January 20, 2012

Adam Rafferty: This is how I practice guitar

Thanks to my friend Anton Emery, I just read fingerstyle guitarist Adam Rafferty's nice blog post about how he practices guitar, in which he says:
When I practice, I do it for the love of doing it.  I play my scales every day with attention to “form”, relaxation, groove and tone.  I run my repertoire for the delicacy and delight of playing with a deep satisfying rhythmic pocket and fingers that perfectly “touch” the strings.
I plod along, day by day – and will do so for my whole life.  Day in, day out.  That’s what I do.  I practice for the love of practicing itself – with no result in mind.  This is how I practice guitar.
I have to agree. For me, the learning and experience is the key. Some days I really enjoy solving problems and developing my understanding, and some days I can just sit there for a half hour and just work on smoothing out one small aspect of technique. I find it more satisfying to accomplish one substantial thing than to try to chip away at a whole bunch of things.

January 3, 2012

Holiday break recordings

I recorded three videos last week during the holiday break. Having a full-time job again and students in the evenings, I haven't had enough practice time to maintain any repertoire. However, I've found that spending an hour in front of the camera is one of the best and quickest ways to improve my playing.

All three pieces are fantasia-type pieces (as opposed to dance movements) from the renaissance era. I just can't get enough of this kind of music. The first is one from Frederick Noad's "The Renaissance Guitar" book. I recorded a few takes of this one on the day after xmas but was unhappy with them. I left them alone for the night and listened again the next day, and decided to feel the piece differently.

It's written primarily as half-notes with a few sections of quarter notes. I was unhappy with it when I played it all at a sort of measured pace, so I decided to treat the quarter note sections as written-out ornaments rather than part of the melody.

The second piece was a fantasia by Francesco Da Milano from an old book called "Lautenmusik aus der Renaissance." It's the first piece in the book. I more or less used the fingerings in the book, which were for standard guitar tuning. I'd like to try it again sometime with F# lute tuning, partly because it would suit the piece better, and also because the next piece on the page (another da Milano Fantasia) is one that I already happen to know in that tuning. The two would pair nicely if there was no need to change tuning.

The third piece is "Preambel" by Antonio Rotta, from the same book. This piece puzzled me when I first looked at it, although I hope it doesn't sound like that anymore. I think perhaps that much of the renaissance music we encounter in collections has been chosen because it is relatively accessible with our experience of tonal music.

This piece begins like it's in A minor and progresses like it's in D minor, but the larger phrases resolve to D major. Two or three times in it, however, D major is set up as though it's the V chord, which we would expect to resolve to G major, but instead it goes to E minor. It also has some significant IV-I cadences, which remind me of the polyphonic vocal music from that era which I love so much.

Thanks for listening, and I hope my discussion of the pieces gives you ideas to think about in your own music. I'll try to do this again more often.

For those of you interested in recording, my friend Doug has put a nice video on Youtube about the process of recording. He takes a track from his new album and talks about how it was recorded, processed, mixed, and mastered. You should view it on YouTube in high quality to get the most from it.