►A very strategical method for practicing new music

Today, I’d like to share with my readers a text written by american classical guitarist and music teacher Louis Gehring in which he describes very precisely an interesting alternative approach to learning new repertoire on your instrument (a method focused on a phrase-to-phrase-approach as opposed to the more common “step-by-step-improvement on the whole piece”). Don’t get me wrong: all good musicians will learn a new piece dividing it into as small and as much phrases as necessary to musically understand and technically master all of them so to eventually be able to play the whole piece without sectioning. But what normally happens is, that you get to learn all of these phrases more or less at the same pace, some difficult ones might take longer, but anyway, when you’re at the point starting to practice performance, for example, you normally have all phrases more or less perfect. And here is where this method is different, come and read on (in the beginning of the text you probably won’t see anything new, but still is very well written. Step 3 is where it gets interesting.):

Divide the piece first into main sections, and then subdivide these sections into phrases. The phrase is the basic musical and expressive unit of any piece, and therefore should also be used as the basic learning unit.
Mark all of the fingerings for both hands. Since left hand fingering is included in most editions (but should, nonetheless, be carefully examined for possible improvements), this will entail more work on right hand fingering. Careful consideration should be given to finding the easiest possible fingering with the best musical effect. It is important to practice a given passage with the same fingering each time in order to learn more quickly and to produce an accurate, consistent performance.
Begin practice, starting with the first phrase only, carefully avoiding any mistakes. Study should begin by using the metronome set at approximately one half the future performance tempo (this initial speed will depend greatly on the difficulty of the composition). When playing at this speed is mastered with appropriate dynamics, articulations, and timbre, the metronome should be moved up one notch. After this speed is mastered, then one more notch, etc.
When the player has achieved three fourths of the performance tempo, he should go on to the next phrase in the same manner, and so on. After a section has been learned with this method, the whole section should be practiced with three metronome speeds: slow, medium, and fast (the performance tempo). This is the way the section will be studied from now on in order to maintain and perfect it.
Using the above method, memorization can quickly take place, again using this phrase by phrase approach.
After the entire work has been learned thoroughly and memorized, phrases should be practised out of the context of the piece (this is especially useful for compositions that do not lend themselves to easy division into phrases, e.g., fugal writing). Practice the last phrase of the piece (or of a major section) by memory, then the next to the last, and so on, moving from the end forward. Practice similar phrases together so that there will be no confusion under the pressure of public performance.
Practice without looking at the fingerboard.
Study away from the instrument by mentally recalling all movements of the hands (left hand positions, bar chords, fingerings; and right hand strokes, fingerings, string changes).

►An end has a start

Got you curious with that title? (I borrowed it from one of the albums of the band The Editors). Then, read on 🙂

Two days ago,  I had the last important exam at university (classical guitar) which I managed to do with very satisfying result and which means that I’ve almost completed my bachelor in music.

Almost, because I’ve yet to do a last test, next week, in a discipline that has only 3 credits (it’s one of those you can choose freely) and which I shouldn’t have chosen, because I didn’t manage to pass the first two tests and I do need the 3 credits to complete my bachelor, arghh :S… but if I’m not totally unlucky, I guess I’ll manage to do it, and there’s still the possibility to repeat the test in september (special rules for students who are finishing).

Anyway, these 3 years at Évora University were totally awesome, I’ve learned so much and made a big evolution in my guitar playing skills (which doesn’t surprise, having had the great Dejan Ivanovich as my teacher), but also gained a lot of knowledge and improvement of my musicianship in general.

Then there are all the fantastic people I met and friends I made, not to mention concerts, partys and events I participated in, or certain academic traditions in which I took part.

Or even the city, which is beautiful (classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage), just one  quick photo for you, so not to forget what I wanted to say 😉 :

Évora (Diana Temple)
Évora (View of the Diana Temple) - Autor: Rita Faleiro

Thinking again about my musicianship, I guess I know today what I didn’t, 3 years ago:

this was just the beginning. When I started at university, I imagined it as the highest degree I’d make (and it might really be), but I never thought that there was so much I’d still have to learn and discover by myself, probably over the whole rest of my life.

I did know that one never stops learning and I also had full perception that my playing was far from perfect, but I had to go through these 3 years of intense learning to realize how “ignorant” I still am, although I already do know quite a lot and became like 10 times a better musician then when I started, 3 years ago. But still, I now am fully conscient of the fact that this is only the beginning…

There’s SO much to learn, to listen to, to discover, to read and to experience, and I’m not even talking of my instrument yet. Just musicianship in general. There’s so much history I don’t know yet, composers of whom I only know their name, works I never listened to, even instruments I’ve never seen or heard.

And then there’s my instrument. So many fantastic pieces to learn, to play, so many scores to discover, so many technical improvements I can still make, so many musical and interpretational aspects that I still don’t fully understand (one thing is to do what your teacher says, the other is to fully understand why and be able to get to that conclusion by yourself).

And then again, the’re so many other instruments. I do play (at least to a basic level) one more, the piano. But that’s not enough. Not only do I have plans to improve my piano playing, but I also have “fallen in love” with the sound of the saxophone and so I want to learn to play it, at least to a “medium” level, one day…

Oh, but I could go on and on. I want to improve my skills in composition (so I can produce my own songs more easily, quicker and better…), want to take my project to the next level (live concerts), and also integrate (or start, that depends) other projects (especially chamber music). But I guess that you, my reader, are getting already a little tired, so for now that’s all, and I finish this post with an announcement I’m very proud of:

In exactly one week from now, I’m GETTING MARRIED!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂