This week, I’ve had the rare luxury of free time. Free time to pick up my guitar whenever I like and play. Not specifically for any particular goal, just to PLAY for the love of playing.
In doing this, it has occurred to me just how little I get to do this. Usually I pick the axe up to practice or prepare for an upcoming show or to learn new material. The rest of the time I’m actually at a gig playing.
Using it as a great opportunity to go over my classical repertoire, I found it almost scary how much my discipline had slipped. Don’t get me wrong, I still play well and in a musically pleasing manner (in my opinion, anyway!) but there are ways of performing on guitar (with classical pieces in particular) which enhances the music and makes playing easier (not to mention lessening any strain and preventing injuries long term).
So this week, I have been delving into my old practice and warm up notes and dug out my old favourite, Pumping Nylon by Scott Tennant. For the classical guitarists out there who do not have this book, I strongly recommend you purchase it as soon as possible.
This book focuses solely on technique improvement for both hands (including thumb for the right hand). After the initial basics and starters, it progresses into joint techniques (working exercises for both hands together) and demonstrates a closer look into flamenco techniques. These not only go to strengthen your right hand, but to widen your overall playing ability. It also includes specially written study pieces to incorporate all the techniques it has taught.
About eight years ago, I suffered a broken ring finger on my right hand. This has never fully regained it’s original strength (and as a result my regular concert days are mostly behind me). The exercises in this book went a long way in helping my rebuild the muscle and bring my ability back, something I feared would never happen. Because of this, the right hand techniques and exercises int his book are of particular importance to me.
That’s the basic warm ups covered, but what about actually rehearsal starters? For me, as with many classical guitar players, the studies (or ‘Etudes’) of Francisco Tarrega and Fernando Sor provide plenty of examples for rehearsal focus, especially with right hand technique. It’s absolutely amazing the depth of ground these two player/teacher/composers covered in advancing the technical study of the guitar and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Alongside these, there are also the studies of Mauro Giuliani. Although his concert and recital pieces are widely known (in fact the staple of most player’s repertoire), his studies are often neglected. However, I would definitely suggest investing in a transcription of his complete studies. While not as technique-practice heavy as Sor (who, in contrast, is remembered historically more for his studies than his concert pieces), they present a more musically varying set and some new colour into your practice routine.
My standard practice routine (looking at my old notes from my true classical playing days) went roughly as follows:
- 5-10 mins warm ups (both hands, featuring exercises from Pumping Nylon and scale practice
- Selected studies from Sor, Tarrega and Giuliani (2 or 3 from each, focusing on specific improvement areas)
- Looking at any new pieces to learn; slow play-through; focus on tricky areas; attempt to play through without stopping (I would try not to spend more than 20-25 minutes on this to prevent fatigue or frustration – the piece can be returned to on the next day)
- A better known piece which also requires mastering. Ideally play-through should be reached far more quickly
- Another piece (already known) to ‘refresh’ the fingers (ideally this will also be an upcoming concert piece)
- ‘Free playing’ – At this point, I could have been rehearsing for up to an hour and a half, so this should be an old favourite or two which you know well, to act as a ‘cool down’. Be careful, though, to remain watchful on technique and accuracy, as this is more likely to slip on pieces you are over familiar with.
These, of course, are my tips only. I would however be delighted to hear from other guitarists and their tips/routines for warm-ups and rehearsals. You can contact me via this blog or via my Twitter handle: @tim_guitarist
Good luck and happy practicing!