Some time ago, I came across this article on Classical Guitar Corner on Spot Practice that I found very helpful. Dave describes Spot Practice as:
‘Spot practice is a lot like slow practice, but with one important difference: while slow practice reduces the tempo to give your fingers more time to make the movements they need to make and to identify problems you couldn’t notice when playing at faster tempos, spot practice removes tempo as a factor altogether.
Here’s how spot practice works: when you get to a tricky spot in a passage (something slow practice should have helped you identify as a trouble passage!) we want to STOP. Completely pause right at, say, that difficult left-hand shift. Then take it step by step, without the tempo: (1) Determine exactly the movements your fingers need to make to get from where they are to where they need to go; (2) Begin to prepare your fingers over the strings they are going to go; (3) Shift positions and carefully and in a relaxed manner place your fingers to land the shift; (4) Repeat. That’s it! The point here is to give your fingers the time they need to make that shift accurately’.
To read the full article on Spot Practice and view the video, just click HERE
Xuefei Yang plays Xodó da Baiana by Dilermando Reis. The video was made for the Starface TV documentary show on Phoenix TV, for the episode featuring Xuefei. She is playing a Greg Smallman guitar.
Xuefei is an extraordinarily talented classical guitarist. Watching her video performances, I am always taken by her dexterity and apparently effortless fluidity, even in the fastest of movements.
According to her official biography, ‘Xuefei was the first-ever guitarist in China to enter a music school, & became the first internationally recognised Chinese guitarist on the world stage. Her first public appearance was at the age of ten and received such acclaim that the Spanish Ambassador in China presented her with a concert guitar. Her debut in Madrid at the age of 14 was attended by the composer Joaquín Rodrigo and, when John Williams heard her play, he gave two of his own instruments to Beijing’s Central Conservatoire especially for her and other advanced students.’
Here she plays Cavatina at the BBC Proms In The Park 2018 on Titanic Slipways , Belfast, accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra.
Allan writes; ‘Bar chords are strenuous. They take strength and endurance. They are hard to get right and easy to get wrong. But there are ways to make them more likely to work. If we use our bodies well, bar chords can be, if not comfortable, at least doable’.
It’s hard to execute Barre technique correctly and I have found them very difficult in certain positions. So, any help with this appreciated… Thanks, Allan and Matthew
I found this stimulating performance on The GSI site. Alex was born in the Ukranian, but he now lives in Australia. It’s not just his face and body that is expressive because this extends to the way he phrases and performs the music. A truly accomplished classical guitarist.
Some time ago, I exchanged emails with Jim Giddings of Denton, Texas. Jim composes music for classical guitar, much of it with a decidedly Latin American flavour. The difficulty level of his pieces is mainly Intermediate with a few more suitable for the advanced beginner.
All his music is available free of charge and HIS SITE is worth visiting to browse through his collections. To get an idea of what his compositions sound like, go HERE.
Thanks to an article in GuitarTalk I became aware ofChordU, a new site developed and managed by Bitan Sardar. In his words, it is a powerful engine that ‘automatically recognizes chords for any song using cutting edge technology.’
More specifically, ChordU ‘uses a complex music analysis algorithm which is mainly based on waveform analysis, beat tracking, spectrogram analysis and machine learning’.
In essence, ChordU
consists of a powerful search engine that accesses the YouTube database, fetches
the music video in question, and then accurately analyses the chords played.
So, all one needs to do is enter the YouTube URL of a particular video, or
search criteria such as title, composer, musician, and so on.
At first glance it looks like it is geared to pop or jazz music and the like, but it is just as good at taking classical guitar (CG) performances and analysing them in just a few seconds. Sometimes I need to work out the chords for a piece of CG music either because I don’t have access to the score or to TABS, or because it’s hard to determine what chords the composer has employed in the piece. Once I know what chords are in play then I can develop the melody, harmony and base lines. When I am working with a score, then a knowledge of the chords helps me to decide on fingering and the flow and movement of the piece. ChordU is very helpful in both these applications.
The site layout is
simple and clean and the functionality largely intuitive, so the best way to
learn about it is just to play with it. However, just as a brief introduction,
here are some of the things you can do with ChordU:
Once you enter your search words or URL, the programme immediately presents a list of results. It either displays a line of the chords used, or a button designated ‘Extract Chords’ next to each entry on the list. Simply click on your choice and if the system already knows the chords then a new screen immediately appears . A confirmation popup appears if it needs to analyse the chords used for the first time. Within a few seconds, it’s done the job and the full screen presents.
On this main screen,
you see the video playing, the chord chart diagrams (synced to the music), and
a whole bunch of options. These options enable you to change the tempo, the key,
the screen layout, whether you want to display simple or advanced chords, and a
download facility (and other features to save, share, and so on).
I enjoy playing ‘Evocation’
so I typed ‘Jose Luis Merlin’ into the search box. Here are the first five
I then clicked on
the performance by Soren Madsen (5th on the list), clicked ‘Okay’ on
the popup, and the main screen displayed. I selected the option (middle right)
to change the layout and here is what I got:
I will leave the
rest for you to discover, but I am delighted with it. Have fun!
Top concert classical guitarists tend to attract the most attention and are best known to the CG fraternity, but top luthiers are seldom spotlighted.
Yet, it takes decades of research, experimentation, craftsmanship, and talent for a luthier to become the best of the best. And, each master grade instrument takes about 200 hours to produce. So, this article is about the top guitar builders rather than the top artists who play their instruments.
My wife has been trying to twist my arm to travel overseas with her, but travel doesn’t pluck my strings unless it’s for a specific reason. So, to try and get into the spirit of it, I wondered where I would I like to go if I could visit a luthier there. I built my own guitar in February 2015 and developed a great deal of respect for master luthiers. I know that I am unlikely to visit any renowned luthiers outside of my own country, but I thought I would compile a list of the top guitar builders still alive today.
Of course (you guessed it), who decides who the best of the best actually are? So, I scoured the classical guitar fora and websites to see which names came up most often as top of the pops. I then arranged them in order of dollar price obtained for their new instruments and then checked this against the guitars currently played by today’s greatest classical guitarists. (another rather subjective exercise that I attempted and wrote about some months ago). The top three will not come as a surprise to anyone, but the other four might.
Matthias Dammann of Germany, the first to build multi-level top (double-top) guitars, and who’s instruments sell for around $35,000 each. David Russell plays a Dammann guitar.
Gernot Wagner, also of Germany, who sells his guitars for about $33,000 each. Jason Vieaux favours his instruments.
Greg Smallman, of Australia, who first developed the lattice bracing system and who’s instruments sell for about $25,000 each. John Williams now champions these guitars.
Jim Redgate, also of Australia, who sells for around $14,000 an instrument. Ana Vidovic plays his guitars.
Daryl Perry, of Canada sells his instruments for about $13,000 and is favoured by Marcin Dylla.
Liam Romanillos, of England, works in consultation with his famous father Jose, and sells for around $12,000 per guitar. Julian Bream has long favoured Ramanillos guitars.
Michael O’leary, of Ireland, sells for about $11,000 and is favoured by Sharon Isbin.
Even if you don’t read any further, it might be a good idea to pause and reflect on the contributions these dedicated Luthiers have made to the classical guitar world. However, for those who would like a little more detail, here are brief descriptions of the work of each luthier listed.
Matthias Dammann (62 years old)
The double-top (sandwich or multiple top) concept of guitar construction has an undisputed ‘inventor’: Matthias Dammann a man who together with Torres and Smallman took the classical guitar in new and exciting directions.
He created his first double top guitar in 1989 constructed with two thin Cedar tops sandwiching thin strips of cedar and then glued together under pressure.
By mid 1995, he began to experiment with ways to achieve more control over the weight and action of the soundboard. An acquaintance mentioned a material called Nomex, a very strong yet light Kevlar based honeycomb that he then used to replace the strips of wood between the two tops.
Matthias continued his acoustic experiments during 2011 and 2012 and confirmed his theory that new core materials would bring significant refinements in the entire enterprise of guitar construction. His guitars set a new standard by which others still measure their composite tops because Matthias has captured a refined and complex voice and a responsive instrument capable of a dynamic range with great power and projection.
Matthias took up the classical guitar in his late teens and later went to study at the music academy in Frankfurt. Upon completing his studies, he became a lecturer for guitar, conducting experiments on his own guitars as he tried to get closer to what he believed was the ‘ideal’ sound. This combination of playing, teaching, and experimenting combined later to equip him as a master luthier. His major influencers were Daniel Friederich, Robert Ruck, Miguel Rodgriguez, and Antonio Torres,
In 1984 he left Frankfurt to set up a workshop in Eastern Bavaria, and there he devoted himself to creating guitars that he himself would love to listen to and play. In 1988 he won the Grand Prix in the 1988 Paris/ORTF International Guitar Maker Competition.
Gernot Wagner (71 years old)
Gernot began making classical guitars, baroque and renaissance lutes, and vihuelas nearly forty years ago, but for the last thirty years he has focused solely on constructing concert classical guitars of the highest quality. In his early years as a luthier, Gernot became particularly interested in the scientific aspects of guitar making and this fascination with acoustic research has been an ongoing stimulus to his work ever since. However, visually, he has always taken his cue from the guitars of Daniel Friederich, which embody a clear, elegant, traditional aesthetic.
In 1989, he completed the famous ‘Instrumentenbauschule’ (musical instrument making school) in Mittenwald, Germany and was awarded the title, “Master Guitar Maker’. However, from the start, Gernot strove to create powerful, well balanced instruments with a wide dynamic range and a beautiful sound of great clarity and separation. In 1996, he discovered that he could get much closer to this ideal sound when he used an Aramide honeycomb material and used this to construct his first double top guitar.
Greg Smallman (71 years old)
Greg is known worldwide for his innovative guitar designs. Although, outwardly, his guitars are similar to a traditional Spanish classical guitar, they incorporate several innovative differences. For instance, the use of a high arched and carved back for the guitar considerably thicker and heavier than a conventional guitar. This back is made of Madagascar Rosewood, while the top is always made of Western Red Cedar. Also, the light weight of the top combined with Smallman’s unique system of bracing makes the guitar very responsive to input with a full rounded sound. The top of a Smallman guitar is braced using a “lattice” framework composed of balsa wood and carbon fibre.
Jim Redgate (55 years old)
Jim makes both lattice braced and contemporary composite (double) top guitars, all known for their volume, tone, responsiveness, and playability.
Jim has been building for nearly 30 years in Adelaide Australia. His guitars are full of his own innovations and are unique instruments, creating a style and sound all their own. His solid top lattice braced guitars have the brace less, parabolic arched back and sides.This design reduces stress on the soundboard by transferring much of the string force to the body of the instrument, thus allowing the soundboard to move more freely. The tops are thicker than Smallman’s, but supported by a highly refined carbon fibre honeycomb/lattice braced system.
Daryl Perry (55 years old)
Daryl has been a full-time luthier since 1982. Early on in his career Jose Romanillos introduced him to the central ideas of the Torres-Hauser school and he has been working with, and refining, these ideas ever since. Daryl has received a number of awards for his work and has done historical and practical research in Europe and North America.
Liam Romanillos (53 years old)
Liam continues the fine tradition of Romanillos guitars through an ongoing collaboration with his father, Jose. These instruments have long been known for their haunting and romantic sound. Their rosettes are inspired by the Moorish arches in the Mezquita of Córdoba and are all made using natural coloured woods.
Michael O’Leary (about 55 years old)
Michael studied guitar building with Jose and Liam Romanillos, and embarked on a career as a full time luthier not long afterwards. He played guitar from an early age and his son Alec followed a career in classical guitar. Father and son were inspired to create a new style of concert guitar, an instrument built with the goal of bringing the volume demanded by today’s concert artists while retaining excellent tonal qualities. In their guitars, lattice bracing meets fan bracing with wonderful results. They build them with a brace-less arched back and a combination bracing system that pairs carbon fibre lattice with traditional fan design. This produces guitars that are unusually powerful, but with a tonal character that is deep, rich, and traditional Spanish sounding.
The guitars that these seven masters of lutheri build all look remarkably similar… beautifully similar. Their differences lie mainly in their internal structures and soundboard composition and thickness. All of these ‘best of the best’ produce instruments that big-name guitarists treasure and all classical guitarists covert. Their waiting lists are several years long.
Here is one version of the story of the birth of this famous Christmas carol, taken from allaboutromance.com
‘On Christmas Eve of 1818 the young priest of St. Nicholas parish church in Obendorf faced disaster. The organ had been incapacitated by mice. The chance of fixing the instrument before the evening service was nil. Father Joseph Mohr was not a man to just give up however. He pulled out a poem he had written several years before called “Stille Nacht”. Mohr took his poem to the schoolmaster and organist of a nearby town, Franz Xaver Gruber. He asked that Gruber write a melody to accompany the poem on guitar. In several hours, Gruber had the music done and the carol was played for the first time that night at the Christmas Eve service.
The song was not translated into English for another 50 years. Episcopalian bishop John Freeman Young published the English translation that is most frequently sung today in 1859. The writing of the song is unique enough but one other interesting factoid makes this carol special. In 1914, during the Christmas truce, the song was sung in French, English and German simultaneously. It was apparently the one song that all the soldiers on both sides knew’.
And HERE is Douglas Niedt’s arrangement and rendition of this historic piece of music. Douglas has also made other Christmas music available free on his site www.douglasniedt.com.
This site lists over 4,600 pieces in .pdf format. There is no real difficulty grading system but it does list 1,173 pieces as ‘easy’. Some of the pieces have a difficulty indicator when you click on the actual selection; for instance, Tarrega’s Lagrima is marked ‘Grade 4 Late Intermediate’.
The Petrucci Music Library contains a huge database of public domain music for all instruments. It is not easy to browse this collection, but the search facilities are adequate if you are looking for a composer or a particular piece. For instance, a search for ‘Tarrega’ yields 51 pieces and a search for ‘Largrima’ yields no less than 7 available transcriptions. Unfortunately, there are no indications of playing difficulty. However, you could use www.guitarburst.com in conjunction with this site for most free guitar scores.
This site has over 600 scores, with basic difficulty level indicators, and an online synthesised audio/visual playback facility. However, it only allows a few views/downloads per every 24 hours unless you take out a paid subscription to the site
A reasonably good range of free music scores as well as methods and collections, but this is the site of the Guitar School of Iceland and so the commercial sections contain a lot more material for which you will have to pay if you want to download them.
This site is more than just a forum and contains sections of graded classical guitar music. The drawback is that you have to become an active member of the forum in order to access most of these collections. In addition, the choice of music tends more towards the Baroque than anything else.