An Interview with Larry McDonald- Part 2

Part 1Larry McDonald


You’ve released a guitar method as well. Can you tell us a bit about it? What makes your guitar method different?

The Conservatory Tutor is the first modern method published that teaches the Sor’s 4th finger approach1 (I guess there were earlier authors but Sor gets my nod). This is how music is edited today. Look at Stanley Yates fine anthologies, or the superb RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) series. Jerry Willard’s new anthologies are edited this way, too. There has been a disconnect between the methods and the anthologies. My method fixes this. I just read Stanley Yates new method. I see he uses the 4th finger approach now, too. This is great news. I’m intigued with his arpeggio approach to introduce the right hand. I used to do this but I got away from it years ago, and I don’t remember why. I haven’t tried his method yet but I’m going to soon.

One of the most interesting things about your method is it seeks to teach style and musicality in addition to pure mechanics. How did you go about introducing and describe the various styles?

Too many students, even masters candidates play with what I call an acanemic2 style. I think this because our instrument demands an exellent mechanism, and we need to devote ourselves to its creation. But I also believe we don’t spend nearly enough lesson time investigating style, and musicianship (all those things NOT on the page). The method is in full color through-out the text. I try to introduce musical style synesthetically, through the use of period paintings showing how the arts were perceived at the time of the compositional style.

Chris, you obviously know what I’m referring to. Your Brouwer interpretations (Youtube) are really well done; your use of pace, space and passion is exquisite, and refreshingly mature for such a young player.

You’re an extremely active teacher, do you have any advice for young guitar teachers?

Stay educated. Keep up with new teaching trends. Don’t become stuck in the old ways of doing things. If you are good at teaching, don’t be afraid to charge for your time. $20 a half hour at the very minimum. If you carry 25 hours of teaching a week at $40/hour, well… you can do the math.

To get your studio going, get active in your local community. Volunteer for school demonstrations, join local service clubs (important) and become the go-to-person for guitar advice. Play everything. I’ve played Christmas tree lightings, bar mitzvahs, weddings, political events, you name it. I play at local resturaunts just to meet the public. Become the local “expert”. This worked for me anyway. I never have openings anymore. I don’t keep a waiting list either. I make sure that anyone who calls me gets signed up with a collegue if I can’t take them on.

Ssshhh…. I also play bass in several Rock bands.

Any favorite tips or tricks you use with students?

Roll reversal. Every once in a while, I let them teach me. It surprising what we both learn.

Any future plans on the pedagogy front? More methods? Videos?

Mel Bay is publishing a work book of mine called “Introduction to Harmony for Guitar with TAB”. It should be out in a month or so. It teaches scales, modes, intervals, and chord costruction.

There is a childrens tutor in the works, as well as a new kind of position studies book.

The Conservatory Tutor for Guitar has an Instructors Edition in a 10 inch pile next to my desk. It’s mostly done but completely disorganized. The Conservatory Tutor is going into its third printing this week.

I’ve never asked anyone about this on here before, but do you have any advice on nail shaping and care? What do you do personally?

I have those terrible hooked nails. So I have to ramp, which makes my attack fuzzy once in a while. I have to really concentrate to keep my tone focused. As far as advice, I only have the standard line, keep experimenting until you have the tone that you hear in your head.

What are some of your best tips on practicing and/or performing?

When I was younger, I played for all the wrong reasons, to please my father, to make money, to get chicks. None of this will work in the long run. You need to play for yourself. You need to love what you play, and keep it fresh. Otherwise, you are going to loose interest.

It’s a little like being a good lover. Being a good lover is not making love to 30 women a year, but loving the same woman for 30 years, keeping it fresh. The same is true with your music. Can I still find the passion in HVL Prelude #1 after 33 years. Oh, yeeaah, -I think I need a cigarette! :-)-~

I practice in the dark, or with my eyes closed. That way, when I’m on stage I can close my eyes and get back to that place where my “Inner Mastro” lives. I played an 80 minute recital last week with my eyes closed. At times I forgot the audience was there.

1More on the fourth finger approach.

2 Acanemic, -coined by L.McDonald
“Academic” merged with “anemic”, defn., “scholarship without passion, learning without life”

Posted on in Interviews with Classical Guitarists


  • jj

    Don’t let Larry McDonald’s words fool you, when he talks about “acanemic style”. He himself plays like a metronome. So do you. So did Brouwer in his recordings (his Scarlatti is disgusting, even by modern sterile standards – no wonder he did not have it remastered!). So does Yates. So does Li Jie. So does Xuefei Yang. So does Carlo Marchione, Pavel Steidl – even if to a lesser degree. etc. etc.

    Because: music is not about finding style, within a framework of fixed sheetmusic.

    Rather, it’s about finding expression, and letting everything else (metronome, pulse, score, academic sterility) be of lesser importance.

  • Lare

    If you have listened to the .mp3’s from the Conservatory Tutor on my site, you would be correct that I play like a metronome. In fact, I WAS playing with a metronome in the recording studio. I did this so the new student can play along and learn to anticipate the next beat. Believe me, recording without a metronome is a lot easier.

    Playing like a metronome is criticism I have never heard before. In fact, I have heard that I can approach the “poor taste” cliff-edge because my interpretations are too personal. (I mostly hear this from academics, bye the way). I’m very curious, when and where did you hear me play when you came to this conclusion?

    All the best,
    Larry McDonald