Archive for August, 2011
If you’re thinking, “But I already play guitar,” you have no stinking idea. Flamenco guitar is a whole different instrument. Even studying classical guitar doesn’t prepare you completely. A flamenco guitar is built to resonate more loudly than a classical guitar, and the flamenco style often requires more aggression than classical.
Flamenco is actually a dance style, which is why you often hear these performances accompanied by stomping and clapping — another reason that flamenco artists must be adept at projecting their sound strongly.
I chose this instrument today in response to yesterday’s submission, the Pipa. To me, it seems both instruments share common elements. One is the frequent use of tremolo, both in single notes and chords. What else do you think these styles from opposite sides of the globe might share?
Only a few of us ever study something just for the purpose of obtaining knowledge or skill. For most, that knowledge or skill must be applicable to a certain end. For example, what good is learning a language if you never intend to speak it? What good is learning to sculpt if you don’t produce a sculpture? Why go to school for MCS if you aren’t interested in working with computers?
Your student came to you for a reason. At the outset of your contract, a key part of your job is discovering what his reasons are for taking up study of the guitar. For some, the guitar is do-it-yourself entertainment. They want to sing around the campfire, or join their church band. For others, it may be a profitable hobby. They may aspire to performing at coffeehouses. For still others, it is a vehicle to a full-time career. Those are just three of many possibilities. Are you providing your student a path to his ultimate goal?
Some components of musicianship are constant, no matter what the student’s objectives. Practice is always essential. So is learning the finer points of playing live and playing with others. Some theory and ear training is beneficial at any level of commitment. One of my favorite things I tell new students is, “I understand you may not aspire to be a pro, but I will treat every student as if they all do.” In other words, I expect the best from my students; even the most casual learner must be held to high standards.
However, the actual content of the material being studied depends on the student’s personal objectives. Does she want to be a coffeehouse musician? Then improvisation and jazz theory are of a lower priority than rhythm techniques and self-accompaniment. A curriculum is important; but frame your lessons, however structured, in ways that speak to each student’s personal desires.
So far, I have discussed long-term objectives. Equally important are short-term objectives. These are mostly for you to set and enforce. If, for example, a student’s long-term objective is to start a band with friends, my short term objectives will involve coaching the student on song selection, rehearsal techniques, gig etiquette, and error correction. And I would set measurable milestones.
This is an important concept — measurable milestones. What I mean is that your short-term objectives need to be quantifiable. What, in the above example, would signify readiness to start a band? How about a knowledge of a certain amount of repertoire? Yes? Great, then let’s define how many songs would comprise a show of decent length, assemble a list of specific songs that are within the student’s technical reach, then assess how long it is taking to prepare each song and adjust our practice methods if necessary. That’s a pretty well laid-out plan that can keep you and your student occupied for months. Having that blueprint puts you in the driver’s seat; your student will respect your foresight and organization, and is likely to be satisfied with the outcome of his lessons.
In the next installment of Teaching Guitar, I’ll provide a suggestion that will not only help you define short-term goals, but that will also aid you in the assessment of student progress.
Early in my college career, I spent many hours mining our music lab for interesting LP’s, one of which was a compilation of pipa music. Prior to seeing it in the album cover, I didn’t even know what a pipa was.
This modern guitarist finds plenty to like about the pipa: Its high frets allow for “whammy bar”-like effects, produced by varying left hand pressure; and the method of playing in the right hand is strikingly similar to that of flamenco.
Analysis aside, this is just beautiful music:
Musicians tend to not be content specializing in their chosen instrument. Anything new that seems to draw upon a musician’s existing skill set beckons with reckless seduction.
This benefits the industry. For example, thanks to saxophonists who also dabble in clarinet and flute, pit orchestras are slightly less costly than they otherwise could be, and big band arrangers have a more varied sonic palette with which to work.
Of particular interest are the more exotic instruments, some of which are unknown even to many musicians. Their appeal to a practicing artist is not only that of something new, but also of something mysterious and special.
If you’re reading this blog on a regular basis, chances are you play guitar, bass, keyboards, or drums. This upcoming series of posts was inspired by every moment that I seriously contemplated picking up something less common. And what better instrument to kick things off with than the Stick?
The Chapman Stick is similar to the electric guitar, in that the extra sustain afforded by a super-low action and amplification allows for entirely tapped passages. But the Stick has a much wider range, which means skillful artists can play more pianistic solo arrangements. As an artist who envies the solo musicians for their marketability to smaller venues (i.e., ability to find more gigs), I clearly see a practical advantage to learning this otherwise befuddling instrument.
Here’s a leading Chapman Stick artist, Bob Culbertson, with an original composition.
You didn’t think I was going to leave the Schönberg discussion with just one example, did you? Here’s something more challenging.
Most trained musicians recognize Schönberg as the father of serialism. This was such a hot topic in academia following the peak of the Second Viennese School that subsequent generations of professors would downplay Schönberg’s innovations in retaliation to what they seemed to perceive as mostly hype. My own music history professor, after presenting an excerpt of Pierrot Lunaire in class, remarked, “It’s well crafted and everything, but you won’t see anyone just go home and put it on their stereo.” He wasn’t aware that I had two copies in my disc changer at that very moment.
I nearly avoided mentioning his involvement with serialism, because it is only one aspect of his style, and limited only to a specific period of his career. First, he was a neo-romantic, whose idolization of Brahms and Mahler was highly apparent, both in his prose and his music. Still, he carries Romanticism toward the inevitable deconstruction that would occur in a post-war world, regardless of whose hands it would lie in. Listening to Verklärte Nacht or his Chamber Symphonies, one notices a tinge of desperation that is beyond Wagnerian longing, that reflects the primal terror within our psyche.
Freud had just made waves with his ideas about the subconscious, and Schönberg was among the many whose art was inspired by themes relating to the subconscious. Expressionism in general sought to release desires and fears that even the composer may have been repressing.
Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is a perfect specimen of German Expressionism. It is a program piece that portrays no action, and tells a story that is so eventless as to seem a mere snapshot — a freezing of time to highlight passing emotions. In this piece, we hear a dialogue. The first half is dominated by a woman, who is confessing infidelity to her lover during a walk in the woods. At the midpoint of the piece, she has further revealed that she is carrying another man’s child, and breaks down in despair. The second half (beginning at 1:38 in part 3 of the YouTube video) sounds vastly more optimistic, as we hear her mate’s reassurance that their love will transfigure the child into their own.
Don’t listen to this unless you have time for the whole thing. And YouTube fails to do it justice, because it’s chopped into five parts. But hopefully this taste of Schönberg’s early period will inspire you even a fraction as much as it has inspired me. At the very least, if your previous understanding was that he is primarily a post-tonal composer, then allow this to shatter your misconception: