Warm up & practice recommendations

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. It then occurred to me just how little I get to do this. Usually I pick up my guitars 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.

91or8zjkZOL.jpg

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.

Around fifteen 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 days of regular classical guitar recitals 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 teacher-composers (not to mention pioneering players) covered in advancing the technical study of the guitar. 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 the  contact page on this site, or my social media (see links).

Good luck and happy practicing!

Want your music to be heard? Pick a genre!

I love artists who create works that cross the boundaries of genre, style, and in some cases, medium. Most people do.

Others, of course, are faithful purists to their favourite genre. But for the rest of us who take our influences from all manner of avenues, how do we categorise our music?

There’s a good argument that genres are only useful to music journalists and lazy audiences. Why should everything be boxed up and potentially limited by increasingly narrower definitions? However, the key argument for explaining how your music sounds is simple: to build an audience.

Pick a genre (or three)

Truth be told, there is strong chance that your music could probably be catogorised under one of these common genres:

  • Classical
  • Jazz
  • Rock/Pop
  • Soul
  • Hip Hop
  • Gospel
  • Country
  • World/roots
  • Metal
  • Blues
  • Indie

These terms are wide catch-all umbrellas, into which various sub-genres fall – just think of all the different kinds of Classical music or Jazz which exist! Try zooming out and imagining where you’d expect to find your music in a retail store. If you feel your music crosses between these larger genres, use more than one – but no more than three.

There exists another category, increasingly referred to as a genre, called singer-songwriter. This usually refers to a pop or indie artist performing acoustically. If that’s you, say so. If you’re in a band and you don’t know where you sit on the scale of rock to pop, and fear losing potential listeners, perhaps stick to the safe option, and go with Indie?

Of course, it can work the other way too. For every Gospel/Soul artist, there will be one solely residing in the musical world of Minimalist Math-Rock. In which case…

Find your niche

Picture credit: Fossbytes.com

The above image (from an interesting article you can read here) barely scratches the surface of the wide, weird & wonderful world of sub-genres.

You might worry about being too niche when describing your sound, but each of these categories has a huge number of fans around the world. If you insist on being ultra-specific when describing your music, you might as well to tap into existing markets such as these…

Remember: You don’t have to stay in one genre forever

The best artists started out doing one style, usually very well, and growing from there. The Beatles were a ‘beat’ group (guitar pop rooted in rhythm & blues), but they soon went far beyond this. Even the famously ever-changing David Bowie’s first few albums from the sixties were of the classic singer-songwriter + band vibe. Without a base to jump from, you can’t expect to get much further than where you are right now.

True, the music industry is very different now. Artists aren’t given the opportunity to find their voice over the course of several albums. But there is still the option of playing live* to an audience, as well as other bands on the bill.

(*or, should I say, there WILL be the opportunity to play live again once we are all out of lockdown – TH, writing in April 2020)

Regular gigging allows you to work on your songs and develop your sound with each passing gig. It should also bring you into contact with new fans, who will be able to describe your music (in terms of genre) much more efficiently than you may be able to yourself. You never know, they might even invent a brand new sub-genre just for you!