Revitalizing Your Classical Guitar Journey: Mastering the Fundamentals with Dr. Daniel de Arakal!

🎸🎶 Join Dr. Daniel de Arakal, renowned Director of Guitar Studies at Chapman University and host of the tonebase Beginning Guitar Course, for an enlightening live stream that dives back into the core principles of classical guitar. Whether you're just starting out or have been playing for years, Daniel will delve into timeless concepts that fortify your musical journey and deepen your appreciation of the classical guitar and its rich repertoire. 🎼

In the heat of mastering a challenging piece or exploring a novel technique, these vital principles can sometimes be left in the shadows. Topics span from optimizing your sitting position, alleviating tension, refining tone production, to strategies for engaging with new repertoire, and beyond. 🎵

Perfect for players at every stage, this session promises to reinvigorate your approach to the classical guitar. 🎸

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  • Unfortunately too late in India - have to catch a recording.  Should be a wonderful session.

    Like
    • Jack Stewart
    • Retired
    • Jack_Stewart
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I will have to catch the video as I will be returning on Monday from visiting family in LA.

    Like
  • As a beginner, on days with limited time, where should I focus my practice, on technical exercises or on a challenging passage of the piece being studied?

    Like
      • Daniel
      • daniel_dearakal
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Phil Dodson Excellent question! I would say that it's not necessarily what you look at on a busy day that is most important. I am of the belief that, ideally, one should review technique, old rep, and new rep each day. Rather, I engage my students with how their time is spent, and making sure that, given the time constraints, we set realistic, achievable goals.

      I am a big fan of the SMART goals acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. If i know I only have twenty minutes to practice, I'll make sure to set a goal that I know I can achieve in twenty minutes. For example, if I can consistently play a section of Giuliani 120 right hand studies at quarter note at 60 bpm, I'll make a decision whether or not I want to increase my speed incrementally or develop my musicality. Examples of this would be:

      • I will increase the tempo on Giuliani right hand studies number 1-10 from 60bpm to 64bpm, maintaining good tone, even rhythm, and consistent left hand movement over the next twenty minutes.
      • I will practice Giuliani right hand studies number 1-10 at 60bpm, with good tone, even rhythm, and consistent left hand movement, while developing even crescendos through measure 1 and even diminuendos through measure 2 for the next twenty minutes.

      In the above examples, time is being spent to achieve realistic goals in a minimal timeframe, but the outcomes can be drastically different. In the same way, we can apply these SMART goals to repertoire. An example that I've been working on is:

      • Isolate measures 61-63 of Agustín Barrios' Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios, with special attention given to accuracy and clean tone of the fingers I, M, and A on the second string tremolo, at eighth note at 112bpm.

      Ultimately, getting your hands on the guitar and being efficient with your time is the goal. I tell my students all the time that I am a better practicing musician now in thirty minutes than I was at their age with hours available, and setting forth with a plan is a large reason why.

      I certainly hope that helps! Thank you for engaging in the livestream and this post-event conversation!

      Like
    • David
    • David.39
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Sometimes I get a buzz on a rest stroke from the string hitting the back of my nail. Am I not lifting the finger up off the rest string quickly enough, or not keeping the finger depressed long enough?

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      • Daniel
      • daniel_dearakal
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      David If the string that you a plucking is rebounding such that it hits the back of your nail once you've followed through on the pluck, my mind drifts to a few different options:

      1. The pluck you are executing results in the string releasing from the fingertip horizontally (across the face of the guitar) rather than vertically (inward, towards the sound hole). With a more vertical release, the string should be vibrating toward and away from the sound hole, rather than across the sound board, which could lead to the issue you're describing.
      2. You may be plucking the string with too much force. I mentioned this briefly in the livestream, but it took me a long while to understand what other masters meant when they described the difference between force and weight in the execution of the pluck. Rather than keeping the finger rigid as I engage the string, try to keep the fingers free of excess tension (the guitar rewards relaxation) and engage only the lumbrical (the muscles inside your hand that control flexion at the big knuckle) on your pluck. To achieve this feeling, I share this paraphrased koan by Hakuin Ekaku, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The looseness that you need to achieve in your hand to allow the pads of your fingers to slap the palm of your hand, resulting in the clapping sound, is the looseness with which one should pluck the strings of the guitar.
      3. You may be putting too much emphasis on the pluck itself, rather than the follow-through and relaxation afterwards. This may be a bit of a reach, but imagine you're playing golf and swinging a nine iron. The bottom of your golf swing is not the ball, but the ground in front of the ball, which will, in turn, cause the ball to get the loft it needs. In the same way, the target of our pluck is not the release of the string, but the follow-through, either to the adjacent string in the rest stroke or towards the palm of our hand in a free stroke. The string that we are trying to pluck simply "gets in the way" of the destination of our plucking motion.
      4. You may need to play with slightly harder tension strings. I've been playing on hard tension strings ever since I started playing, and I find that, when I play on normal tension strings, there are moments where I overplay the instrument.

      I know that this is a rather wide set of options to consider, and some rather ham-fisted metaphors, but I certainly hope that this is helpful!

      Like 2
      • David
      • David.39
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Daniel Thank you very much for the fantastic set of time ideas to consider. The clear explanation of each will serve as great ways to focus my attention and help me figure out how to address the issue. Thank you again!

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    • Daniel thank you for your very detailed, clear response. I will use your guidance. I am in fact working my way through the Sor Right Hand studies. I appreciate your guidance around SMART goals to focus my practice. I tend to work in chunks that are much too larger. 
       

      I also like the structure of something old, new and technical.  
       

      thsnk you for you advice. 

      Like
    • David
    • David.39
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I struggle with staccato articulation, esp. when there are open strings on descending passages. I do not have a general method for stopping the tone (Use RH or LH finger that is not used?). Suggestions and etude/exercise drill recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    Like
    • David
    • David.39
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Do you advocate learning to play without looking at the fingers except perhaps in shifts or cross string leaps, or is looking inevitable? I am thinking that in piano (or typing, ha!), some teachers have suggested not starting at the keyboard.

    Like
      • Daniel
      • daniel_dearakal
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      David Great question! Once my students have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the score, I encourage them to keep an eye on their left hand. I don't believe that watching ones hands is a bad thing, and watching the left hand certainly can help ensure the accuracy of the complex tasks undertaken by that hand.

       

      As you develop more familiarity and muscle memory with the fingerboard, it may not be as necessary to watch the left hand like a hawk. However, even at this stage, I certainly don't discourage the observation of the left hand in performance.

       

      Thank you again for the excellent question!

      Like
      • David
      • David.39
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Daniel Thank you very much for the helpful guidance on these questions. I’m grateful for your expertise and the clarity and thorough nature of your presentations and answers!

      Like
    • David
    • David.39
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Do you have suggestions for favorite studies/ex for training proprioception of the hands, coordinating motion horizontally across stings?  In polyphonic passages, where I have to skip over strings and place the RH and LH fingers on new strings, I often loose track of the position of RH/LH fingers. I feel getting better mastery of knowing where my hands are in space with respect to the strings without looking would go a long way to helping in such cases.

    Like
      • Daniel
      • daniel_dearakal
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      David Excellent question! I'd like to start by saying that I actually encourage my students to keep an eye on their hands, generally the left, when playing. It's a lot easier to hit a target when you take aim at it first.

       

      I think that the Giuliani 120 right hand studies are a great place to start regarding right hand awareness, assuming that you're comfortable with the C major and G7 first inversion harmonies that the exercises ask for. I generally start students on study 1 to develop comfort with the left hand placement itself before advancing to variations of the right hand. Studies 4 and 5, for example, keep a consistent left hand ascending and descending pattern, respectively, but move the grouping up the instrument, from strings 5-3 to strings 4-2 and onward. I encourage taking a slow approach where we isolate the individual transfer and drill it until it is comfortable at a conservative tempo before reincorporating it into a slightly larger section of the exercise. An example of this type of isolated, transitional work is included below:

      Regarding left hand proprioception, I absolutely love the finger independence exercises offered in Scott Tennant's Pumping Nylon as a starting point. These exercises require the planting of three left hand fingers on the third string while the remaining finger transitions between strings 5 and 2, followed by 6 and 1. These exercises increase in complexity of movement as the reader progresses through the text. An early example of these exercises is provided below:

      For a piece of music that can assist with this, I recommend taking a look at Fernando Sor's Op. 6, No. 3, particularly the last system. This is one of my favorite etudes, with this last system being a fine opportunity for the performer to work on independence of the fingers while sustaining a legato line. I've included the measures in question below: 

      I certainly hope that this is useful! Thank you again for your question and your participation in the livestream!

      Like 1
    • martinTeam
    • LIVE
    • martin.3
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hey tonebuddies, here is the document that we shared during the live stream! And thank your for all of your questions, I will forward the link to this thread to Daniel!

      • Ronnull
      • Ron.3
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      martin Thanks for sharing these Martin - really enjoyed the session last night

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      • martinTeam
      • LIVE
      • martin.3
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Ron You are very welcome! :)

      Like
    • Joel
    • Joel.2
    • 9 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Let's talk about memorization if Daniel and Martin are game! I think it's, for the most part, a macho stunt in the guitar world. Non-guitarists (except for solo pianists), especially musicians who play in orchestras, bands, wind ensembles, and chamber groups etc., read 100% of the time; string quartets that play from memory are rare.

     

    Kevin Loh just won 2nd prize at the GFA and he read the set piece - which in my opinion took a lot of confidence because playing from the score is frowned on by classical guitarists. To continue, memorization often results in the performer presenting a false version of the score without dynamics, phrase markings, awareness of form and harmonic structure, articulations etc. - can you write the memorized score out with all of the dynamics, articulation, fingerings etc.? I think that very few of us can do this. As a concrete example. try this with the first Brouwer Estudio sencillo and focus just on the dynamics of which there are many!

     

    I find that having the score in front of me frees me to try different ideas on the fly that I wouldn't come up with playing from memory. At the same time, you memorize the piece in a relaxed way without really trying, and I find I can look away from the score and play long sections from memory if I feel confident doing so.

     

    Don't feel compelled to memorize a composition you're performing - reading isn't a crutch or cheating. Playing in public from memory is a recent practice that began with Liszt and Clara Wieck Schumann in the mid 19th century, and contemporary audiences were scandalized when they did so.

     

    What do the other community members think about memorization - pro, con and neutral?

     

    Joel
    Raleigh NC (USA)

    Like 2
    • Joel Great topic, Joel! I have always struggled with memorization. Generally speaking, I only memorize a piece if it happens naturally, just from playing it so much. If it's something I need to "work" on, I simply do not enjoy that, and so I don't do it. Now, I am an amateur, so memorizing anything is never a necessity for me at all.

      I will admit that, once I do have something memorized, it does change the way I play the music (at least it seems so to me). I think it helps me listen to what I am playing more attentively, since there is no score reading distracting me.

      I also find some music much harder to memorize than other music. For example, I never seem to be able to memorize Bach, except for very simple short pieces. Sor (who I play more than any other composer) I also find very difficult to memorize. Villa-Lobos and Barrios, however, I generally find myself memorizing without even trying to do so.

      That's my two cents! 

      Like
      • Joel
      • Joel.2
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Eric Phillips Thanks for the thoughtful reply Eric. I agree that as amateurs (in the positive sense of the word only) like ourselves don't, as a rule, have the time to devote to memorization that pros or serious students do. I also agree that memorizing a piece of music does change the way you play it; my concern in that case is simply how does it change what you do?
      Many times, as I noted in my earlier post, the score communicated in a memorized performance bears little resemblance to the score on the music stand. Anyone playing from memory needs to check in with the score regularly during detailed practice - both the indications provided by the composer and your personal performance notes (fingerings, articulations, color changes etc.) - to be sure what's coming out of the instrument is as close to the score as possible while still leaving room for personal touches of imagination, insight and interpretation. The score is the starting place for that process. This leaves aside the topic of practicing performing which is related, but entirely different, and deserving of its own TB community discussion.

      Naturally, the more recent the piece the more complete the indications given by the composer usually are. Dyens and Kleynjans are great examples of this. 16th-18th century composers wrote scores that assume the performer's in-depth knowledge of the basic musical style of their day. In the broader classical music tradition, the most stimulating interpretations of core repertoire, say the Chopin etudes, Schumann's Carnival, the Beethoven piano sonatas etc. to choose just works for solo piano, come when a performer actually plays what is indicated in the score and does not play what they have heard in previous recordings or what is accepted as "performance tradition" for a particular work. This same idea holds true for guitar where we are often impeded by our familiarity with multiple recorded versions of standard rep or the endemic lack of knowledge among guitarists regarding performance norms for music written for other instruments that we play in transcription - Albéniz for example.

      As for Bach and Sor being harder to memorize, I think this is something we all encounter to some degree or another. My opinion is that both Bach and Sor have a personal musical style based on voice-leading and counterpoint where multiple melodic lines function together to create texture and form. Contrapuntal music is simply harder to communicate and to memorize because we're dealing with multiple melodic lines, any of which might become prominent or subordinate at different times as the music progresses. Although Barrios's harmony and voice-leading are scrupulous, counterpoint is not a feature of his style. Villa-Lobos is a special case as his music for solo piano, string quartet and other ensembles large and small is full of bachian imitative counterpoint; the guitar music isn't. Barrios and Villa-Lobos wrote music that embraces and relies on the strengths and idiosyncrasies of our instrument while Bach and Sor (for the most part) did not.

      Joel

      Raleigh NC (USA)

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      • Daniel
      • daniel_dearakal
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Joel I love this question and the response that has followed!

       

      I would start by saying that everyone learns music differently. I've been fortunate in that memorization has been a byproduct of consistent practicing for me, but I have worked with a good number of students for whom this is not the case. I believe that the goal of memorization is to develop a deep familiarity and understanding of the music, and as we become more and more familiar with the music, we can move past questions of mechanics and move towards questions of artistry.

       

      To develop memorization, and even once a piece is memorized, I encourage my students to always have the score available to them in the practice room. There is always more that we can learn by engaging with the music, from dynamics to articulations to phrasing and more. Often, when I hear that at student has memorized a piece, they are able to present pitch and rhythm with fluency. However, memorization of these additional musical and extramusical details tend to not be as concrete. Having the score available in practice slow, controlled, and isolated segments of practice has generally helped students memorize their pieces.

       

      Thank you again for engaging in the livestream and keeping the conversation going!

      Like 2
      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Joel Joel, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that a piece of music played from memory 'bears little resemblance' to the actual score. What is most important, it seems to me, is simply that the right notes be played in the right order at the right time. If one's fingerings in performance depart from what was marked on the score, what difference does it make? I would go so far as to say the same applies to the musical directions, which more often than not are editorial. And even if they come directly from the composer, they are - again, my opinion - entirely at the discretion of the performer anyways. (To a certain extent, this is even true of the notes themselves, although here I would make changes only with considerable care.) If we do decide as performers to incorporate the composer's directions (I agree that in modern music this is generally advisable) it seems to me that this is not likely to be forgotten in performance. (I would think that for most us, memorizing the directions is considerably more easy than memorizing the notes.) I should add that, for myself at least, performance should be as spontaneous as is reasonably possible. I've heard Marcin Dylla say that he views public performance as a kind 'laboratory' in which he is able to 'experiment' with different ideas. Not everything is successful, he acknowledges, but occasionally the result is 'magical'. I find that a healthy approach to the performer's art.

      By the way, it's very interesting to learn about the historical development of public performance. I had no idea the modern 'norm' of playing from memory only developed in the 19th century. I guess I never gave the matter much thought, but I certainly assumed this had always been the case. Thanks for setting me straight!

      Like 1
    • Joel this is indeed a great topic and it is hard find an answer that covers all possible contexts, but a simple answer is to do whatever feels right at the moment you do it. There's no ultimate rule of thumb but ultimately what matters IMHO is the music you create as you play, the «end result» that someone listen to. I've personally experimented some of the spectrum in performance from almost sight-reading, score as a reference and out of memory and to me «out of memory» always gives better results. At the opposite of you, to me, playing score-less (in performance) frees me from following «the parade» and ensure I can adapt and make the most out of it, like an actor do on stage while acting his character. I see the upstream work of the performance as that of an artistic director where through the written musical material he must express his personal vision to give life to the work, the indications alone are not enough and he must adapt them and even create new ones to clearly convey the ideas he wants to communicate. Just my 2 cents 😅

      Like 1
      • Joel
      • Joel.2
      • 9 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Daniel 

      Thanks so much for taking the time to prepare your live stream presentation. Fundamentals are a topic I've been mulling over a great deal recently. I trust TB will have you back again for a follow-up soon.

      My objective in bringing this topic up is to make it clear that no guitarist, regardless of level, should ever feel they must play from memory. Learning and performing from the score is a valid alternative that also provides a regular opportunity to develop a "deep familiarity and understanding of the music" as well as coming to grips with "questions of artistry" as you wrote above.

      I also agree that reviewing the score of a work being played from memory during practice is essential to retaining the musical details necessary for a communicative and expressive performance. In the end, each of us simply has to try out these different approaches and discover what works best for them.

      Thanks again for your involvement with the TB community!

      Like
  • Hi Daniel, thank you so much for the livestream and for taking time out to take additional questions. I'm trying to improve my tremolo (as a beginner). My I finger doesn't align with M and A fingers. What I mean is while my M and A fingers are curved, my I finger remains straighter, strays a bit further away from A and M and hits the string at a somewhat acute angle. I'm noticing a gap between the movement from M to I. I'M USING THE TRADITIONAL PAMI FOR TREMOLO.

    Strangely, if I do a two finger tremolo (PIMI), or even PAMA it's much more uniform. What do you think could be the problem? I'd really love any advice/suggestions from everyone.

    Thanks🙂

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