Practice Tips for Beginning Guitarists
written by Evan Harrar, used with permission.
Occasionally in my own cyber-perambulations I come across articles, insight, or advice that strike me as spot on. Such is the case with Evan Harrar’s practice tips for beginning guitarists. While there are many such lists out there, few of them are backed by 30+ years of flamenco guitar playing, or by the insight that comes with having studied with Diego del Gastor. This list originally appears on Evan’s site www.gypsyflamenco.com, which is dedicated to the memory of Diego. These tips are reprinted here with permission.
1. When you practice, PRACTICE
The idea behind practicing is to raise your level of playing and eliminate bad habits. A solid 30 minutes of actual practice will do far more for your playing than just fooling around with material you know. Separate every technique you do on the guitar and create an exercise for it. Play it in different ways - fast, slow, loud, soft, hard, light - using many different chords in the first position and bar chords up the neck of the guitar.
2. Use a metronome, preferably one with a stressed beat
Use of a metronome will straighten out irregularities in your rhythm. The results are immediate. Set the bell or stressed beat to ring every six beats (bulerias, soleares, alegrias, sevillanas, fandangillos, etc.) or every four beats (tangos, rumba, farruca, garrotin, etc.). Using a metronome also helps to train your ear to hear the rhythm of anyone you may be jamming with.
3. Build up your left hand
The image of guitar-playing as great flourishes by the right hand with the left hand quietly and faithfully pressing the strings at the desired frets is incorrect and will impede your progress on the guitar. Both hands should work together in complementary fashion much the way a baker uses both hands to knead bread dough. The left hand should do as much of the work of playing the piece as possible. This allows your right hand to relax and play with greater dexterity and sensitivity. The following is an exercise to help transfer the work of whatever you’re playing from the right hand to the left hand: when practicing OVERPLAY (press as hard as possible) with the left hand and UNDERPLAY (play very light) with the right hand. Also, do legado exercises (hammer-ons & pull-offs) up and down different scales. The importance of a strong left hand cannot be overstated.
4. Listen to Flamenco all the time
The gypsies had the luxury of hearing Flamenco from birth. By the time they picked up the guitar or began singing and dancing they already knew the rhythms. As outsiders brought up mainly on ‘fours’ we have to do everything possible to familiarize ourselves with the twelve beat compás.
5. Accompany a Flamenco dance class
It helps to eliminate bad habits that can form by playing all the time to yourself in your room. It teaches you to project your sound out, to play something smooth and competent that someone can actually dance to, to ‘talk’ with your music. It’s a great time to work on rasqueados and strumming.
6. Listen to the cante
Flamenco is not a music created in a studio or by mathematicians desiring to experiment with various beat and accent structures. It evolved over centuries and was centered around singing and dancing. There were a multitude of influences: Indian, Moorish, local folk, Sephardic, the flux of gypsy migrations over Spain. Traditions developed in different regions, towns, and cities, and with different gypsy families. Guitar accompaniment was a late-comer to the scene. The aire of a rhythm is all-important and its secrets can be found in the traditional cante and the great singers who carried it along.
7. Flamenco is a music you teach yourself
No one person can teach you Flamenco. There are many styles and techniques to choose from. Most teachers know what they know (what they learned from someone else or treasures brought back from Andalucía) but it’s not the entire music. Therefore, think of a teacher as someone to get what you want from; and then move on. The guitarists who do well in Flamenco go out and get it. They realize what they need and don’t rest until they find someone or some tape to show them what they want to learn. Be active in your learning, not passive.