Friday, May 28, 2010

Discover Your Discomfort! by Jamie Andreas

Discover Your Discomfort! Why Are So Many Guitarists Masochists? By Jamie Andreas

Okay, I’m going to explain some powerful things for anyone who wants to see RESULTS from their guitar practice, and really learn how to play the guitar well. In other words, the guitarist who wants to do what I call CORRECT PRACTICE.

Have you ever had trouble playing something on the guitar? Have you ever seen or heard someone play something, tried to do it yourself, maybe practiced it for a long time, and ended up with only frustration and bad feelings about yourself as a player? Be honest now. I’ve been playing for 30 years, and giving guitar lessons for 27 years, and I have never met a player, including myself, who could honestly answer no to that question.

There are a few things that are always true when we are unable to play something we want to play on the guitar.

One of the things that you will always find, if you look for it, is what Aaron Shearer called, in his first book, uncontrolled muscle tension. Many, many players have in fact commented on this fact, mainly because this fact becomes obvious to anyone who plays for awhile, pays attention, and starts to discover the path to gaining increasing ability on the guitar. Many people mention it. The problem is they never tell you what to do about it!

Oh sure, you’ll hear people say "play S-L-O-W-LY", or "RELAX"! I asked, ordered, screamed, and pleaded with students to do that for probably 20 years, before I realized that almost no one was listening to me, or maybe they didn’t believe me, or maybe they thought I was kidding (well, his face is turning purple, but, nah, I don’t think he’s serious)!

No, it seems most people would rather try to play that bar chord or that scale with their shoulders tensed up to their ears, their pinky tensed up and pulled 2 inches from the neck as they dislocate their shoulder trying to get it to it’s note on time, practice and play that way day in and day out, and then wonder why they find that scale hard to play, that it breaks down at a certain speed. Or maybe they wonder why they have a pain here or there. Hell, they may be really persistent and keep at it till they qualify for this new disease I’m always reading about, Repetitive Strain Injury.

I got a new student about a year ago, we’ll call him Tom. Now Tom had been teaching himself for a few years, is very musical, very intelligent, and managed to learn fingerstyle guitar well enough to attempt some rather challenging pieces, including some classical repertoire. In fact, he would play for friends and often impress them.

However, it was also true that he knew he never played anywhere near his best in these circumstances, and the piece would often break down somewhere. It was also true that he had a growing pain in his left shoulder when he practiced. Tom has two very important qualities that a player must have in order to overcome problems, and make what I call Vertical Growth. Those two things are Desire, and Honesty.

Tom doesn’t have the pain in his shoulder anymore, and his playing is getting better and better. This is because he has learned a few things. He has learned about the incredible state of muscular relaxation that a player must have as they play. He has learned how difficult it is to actually make sure you have that relaxation as you play. He has learned about Sympathetic Tension, how every time you use one muscle, others become tense also, and how if you are not aware of it, and allow it to be there, it becomes locked in to the muscles through the power of Muscle Memory.

Tom is also learning, over time, that by always making the effort to focus his attention on this muscle tension, he can always eliminate some part of it, and by consistently doing this in practice, things begin to feel easier and easier, because he was really fighting his own muscle tension, which made it feel so hard.

Tom inspired me to invent a phrase, something for him to always keep in mind when he practices. In fact, I told him to do what I do. Write it out on a sign and keep it somewhere in front of him as he practices. On the music stand or taped to the wall like I do. The phrase is "DISCOVER YOUR DISCOMFORT". Pay attention, notice what happens in the body as you play. How does it feel. Good players are not experiencing that discomfort when they do the thing you struggle to do. If they had to struggle they wouldn’t be good players!

Now as usually happens, I began to use the phrase myself, and began to discover new levels of my own discomfort. And I began to see my playing improve, I mean fundamentally improve. You see, there is no end to this process.

Why do so many of us allow such discomfort when we practice and play? There are many reasons, I’ll go in to them at another time. What I want to do now is give you some ways of discovering your own discomfort, and begin to minimize it.

  • Hold the guitar as comfortably as you can.

  • Allow your left arm to hang limp at your side.

  • Place your right hand fingers on the strings, keeping them very loose and relaxed. If you use a pick, float the pick in between two strings and keep it there.

  • Focus your attention on your shoulders, as you raise your left hand slowly. Raise it straight up without extending it, and place all your fingers on the sixth string, around the tenth fret. Keep them on the string so lightly, you don’t even press the string down. (Not easy at first)!

  • Do you feel anything in your right shoulder as you do this? Do you feel any tightness come in to the pick hand, perhaps you are gripping the pick tighter, or tensing your wrist? Be honest now.

  • Keeping your left hand fingers on the string lightly, begin to move your hand down toward the first fret. You must do this VERY SLOWLY. Notice what happens throughout your body. As I have had students do this, I have seen everything from tense ankles or belly, to practically falling off the chair!

I hope I have provided a starting point for further investigations and insights for you. Take anything you find hard to do, stop yourself in the middle of it, and check out what is happening in your body. You will be amazed.

Copyright 2000 Jamie Andreas.All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Three Great Websites to Help Practice Sight Reading

  1. Rhythm is one of the most important things in sight reading. You could approximate the melodic shape, hitting only half the notes, but if the rhythm were correct, it wouldn’t sound half bad. Practice Sight automatically generate rhythm exercises of various lengths to work on. I’d recommend practicing these things a few ways: (1) clapping the rhythms, and (2) playing them on a single string on the guitar. Rhythm studies are actually a huge part of any college level ear training course–I had to buy an entire book of them (a $50 book!).
  2. Guitar School Iceland. Everyone knows about this website. My particular favorites for sight reading are the collections especially the “Guitar Moments I-IV,” which are graded. The “Guitar Tunes” collection is also good (all single line melodies).
  3. The Boije Archive is a collection of 19C guitar music. Once you’re a bit more confident in your sight reading, try reading through the various 19C guitar methods: Carcassi, Sor, Aguado, Coste/Sor. Or try reading through easier etudes. Sor’s Op. 60, 44 and 35 are all good options.

(1) Playing in time, (2) playing the correct rhythms, and (3) playing the correct notes are all important in sight reading. Being in time and correct rhythm are king. The right notes are nice too, I guess. Remember to try and focus on looking ahead a beat or two.

If you find yourself lost sight reading even the simplest pieces, try playing only the melody or one voice at a time. Or, barring that, you could try reading music written for single-line instruments. For instance, the Clarinet shares the same general range (on the staff) as the guitar (the guitar sounds an octave lower than written, however). Vocal melodies are also an option. There’s a lot of public domain music to be found on the International Music Score Library Project to help you out.

Just a few minutes of sight reading practice each day can make a huge difference.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sight Reading Tip: Look Ahead

Sight reading is a tricky monster for guitarists. Really the best way to get better at it is to read more. With the plethora of free sheet music online, it’s not hard to find music for reading.

The trick of sight reading is look where you’re going, not where you are. That is, look ahead in the music a half beat or a beat. This goes for anything from a chord chart to a classical guitar piece. By the time you reach a note, it’s too late to think about it.

It can also be helpful to play things in many positions. So if something fits well in first position, don’t just leave it there, try it up higher. In real performance or practice however, the easiest or more fluent fingering should be used.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bach: Bourree in e-minor by Per-Olov Kindgren

Here comes my favorite guitarist Per-Olov Kindgren plays the famous Bourree from lutesuite nr. 1 in e-minor

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Damping Technique For Guitar

Correct execution of string damping technique is a very important requirement for achieving a polished performance.

The main reason for damping a note, apart from the obvious one of artistic articulation, is to prevent a sustained open string from clouding the harmony when there is a harmonic change in the composition. For example a low open A bass note will continue to sound for as long as the string will sustain. If during this sustain the harmony changes to a dominant E chord the open A string will combine with the newly played notes to produce an unpleasant discord. In this case the open A string should be damped slightly before the change in harmony. This is achieived by placing your right thumb momentarily back on the vibrating A string just before playing the next chord.

The other method of damping is to simply lift the left hand fingers from the note but obviously this will not work on a open string.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lagrima – Francisco Tarrega

Lagrima should be played with a lot of feeling. It is of moderate difficulty, but should be very attainable if one pays close attention to the fingerings of the left hand. The repeated open B should be subdued, allowing the beautiful melody to ring through. On the repeats try to change the dynamics a little. Rolling the double stops, (two note chords), here and there, will add character as well.

I found these 2 videos from Youtube, explaining both Right hand and Left hand technique for Lagrima.

Part 1:  The Right Hand Technique


Part 2: The Left Hand Technique


Score can be downloaded here:


Back to TOP