Warm Ups

I like to begin my day with some simple slow warm up exercises.  I’m not a big believer in hard stretching.  To me it sounds like something that could be risky.  I’m particularly opposed to stretching one hand by pulling or pushing it with the other, or by using a wall or other object for resistance.  For me, some slow finger movements on the instrument, actually playing, that is, seem like a good safe way to get the muscles warmed up and limber.

The key here, of course, is that these warm ups must be played slowly. I like to start out by playing a little slower than one note per second.  I simply place my left hand first finger on the third string first fret (G#) then play A with the second finger (not picking the first finger up), then adding A# and then B with the third and fourth fingers, respectively. In each case, I place the finger on the string very carefully, trying, as it were, to put the groove in the correct place on the tip of the finger, and placing the finger as close to the fret as possible.  I repeat this set in second position, and so on, up to ninth position.  Then, I descend back to first position in the reverse order (4-3-2-1, etc.)

I repeat this exercise 4 times, once with index-middle alternation, once with middle-ring, once with index-ring, and finally with the thumb.  Here is a video in which I walk you through and demonstrate this exercise.  Try playing along with it!

Fast Tube by Casper



Back in the Saddle Again Follow Up

In my last post I mentioned playing for church services as a viable way to perform to an attentive audience, and more specifically mentioned that I had been engaged to perform on Sunday, July 14. So I thought it might be a good idea to follow up on this.  How did it go?  What was it like?  Is playing a church service as satisfying as giving a concert?

Well, for starters, it went very well.  I thought I was taking a bit of a risk programming the Barrios “Catredral” after only a month and a half of work, particularly  coming right after a week off from playing.  This was especially risky because I had decided to open with this piece – it served as prelude music to the service.  On the other hand, it was a great way to demonstrate to myself and my readers the real power of aim directed movement.  The pay off was pretty big.  Because the piece is new I still  play it with the joy of discovery that we all experience when playing new music, even if it is already familiar to us.  My playing was close to spot-on, with only a minor slipped note in the fast movement.  But more to the point, I felt that I was able to put my interpretation across very effectively.

The remainder of my program was much less risky.  For the “offering” I played “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”.  Sure we’ve all heard it a thousand times, but audiences still love to hear it, and it evokes a mood that worked well with the setting.  And finally, I rounded it out with three short pieces for the Eucharist portion of the service, my own composition, “Agenbyte of Inwit”, Jose Luis Merlin’s “Evocacion” and Leo Brouwer’s “Un Dia de Noviembre”.

What was it like?  It’s a bit like giving a concert, but you’re not the main attraction, God is.  It was not as satisfying as a concert, of course, because, let’s face it, I, like many other players, am an applause junkie, and in a church service the congregation always seems unsure as to how much applause is appropriate.  So there was some nice warm applause, but no shouts of “bravo!” or “encore!”  On the other hand, people were listening very attentively, and a good number made a point of visiting me afterward to voice their appreciation.

One nice bonus for me was that one of the community’s most influential arts patrons was in the congregation.  She and I had had an inadvertent falling out 3 years ago (long story, partly my fault and most certainly not hers) that I had not had any success repairing.  Well, I’m pleased to report that it is now repaired.  She came straight to me after the service and was glowing with enthusiasm for my performance and acted as if nothing had ever happened.

So, I had an opportunity to try out new material, a chance to perform in a meaningful setting, made some money, and mended some fences.  All in all a very successful day.  And most importantly, I had fun!

Back in the Saddle Again

I’ve been away from my guitar for a week.  I took my Lo Prinzi Pinnacle to the builder to have some work done on the frets and decided that this was as good a time as any to take some time off from playing.  Notice, I said “playing” not “practicing”.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that a week not spent constructively is anathema to me.  And, those who read my blog with any degree of regularity will guess that I spent my time practicing without my instrument.  Lots of aim directed movement and visualization.

This is particularly important because I do have to perform next week!  It’s not by any means a high pressure setting; I’m playing for a service at a local church.  But, I am planning to play something that I’ve only learned recently.  I’ll be playing the Barrios “Catedral” (all three movements) as prelude music just prior to the service, and I only began learning it in mid June.  I’m also playing Brouwer’s “Un dia de Noviembre”, which I also have only been playing since mid June.  So with this new repertoire being programmed, I can’t really afford to take time off.

This brings me to the issue of playing church services.  And some rather delicate matters.  So many people seem to think that the only way to play classical guitar professionally is either in concerts/recitals or as background music in restaurants, cafes, and private parties.  To tell the truth, there simply aren’t enough concerts coming my way (or most guitarists’ way!) to keep me fulfilled, and the background music, while very lucrative, is most definitely NOT fulfilling.  But I find that when one plays in a church service there is a fairly attentive audience, a high level of appreciation for the art, and, although not exactly a place where one makes top dollar, there is a decent amount of money to be made.  Let’s face it, I have the opportunity to try out my new material and get paid to do so.