I start a cycle of posts where I’m going to take the best guitar players and extract and analyse their approach to music, playing, learning, to show their strategies and their thought process. Right at the start I expect to find some similar points in all the greats but also a lot of individual differences and even conflicting ideas. So for the first part of our course we’ll take…
He is one of the greatest classical guitarists ever. His career spans over almost 6 decades. His technique is incomparable. But I’m not writing his biography. Here are most interesting things I got from him (bold) with a little of commentary (not bold).
Be eternal student – Absolutely. Guitarist stops learning the day he dies. You’re never a complete work. Never!
Balance of mechanics and spirit – Technique is important but it’s only a tool that helps you express yourself. If you have nothing to express your technique is just a circus trick. For me the problem is the other way around. I approach technique in periodical dashes. It probably would be better to include some technical workout on a daily basis. Watching Pepe however always makes me want to do some more work on it.
Think about what you play as easy – This one is so important. The way we perceive reality might not change it but it sure can change our performance. Worrying about difficult parts in songs makes you tense and make mistakes. We play best when we’re relaxed.
Keep balance between practising and keeping it fresh – This one is difficult for me. Playing the same song for hundreds of times sometimes makes it flat emotionally. But not playing it… The light in the tunnel is that with each new songs it takes me less and less time to master it. Taking breaks from some songs helps as well.
Piece doesn’t begin with the first sound. It’s surrounded by silence – There is nothing worse than starting to play the piece mindlessly and only then trying to get inside it emotionally. You should always do it before you start playing. Give yourself this moment of silence before starting to play to fully get your mind into it. Same goes with an ending. Let it fade (especially in slower pieces).
What do you like? Develop your taste – You have to work on your musical taste. You have to know what you like in others (guitarists, singers, cellists, whatever) and then search this sound while playing. It’s your job to tell the difference between good and bad sound. Especially in your own playing.
What it should sound like? What it should feel like? – These questions are almost equally important in playing the guitar. Take the feedback from both sources while playing. Try to imagine the perfect relaxed movement and then try to achieve it.
Best way to bypass the nerves is to dive into the sound – Having problems with stage fright? Just start playing and loose yourself in music. Practice your concentration muscle so that it becomes more and more obedient. Then, just concentrate on playing.
Eyes should be looking at where left hand has to go – You don’t have to watch your left hand, but if you do, always look at its target before the change of position. When you try to throw a rock at something, you look at the target and not at the rock in your hand. Use the same principle when playing.
What limits you in playing fast isn’t how quickly you can move your finger but how quickly you can relax the muscle after that – This was mentioned when studying fast playing with two fingers at the same string. I use it in many other situations. The factor that usually slows me down is not speed of my finger (or hand) movement but the fact that right after playing something the muscle is still tensed. This makes the next motion more difficult. Working on impulse playing (quick movement followed by total relaxations) really helped me.
Here are some interviews and master classes that I based my post on.
Just a short motivational interview:
Pepe’s approach to Concierto de Aranjuez – best known guitar concert. Understanding piece’s emotions:
Two hours of master class. Long gut super interesting. A must-watch!
A lot about technique. Check other videos on Andrey Parfinovich’s channel. There is more there: