Friday, August 22, 2008

Guitar taught right. Figures Carulli would take the point!

Open Position

with an ancient pedagogue

Ferdinando Carulli  (1770-1841)

Have you ever met a violinist or violist who was a bad sight-reader?  Me neither.  Many of the same issues that cause guitarists to be poor sight readers are also encountered by the viol player-- pitches that can be played in more than one place, correct fingerings of double stops -- yet these do not seem to be fatal foibles for the violinist.  Why?

Orchestral string players are taught to play in position.  If one returns to the pedagogical works of the early masters, one finds that the guitar was also taught in position. How did guitarists corporately forget this basic training?  The problem lies with the instrument itself.  When one begins to play the violin or viola, everything is difficult!  Intonation is a major problem.  Each time you put your fingers on the neck, the notes seem to have gone somewhere else! Bowing.  Now there's an interesting concept! All these difficulties with producing a clean pitch with consistent intonation forces the student to slow down and actually learn where the notes are and how to read.  Flash to the guitar.  Once the student learns to tune the instrument, pitch production is relatively easy.   The notes are easy to grab accurately.  Tone production, while a bit tricky at first, is not as insane as it is with a bit of horsehair and a stick. The guitarist sounds good almost immediately -- with little time spent actually learning the notes and where they are played.  The student then moves on to the recital repertoire and with much trial and error, memorizes a number of pieces which can then be performed adequately. The hours a violinist spends struggling with finding the actual pitches and producing them cleanly and musically while staring at sheet music just do not exist for the guitarist.  The guitarist has no personal need to face hours of tedium, in a few months of picking up the instrument, he or she is wowing his or her friends.  Reading? What's that? Who needs it?

Ferdinando Carulli did not see life this way.  He was a string teacher and pedagogue of the guitar.  Check out his method some time. He challenges the pupil right up front.  His first lesson would be considered murder today.  I reproduce it below.  In part one of this series, we will look at the open position -- the only place where most guitarists can sight-read accurately.  Then we'll move on and learn form this master.

Note how Carulli utilizes the thumb and first two fingers in an alternating pattern right from the start.  An easy one-string exercise?  Nope, the student plays all six strings from day one.  Is this cruel and brutal. Yes.  It also puts the guitarist in the same boat as the student violinist. The brain is forced to work to perform the lesson.  What a concept. Aside from separating the players from the wannabes, the student is forced to really think.  Tone production on wound and unwound strings, left hand fingering (and my rule applies here: in open position, the first finger plays all notes on the first fret, the second finger frets all notes on the second fret, the  third finger third fret etc.)  Here, try the lesson: [Download .pdf file]

An experienced player will tell you that this would have scared the poo out of 'em at a first lesson!   Carulli was wise.  Wait until you see how he builds the student as a sight-reader.  I will show how he introduced the entire fingerboard to the pupil over the next few sessions. 

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