Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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HOW TO LEARN A PIECE (SONG)
ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR, Part 1

Douglas Niedt, guitarist

"Douglas who?"

Douglas Niedt is a successful concert and recording artist and highly respected master classical guitar teacher with 50 years of teaching experience. He is Associate Professor of Music (retired), at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City and a Fellow of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management—Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Doug studied with such diverse masters as Andrés Segovia, Pepe Romero, Christopher Parkening, Narciso Yepes, Oscar Ghiglia, and Jorge Morel. Therefore, Doug provides solutions for you from a variety of perspectives and schools of thought.

He gives accurate, reliable advice that has been tested in performance on the concert stage that will work for you at home.

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HOW TO LEARN A PIECE (SONG)
ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR, Part 1

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved.
This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.


*Estimated minimum time to read this article, watch the videos, and understand the musical examples: 45-75 minutes.

NOTE: You can click the navigation links on the left (not visible on phones) to review specific topics or videos.


In music pedagogy, teachers have many approaches for learning a new piece: learning plans, learning maps, sequences of procedures, route maps, and methodologies. Many contradict each other.

I will explain several strategies, some traditional and others based on the latest neuroscience research on learning. I cannot say which methods will work for you, but all are certainly worth trying. Please keep an open mind and try them out for a few months before making a judgment.

We have many tools to learn a piece, and I will explain how and when to use them. We can use them to learn any song, whether easy or difficult. If you use the tools correctly, you will find yourself practicing with skill, efficiency, and effectiveness. You will notice significant progress. Success will make your practice satisfying and enjoyable.


LAYING THE GROUNDWORK: Four Steps

You will complete these four initial steps without the guitar in hand:

  1. Set up your practice space.
  2. Locate and evaluate several editions of the piece you want to learn.
  3. Listen to dozens of recordings and watch dozens of videos to hear the big picture.
  4. Study and analyze your score(s).

STEP #1: SET UP YOUR PRACTICE SPACE

Learning a piece of music is a brain-intensive activity. Therefore, you must be alert and focused. A small thing that will smooth the way and eliminate distractions is to have the proper items immediately available in the area where you practice:

  1. Use a good chair. It is hard to stay focused, and your stamina will suffer if your back hurts because of a lousy chair.
  2. Always use a footstool or other guitar support. If you want results, sit properly.
  3. Always use a music stand. Having your music on a table in front of you is a great way to cause neck and lower back problems. Use a music stand so that you always sit in an optimal position. A music stand light is a helpful accessory.
  4. Keep your music on your music stand. You cannot learn a song in the early stages without the music! If you have a sophisticated system for using an iPad or tablet where you can make annotations directly on the screen, fine (see #5). Otherwise, it is best to use real music printed on paper. If your music isn't in front of you, you aren't practicing right!
  5. Keep pencils, colored markers, and paper or a notebook within close reach. You will constantly be putting notations in your music. If you are not marking up your music every day, you are not practicing correctly.
  6. Keep your metronome and tuner immediately available at all times. Research shows that using a metronome properly at the right time tremendously increases your efficiency and productivity.
  7. Keep a clock and timer within reach. Research demonstrates that one should limit the length of practice of any one element. Using a timer is an easy way to keep out of loops of mindless repetition, not waste time, and maximize efficiency.
  8. Keep an audio recorder or video camera set up and ready to use. Whether you like it or not, technology has arrived in the practice room. Recording/videoing yourself is a fantastic tool to assess your practice, eliminate mistakes and memory lapses, and prepare for a performance.
  9. Have a guitar stand set up so that when you take a break, you can put your guitar on the stand and then quickly retrieve it to start practicing again. Putting it in and taking it out of the case over and over is not convenient. If you want to spoil your guitar, check out these gorgeous stands by Natural Collection Stands. They may cost more than your guitar, but hey, you only live once.
Walnut guitar stand Walnut guitar stand
  1. Be sure the practice space is well lit. You do not want glare from the sun or lights to affect your view of your hands or the music. Use a music stand light if you are straining to see the music.
  2. In the warmer months, use a sleeve on your right forearm so that your bare arm doesn't stick to the guitar or mar the finish. An old sock cut off on one end works great.
  3. You need a quiet, private space with no distractions. Your productivity will plummet if your significant other comes in every 30 minutes, reminding you to mow the lawn, unload the dishes, get this or that at the grocery, etc. Or, explain to your brothers or sisters that they have to keep out and leave you alone. And, you do not want your dog wandering in to tell you it is time to go out for a walk to chase squirrels. And yes, you love them, but you do not need the kids or grandkids to barge in to see what you are doing, ask for money, borrow the car, etc. Set limits, lock the door, and turn off your phone. Make this your space and your time.
  4. Keep fresh strings on your guitar. Old strings play out of tune, sound bad, are harder to press down, and limit your guitar's dynamic range. In addition, you cannot work on some elements of interpretation (tone color, dynamics, vibrato) with old strings. Skip a day of practice if you must and change your strings.
  5. Shape/polish your nails and wash your hands before you practice. Unpolished nails sound nasty and rough up/wear out the treble strings. Also, if your nails are the wrong shape or length, it will throw off your right-hand execution and even the synchronization between the hands. Dirty hands wear out the strings and can mar the finish of your guitar. If your nails are in bad shape, use artificial nails.

STEP #2: CHOOSE A RELIABLE EDITION OF THE PIECE YOU WANT TO LEARN

Have your teacher recommend a good edition or version of the piece you want to learn. Do not grab the first thing that shows up on an internet search. There are horrible editions of virtually any piece you want to learn. Many have wrong notes, terrible fingering, poor engraving, incorrectly-beamed notes, stems pointing the wrong direction, incorrect time signatures, misaligned notes, misaligned fingering and bar notations, bad layout, and on and on. Here is a frightening example of what you might find. I didn't make this up! This page is from the fast section of Prélude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Example #1:

Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos bad edition

Even in editions that don't have glaring errors and omissions, you will often find that editors notate the music very differently. Here are examples from eight editions of Lágrima by Francisco Tárrega. Notice the differences in the notation of the voices and note values. Example #2:

Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega measures 1 and 2 from multiple editions Part A Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega measures 1 and 2 from multiple editions Part B

In the Etude No. 1 and Lágrima examples above, you can see how misleading shoddy editions can be. They can lead you astray before you even get started.

If you do not have a teacher to recommend an edition, try using an edition from a traditional publisher (Hal Leonard, Alfred, Mel Bay, Chanterelle), a reliable classical guitar website, or an edition by a prominent teacher or performing guitarist. Stay away from tab-only versions.

Fingering

Even many otherwise reliable editions have poor fingerings. Fingerings can make or break a piece. Bad fingering will crack the foundation of learning with nearly fatal consequences to the music and the player's control of it. A disadvantageous choice of fingering causes inefficiency and outright failure in speed, power, and control. Inferior fingering can profoundly affect stage poise, technical mastery, speed of learning, and general security and confidence on the guitar. Read these articles for basic information on choosing good left-hand and right-hand (Parts I, II, and III) fingerings.

Some teachers recommend purchasing an edition with no fingerings so that the student can write in every fingering possible. This approach may work for an advanced player, but a beginning or intermediate player will not have the experience or knowledge to find all the possible fingerings.

Another approach I recommend is to purchase several editions of the piece and select the best fingerings among them. And, I must admit that occasionally I come across a fantastic fingering in a terrible edition by a clueless guitarist that works better than one by Segovia, Williams, Parkening, or one that I devised!

Here are several versions of fingerings of the first two measures from Lágrima by Francisco Tárrega. Example #3:

Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega measures 1 and 2 from multiple editions fingerings Part A Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega measures 1 and 2 from multiple editions Part B

You can see the value of examining many editions of a piece to get ideas for the best fingerings to use. You don't blindly want to accept whatever fingerings one editor recommends. Their hands and guitar are probably different from yours. It is vital to choose fingerings that are best for you and bring out the best in the music.

I also watch numerous videos (sometimes 40-50 of a frequently performed piece) of various guitarists to discover new fingerings. If the camera stays focused on the guitarist's hands, it isn't too hard to "steal" fingerings off a video. I do the same with audio recordings. However, "stealing" fingerings off an audio recording is a more complex process. But if you have a keen ear, you can hear what string a note is on, where the shifts are, which notes get cut short or ring, where the slurs are, etc. Then, with a bit of deductive reasoning, you can be very successful at determining the fingering.

Whether video or audio, make your life easier by using a computer app to slow down the music and video without changing the pitch. My favorite is "Transcribe!" developed by guitarist Andy Robinson. It is inexpensive (a one-time purchase with forever free updates, no subscription) and full of features. Watch me demonstrate its features and how to use it in Video #1.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #1: Transcribe! Demo of how to figure out unpublished music and fingerings

ALWAYS WRITE THE FINGERINGS IN THE MUSIC. Write in the fingerings (and any alternative second and third choice fingerings), bars, and string numbers neatly and close to the notes they concern. Write them in pencil because you may need to change them later. If you do not write them in, I guarantee you will forget some of them. Unfortunately, you will usually forget the most critical or complex fingerings. As you are learning a piece, you might spend an hour fingering one difficult spot. If you do not write in the fingering and then forget it two days later, you will have to spend another twenty minutes to an hour reconstructing it. Believe me, I know from hard-learned experience; that is a bummer! WRITE YOUR FINGERINGS IN THE MUSIC.


STEP #3: HEAR THE BIG PICTURE

Get a feel for the big picture before starting to practice. Before you jump in and start learning your new song, it's essential to understand how the piece works as a whole.

Should you sight-read through a new piece?

Some teachers recommend sight-reading through the entire composition several times to get an overview. Hear the big picture. Other teachers say maybe it's okay to play it once, but not more than that. Why? Because a second or third read-through could form bad habits that will prevent the player from ever producing a finished, polished performance.

On the other hand, when the renowned piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz learned a new piece, he wouldn't only sight-read the new composition. Instead, he would make it a point to read through dozens of that composer's piano works to become acquainted with the composer's musical language and style.

Listen to the Piece. A Lot!

Unless your sight-reading is very strong, I believe it is best not to risk ingraining mistakes. Instead of stumbling through the piece, I think you will get a better overview of how the music sounds by following the score as you listen multiple times to several professional players performing the piece.

Listening to the piece over and over will internalize the music into your body and brain. Japanese violinist and famed pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki realized the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others. He applied language acquisition principles to music learning and called his method the "mother-tongue approach."

Here is a striking example of this principle. Watch this three-year-old "conduct" the fourth movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Notice how sensitive he is to changes in the textures, tempos, rhythms, and melodies. And it is all from memory with no coaching or cues.

Watch Video #2.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #2: Three-year-old Jonathan conducting to the 4th movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony

As in language acquisition, listening to the piece you want to learn makes the learning process faster, natural, and more efficient.

Listen to lots of different recordings and follow along with your score. Listening with the score helps you get a clear "sound image" in your brain, making the notes on the page come to life. Strengthening the sound image by repeated listening forms a deep connection between the sounds in your head, where the notes are on the fretboard, and what they look like on the printed page. That connection will speed up the learning process. The notes are no longer an abstract entity on the page. The sound image will also make it easier for you to self-correct errors in reading because you will already know in detail how the piece should sound.

Philip Johnston, the author of The Practice Revolution, writes that recordings provide an alternative reference source when the reading challenge becomes too steep. The easiest way to make the most confusing written passage comprehensible, is to hear what you are looking at on the page. For example, when you come across a complex syncopated rhythm that may seem undecipherable on the printed page, listening to a recording tells you the correct way it should sound. Then, you can internalize what it sounds like and make the connection with the printed page in reverse. "Aha! So the rhythm that goes dum-dah-ah-da dum-dah-ah-da looks like that." Now you can more easily analyze and count it out, and the next time you see that rhythm, you will understand how it sounds.

In some cases, when trying to master a difficult passage, playing along with the professional can help untangle a problem. They may perform it blindingly fast, but if you slow down the passage with the "Transcribe!" software, you will be able to keep up with and learn from the master.

Some teachers say that listening to recordings tends to atrophy rather than nourish the imagination. But keep in mind that the goal is never to parrot back someone else's performance. On the contrary, when you hear multiple interpretations of the piece, you realize that everyone plays it differently. That realization sets your imagination free to help you make artistically informed decisions about tempo, dynamics, tone colors, phrasing, and much more so that you can find your own voice and play the piece your way. Also, if you ultimately want to play the music with passion and conviction, it helps to listen to someone playing the piece with passion and conviction.

Watch these three performances of Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #3: Xingye Li plays Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa Lobos on a 2014 Roy Fankhänel guitar

Video #4: Tal Hurwitz plays Etude No. 1 Heitor Villa-Lobos on a 1981 Dominique Field

Video #5: Sanel Redžić plays Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos on a 1986 Kevin Aram

Do you hear how different they are? Did you notice that Tal Hurwitz does not play each measure twice as the other players do? Why? If you examined different editions of the piece as you are supposed to do, you would discover that Villa-Lobos did not include any repeats in his original handwritten copy. Did Villa-Lobos decide to add them later, or was that decision made by an editor at the publishing company? We don't know for sure. The point is that listening to many players and examining many editions opens up possibilities for you to approach the piece in your way.

You also might pick up some nifty fingerings you can use. For example, in the videos above, did you notice the flashy and very difficult passage from measures 24-25? Here it is, highlighted in yellow. Example #4:

Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos difficult measures 24-25 highlighted in yellow

Now, watch all three guitarists play the passage with different left-hand fingerings. The first guitarist, Xingye Li, uses a traditional fingering. Next, Tal Hurwitz uses a different fingering but still playing slurs on the descent. But Sanel Redžić takes a very original and entirely different approach with no slurs. It may not be what Villa-Lobos intended, but I admire the creativity and virtuosity.

Watch all three guitarists play the daunting passage from measures 24-25 in Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Watch Video #6.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the right:

Video #6: Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Measures 24-25. All three guitarists Li, Hurwitz, and Redzic

Using the "Transcribe!" software I mentioned above, I figured out the fingerings. Here are the fingerings each guitarist uses. Example #5:

Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos difficult measures 24-25 fingerings of all three guitarists

By watching these three guitarists play the Etude No. 1, we now have a choice of three excellent fingerings we can try out. But if we viewed more videos, we would discover even more fingerings such as these! Example #6:

Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos difficult measures 24-25 more alternative fingerings

Be sure you continue listening to recordings and studying the score throughout the learning process. Frequent listening will remind you of essential details, how each passage should sound, and the big picture. And sometimes, when you are knee-deep in bar chords, polyrhythms, and who knows what else, you can get discouraged, and the excitement of learning the piece can get lost. Listening again to the piece and hearing the promise of the beauty of the finished music will reinspire and energize you.

It will also allow you to compare what you are playing to what you hear and see in the professional examples. Often, as your familiarity with the piece increases, you realize that the professional performances are not uniformly good. You also might find you prefer your playing to that of some of the pros!

The Opposing Viewpoint: Do not listen to recordings of the song you are learning

Steinway Artist, pianist, and educator Frank Huang writes:

I realize that this tip might stir controversy with my colleagues, but I strongly believe in this one. Let me explain. In the initial stage, when your music teacher assigns you a new work, you might listen to some recordings before you start learning the piece to get yourself familiar with it. I am okay with this, sort of.

However, I object to the notion of listening to recordings of the piece during the learning process. My reasoning is that this phase is supposed to be one of discovery and growth. What fingerings should I use in this tricky passage? What does this composer mean by this expression marking? How should I pace the melody here, and how many liberties can I take? To me, all of these types of questions are part of the exciting and creative journey.

When listening to recordings too early in this stage, one forms "prejudices" by trying to copy or emulate specific favorite recordings. The creative process suddenly disappears. One mentor reminded me a long time ago: "copied art holds far less value than its original." Only after we thoroughly sort out all of these fundamental issues can and should we listen to a wide range in styles and interpretations of the same work as a mode of comparison.

In today's age, I believe that we, myself included, have been conditioned to be incredibly goal-oriented so that we feel rushed to complete a task as quickly and efficiently as possible. I contend that the process of learning a new piece of music takes time, discipline, and patience.

Another Idea

If you agree with maestro Huang, another approach would be to apply the Horowitz sight-reading approach to video and audio. For example, if your new piece is by Fernando Sor, listen to or watch dozens of performances of Sor's other guitar works, not the new piece itself. Or perhaps you are learning a piece by a composer such as Villa-Lobos, who wrote works for the guitar but also for other instruments. In that case, listen to all his guitar compositions plus those he wrote for other instruments.

STEP #4: STUDY AND ANALYZE THE SCORE WITHOUT YOUR GUITAR

Another part of getting an overview of the composition is studying and analyzing the score to understand the piece's structure and all the markings on the page. If you have several editions of the piece, be sure to analyze every edition.

There are three approaches you can use for your analysis. You can use Choice C in addition to or instead of A and B.

  1. Read (don't play, only read) through the score slowly and carefully, observing every detail listed below measure by measure.
  2. Or, read (don't play) through the score but focus on one item at a time. Find all instances of item #1 on the first go-round. Then read through the score again and find all the instances of the next item. Repeat until you have found all the items.
  3. Listen to a professional perform the piece and write down everything worth noting, including the items below.

Here is the checklist. As you find the items, be sure to make markings and notes in your music. Before you begin, make a few copies of the score to have clean copies for use in the next stages of learning.

STUDY AND ANALYSIS CHECKLIST

  1. Look at the title and subtitle of the piece. Understand the meaning of the title and its correct spelling. The title will often tell you important things about the music.

    For example, If it is a fugue, what is a fugue? If it is a Sonata in D Opus 6 No. 8, what does that mean? If you are playing a Courante, what is that? If the spelling is "Courante," it might mean that you should perform it in the French style. But if the spelling is "Corrente," it might indicate that you should play it in the Italian style.
  2. Look at the name of the composer. How do you spell their name? It will be helpful to your understanding of the piece if you learn some basic information about the composer. At the very least, look up the composer on Wikipedia.
  3. If it is a transcription (arrangement), who transcribed it, and who are they? If there is any doubt about the abilities or credentials of the transcriber, it may be a good idea to search for transcriptions by other individuals. At the very least, the advanced student should track down the score for the original instrument to evaluate the quality of the transcription. Then, the guitarist can make changes or even write their own transcription if necessary.
  4. Find out as much background information about the piece as possible. Sometimes this information will provide valuable clues on how to play the music (tempo, type or style of dynamics, rhythms, tone, and much more).
  5. Look for any dates on the page. These could be the birth/death dates of the composer or arranger, date of the composition, copyright date, or publication date. The dates will provide historical context for the piece, helping you form your interpretation. The copyright/publication dates could have a bearing on the authenticity or accuracy of the edition.
  6. Metronome marking. If the score specifies a metronome speed, that could be a learning goal. However, keep in mind that the metronome marking might only be the opinion of the editor of the edition. It might not be reliable even if the composer provided it. You will need to do some research on the matter.
  7. Write in measure numbers if they are not already there. Write in a number at the beginning of each line. You can add more later if needed. By the way, do not number incomplete upbeat measures at the beginning of the piece nor incomplete parts of a measure after a repeat. Number separate movements separately.

    Measure numbers are a must-have if you are comparing more than one edition of the piece. If it's a transcription, in order to study the original score and compare various editions, you must have measure numbers written in all the scores. If you take lessons online, communication with your teacher is much easier if you can reference measure numbers.
  8. Observe the time signature and changes of the time signature. When the time signature changes, it is usually the beginning of a new section.
  9. Look at the tempo markings and changes of tempo. Tempo changes often indicate a new section in the music. These will also be important as you form your interpretation.
  10. Structural Cues
    1. Double bars usually mark the beginning or end of a section.
    2. Repeat signs mark the beginning or end of a section.
    3. Repeated passages are opportunities to change the dynamics or tone color. They also may indicate the beginning or end of a section or phrase.
    4. Repeated melodies may be opportunities to change the tone color or dynamics. They may also offer clues as to the form of the piece. For example, are there multiple verses with the same melody? If the melody repeats, is it the same, or are there small changes?
    5. Repeated rhythmic patterns may be significant unifying elements in the composition. Therefore, the player may need to practice them separately to ensure precision.
    6. Fermatas usually indicate a significant point in a phrase or section.
    7. Look for articulation marks such as staccato, legato, tenuto, and marcato.
    8. Look for texture changes such as going from block chords to arpeggios, changes from slow notes to fast notes, low notes to high notes, or anything else that stands out. Such changes may delineate a new section of the piece.
    9. Does the opening material of the piece come back at the end of the piece?
  11. Analyze the form of the piece. "Form" is repetition and contrast. Form is a part of all traditional Western music. Use the structural cues above to help you find the large sections, smaller sections, and phrases of the composition.

    Recognize where phrases and sections begin, end, or return. Listen for contrasting phrases and sections. Familiarizing yourself with the structure of the song makes practicing and learning it much more efficient. Knowing where the sections are will help you establish goals for practicing and help you map out a plan for learning the piece.

    As you mold your interpretation of the music, you can change the character of contrasting sections and retain the original character in returning sections if you know the form of the music. Also, knowing the structure is essential for good memorization of the piece.

    You do not have to know the academic or technical names of the musical structures. But at least determine the location of the beginning and end of each section and phrase.
  12. Dynamic markings will help develop your interpretation. However, make a distinction between those markings provided by the composer and those inserted as an editor's opinion. If the dynamics are an editor's addition, they are certainly open to question. If the composer provides them, they are something to which you should pay attention. Dynamics also may provide clues to help determine the structure of the piece.
  13. As I already pointed out, left and right-hand fingerings are critical to how the music will eventually sound. Also, pay attention to string numbers and bar notation. As you proceed, you will study the editor's fingerings for both hands, but you will probably change or discard many of them as you learn the piece. If the fingerings are those of the composer who is also a guitarist (such as Sor, Giuliani, Dyens, Tárrega, Lauro, Barrios, Brouwer, York, Koshkin, etc.), they will carry more weight.
  14. Find the voices in the music. Which notes comprise the melody, accompaniment, and bass? Is the melody in the upper voice, lower voice, or buried somewhere in the middle? You will need to know which notes belong to what part to help you determine the left and right-hand fingerings that will work best technically and sound best musically.

    If you are learning a piece from the Renaissance or Baroque periods, you may need to decipher the counterpoint. For example, if you are learning a Bach fugue, you should trace each voice through the entire piece (use colored pens or markers). You should know which voice every note belongs to. If you don't, it is impossible to finger the piece correctly. As you learn the piece, play through each voice on the guitar. Finally, learn to sing each voice from beginning to end with the score.
  15. Find the themes. Look for the primary (sometimes there will be a secondary) theme or melody, its entrances, and exits. Also, look for variations on the theme or melody. If it is an arrangement of a popular song, find the intro, verses, choruses, and outro.
  16. Composer's/editor's instructions. Sometimes the composer or arranger will provide notes or instructions directly in the music. Other times the instructions will appear in a preface or addendum. When you download an edition online, be sure to print out all the pages, or you may miss this.
  17. Lookup any foreign words you do not understand. Then, write their translation in the score. Every instruction the composer or editor provides could be an important clue to how to play the piece. Know the meaning of every word on the page.
  18. If the piece originally had lyrics, find out what they were and be sure you understand their meaning and relevance to the music. These will be important as you develop your interpretation. The lyrics will determine the overall mood and might determine basic performance elements such as phrasing and articulation.
  19. Look for both ornament symbols and written-out ornaments. If the composer or arranger does not explain their execution, you may have to research how to play them.
  20. Are there any special measures or sections that seem different from the rest of the piece that stand out? These could be problem areas that will need extra analysis and practice.
  21. Look for difficult sections or measures. They will often contain fast notes, complex rhythms, lots of accidentals, or many bar chords. Complex measures will need special attention. Mark them in the music.


Here is an example of a preliminary score study and analysis I did of Adelita by Francisco Tárrega. Example #7:

Preliminary analysis of Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega

I took note of everything for this example, which is why the page is crowded with notations. Usually, I would not have circled every accent, crescendo, decrescendo, tempo indication, and ornament. They are pretty obvious. But if you do a thorough job, the page will still look pretty busy. For that reason, again, make extra copies to have a clean score for the next stages of learning where you will write in fingerings, your own dynamics, articulations, notes you want to play rest stroke, tempo changes, etc.

If you find several editions of your piece, you will also want to compare the scores. Look for discrepancies in the notes, dynamics, articulations, tempo indications, EVERYTHING! It is a lot of work, but knowing you have choices and alternatives will prove invaluable as you begin playing your way through the piece.

Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time studying and analyzing the score. On a short piece, it may only take a few hours. However, on extended compositions, it can take weeks. Also, your score study is not a one-time event. It will continue throughout the learning process.

We are done! We have laid our groundwork.

  1. We set up our practice space.
  2. We listened to dozens of recordings and watched dozens of videos to hear the big picture.
  3. We located and evaluated several editions of the piece we want to learn.
  4. We studied and analyzed our score(s).

Next month we will continue the next steps of learning a piece on the classical guitar.

DOWNLOADS

1. Download a PDF of the article with a link to the video. Depending on your browser, it will download the PDF (but not open it), open it in a separate tab in your browser (you can save it from there), or open it immediately in your PDF app.

Download a PDF of HOW TO LEARN A PIECE (SONG) ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR (for the intermediate and advanced guitarist) Part 1 (with links to the videos)

2. Download the videos.

Click on the video link. After the Vimeo video review page opens, click on the down arrow in the upper right corner. You will be given a choice of several different resolutions/qualities/file sizes to download.

Video #1: Transcribe! Demo Figuring Out Unpublished Music and Fingerings

Video #2: 3-year-old Jonathan conducting to the 4th movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony

Video #3: Xingye Li plays Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa Lobos on a 2014 Roy Fankhänel guitar

Video #4: Tal Hurwitz plays Étude No. 1 Heitor Villa-Lobos on a 1981 Dominique Field

Video #5: Sanel Redžić plays Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos on a 1986 Kevin Aram

Video #6: Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Measures 24-25. All three guitarists Li, Hurwitz, and Redzic