November 4, 2011

Los Romeros workshop (part 2): Etudes and repertoire

I'm not going to be able to offer a whole lot of detail directly from a workshop I took no notes on, but I will offer a few highlights that I can recall and my own thoughts on those topics.

One idea that has stuck with me from the Los Romeros workshop I attended years ago, was Pepe's statement that students develop their technique using studies (specifically mentioning Carcassi, Sor, and Brouwer) and then reward their achievement with appropriate repertoire. This approach depends on having a patient student and some good guidance, but that's nothing unusual, is it?

I think he has a fair point. Etudes may not be "appropriate for the concert stage," but maybe it's better to work through the effort, frustration, and doubt of the learning process while learning these studies rather than  the music you intend to perform. Then, maybe you can go on stage with a whole program of music without baggage of effort, frustration, and doubt. That sounds like a much better situation to me.

A well-composed study like Carcassi's can offer a systematic technical workout in a bite-sized (or perhaps mouthful) chunk. The flip side of that, which I don't think Pepe mentioned, is that a good musical understanding is what transforms a "boring study" into a satisfying piece of music is the performer's grasp of the music itself. Perhaps even more so than the technique.

For example, playing a slur study well is more than merely executing the slurs. The dynamics and tone colors have to flow with the line, and pull-offs to open strings can't sound plunky. So the technique of a descending slur isn't just "pluck the string with the left hand." The speed and direction of the motion, surface area of the finger used, and amount of pulling the string sideways versus sliding across it are all factors that contribute to the sound of the slur.

If you try to control all of this at the muscular level, you'll just get bogged down in the details and never move on. It's much easier if you let your ears control your technique rather than your fingers.

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