►About practicing a musical instrument

So, lately I’ve been working full-time as a classical guitar teacher, finally I have the job I always wanted.

In this context, I’ve been noticing that up to a certain level of experience, most aspiring guitarists – and not only kids, some of my students are adults – have a serious difficulty in learning the right habits and methods of practice.

I think this isn’t limited to guitarists, I think it happens to many aspiring musicians, I won’t even limit this to classical music.

And it is not necessarily linked to their talent (or lack of) or capacity of discipline and dedication.

So, what exactly am I referring to?

Them practicing for quite a long time, yet not managing to solve certain difficulties or not managing to improve all the exercises or pieces I gave them.

Often the problem is this: they play the exercise or piece over and over, from the beginning to the end, and as if that wasn’t enough, they often try to reach final tempo without having solved technical difficulties at slow tempo first.

So, I thought it could be interesting for some people out there, if I’d write down, right here, what I usually try to explain to them.

How to practice a musical instrument correctly:

• Choose a place where you won’t be bothered and that is silent enough so you can hear yourself very well. It should also have a “positive” acoustic, I mean, it should sound nicely to you, a room with a cold sound or an uncontrolled reverberation can really take the pleasure from playing. Ah, and temperature should be nice, avoid a place that’s too hot or too cold.

• Have a clear idea of what you are going to work (this is something the teacher should help to make clear – point out priorities and what is expected at the next lesson, for example) – if you just “start playing around” it’s hard to accomplish anything.

• Start with something that helps to “warm-up” your fingers – it doesn’t have to be technical exercises, but I really recommend that – a little technique should always be part of your practice. For minimum, stay at this half an hour, or until you feel your fingers are “warm”, but if you want to improve technique or a specific exercise, try to work on this a little longer.

• Then pick up the musical piece your teacher has given priority for next lesson, or, if that’s not the case, pick the piece that you know you’re having most difficulty or have made less progress yet – or that you have less time to prepare for a certain goal.

Now, you have to think first: if the piece is ready for being played as a whole, then you can start with playing it once, from beginning to end, to get “focused”. If it’s not ready yet (if you encounter major difficulties, failures or have to stop repeatedly while playing, then it’s not ready), avoid playing the whole piece.

In this case, begin with the section, part or musical phrase you feel that needs more work, and then continue to the second difficult/less well prepared part/phrase, etc. If it’s a long piece, divide it into several parts. This is where musical analysis is needed – you should have done a basic formal and harmonic analysis to the piece prior starting to play it. Give priority to the parts you know that are less well practised.

While working like that, if you encounter something that you’re simply not able to play most of times because of technical difficulty, many notes simultaneously and not having it by heart yet, speed, sound, dynamics or any other reason, stop and isolate this phrase or section. Try to really locate the problem, “zooming in” to just one measure, a few notes, or even just two notes. When you have found it, practice that little bit of music over and over, until feeling some improvement.

If problem is speed, start slowly.

But do not repeat without making a little break between each repetition – to avoid getting tired, risk of injuries or just to avoid starting to play with auto-pilot – you need to be able to think about what you just played and improve according to that. So you have to listen carefully.

Don’t try to solve it in one session, though, unless you feel you’re almost there, because, remember: you probably have lots of other little bits like this one, probably even lots of other pieces, so don’t loose control and overview of your time. Also, don’t go too far: if you reach the point of fatigue, you won’t be able to improve anymore, so after some time you should move on to another problematic section/phrase.

After a little bit – hopefully having felt some improvement – progress to the next “problem” or to the next section.

And when you feel you dedicated enough time to the piece, go to the next piece, again following clear hierarchy of priority (leave the piece you have most well prepared to the end, because if for some reason you get interrupted or have to finish your practice session earlier than planned – or you might also get “hung up” for more time than planned on some difficulty you really need to solve – then at least you will not leave out any piece that really needs practice).

When you feel that a piece is getting ready for practice at what we call “performance level” (it means you can play the piece at final tempo (or close to) and with all musical, technical and acoustical problems clearly managed), you will have to change strategy for that piece:

• Go through the piece, once, from beginning to end, with the score in front of you, slowing down only on difficult passages – maybe repeating them sometimes, but then move on – or, if you have little time, pick out directly those passages.

• Then, put away the score and play the piece once from beginning to end, by heart, and with maximum concentration, imagining you were playing it at a concert (or really play it to some friend or relative). When you reached the end, look back and analyse carefully how you did. What went well, what went less well, what did you like, what part do you think needs improvement, where did you feel insecure, etc…

• After this critical reflection, get the score and go through the piece again, picking out those passages you stated that need improvement, and work each of them exactly according to what needs to be done (for example: improve memorization, sound, control, dynamics, etc…).

I could add many more tips and details to this post, but I think it would get way too big, so I’ll finish for now, and maybe write a follow-up one day with some more ideas.

Hope that this can be useful for some of you, and now: stop surfing the internet and start practicing, hehehe! 😛

Musical Instrument Practice Humor
A funny pic that says it all, about practicing a musical instrument... (Found on the internet, credit belongs to the original author, it's NOT mine)

►The Alternative Music Lounge: Dhafer Youssef

After quite a while without anything new in this series (since I started to work full-time I have found it more difficult to have time to write on the blog, unfortunately), know here’s finally one more listening suggestion.

In this series, I’ve already presented to you a great musician who plays the Oud (Rabi Abou Khalil), but here’s another one, and I think the only things they have in common are the instrument, their interest in Jazz and the quality of their music…

His name is Dhafer Youssef and he was born in Tunisia but moved to Europe in 1990 to have more freedom and ways to perform his art – playing the Oud, singing and composing.

His music ranges from Jazz and World Music over Fusion right all the way to Avant-garde.

I especially admire his musicality (having listened to the album Malak (1999)  – where he performs with Markus Stockhausen and Renaud Garcia-Fons, among others), his impressive voice (listen to him singing unissono with a trumpet, for example, and you will feel that shivers going down your spine, I grant you) and the astonishing dynamic range of his music (right from ppp to fff, it’s like classical music – never had listened to something similar in Jazz or World Music before) aswell as the criativity of his compositions and the quality of his interpretation along with his other band members.

Have a listen for yourself:



Some more recent recordings of him (Dhafer Youssef Quartet):

Here’s the link to his official site: Dhafer Youssef

and the article on Wikipedia.


About this series:

One of the ideas I have for this blog is to start periodic post series about a few interesting topics. Like one post a week or a month, about the same topic but always bringing you new (or classic but little known) musical discoveries.
This series that I gave the name “The Alternative Music Lounge” is about presenting you bands and projects that I like a lot or respect much because of the quality of their music although they haven’t made it into the so called “main stream” and therefore probably will remain unknown for many people.
Whatever might be the reasons for this (sometimes their creations are just too good, too unique, lacking any “commercial characteristics”, othertimes it’s just another case of being disregarded by the music industry, we all know what’s usual to happen…), I think the’re more people out there who might like their music but just didn’t have a chance to discover it yet, so I hope these publications of mine might be helpful.
By the way, if you’re a musician and think I might like your music and would like to propose your creations for being featured in a post of this series, you’re welcome to comment this post or any other future post of this series, stating your project’s name, a link to where I can listen to some tracks and a way to contact you.
I promise to try and listen to everyone’s tracks and respond, even if I happen to not accept the proposal.

►Chill-out music, episode 2

Even though summer is close to its ending, I thought it would be a good idea to make it last a little longer by writing a post about chill-out music, remembering all those long, warm nights, on a beach or some other nice place, just chilling out in good company.

Also, it might be interesting for those among you who’d like to start producing music in that genre.

About its origin and history, I’ve already written, you can find the article here on my site.

But I didn’t get into details of the music or present any listening examples, so that’s what I’m going to try this time.

First, one should mention that chill out music is meant to be listened to in an only half-active way, sort of what happens with ambient music, but maybe with a little more attention. That’s how it manages to have such a chilling and relaxing effect on the listener.

There are no fixed rules for what material can be used to write a chill out track, nor with what means.

It can as much consist of acoustic material, like some melody played on an exotic instrument on a strings background, that could almost be called world music, wouldn’t there be an electronic break-beat in the background, as it can be a fully electronic track, combining mysterious, slow melodies with synthesizer effects and drum samples.

You can find your inspiration in Latin American tunes, or music from Middle Orient or Asia, using some ethnic instrument, as well as you could prefer to create something totally free, played on some nice lead pad, for example.

Feel free to create whatever rhythms you like, also the structure of the track can be totally free, as well as the duration of the track might vary from 2 minutes to 30 minutes.

One thing to keep in mind, after you have your musical material done and are starting to mix and add plugins and effects, is that you’re looking for a warm, relaxing and “airy” sound, so allow instruments to have enough space between them (be it with delays and different reverbs, simple panning or equalizing), give the whole mix a slight cut between 1kHz and 2kHz aswell as make generous use of reverbs and “warming” plugins, like tape saturation, for example.

Even if you’re creating everything on your computer, think analogic, not digital.

If you want to use strings as your harmonic base, choose wisely which samples you’re going to use, they have to have little attack and sound warm, also be sure to compose in a way that chords have easy transitions (think common notes and always stay in legato). Stay within the natural register of each instrument and create physical space by panning the four of them (violin, viola, cello and contra-bass) in a logical way, forming a half circle: more treble to the left, more bass to the right.

If you’re looking for something exotic to use in your song or just for inspiration, here are some suggestions:

  • Indian music (from sitar to religious chant)
  • Gregorian chant and choral music (remember Enigma?)
  • Shakers and other acoustic percussion instruments from all around the world
  • Fusion with metal solos or classical music.
  • Effects and background sound recorded directly from our natural environment (like wind, rain, the sea, etc)
  • Vocal parts with poetic lyrics or at least enigmatic meaning (be sure to look for breathy and airy voice capture)
  • Be creative, think out of the box, don’t limit to your synthesizers or samples and effects or plugins, look for sounds all around you.
  • Combine electronic parts with live recordings of you or other musicians who you invite
  • Look for the essential, go after the idea of “less is more”, leave space for each instrument and don’t use too many at the same time, not more than five.


Now that we have talked about some basic ideas, here are some listening suggestions to further improve your inspiration or just chill out:

Vangelis – Conquest of Paradise (remember him from the film Blade Runner?):


Thomas Newman – Soundtrack American Beauty


Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygéne  (several parts, one album from 1977 the other from 1997)


Conjure One – Center of the Sun (Solar Stone’s Chilled Out Remix)


Morcheeba – The Sea


Chris Coco – Holiday

CHRIS COCO – HOLIDAY by chris coco


►Brazilian composers

Went to a concert tonight, called “Brazilian Piano”.

Two brazilian pianists (Bernadete Castelan Póvoas and Mauren Frey – here is the link to the program of the concert) I’d never seen before around here giving a nice performance, I enjoyed a good part of the concert and what was especially interesting for me was to get to know a little about quite a few brazilian composers I’d never heard of in my “ignorance” :P…

So I thought I’d dig out a little bit more music from them and share it with you…

Osvaldo Lacerda

Link to his biography.

Two examples I liked on youtube (the pieces I heard was impossible to find decent recordings – “Aboio” and “Terno de Zabumba”. If anyone knows one, please share.):



“Pequena Suite I”


Ronaldo Miranda

Link to his biography (he has a site of his own, nice).

Two examples (the first is one of the pieces I heard today, the other one I might well consider learning one day on guitar, sounds great… but suppose it’s quite hard to play…):





Sérgio Vasconcellos-Corrêa

Link to his biography.

And again, two examples (the first is the piece I heard tonight, although it was on 4 hands piano, while here I found it for orquestra, sounds really great…)

“Baião (from the Suite Piratiningana)”


“Variações sobre um tema ‘Cana-fita’ ” (the composer himself playing)


And well, that’s all for today, folks.

No, wait, I have one more, here is Heitor Villa-Lobos‘ “Impressões Seresteiras” that I also heard tonight, just for you to enjoy listening, this is so beautiful 🙂