over again

Every time I put new strings on a guitar, or retune after maintenance I use GuitarLab Tuner and almost every time I sit down to practice I use PitchLab Pro. I have always found these two apps to be accurate, easy to use, and very helpful… and no, I am not sponsored by the developers.

Alexey Zimakov plays Troika Variations

Sheet music and guitar

From time to time I will be posting video clips of great classical guitar pieces.

This is the Russian virtuoso Alexey Zimakov playing the intimidatingly difficult Troika Variations. Don’t you just love his footstool?!

In December 2012 Alexey fell asleep outside his apartment block in Tomsk, Siberia in -44C  weather conditions. His fur-lined coat kept him warm but when he awoke in the morning all his fingers had severe frostbite. The surgeon there had to remove all eight fingers! What a tragedy! What a player!