Hello readers. My name is Nick Cutroneo. Chris generously asked if I’d like to share some of my ideas/articles and take part on his Classical Guitar Blog. Before I start posting, I figured it would be a smart idea to introduce myself.
I’m currently finishing up my final year at the Hartt School of Music pursuing my Masters Degree in Classical Guitar Performance and Suzuki Pedagogy. I’m currently teaching full time at UConn’s Community School of the Arts teaching both traditional and Suzuki classical guitar. I’m also an avid performer based in the Greater Hartford, Connecticut area and perform throughout New England, New York and New Jersey.
As a teacher, one of the biggest things that I see from students is the inconsistencies of inspiration. This can be in the form of attitudes during lessons, progress from one week to the next, how the student expresses themselves musically, and a variety of other subtle hints to the teacher. As a performer/professional musician the things that I see in myself is avoidance of practicing, when I do practice not being able to focus on a single task at hand, a general negative attitude towards what I’m working on, and other things.
As a teacher, how do we help keep the students inspired to continue to make music? As a performer how do you get yourself out of slumps, points in your practicing life where things just seem to be going no where? Well to both the teacher working with students and the performer (or even the uninspired student) there are a few simple things help take you out of your rut of playing.
- Attend Concerts – Seems simple enough. However, its very interesting how hard it is for teachers of amateur players to get their students to seek out concerts. The main thing is the fact that they may not know where to look. As a teacher I’m constantly telling my students of potential concert opportunities. While the initial feeling for most students is that they’ll never play like the performers, if coached appropriately they can turn those thoughts into productive ones that help re-enthuse their practicing and own playing. For the performer, sometimes it serves as a simple reminder of why we do certain things. Seeing a top notch performance may remind you about certain technical things to consider, or how moving a certain piece can be. In the end, its about communicating with your audience, and watching someone effectively do that can be a true inspiration.
- Watch or take part in Master Classes – It’s most obviously that one can get a lot out of playing for someone in a master class. I think one can get even more out of sitting in on one. Most college guitar departments will bring in performers to not only do concerts, but in conjunction with their local Guitar Society, bring in someone to conduct a master class. This is a great opportunity to watch someone teach, and even see their perspective on certain musical or technical issues. I think that having a conversation with your teacher (if you have one) can help you use the information learned in the most constructive way possible. For a teacher or performer, these master classes can serve to help your own teaching by giving you some new ideas of teaching concepts. Hearing the same thing in a new perspective always gets the mind working, and I know for myself I always get more information watching then taking part in a master class.
- Be part of a larger ensemble – Playing in a group be it a guitar duo, or even a guitar orchestra will expand one’s musical and technical playing. Taking an example from back when I was in a rock band, I always wanted to surround myself with musicians who in certain aspects where better than me. This allowed me to push myself further in my own playing. The same can be applied to classical guitar. Usually a Guitar Society has a small ensemble that is directed by one of the local teachers in the area. This is a chance to play with other people and create music together. For the teacher, if you have enough students to do so (who are willing), create an ensemble for them.
- Seek out performances or other opportunities to share your playing – While most amateurs hate this idea, it can become a very useful and rewarding tool. For myself, nothing inspires me more then an upcoming performance. This is probably one of the main reasons why I perform at times, aside from having the opportunity to share my own ideas of a piece with an audience. Performances, when approached with the right mind frame don’t have to be nerve racking ordeals that are difficult to get through. Rather they can be a way to show friends and family (and sometimes even strangers) what you’ve been working on. Sure there are going to be performance issues, but these are normal and can be worked through with your teacher. The more your perform, the easier it becomes. There are natural performers, and ones who have to work at it. I’m remind of Manuel Barrueco on his “A Gift and a Life” DVD. They show him getting ready for a concert, and you can tell when he’s about to walk on stage, he TOO gets nervous. It happens to everyone.
- Listen to recordings – When concerts are hard to get to, recordings can be very inspiration, especially your favorite ones. Often times I’ll make iTunes playlists of upcoming concert programs for myself with either my own recordings (if I have them) or of my favorite recordings of a piece, and I’ll listen to it regularly. Hearing someone who you admire on the instrument play your piece can be very powerful and influential.
- Attend Classical Guitar or Music Festivals – At music festivals, you get alot of these thigns that I’ve listened. There are concerts and master classes. Sometimes even lectures and guest speakers. At some Guitar Festivals you’ll even find that there is an ensemble componant. While its costly, you can leave a concert feeling re-inspired and ready to get back to practicing again.
- Become a member of a Classical Guitar Society – To me this is the biggest bang for your buck. May Guitar Societies will have most if not all the points that I’ve talked about somehow worked into their concert season. Many have monthly gatherings of society members, where they can sit around and play for each other in a friendly enviornment. They’ll bring in a variety of different artists for concerts (from world-class performers to up and coming local talents). As I stated earlier they often provide master classes and an ensemble for members to take part of. Some even put together annual Guitar Festivals for their members.
I think it would be safe to say that everyone suffers from having a rough point in their playing every now and then. The thing is to not feed into it, but to stay active in the guitar community somehow. At the same time, if you aren’t inspired, the worst thing that you can do is to not touch or practice the guitar. You might not put in as much time, you might restructure your practicing, but stopping all together won’t bring back the inspiration you require. Maybe having a day that you allow yourself to unwind throughout the practice week, but nothing more. This just the beginning, but a very good starting point.