When I was but a young, freshmen guitarist doing my undergrad work, I had the opportunity to play in a masterclass for the Assads. Naturally, I was terrified – I just started classical a few months ago. While my own playing went…mediocre at best, I learned a lot from listening to other play and hearing the Assad’s advice. I had the privilege of working Odair.
One thing he said stuck with me. It was to play the lines of music separately. Generally speaking, in tonal music the two most important voices are the melody and the bass. Many times the melody is the top note in guitar music, but not always. Arpeggio textures are a bit more involved as the melody can be almost wherever. With “modern” music there’s no real syntax, so the melody can be anywhere! For instance, in Brouwer Etude No. 1 the melody is in the lowest register.
But back to Odair. The student in question was performing Segovia/Sor Etude No. 6. After he finished, Odair asked him to play on the melody. Then only the bass. Then the student put it back together, and it sounded like a different piece!
Most of us did not start on classical guitar–I certainly didn’t. So we get very used to hearing these vertical chord sounds. When playing classical/art music it easy to get caught up in the vertical sound and we forget all the horizontal lines! My own teacher busts me on this all the time.
- Identify the melody in a given piece
- Play that voice alone
- Sing/hum the melody
- Playing only the melody, try to get it sounding as musical as possible, practice it that way more than a few times
- Stick the voice back into the context of the piece (play everything again). Listen carefully for the voice (humming/singing it works well to bring it out) and try to get it to sound exactly as it did when it was played on its own. This step is harder than it seems!
This is a really handy practice technique, and can be done with any voice in a piece. Sometimes those inner voices have some great stuff waiting to be revealed!
How do you make pieces more musical?