What's the most challenging piece you've ever learned and how did you tackle it?
Hey there tonebuddies!
We've all been there: pouring over our guitars, sweat on our brows, fingers dancing (and sometimes faltering) over complex passages, each note echoing our perseverance. Every guitarist has that one piece – the Everest of melodies – that has tested the very limits of their skill, patience, and passion.
So, let's delve deep this week: What's the most challenging piece you've ever learned and how did you tackle it?
Whether it was a capricious tremolo piece a menacing multi-voiced Bach fugue, or perhaps an intricate contemporary composition, we'd love to hear your tales from the fretboard frontier!
Were there any specific techniques or exercises that helped you master the tough spots? Did you seek guidance from a mentor or perhaps dived into resources here at tonebase? Were there moments of sheer frustration? If so, what kept you going?
Not only do your stories inspire, but they may also provide invaluable insights, tips, and motivation for fellow tonebuddies grappling with their own musical mountains.
Looking forward to reading your sagas of six-stringed conquests!
Keep practicing and sharing!
What's the most challenging piece you've ever learned?
I actually think the most challenging piece I have ever learned is the main piece I am working on right now: Villa-Lobos' Prelude 2. I was always intimidated by the B section, with the fast arpeggios. Since I began my guitar journey playing with a pick for about eight years, I think my right hand technique has always lagged behind, and I have no confidence when it comes to doing anything fast or intricate with that hand. As such, I always assumed that this prelude was beyond me, something I would never be able to play.
Now, it is still a work in progress, as I have not mastered it by any means, but I am getting there. I am honestly quite surprised by my progress. I figured I would maybe get it to a point where I can play the notes, but just not fast enough or well enough for it to be what I would consider "performance ready". I now think that goal is within reach.
How did I tackle it?
I basically broke down the different right hand patterns, reducing them to just three patterns that needed to be practiced. I started by practicing them very slowly on open strings, with full planting for stability. Once that felt somewhat comfortable, I added in the left hand. I slowly worked that up to a modest tempo. Then the real breakthrough came when I just went for the faster tempo. As I did so, I found myself thinking of the individual finger movements as just one big movement, and this mental step enabled me to play it faster (although not perfectly controlled yet). Since then, I have been practicing the section at both slower and faster tempos, trying to gain control of it. Yesterday and today, I have been focusing on making the finger movements very small, and keeping the hands as relaxed as I possibly can. It seems to be working!
Schubert - Standchen is the only song I worked on for an extended period of time, and made progress with, but never fully nailed it and decided to shelf it for some undisclosed future date. I think it was just a little too beyond my skill level at that time. I always spend time listening to various renditions of a song, played by multiple musicians, and on multiple instruments if applicable. That always helps me discover the nuanced qualities of a piece that I'm looking to emulate. Then I approach it note by note, measure by measure, and phrase by phrase, etc. I've learned to stop, isolate, massage and reintegrate areas of ambiguity or difficulty, instead of just breezing through them, although that does admittedly feel better in the context of just playing music.
There are so many challenging pieces I have tried to learn and have had to let go! One of them is Roland Dyen's "Songe Capricorne." I tried to learn it several years ago, but the complex rhythms, harmonics, and fast arpeggio sections seemed too far beyond my ability. I thought I would never approach it again. But watching Martin's tutorial recently on this iconic piece inspired me to try once again. This time, I feel I am making solid progress. I attribute that progress to many of the insights on deliberate practice that I have learned while studying on ToneBase.
Thomas Viloteau's videos on "How to Practice," and "How to Learn a Piece" have proven to be invaluable. His advice to reduce complicated sections to groups of 5 “things” that need to be nailed down, whether they be notes, rhythms, shifts, or other considerations has definitely helped me to facilitate improvement and lower my frustration. I have been doing this as I learn Capricorne, breaking things down into shorter passages and practicing them slowly with a metronome (such as the repeated 16th note and harmonic section from mm. 26-34). Viloteau advices that once you can play each of these shorter passages 10 times in a row perfectly, then you can move to a faster tempo. It is tedious work, but tedious work works! I am not pressuring myself in terms of how long it will take to get this piece well in hand. The joy is in the journey itself.
Martin's tutorial was exactly what I needed - martin thank you!!! Insights on fingering, harmonic development, and articulation have all been so helpful. This is a next-level piece for me that I hope to finally achieve because I think it is one of Dyen's top compositions.
Recently I learned a Brazilian Chôro, by Pixinguinha, called "Ingênuo", arranged for solo guitar by Marco Pereira. It was the most challenging for me. Couldn´t find a youtube link, but here it is on spotify:
It features a very original of playing legatos which is the start of the piece.
Memorization was probably the biggest challenge and also keeping the rhythmic motion so the finale comes out interesting and compelling. Also a bit challenging to mute some notes and at times alternating between apoyando and tirando.
Still in the Brazilian theme, I learned most of the works of Garoto (arranged by Paulo Bellinati), but I probably will always struggle to play Desvairada at a decent speed. Here, for me, the challenge is keeping it up with the right hand.