Silicon Valley Classical Guitar NewsLocal Events, Interviews, Tips & More
Written by Rob Watson
This article will show you an important concept in the journey to make bars and bar chords easier and more efficient.
First, let’s define the bar, show its use cases: The index finger on the left hand becomes straight and it covers 2 or more strings on the same fret at the same time.
The most common bar is the full bar, which covers all 6 strings:
Note that there is only a bar, no other notes are being held down by the other fingers. When you add the other fingers then you have a bar chord, unless your intention is the chord formed by just the bar itself (.. you’re probably playing Jazz since it’s a minor 7th add 11 chord.)
There is also the partial bar, which is fairly common in Classical Guitar music, as it allows you the musical benefits of the bar (accessing 2 or more notes on the same fret of a different string), while also giving you the bass strings as open. In this example, the 1, 2nd and 3rd strings are in a bar, but not the 4th, 5th and 6th strings.
As mentioned above, these examples have only the bar, but not any activity from the other fingers. In reality, the other fingers are most likely doing something. What happens when you get the other fingers involved?
Let’s take a step back, and consider what to do before even adding the other fingers. If you think about it, the most advantageous shape for the index finger is STRAIGHT. And by straight, I mean, try and make your finger into a capo. If you don’t know what a capo is, here’s a nice picture:
A capo is a nearly straight piece of material that acts as a mechanical bar, used to change the key(scale) of what the guitarist is playing instantly.
There is nearly equal pressure under all of the capo, and we want that with the index finger, but the problem is the natural shape for the index finger is curved!:
You can clearly see how my index finger is curved, and finger 2 is on the D# (ri).
This is the initial shape for the B major arpeggio at position VII in Spanish Romance (A section). Students commonly don’t produce a sound for the F# (fi) on the 2nd string, or at best, buzz.
So the student tries to squeeze harder and harder, until possibly a look of grimace and discomfort comes over their face. But the F# (fi) will not sound!!
Instead of squeezing more, make the index finger straighter!!!!:
By bending my left wrist slightly I’m able to make the part of the index finger from the knuckle joint to the mid joint straighter, and thus the whole bar straighter. Done correctly, this will make the F# sound without any additional squeeze.
So when you’re playing or teaching, and you want an alternative to ‘just squeezing harder” try working with the geometry of your first finger. Make it straighter all the way from the knuckle joint right down to the tip joint.
It’s not easy, the other fingers will tense up when you make finger 1 straighter, so you’ll have to work for a few weeks very carefully to both be able to make finger 1 straight while the other fingers relax…..but its worth it. If you want clean bar chords, this is the way to go.
Efficiency always, beware of brute force.
Thanks and credit go out to the guitarist Kevin Gallagher, who talked about this in one of his instructional videos on YouTube.
Written by Rob Watson
As a teacher of style of guitar that could be thought of as somewhat ‘niche’, I’ve found myself in the position of educating my students about the history of the classical guitar and its most notable pieces and performers. Nearly everyone has an idea of what “Spanish Guitar’, or even what a nylon string guitar sounds like, even if they don’t ‘consciously’ know it. It could be they heard ‘Spanish Romance’ on TV, a ‘Malaguena’ also on TV or in a movie, or even the Gipsy Kings version of ‘Hotel California.’ Now that you have the ‘sound’ in your ear, now it’s time to explore the style and hear the true masters of classical guitar playing the most important pieces in the genre. We will be exploring the recordings and videos of five classical guitarists: Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams, Manuel Barrueco, and David Russell.
Guitarist: Andres Segovia
Album: The Art of Segovia
Andres Segovia (1893-1987) is the root of the modern-era classical guitarist tree. He was the first to popularize the nylon string Spanish guitar as a solo instrument fit for a full concert hall, thus turning the guitar into an instrument on the level of the solo piano.
This album features many of the greatest classical guitar pieces, like “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and Capricho Arabe (F. Tarrega). Segovia’s tone and expressiveness is unmatched, and served as the template for every classical guitarist that followed him.
Guitarist: Julian Bream
Album: Julian Bream plays Granados and Albeniz
Julian Bream (1933-2020) is, along with John Willams the leader of the next generation of guitarists after Segovia. Bream brought to the table an impeccable sense of form and structure, while never losing the passion or the general parameters of interpretation set by Segovia. A personal favorite, you can never doubt Bream’s commitment or authenticity to what he’s playing. Here Bream expertly plays two of the most important Spanish Composers of the late 19th – 20th century.
Here’s a video of Bream performing Joaqun Malats (trans. Tarrega)
Guitarist: John Williams
Album: The Four Lute Suites (JS Bach)
The other most important guitarist in the generation after Segovia, John Williams (b. 1941 ) was a child prodigy, with his father Len being a well respected guitar teacher in London. Williams more directly rebelled against the playing style of Segovia, opting for a less romantic and more rhythmically precise and driving style.
I rate it as a masterpiece of balancing a more ‘linear’ Bach interpretation along with solid tone and phrasing. This album set me on a course of being primarily interested with playing Bach as opposed to literally any other composer.
Guitarist: Manuel Barrueco
Guitarist: Manuel Barrueco
Bach Partita #2:
The Cuban virtuoso Manuel Barrueco (b. 1952) is one of the key classical guitarists in the generation after Williams and Bream. He brought a level of perfection and precision to the Classical Guitar which literally had never been seen before. Along with his friend, David Russell, they set the bar higher and brought the guitar closer to the level of perfection seen in the best concert pianists.
Guitarist: David Russell
Bach Partita #2:
The Scottish guitarist David Russell (b. 1953) took the classical guitar world by storm in the 1980’s with incredibly clean playing while also maintaining the proper ‘Spanish’ feel, not unlike is friend Barrueco. Of particular note is how well Russell plays Baroque music; its hard not feel like you’re hearing harpsichord with all the expressive qualities of a guitar, no small feat given the incredible technical difficulty.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the music.
— Rob Watson
Fernando Sor: A Pivotal Figure in Classical Guitar History
Fernando Sor (1778-1839), born in Barcelona, Spain, was a prolific composer, virtuoso guitarist, and an influential figure in the world of classical guitar music. His compositions and contributions to the guitar repertoire transformed the instrument’s role from an accompaniment instrument to a solo instrument capable of expressing a wide range of emotions.
Fernando Sor displayed an early aptitude for music, beginning his musical studies at a young age. He initially learned to play the cello and later took up the guitar. He was born in a well-to-do-family or career soldiers, and it seemed he would be destined to also be a professional in the military.
However, his love of music, notably opera, overtook him and by the agree of 12 he was enrolled in music studies at the school at the Barcelona Cathedral. His formal education included studying at the renowned monastery of Montserrat, where he received instruction in music theory and composition. Sor’s talent as a guitarist quickly became evident, and he gained recognition for his technical prowess and musical sensitivity.
Sor’s career as a guitarist and composer flourished during a time when the guitar was transitioning from a supporting instrument to a prominent solo instrument. He composed an extensive body of work, including solo pieces, chamber music, and concertos, showcasing the guitar’s versatility and expressive capabilities. Sor’s compositions embraced various musical styles, including classical, romantic, and Spanish folk music, revealing his ability to blend technical virtuosity with musical depth.
Sor’s most notable contributions can be found in his didactic works for the guitar. His “Méthode pour la guitare” (Method for the Guitar), published in 1830, remains an essential pedagogical resource for guitarists to this day. Sor’s method revolutionized guitar instruction, emphasizing the importance of proper technique, fingerings, and musical interpretation. It laid the groundwork for future guitar methods and greatly influenced subsequent generations of guitarists and educators.
Sor’s compositions embody a distinctive blend of technical brilliance and melodic lyricism. His musical style demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of form, harmony, and counterpoint, infused with Spanish influences. Sor’s ability to create beautiful melodies within complex musical structures is evident in works such as his “Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart” and “Grand Solo in D Major.” These compositions showcase his mastery of thematic development and provide ample opportunities for the guitarist to display technical virtuosity.
Sor’s music often exhibits a refined elegance and sensitivity, reflecting the influence of the Classical period. His compositions embody the characteristics of the era, with clear melodies, balanced structures, and meticulous attention to detail. However, Sor’s music also foreshadows the Romantic era, with its emphasis on expressiveness and emotional depth. This amalgamation of Classical and Romantic elements contributes to the enduring appeal of his compositions.
Fernando Sor’s impact on the classical guitar cannot be overstated. He played a crucial role in elevating the guitar’s status as a solo instrument within the realm of classical music. Prior to Sor’s contributions, the guitar was primarily associated with accompanying singers or as a part of small ensembles. Sor’s compositions showcased the guitar’s potential as a solo instrument, inspiring future generations of composers and guitarists to explore its capabilities further.
Sor’s influence extends beyond his compositions. His pedagogical contributions continue to shape guitar education. His emphasis on proper technique, musicianship, and interpretation laid the foundation for contemporary guitar instruction methods. Guitarists worldwide owe a debt of gratitude to Sor for his systematic approach to teaching the instrument, which has guided countless students on their path to mastery.
Moreover, Sor’s compositions have remained popular and frequently performed throughout the years. His works continue to be studied and recorded by guitarists of all levels. Many of his pieces, such as the “Variations on a Theme by Mozart” and the “Grand Solo in D Major,” have become staples of the classical guitar repertoire, delighting audiences and challenging performers.
In the Suzuki Books we first encounter his work in Book 4, with ‘Lesson’, followed right after by ‘Etude’. Then we meet up with Sor again in Book 5 with Minuet and Trio, then Book 6, with not one but two Rondo’s. Definitely one of the most returned-to composers in the Suzuki Books, and for good reason. The aforementioned “Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart” shows up in Book 9, and is one of the capstone pieces of the Suzuki Guitar books, along with Francisco Tarrega’s “Capricho Arabe”, “Recuerdo’s de La Alhambra” and of course “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz.
Fernando Sor stands as a towering figure in the history of classical guitar music. His virtuosity, compositional genius, and pedagogical contributions have left an indelible mark on the guitar world. Sor’s music showcases the guitar’s potential for both technical brilliance and emotional expression. His innovative approach to guitar composition and teaching transformed the guitar from a mere accompaniment instrument to a solo instrument of the highest order. The legacy of Fernando Sor continues to resonate through his compositions, pedagogical works, and the profound influence he has had on generations of guitarists, solidifying his status as a pivotal figure in classical guitar history.
Written by Scott Gossage
As a classical guitar teacher, I am often asked this question. And you know, it’s a tough one. It’s always hard to nail down any specific type or genre of music.
The closer you get to a definition, the more slipperier it gets, kind of like trying to grab hold of a bar of soap that is floating in the bathtub.
So I will try to explain, beginning at a general level of detail. It is my hope that after my explanation the reader will be a little less confused than before my explanation, but optimistically I give myself a 50-50 chance, at best.
Type of Instrument:
There are several characteristics that can help us find a definition for the term, classical guitar. An obvious one: the type of instrument used.
Classical guitar, generally speaking, is played on a nylon-string instrument, like this.
That is rather than a steel-string guitar, like this one,
which is generally used more for other styles such as folk, rock, or country music. We’ll unpack the whole nylon vs. steel-string instrument a little later on, but for now, to try and address the original question: classical equals nylon strings, other styles equals steel strings.
While we’re talking about the instrument, we should also point out that classical guitar is generally played without amplification. That is to say, “acoustically”. Right away, this is a problem in terms of a useful definition, because acoustic, taken literally, means relating to sound or the sense of hearing.
I’m pretty sure that is true of all music: it relates to sound and the sense of hearing. But let’s go ahead and accept the spirit of what is trying to be said, here, absurdly inadequate as the language may be: classical guitar isn’t usually played on an electric guitar:
So, that’s the instrument piece of the definition, at a high level. Let’s move on and talk about another general defining characteristic:
Generally speaking, which is to say this definition has holes in it big enough to drive a Tommy Emanuel tour bus through, classical guitar is played using the fingers of the right hand, rather than with a pick or plectrum, which is generally a feature of other styles, like folk, rock, country.
(The absurdity of this definition may be illustrated quite easily by pointing out that there is a whole other genre of guitar playing, not classical, known widely as “finger-style guitar” for the very same characteristic!). But, whatever, classical equals fingers, other styles equals pick.
Repertoire (the music that is played)
A third general characteristic is the music played, which in classical guitar is (and please don’t hit me in the head with a board for saying this), classical music.
So now I’m in real trouble, because what on earth does that mean? I mean, you have got to be kidding me! There’s entire sections of entire libraries that are filled with volumes upon volumes devoted to this topic, written over hundreds of years, by some pretty smart people.
And there’s no real answer that anybody can agree on as to what the word classical means, in general, let alone what is classical music? There’s a pretty good video from 1959 of Leonard Bernstein explaining his point of view on this topic:
I guess I’d summarize this third characteristic as: with classical guitar, we are working in a literal tradition, as opposed to other styles being from more of an oral tradition. Literal meaning you are playing exactly the music written down in musical notation.
So, what have got so far? Classical guitar equals acoustic not electric, nylon strings not steel strings, fingers not pick, literal tradition not oral tradition.
So why are we talking about this? In what context does this question usually arise? Usually it is with a new student, or their parents, who might show up to their first lesson with a steel string or electric guitar. As classical guitar teachers, we will inform the student and parents that these are not suitable for our particular use case.
Explaining further, we tell them they need a nylon-string instrument.
A logical question immediately presents itself: if it’s the strings that’s the problem, could we change the strings and use the guitar we have? Because that way, we won’t have to buy a whole new guitar. Like I said, perfectly logical, reasonable question. But the answer is no, we can’t do that because the guitars are built differently.
The electric guitar has a solid body that doesn’t respond to un-amplified nylon strings. The steel string guitar is built heavier to handle the tension of the metal strings, which is much greater than that of nylon strings, and the nylon strings aren’t heavy enough to get the wood vibrating, which is what really makes the sound.
So the answer is: the guitar won’t sound very good if you do that. You could do that, kind of like you could eat cereal with a fork, or pound nails with a screwdriver…you could do it, but a spoon or a hammer works a lot better!
So, beyond the problematic definition, what are the benefits, pedagogically speaking, of studying the classical guitar? The answer is it allows us to build sound, solid foundation of technical and musical skills, giving us access to a whole repertoire of beautiful classical guitar music. There is also the benefit that these skills are transferable to others style of guitar, and also even to other instruments.
If you’d like to hear more, I hope you’ll give us a call at Silicon Valley Classical Guitar School and schedule your free introductory classical guitar lesson.
— Scott Gossage
Hi Everyone! Summer is approaching, and with that more time to practice. The foundation of musical study, (or any study for that matter) is practice, and while the amount of time and regularity with which you practice is the single most important factor, HOW you practice is nearly as important.
Don’t start practicing just from the beginning. If you always start practicing from the beginning of the piece, you’ll have a strong beginning, but a weak ending. Also, if the intention is to memorize the piece, you have created a muscle memory chain that is far too long, and a memory slip will force you to restart from the beginning. Make sure to divide your music into logical phrases, then work on the very last phrase, then the phrase before that, etc. Work backwards by phrase.
Practice slowly. Keep errors in repetitions to an absolute minimum. If you keep making mistakes in repetitions, keep slowing down until your repetitions are clean and precise. You may need to use a metronome set to the shortest note value to be slow enough.
Take frequent mini breaks: practice hard for 10 minutes, break for a couple minutes, practice hard again for 10 minutes, break for a couple minutes, etc. Stay as focused as you can.
If you feel like you’re getting frustrated, shift to another practice activity, like a different phrase, different piece, or different exercise. While proper practicing is work and can be tedious at times, it shouldn’t be frustrating. You should feel like you’re making progress.
That’s all folks!
Until next time…..
— Rob Watson
I just won second prize at the Concorso di Musica Antica “Maurizio Pratola” international lute competition in L’Aquila, Italy!!This has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, I learned that this competition was happening (close to event date)….. somehow figured out how to travel to Italy amidst the pandemic, and drank enough espresso to fight jet lag long enough to compete! With such short notice, I basically tried to live with the lute in my hands for a week and then came over here.
Attaching a photo with Paul O’Dette, who was the head of the jury. I’m humbled to have played for and gotten feedback from such an incredible musician, and very grateful to have met many excellent young lute players, all of whom I want to hear more from!
How to Keep up your Practice Routine When You’re Stuck Inside
Creating a Habit
Sometimes the hardest part about practicing is simply opening your guitar case. Or maybe the hardest part is finding time in your daily routine, between online school, homework and pent up energy from being stuck inside all day! The best way to turn practicing into a habit is to assign it a designated time in your busy day. Maybe you prefer practicing first thing when you wake up in the morning, or right after school before doing your homework. Or if you’re a parent, maybe it’s best to practice after the kids are asleep and the house is nice and quiet. Whatever your preference, stick to it, and incorporate your new practice habit into your daily life, whether it be for 10 min, 30 min or 2 hours. You’ve got this!
Setting Up Your Practice Space
While everyone is home all the time now, it’s important to create a space that is conducive to a productive practice. Growing up in a family of four children who all played multiple instruments, I quickly learned that my cherished classical guitar was no match for the piano, violin, clarinet, trumpet, or drum set. In order to get my practicing done in a productive manner, I had to create a practice space where I could both hear myself play and hear myself think. I recommend a space with as little distractions as possible! Practicing in your bedroom or in a room with a closed door is best; that way there are no distractions from siblings, pets or clanging pots and pans from the kitchen. Once you’ve picked your space, stick with it, and make it part of your practicing habit.
The Ultimate Classical Guitar Practice Set Up
- Pick a comfortable chair or stool that allows you to sit with a tall back and your legs at a 90 degree angle.
- Have your footstool or alternative sitting device ready to go.
- Have your clip-on tuner at the ready.
- Set up your music stand with the following:
- Any music you may need
- Pencil for making notes
- Nail files for shaping/buffing
- A note on devices: if you are using an electronic device as a practice aid (tuner, metronome), it should be turned on Do Not Disturb. Remember, we are creating a space with as little distractions as possible! If you only have a set time to practice, set an alarm for the period of time that you have set aside; that way you don’t have to keep checking the clock.
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The Bay Area is blessed with a surprising number of unique and independently owned guitar shops. These stores serve as a community hub for the musicians they serve, which is perhaps why they’ve so far been able to survive in these tough times for small Bay Area retailers. Here is a list of a few of our favorite places to shop. We hope this inspires you to visit your local music store, or spend a day exploring new neighborhoods you’ve yet to visit.
GSP – Guitar Solo
GSP is a recognized resource for both professional guitarists and guitar enthusiasts. Located near the At&T/Giants Ballpartk, they stock an ever changing inventory of new and used classical guitars, steel strings guitars, mandolins and ukuleles. They also house an incredibly comprehensive selection of sheet music, with over 12,000 titles of classical guitar methods, studies, music and folios. You can also find a large selection of jazz, blues, pop, folk, country, and rock methods and songbooks. For those who love to browse musical literature, it’s worth a trip to spend some time hunting through their racks and filing cabinets. GSP publish their own Editions and Recordings, introducing new players and composers to the guitar world. They also sell their own brand of custom-made guitar strings. Their online mail order service is equally extensive. Their repair shop does everything from basic set ups to full restorations. GSP is a wonderfully intimate shop that supports the Bay Area guitar community.
Hours: Mondays – Fridays from 12pm – 7:00pm • Saturdays from 11am – 6pm • Sundays from 12pm – 5pm
Mighty Fine Guitars
Mighty Fine Guitars is a mighty fine place to shop for high end acoustic guitars built by local and nationally known luthiers. This shop has the look and feel of a salon – the perfect atmosphere to try an instrument before making that big investment. Owner Stevie Coyle also offers lessons, specializing in fingerstyle guitar. This is another great example of a shop owned by a musician, for musicians. You can find the shop’s stock online. They’ve got really good photos of their instuments, along with all the specs. As an added bonus, Coyle posts webcasts about the instruments and sometimes featuring special guest artists on his Facebook page. There’s a lot of great content online, but this is also a shop you’ll definitely want to visit in person.
Address: 85 Lafayette Cir, Lafayette
Hours: Wednesdays – Fridays from 10am – 6pm • Saturdays from 10am – 5pm • closed Sundays & Mondays • Open Tuesdays for lessons only.
Gryphon Stringed Instruments
Gryphon Strings is a leading source of steel-string acoustic guitars, mandolins, nylon string guitars, and banjos. They are as much a music school as a retail store, with a packed calendar of workshops, group lessons, and private instruction. They make an effort to carry instruments built by individual luthiers, and you can also find some very interesting vintage instruments like old Martins and banjos from the early 1900’s. Where this store stands out is in their calendar of events. They get an incredible array of talented Bay Area musicians to come in and give workshops on everything from beginner basics, to improvisation, to playing in alternate tunings, to fingerstyle jazz for “folkies”. Looking to get into a new style of playing or technique? Gryphon Stringed Instruments is the place to go!
Address: 211 Lambert Ave, Palo Alto
Hours: Mondays – Thursdays from 10:30am – 7:00pm • Friday – Saturday from 10:30am – 5:30pm • Sunday closed
Real Guitars – used and vintage instruments
Specializing in used and vintage equipment, Real Guitars sells an ever changing inventory of interesting guitars, bases, amps, speakers, and gear. As San Francisco’s oldest guitar shop, (they’ve been in the same location since 1986), it feels a little like you’re back in the 80’s when you visit this shop. A lot of legends have come through this space. Need quality repair work done or looking for a vintage or custom part? This is the place to bring your axe. If it’s good enough for Bay Area musicians like Jerry Garcia, Joe Satriani, Neal Schon, and bands like Metallica,Green Day, and Hellfire, it’s good enough for us!
Address: 15 Lafayette St, San Francisco
Hours: Mondays – Saturdays from 11am – 6pm • closed Sundays
Broken Guitars, owned by Billy Joe Armstrong from Greenday, and his business partner and former bandmate of Pinhead Gunpowder, Bill Schneider, serves Oakland and the East Bay specializing in all guitar and luthier work. The store may be small, but it carries a well curated selection of electric and steel string guitars, and amplifiers. While there is some impressive gear, the store strives to be a shop for musicians, not just hobbyists with money. Their repair shop does quality work with a fast turn around. The musicians that work there are super friendly, and will communicate with you through the entire process of a repair from quote to finish. To top it off, the storefront is located across the street from 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, an independent record store, label and venue. Close to the McArthur Bart Station, this is a great destination shop to visit.
Address: 423 40th St, Oakland
Hours: Tuesdays – Saturdays from 11am – 7pm • Sundays from 12pm – 5pm • closed Sundays
The Starving Musician
The Starving Musician has been serving the community since 1985, selling, trading, and renting new and used instruments, as well as offering music lessons, repair services, and school band rentals. They’ll trade gear for cash or consignment (for rare or valuable gear). Their store houses a wide selection of guitars, amps, pedals, drums and other instruments from beginner models to higher end instruments. This shop has a bit of everything, so even if you’re just there to pick up some strings, you’re going to want to walk around, and likely find some cool instrument or accessory you didn’t know you needed. The Starving Musician also sells some of their stock online through their website and on Reverb.
Address: 2474 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
Hours: Mondays – Fridays from 11am – 7pm • Saturdays 11am – 6pm • Sundays 12pm – 6pm