July 15, 2011

William Kanengiser masterclass notes, part 4

The final performer at the William Kanengiser masterclass I've been writing about played the fourth movement of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Homage to Boccherini. Kanengiser offered some thoughts particular to Tedesco's writing. It's often said that the guitar should be treated like a miniature orchestra, because of the wealth of tone colors it offers us, and that idea is especially applicable to a composer like Tedesco who was very much an orchestral composer. He was also very particular about how he used dynamics and articulations.

The rest of the feedback given to this performer was of a technical nature, so I'm going to conclude this series of posts by gathering together all the technical and miscellaneous suggestions that were offered during the masterclass.

  • Kanengiser reiterated throughout the class the importance of pulling the notes out of the guitar, moving the strings rather than hitting them. This is really the key to getting a good, consistent tone and needs to be at the core of our technique so that even in the fastest playing where you can't be thinking about control, you can rely on your fingers to activate the strings effectively. Move the strings in towards you before releasing them.
  • The open high E string needs to always be played warmly and fully, to keep the tone balanced with the other strings. Do whatever you can to avoid harshness/excessive brightness.
  • When performing vibrato, move from the shoulder and use the forearm as a pivot point. Don't just wiggle or shake the hand, but get the larger muscles involved.
  • Practice maintaining the clarity and continuity of a single voice when changing strings. This is difficult on guitar, but really important to musical playing. 
  • You can be flexible with the right and left hand positions in order to solve technical problems. The two examples I recall Kanengiser giving were related to damping. We often hear that the last phalanx of the left hand fingers should be positioned perpendicular to the plane of the fingerboard so as to only touch one string at a time, but when playing a descending scale in open position, dropping the hand a bit so the pads of the fingertips touch the adjacent string allows us to easily damp the open strings we've played so they don't keep ringing inappropriately. Likewise, we can roll the right hand thumb one way or another to damp a bass string while it is resting on an adjacent one in preparation.
  • Sometimes it's necessary to simplify the music in order to discover its true shape. For example, when the melody is part of a series of arpeggios, leave out the arpeggios for a while and work on the melody on its own.
  • When considering the shape of a line, figure out which notes are "juicy" and which are transitions. It's important for us to understand where the notes fit in the harmony and relation to the beat. Guitarists are infamous for arbitrary and inappropriate accents. 
This concludes my series of posts from that masterclass. Thanks for reading! If you've found this information to be helpful or you've otherwise enjoyed reading it, be sure to check out William Kanengiser's CDs, DVDs, and performances. 


  1. This are really some great tips that i will try to use in my practice. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to share these invaluable ideas. Reading through the comments made it seem like I was in a Kanengiser masterclass again! Great job with the website too, keep it up!