Why does a certain artist's playing make your jaw drop? It's not just mind-blowing technique, but a combination of that and tons of
Let's look at expression and what it gives us. Think of expression as dials on your guitar, and you control the setting on each dial. This column is an introduction to the dials. Note that some of the expression elements have their own page elsewhere in the Mini-Lessons.
What speed will you play a piece? See what happens to the emotional tone when a piece is played at slower or faster speeds. Just take the metronome and go from a slow tempo to gradually higher and see what happens to the tune - and what the audience is likely to get from one version versus another.
Rhythm can be emphasized or not. Generally we emphasize the first beat of each measure. Every time signature and every dance form has a pattern of accents. Put a little more "umph" into the first note of each measure and you'll sound more "expressive." Common rhythms include 2/4 marches, 3/4 waltzes and 4/4 "common time" (the most common time signature). One variation is alternating measures of 6/8 and 3/4 for a Latin feel, such as "I Want To Be An A-mer-i-can, I Want To Be An A-mer-i-can..." from West Side Story.
Rubato (a less strict adherence to the beat) can be used to convey a more romantic feeling. Think of it as stretching and contracting time, unlike the metronome's unwavering speed. One use of rubato is to add just a little time to the first note in a phrase or when there's a change in harmony. With a tight, metronome-like rhythm on one end of a continuum, and a free, play-the-next-note-when-you-feel-like-it style on the other, decide where the music belongs and play it with conviction. Check out Peo Kindgren playing "Romance" for an example of rubato. Now imagine the same piece played with a rock solid beat.
This is one of the most powerful effects. The best way to manipulate this dial is to make strategic choices in volume (dynamics) to create a figure-ground image. Also, brief changes in volume made by accents create expression. Rest strokes and free strokes are the techniques you'll employ for accents and the figure-ground imaging.
Learn how to control dynamics in your playing by, at will, playing at ten levels, from pppp to ffff(see Dynamics)
How you stroke the string and where how close to, or far from, the bridge creates a wonderful range of color, from very bright to very dark, called "timbre" (TAMber). Also, instead of playing a note E on the open E string, for example you can play the same pitch on the 2nd string at the 5th fret or the 3rd string on the 9th fret, not only for a darker tone, but a chance to add vibrato (see below). Michael Chapdelaine put up a detailed explanation of how to get good tone on his site. He's also one of the most expressive players you'll ever hear.
An aspect of Tone, really, vibrato is a technique for alternately raise and lower pitch on a note by pulling and pushing it. You've seen this every time you've watched a violinist or cellist. The parameters to control on this dial are depth and speed. You increase depth by increasing the distance you pull and push the string. You'll find the middle of the string softer than the ends and therefore a much easier area in which to produce vibrato. Vibrato applied to a note is said to add "warmth" to the note. Almost any time you have a melody note that's held long enough, it will benefit from vibrato. Watch an old video of the legendary Julian Bream and John Williams play a duet, each using vibrato.
On the guitar we often play melodies and harmonies together. Take some time to get very clear on what note are melody and what notes are harmony, and what feeling is created by each. It's your job to make them clearly distinguishable from one another and underline the key points in the melody and the harmonic movement. Don't let the harmony smother the melody - which brings us to the next topic - Balance.
Generally, melody is in the foreground and harmony is in the background. Balance one against the other by playing some notes louder than others: you need to bring out the melody and keep other lines clear and intact. If it's a piece with two distinct voices like Bach's Bourrée from the 1st Lute Suite, you want to make that bass line sing. Imagine a bass player listening and just zeroing in on that bass line. So many pieces have great bass lines, and it helps the audience appreciate the music so much more when it comes out clearly.
Instrumental music is often best expressed as if it were being sung, including pauses to take breaths, put in commas, complete a one thought before the next one begins, etc. This is called phrasing, and the phrases often come in fairly predictable sets of four or eight bars. A perfect example is Tárrega's Adelita.
Legato should be your default way of playing. Meaning "tied together," it simply means to give individual notes their full value. If a pitch is indicated as a half note, in 4/4 time that means sound for two full beats. So, legato means to transition from one note to the next smoothly. Its opposite is staccato, which means "detached." Staccato is a special effect, to be used as such in contrast to the legato tones.
Ascending and descending ligados, or slurs, not only ensure legato in your line but have other features as well. For one, they don't have the attack of the beginning of a plucked note. For another, they can be very fast and flashy. They also give your right hand a break. They can be single, double, triple or more, daisy-chained together. Another way to make a slur is to execute a glissando, whereby one finger slides up or down multiple frets. For a few more ideas on legato, refer to explanations of "articulation" at http://cnx.org/content/m11884/latest/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articulation_(music).
Watch for all of these effects the next time you're enjoying an expressive player's concert, and work on gaining control of the expression dials on your guitar.
As Director Emeritus and former President and Artistic Director of SBGS, I keep in close contact with the board of directors and activities of the Society. Their annual guitar festival is gaining in stature and quality, as the artists, teachers and attendees spread the word and return for more.
The teacher and performer list for this year is impressive: besides myself, we will see Ricardo Cobo, Marc Teicholz, Bill Coulter, Babak Falsafi, Guy Cantwell, Brian Moran, Mesut Ozgen, Matthew Grasso, Eric Symons, Bob Johnson, Patrick Francis and Albert Marques, all coordinated by the Board, led by President/Artistic Director Jerry Snyder and including Tom Ingalz, Jon Sharp, Suzanne Patrick, Pi Sheng Chang, Barbara Steffin, Tony Wong, Kammy Rose and Rebecca Stover.
I will adjudicate ten student performances and present a special clinic on Expressive Playing on the SJSU concert stage. Concert performers include Ricardo Cobo, Matt Grasso, Babak Falsafi and Mesut Ozgen. Cobo will give a masterclass. This is a high quality, low cost festival - many events are free. Hope to see you there - if you miss it, keep it mind for next Spring!
RAY ZHOU visits with Lily after the show. He performed João Pernambuco's Sounds of Bells, Leo Brouwer's Un Dia de Noviembre and Francisco Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
At our house, we enjoy unwinding with DVDs of old "Monk" episodes. In the words of our favorite television detective, "Here's what happened:"
Years ago I presented Iranian-American virtuoso classical guitarist Lily Afshar in concert - and her concerts were sold-out artistic marvels. Now the head of the guitar department at the University of Memphis for 18 years, she planned on being in California during Spring Break in March. In late February, she asked if there was a possiblity of playing out in Folsom. With an understanding that it would of necessity be modest, i.e. a house concert, she did just that and presented an amazing evening Saturday, March 8th. Every seat was taken - in fact I was momentarily flustered when we had more show up than had RSVP'd.
The concert got underway as 19 yeaar-old Ray Zhou powered through three tunes from his recent college auditions - an unannounced treat for the audience. His audtions at USC, SF Conservatory, CSU Northridge and CSU Fullerton have gone well, and he will soon choose from them.
Then Lily came down from the guest room and introduced her program, playing selections from her acclaimed albums “A Jug of Wine and Thou,” “Possession” and “Hemispheres.” The evening's repertoire included music from Turkey, Iran, Spain and Argentina, and included a solo on the Seh-tar,a traditional Iranian stringed folk instrument. She shared that several composers are working on new pieces for her. Always one to chart new territory, her latest recordings feature a combined total of eight world premieres. “Hemispheres” reached #7 on Billboard’s Top Classical Albums Chart in 2006. Lily introduced quarter tones on that recording, and we got to see her use “fretlets,” tiny additional frets added to her guitar to accurately reproduce the tones. A great part of Lily's Folsom concert was the last piece in her first set, Carlo Domeniconi's “Koyunbaba,”in Lily's own arrangement of this 15 minute masterpiece. I have never heard it played as well—or movingly.
Another delightful moment in the concert was the entire audience singing her "Happy Birthday"the day before her birthday. Sitting in the front row was her mother's sister, Guiti, whom she had not seen for years. Potluck desserts and drinks were enjoyed by all as she signed CDs and visited with everyone following her two encores.
The following day was her actual birthday, and we relaxed a bit after Lily provided private hour-long lessons in my studio for Ray Zhou and George England. Later, a nearby destination she wanted to see was the Folsom Prison Museum. It was an experience she was glad to do once - just once. Some Sacramento area classical guitarists were unable to attend the concert and happened to be meeting at the regular Sacramento Guitar Society meeting, so around 4pm I took her over there, where she played a Persian ballad and Bustmante's "Missionera." Among other players there was my student David Johnson, who played modern composer David Walbert's "Study for Margot"very well - and a duet with me by Carulli.
Local guitarist Michael Miller provided her with transportation to her next destination in Southern CA Monday morning. She left Folsom promising to return in a year or so - watch this site for news of that.
The world traveler adds Folsom to recent concert appearances in the U.S., England, Ireland, Canada, France, Iran, Jordan, Denmark, Italy, Africa, New Zealand, Australia and South America. She has also performed at Wigmore Hall in London, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Banff School of Fine Arts, the Menton Music Festival in the South of France and the American Academy in Rome.
LAGQ in Sacramento
The premier classical guitar quartet performed in Sacramento Wednesday March 12, hosted by the CSU Sacramento-based New Millenium series.
Celebrating their twenty-seventh year on the concert stage, the members of the GRAMMY-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet continue to set the standard for expression and virtuosity among guitar ensembles. CSUS guitar majors were treated to a masterclass with the quartet that afternoon. CSUS guitar prof. Richard Savino was away in New York.
You can listen to a live interview with William Kanengiser on Capitol Public Radio the day of the concert.
After a sold-out concert featuring music of Rossini, Bach, de Falla, Pascoal, Jobim, Powell, Villa-Lobos, Tennant, Jeffes and Rimsky-Korsakov arranged for guitar quartet, members William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant, John Dearman and Matthew Greif went out for dinner with local guitarists.
Enjoying after-concert sushi and conversation with LAGQ, clockwise: DR, Michelle Iwase, Stephanie Bailey, Gabe Becker, Jeremiah Massey, George England, Scott Tennant, John Dearman, Matthew Greif, William Kanengiser, Michael Miller. Photo by Ray Zhou.
The funny thing was how at the concert, CSUS host Andy Luchansky was under the weather and asked us to help the artists go out for food, and Bill Kanengiser wanted to be sure wherever we went was quiet. As we caravaned off toward Tapas the World, someone decided Arigato Sushi would be better, so we changed direction. Then we were called that the destination had changed to Tokyo Fro's, so we rerouted, only to find the sushi place served sushi late — but also adjoined a rediculously loud hiphop club! Nevertheless, it was great to get to know them better and encourage them to return.
From their publicity:
John Dearman is a versatile guitarist whose repertoire ranges from samba to bluegrass, and from flamenco to classical. He enriches the sound of the LAGQ by performing on a unique seven-string guitar with extended upper and lower registers. John is currently the Director of Guitar Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew Greif is the newest member of the Quartet. In addition to being a classical guitarist, he has an extensive background playing in other styles, such as jazz, rock, flamenco, and bluegrass. Matthew has taught at several colleges and universities throughout Central and Southern California. Acclaimed soloist, recording artist and professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, William Kanengiser is one of the few guitarists to have won the Concert Artists Guild New York Competition. Kanengiser may be best known as the classical guitarist in the 1986 film Crossroads. Celebrated as a world-class performer, author and teacher, Detroit-born Scott Tennant has been concertizing since the age of twelve. He has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and is now on the faculty at the USC Thornton School of Music.
Kuropaczewski is working on his artist diploma with Manuel Barrueco.
Classical guitarist and composer Philip Rosheger has good news as he recently heard from David Russell: "David is playing those same three pieces in concert again, Waltz #8 (dedicated to him), A Lullaby To Wake Up With and Waltz #7 and is planning on recording them for Telarc at the end of April. He said he was having fun playing my pieces again and that the different audiences were liking them. At the end of April he will be making two new CD's, one of all South American music and the other of all contemporary music with an emphasis on pieces written for him."
The Polish-American Club volunteers deserve great credit for organizing the concert, including press, TV and radio coverage, the riser, lighting, chairs, program production printing and distribution, ticket taking and club membership promotion. Check the link for more information.