Things I Learned in the First Year of Grad School

  1. I never really understood exactly what “guitar virtuoso” meant. Now I know. And it’s scary. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to that level, and it’s a good thing I have my entire life to do it.
  2. Analysis is about more than labeling chords and drawing nice diagrams. It’s about trying to make sense of a piece–trying to figure out what really holds it together and what the important parts are.
  3. Having text to refer to helps a lot when analyzing a piece. That’s why songs are much easier than an instrumental piece.
  4. Phrasing is a word that gets thrown around a lot in music. “That was really well phrased,” they say. I never really got that until recently. It started happening in undergrad when I started becoming more aware of aspects of grouping notes, but I was never really able to say what phrasing meant. Shaping a phrase is different from grouping notes. It’s about giving it an arch, and making the idea sound complete at the end of a phrase. There’s many ways to do that, but I’m certain I just plowed through things before without paying any attention to phrasing.
  5. Sometimes just thinking about a note group is enough to make the group become apparent in your playing.
  6. Recording scares the crap out of me.
  7. I love performing. I love getting up on the stage and seeing if everything I practiced works out.
  8. There’s an insane amount to think about with regards to developing a beginning student’s technique. The shear amount of stuff we covered in guitar pedagogy last semester is amazing.
  9. Practice logs/journals help out a lot. It’s too bad I’m terrible at keeping one.
  10. Performing for a room full of guitarists is much more intense than any other performance situation.
  11. Notching up a metronome one or two clicks at a time is not a good way to get fast at anything.
  12. Compound strokes and using sympathetic motion is invaluable in guitar technique. It makes things so much easier.
  13. I need to always try to make things a simple as possible, especially with fingerings
  14. The fingerings and motions that work for playing a piece at half tempo might not work at concert tempo.
  15. Playing at tempo, in small segments, is more effective than going slower and playing bigger things.

All in all it’s been a good year. And I’ve enjoyed myself quite a bit. When I choose my school, I wasn’t sure I was making the right choice. Judging by the improvements I’ve made in such a short time, I’d say that I did make a great choice. I wish I had videos of my playing for a few years ago.

Posted on in Updates & Activities


  • Jason Shadrick


    Great post. I remember my time in grad school quite fondly. Reading this post makes me want to revisit that time. Lots of practice, playing and learning.

    Great stuff.


    • Chris

      Listening to the Fantasia now, and it’s fantastic. Clean, perfect balance.

      It’s kind of sad, I suppose, but that’s the exact reason I created this blog. I hope that these great, unknown guitarists stumble upon it (or I find them!) and want to do an interview. Even in the classical guitar world, there’s this “mainstream” area that’s very hard to break into without winning the GFA or some other competition. But often times the greatest guitarists are those who are more interested in making music and less interested in getting other guitarists to say, “Yeah, you’re pretty good at guitar.”

      Thanks a lot of the links, I really appreciate it.


    • Chris

      Just listened to the Stephan Schmidt recording as well. Really fantastic stuff. I just looked him up and sent an email requesting an interview.

  • earthling2

    Well Chris, I’m glad you like it.

    (pssssst: Zoran Dukić ‘ s got a recording out on Naxos.)

    (I shouldn’t have mentioned the word Naxos, ’cause Dukić’s recording is like a needle in the Naxos-haystack…)

  • earthling2

    Oh Chris…

    Interviews are good, but you should really get to know the guys before requesting interviews.

    Schmidt’s recorded all of Ohana (well almost: I think he didn’t record Estelas – he probably didn’t even know about it… hehe).

    And in his current programs (or is it old again?) he’s mixing Ferneyhough and Dowland.

    etc. etc. etc.

    • Chris

      I agree, it’s very hard to really ask relevant questions if you don’t know a lot about the person’s work or background. I try to work with interviewees in developing good questions that help promote their strengths and let readers get to know them.

      I got your other message, earthling, and I agree. The sound quality is not good. The Bach pieces are okay, but the Piazzolla is so stiff and strange. You can really tell that he takes care to shape every note the exact way he wants, though. I did find a video with a recording from Schmidt’s Bach CD, though. And I will need to purchase that album.