NO SHORT CUTS WITHOUT WORK

There is no short cut to becoming a good player. Being constant in your practice is perhaps the main secret. This reminds me of Aesop's fable about the Tortoise and the Hare. Some talented young players did not reach their potential as guitarists because they were getting by on talent and didn't put in the daily work. Others have surprised us and reached much farther than we would have expected because they have put in the continued work.

So the only short cut is to practice every day, be constant. With tenacity and perseverance you will be able to make beautiful music on the guitar.

AESOP'S FABLE: THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE

Once upon a time a hare saw a tortoise walking slowly along and began to laugh and mock him. The tortoise challenged the hare to a race and the hare, thinking himself the fastest animal around, accepted. They agreed on a route and started off the race. The hare shot ahead and ran briskly for some time. Then seeing that he was far ahead of the tortoise, he thought he'd sit under a tree for some time and relax before continuing the race.
He sat under the tree and soon fell asleep. The tortoise, plodding on, overtook him and finished the race. The hare woke up and realized that he had lost the race.
The moral, stated at the end of the fable, is, "Slow and steady wins the race."

David Russell.

En español: NO SHORT CUTS WITHOUT WORK

PRACTICE SHEET

Recently, during an interview I was asked about how to learn many pieces at once and how to keep several programmes in the fingers. I ended up talking about something which seems simple but can help a lot when you are under pressure. 

I keep a practice sheet when I need to get many pieces going or I have to keep a lot of repertoire fresh.I invent different signs meaning that the piece needs more work or that it is nearly ready. I can see at a glance if there are pieces that haven't been worked on for several days and I can make sure that everything is brought up to level by the date I need it to be ready.
Here are a couple of the sheets from this spring when I was getting ready to record two CDs during the tour in USA.
I have found this to be very helpful to put some order into my practice time and keep the motivation strong. Try it for yourself and hopefully it will also be of help for you.

David Russell.

En español: PRACTICE SHEET

TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY

To play or not to play a piece of music is a choice you must make with care.

Try to have a concert programme that shows what you can do well and not what you do badly. That way you will bring more musical pleasure to your audience.
It is better to listen to an easier piece played well than a difficult piece played badly.Never let your concert playing announce "Look what I can't do!" Your audience will be grateful.

David Russell.

En español: TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY

DAMPING BASES

One of the first steps in guitar playing is to get the thumb notes to sound properly. After that we have to learn to stop them if they are ringing through and creating unwanted harmony.
There are several techniques, depending on the occasion.
The simplest occasion is to stop the note from ringing by replacing the thumb on the string as in preparing for the next note. This is great if the next note is going to be on that string. (Simple but often not done, so it has to be practiced.)
If the note to be stopped is on the lower (sounding) string than the one to be played, I use a lean-back with the thumb and kill the sound before I play the next note. See photo playing example N.1.

This technique is much easier for those who play with a lower wrist, as the side of the thumb is closer to the string. The high-wrist player would have to lean back more to kill the sound. A bit of practise and it works easily.

If the string to be stopped is the next across (play 6th and damp 5th), the best is to play reststroke (apoyando). See ex. N.2. Some people find this very easy, others have to practice it. Usually it is only complicated if you have to play some more notes at the same time (ex N.3).

If all else fails, at times you have to use the left hand to stop notes. Usually there is a spare finger to kill the vibration.

David Russell.

 

En español: DAMPING BASES

FIRST AID KIT FOR GUITARISTS

There was a time when all that was needed was a guitar and off we went to play for whoever would listen. Now there are so many extra necessities, that we need to carry a first aid kit for guitarists. Here is a list of things I carry in my little first aid bag.

Set of strings.
String winder.
Nail files (several).
Nail clippers.
Small scissors.
Filing paper of several grades.
A capo.
A ping-pong ball and super glue (nail construction set)
A pen, a pencil and erasor.
Tuner or tuning fork.
Hair comb.


The footstool unfortunately doesn't fit in the little bag.

David Russell.

En español: FIRST AID KIT FOR GUITARISTS

WARM UP

There is an element of guitar playing which is very similar to athletics or sports activities. The use of our body to produce music means that we have to perfect the movements, just as a tennis player perfects his back-hand.

This is a time to review, confirm and perfect all the basic movements you need for a good technique.It should not be a time for learning new movements or extra difficult techniques. I see it more as if I were a beginner and I make sure that each technical lesson is properly assimilated. This confirms all the movements I will need for my music and makes my fingers more reliable under pressure.

Sometimes I feel it is better not to talk about it but simply to do it and each of us can discover our own routine that best prepares us for a day of practice.

A pupil drew this cartoon, while I was directing a warm up session during a course in Spain. It's great fun to do simple exercises (as a group or alone) and get into the habit of starting the day with a good warm-up routine.

Good luck and good practice, David.

David Russell.

En español: WARM UP

ALWAYS BE READY


You never know when your opportunity will come. Every time you play in public, you must be prepared and play your best. It may be your big break.

When I was 25 I played a concert in a town in Hungary and a producer from the BBC radio happened to be there. Luckily he enjoyed the concert and booked me for the radio in London. It was an important step for me.
So, the point is to always have a good repertoire ready for your concert even if you are working on many new things. Keep a programme in shape, spend a little time each day maintaining it and make sure it's a programme you can deal with and enjoy playing.

David Russell.

En español: ALWAYS BE READY

INSPIRATION

 

"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music."

(Albert Einstein)
When asked about his theory of relativity, he said:
"It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception."
Many times we run out of steam and find it very difficult to continue practicing. This is especially the case for young professionals and advanced students. The speed of progress slows down and it is disheartening to notice very little or no improvement after many days of hard work.
Take inspiration from the amateur musicians. They always have a few beautiful pieces of music in their repertiore to play for themselves (or for others at a party). They never forget they are doing this for the pure pleasure of making music, regardless of their level of ability.
Many great people have music in their lives and I always get a kick when I hear of someone who has excelled in another field and has music as a hobby.
I like the story of Albert Einstein playing the violin together with Albert Schweitzer on the piano.
A passage of music was not coming out very well so Schweitzer said to Einstein... "What's the matter Albert, can't you count?"

David Russell.

En español: INSPIRATION

UNUSUAL BARS

There are many occasions in which an unorthodox use of the bar can make a passage much simpler to play. 

It is worth practicing these techniques so that you can apply them if the opportunity arises.
Here are a couple of examples.

In Fig. 1. Notice how the first finger is playing at the 7th fret on the base string and on the 6th fret on the treble string. It is the best way to reach the A sharp (a passage of Giuliani’s Rossiniana N.1).

Fig. 2. In this example the E sharp is almost impossible to play unless you use the squint bar. This is part of one of the Valses Poéticos by Granados.

David Russell.

En español: UNUSUAL BARS

CONCENTRATION


One of the most important abilities in guitar playing is to know how to concentrate.

It is hard to concentrate on nothing, so I use memory to focus my mind while I am playing.

I make sure that everything I play for other people, I can play in my head. The more complex the piece, the more I concentrate on the notes to come.

I take advantage of many moments in the day to run through parts of my repertoire.

For example while waiting in a queue, in the train, in the airplane, while out jogging...

Here is a drawing my father made of me concentrating when I was 17 years old.

David Russell

En español: CONCENTRATION

TWO STRING TRILLS

Trills and other similar ornaments are sometimes very difficult on the guitar.

There are many occasions in which the trill can be played on two strings, achieving something similar to what we hear on the harpsichord.
It is important to note that the cross-string trill may not always fit the style of the piece of music you are playing. I would suggest that in Baroque music they are a good choice, especially if the music has been transcribed from the harpsichord.

The basic technique is relatively simple and with a bit of practice, you will be trilling beautifully.
The right hand fingering I use is -a-i-m-p- for most trills . The trick is to get all the notes sounding the same in rhythm and the same volume.

Here are some examples and a couple of illustrations of my hands.

Good luck!.

David Russell.



En español: TWO STRING TRILLS

POSITION A

If you are not sure about your left hand position, try this tip. It may help you.

Perhaps the two most uncomfortable things to do with the LH are The Bar and trills / ornaments with the 3rd and 4th finger.
I base my general position on the solution to these two problems.

Start with fingers 3 and 4 on the string the best you can do (knuckles more or less parallel to strings and tips coming down perpendicular to string. Fig.1), then place the bar as well as you can. Fig. 2.
Even if you cannot hold down the Bar very well, this will be a good position for you.

Many chords will take you away from this Position A, but you must return to it as often as the music allows.

I find this helps to stabilize the left hand and I hope it will help you.
Use the drawings as an example.

David Russell.

Fig.1


Fig.2

En español: POSITION A

NEW LIFE TO THE FIRST STRING

I love to play on a new first string. The silky feeling under the nail is a physical pleasure and the tone is much more beautiful. Many times I notice that my 1st string has become scratched just in the best plucking point and I am too close to the concert to change it. The solution is simple.

1. Unwind the string from the machine head but leave it attatched to the bridge.
2. Twist the string two complete turns anticlockwise. (fig. A)
3. Hold the string tight and tie it back on and tune it up. Make sure that you don't loose the twist.
4. The two complete turns at the head will become about half a turn at the soundhole (fig B) and your scratches will now be on the other side of the string. You get to play on a silky surface again and make that beautiful tone your listeners deserve.

David Russell.

En español: NEW LIFE TO THE FIRST STRING

ENTHUSIASM

The pure childish pleasure of playing the guitar is the essence of our enthusiasm. 

Make that enthusiasm the driving force in your practice.
The hours of work will become a joy for yourself and you will give greater pleasure to those that hear you play.
This picture is a portrait of me done by my nephew when he was about 5 years old, and it expresses how I like to feel while I study the guitar.

David Russell.

En español: ENTHUSIASM

SAVING THE NAILS

Many guitarists have problems with their fingernails.

One of the biggest problems is that they sometimes wear down if you need to practice a lot. (specially playing scales in the bases)
There is a solution which I use and many other guitarists use.
Tape up the nails.
I use brown packing tape.
The trick is to get the same sound as you normally get or at least acceptable and then be able to practice those extra hours.

Follow the drawings.
Fig. 1, stick tape under nail.
Fig. 2, fold over and stick down.

With practice you will find how it works for you.

David Russell.

En español: SAVING THE NAILS

BUZZING REALITIES


Many times students ask how they can improve their strength in the left hand. I think the best way is to improve your precision. 

If your finger is placed close to the fret, it is not necessary to press so hard to get a clean note.
Spend those practice hours becoming more precise.This has helped me in my playing. I am sure it can help you be a better guitarist.

David Russell.

En español: BUZZING REALITIES

METROMAN


MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR METRONOME

During practice hours we sometimes need an extra incentive to keep us going. MetroMan can be great help.

He is a good companion, he never complains, he is always in time and keeps going no matter how well or badly you play.

He may not be the greatest artist around but sometimes your best friend is not the most exciting friend, just the most reliable.

David Russell.

En español: METROMAN