Evolution in Music: The Origin of Pieces

Evolution in Music, The Origin of Pieces Darwin's theories of selection and adaptation have been applied to almost every process that changes over time. It is obvious, thus, to address similar analysis to the evolution of music, or in other words, the evolution of pieces of music. Like any other process, we can note gradual changes over time in the presentation and use of music performances, instrumentation, style and societal function. But what about the songs themselves? If we were to make a grand comparison to Darwin's theory, the live music performance of a song would be the "individual." The "species" is the piece itself. Using mostly artificial selection, that is, decisions made by the human performers before and during the song, the song could change gradually over time, in each repeated performance. What makes a song a hit? Usually a lasting hit is a song that other musicians want to reproduce. And they do, and the song is heard, it gains popularity. The species proliferates. Now it could be said that the creative process is a mystery and each new song simply, inexplicably, almost magically, appears on the scene and has its first "individual" in the species. But upon reflection, it is obvious that every song is written using the "ingredients" of the available physical and technical components. In addition, when writing each new piece, the composer must respond to a certain set of parameters, including instrumentation, elaboration, purpose and intent. Thus there are external factors that are present that could be said to be the "niche" that the song fills. And if the performance matches the "niche," the likelihood that the song would be reproduced increases, thus proliferating the "species" that is this song. This comparison can also be applied to the performance of already written pieces. The performer selects the piece to play based on the demands of the performance environment. What song is perfect for the mood of the room? What is the perfect song for the occasion? Selecting the song to perfore, is a mixture of artificial and natural selection. Artificial in that there are humans making the decision to perform the piece, and "natural" as there are some factors that play a role in the selection that are purely random and are situation-based. These discussions can also apply to recorded music. Which pieces are replicated? How does this apply to your average musician? Well, if she is programming a concert, it's the factors that lead to the songs she chooses to play. If he is a song-writer, we can look at how his song responds to the needs, musically, of his situation. In every case, one can follow a specific song and note the environment in which the song is thriving, and note gradual changes of the song over time in response to different environmental factors. So how do you choose the perfect song for this moment? As song structures change we can see the use of improvisation as similar to a mutation, for example the subtle changes to a traditional, or folk, song over time, is akin to the mutations in the genes that happen in one individual. A great musician friend of mine said you could almost consider "mistakes" as mutations in the song. They don't destroy the individual, but they are mostly NOT passed on. If you look at the grand arch of the history of music, you could almost say that every musical "mistake" was a small mutation that has lead to the incredibly diverse array of songs we have around us in the world today. For the struggling musicians, if he can see trends in music, perhaps he can use that information to his advantage. Please send me a message or write a comment if this application of evolutionary analysis to music resonates with you. More about this later, -- Edward Grigassy


Guitar Teachers' Congress, Estelí, Nicaragua, 9-12 July 2014

A good way to summarize the first Congreso de Guitarra de Nicaragua is a re-post of an article I did for Matthew Hinsley, director of the Austin Classical Guitar society. The article was published to the GuitarCurriculum.com newsletter, July 28, 2014.

Last summer (2013), Houston high school guitar educator Edward Grigassy attended our national teacher training in Austin with a friend, Professor Ernesto Sol Bonilla, from Managua, Nicaragua.

Following the training, they asked if they might use some materials to help develop a national guitar congress in Nicaragua. We said "yes," of course, and they ran with it! Earlier this month they held a highly successful guitar congress and sent us pictures and videos from the event, along with Spanish translations of many of our Level 1 materials and music scores.

We asked Mr. Grigassy to tell us his story.

GuitarCurriculum.com: You have had a great career as a guitarist and educator in Houston, Texas, how did you get connected to, and passionate about, guitar in Nicaragua?

Edward Grigassy: As a full-time high school guitar teacher and local gigging musician, Houston has been very good to me and I am thankful for all the abundance I experience every day.

I was first introduced to Nicaragua through my mother who is a Quaker and works for Friends' Peace Teams, giving support and anti-violence workshops throughout Central and South America. In 2008, she introduced me to Lillian Hall, a Quaker residing at that time in Managua, managing the Quaker Nicaraguan solidarity group, ProNica.

Lillian invited me to come there and interact with several folkloric instrumentalists and singer/songwriters after hearing about my experiences and interest in the music of Latin America. Especially timely was her invitation to interview and learn from the great singer/songwriter Salvador Cardenal Barquero, who was suffering from a chronic blood disease at that time and whose health was failing. So in July 2008, I traveled to Nicaragua and met and interviewed Salvador. I also immediately had the great fortune to meet many other wonderful Nicaraguan guitarists and musicians, who I now count among my personal friends.

One of the first things I noticed about Nicaragua that made it especially attractive to me is that the guitar is a key component of the country's musical culture. And I mean the Spanish nylon-string guitar that so many of us study and play. This means that if you get out your guitar in any public setting in Nica, people will stop what they are doing and listen. And if you know some of the most popular folk songs, you'll have a sing-along going in no time!

For example, one of the popular "national anthems" is a folkloric piece for instrumental guitar, called "La Mora Limpia." It's purely instrumental (!), usually played only for guitar melody and guitar accompaniment, but it is also performed on mandolin, violin, flute and/or flauta dulce (what we call recorder). There are no lyrics that I've ever heard. It is an intricate and beautiful composition. It starts in a minor key and later goes to a soaring major section. And it is in 3/4 - 6/8 time, which lovers of Latin American music adore so ardently. So the music and the cultural celebration of the guitar keep bringing me back there.

Up-and-coming stars of the guitar and the stage, Yahoska, Valeska and Brisa, three of our youngest attendees!

And due to the privilege of a full-time high school teacher's income and schedule, I have been fortunate enough to visit every summer since 2008, continuing the bonds of friendship I have with the many musicians and non-musicians I have become acquainted with over the years.

GuitarCurriculum.com: What have been the biggest challenges for you to build a program of significance in Nicaragua? What has been most gratifying?

Edward Grigassy: In addition to visiting for my personal enjoyment and education, I realized that I have a heart for teaching the guitar and music. So over the last few years I have helped organize workshops for young students. On other occasions I have volunteered to attempt to start or support fledgling guitar programs in various places in Nicaragua and El Salvador. For more information about specific past workshops, please see my blog.

After working with guitar students at a relatively new, yet very rigorous music school in Estelí, called Escuela de Música "Sones Segovianos" (July, 2013), I decided to do a more thorough investigation of what methods other guitar teachers were using and what their needs were for their various programs. I learned that most teachers did not have specific methodologies in place for large ensembles. In fact, the whole idea of teaching class guitar was not being implemented there. So after numerous meetings it became obvious that a guitar teachers' conference would have immense value to these hardworking educators.

The principal idea was to get as many guitar teachers together as possible in one place, and have them share their ideas about what works, what leads to success and quality in their respective guitar programs. The school "Sones Segovianos" (named after the region of northern Nicaragua, called "Nuevo Segovia," and where much of the traditional folkloric music was composed and disseminated throughout the rest of the country), offered their facilities for this proposed gathering. Soon we had a name, the "Congreso de Guitarra de Nicaragua" and several Nicaraguan teachers stepped up to be organizers and facilitators of the event. Chief among them was Ernesto Sol Bonilla, an accomplished guitarist and dedicated professor of guitarra at the Conservatorio de Música de UPOLI in Managua.

GuitarCurriculum.com: How was GuitarCurriculum.com helpful for you in this year's congress?

Edward Grigassy: Somewhat coincidentally, both Ernesto and I attended the GuitarCurriculum.com teacher training in Austin (2013), and we both saw right away the potential value of using your system in the training of guitar students in Nicaragua. We were especially impressed at the training we received from ensemble directing virtuoso, Dr. Michael Quantz (University of Texas, Brownsville). In after-hour discussions, Dr. Quantz was enthusiastic about collaborating with us on presenting the vehicle of guitar ensemble as a reliable, constantly engaging system for group education.

Since I've been using GuitarCurriculum.com in my high school classroom for years, I knew the potential it has to have students playing together beautifully, and at the same time working carefully on good posture, position, technique, tone and musicality.

So on July 9th, 2014, I was thrilled to be able to introduce the program to a room of 40 teachers and 30 students. In addition I had the honor of getting to manage a first-edition translation of about 40 pages of the GC materials for participants (the first time the materials have been translated into Spanish, I've been told). The teachers were overwhelmingly excited about the GuitarCurriculum.com methodology, not only the thrill of directing groups of students and performing music like an orchestra, but also the gradual focus of the program on good tone, technique and incremental mastery of sight-reading.

Though we presented the basics and the first-day procedures of the GuitarCurriculum.com, my presentation was only an introduction to its many positive aspects. We presented the use of the "Stand-by" position, which is a classroom and rehearsal management tool many of us could never live without (we used the term "stand-by" since they had heard it used for electronic devices and computers, but other teachers could translate it as "posición de espera" if they chose to).

Though I was not able to work with every teacher on GuitarCurriculum.com every day, I think the participating teachers were especially impressed to see an ensemble of complete beginners and non-music readers performing three of the pieces on our final concert. For the four days of the Congreso, Dr. Quantz rehearsed and conducted the advanced participants (who performed two lovely arrangements of Nicaraguan folkloric songs arranged for 4 parts), and I worked with the intermediate players and the beginners. On the final concert the GuitarCurriculum.com standards "Canción del espía," "Magia Azul," and "Viajando a Neptuno" were performed beautifully and in a professional manner by the beginning/intermediate ensemble (I'll let you figure out the English titles of those pieces)! The performance intrigued many teachers who later asked for more information and training regarding GutiarCurriculum.com. Fortunately we had the first-edition Spanish translation to get them started.

GuitarCurriculum.com: How can people learn more about your work? How can they assist you?

Edward Grigassy: Of course I will invite anyone with interest in this or other events related to guitar education in Latin America to please contact me and ask questions or offer their collaboration ideas.

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to the first Guitar Teachers' Congress of Nicaragua, we are already planning another similar event, either in July 2015 or July 2016, and we are looking now for sponsors, funding and even just names and contact information of grant organizations that might help make this type of event happen.

For the 2014 Congress we were fortunate to have the cooperation of a private charity foundation called the Barr Foundation of Oklahoma, which in turn was a partner organization of Superemos, the Nicaraguan NGO that sponsors the "Sones Segovianos" music school on an ongoing basis. Any donations sent directly to the Barr Foundation of Oklahoma that are marked for the Guitar Congress of Nicaragua project will go 100% to the expenses of the Congress. We were so fortunate to find such a generous sponsoring organization that charges no overhead on projects devoted to improving the lives and education of the youth in Nicaragua.

For links on how to donate, please check the Congreso Facebook page.

GuitarCurriculum.com: What advice would you give to someone looking to make a difference in another, similar community or country?

Edward Grigassy: Try to find a music school, an art center, or even a community center in the community that you know could use more guitar education. Go there, meet with the managers, founders, and/or sponsors of that school or community center. Make sure they are reliable with the resources and materials that are given to them (do they maintain their computers, vehicles, and other materials, etc.?)

If they have interest in starting a guitar education program, you need to look at whether the organization has adequate space for a guitar classroom and whether they can keep their instruments safe, clean, and well-maintained. Also make sure they have success with their own fundraising so that what you build there will last.

Then raise money or find a donor to provide instruments for the organization. Basically you need a class set of guitars, plus the chairs, footstools and blackboard or whiteboard necessary for teaching. A set of music stands is also extremely useful. Once the guitar classroom is ready, you can start the whole program off with a month-long workshop using the GuitarCurriculum.com system and repertoire. Then see about raising funds for a long-term teacher, ideally also able to continue the GuitarCurriculum.com program!

If you would like to see more events like Guitar Teachers' Conferences in other places, or even in your own community, I would recommend meeting with as many guitar teachers as will talk to you. Get their basic statistics, how many students, sizes of classes, ages of students, weekly schedules, etc. Ask them what their needs are. Get to know each teacher, then propose the idea of a conference for all teachers in the country or region. If there is a good response to your idea, see if you can find volunteers to do the on-the-ground organizing (which really means a lot of phone calls and emails for as much as a year in advance!).

Don't expect to make this a conference where you, or people you know personally, are going to tell the attendees how to teach. Let go of the idea that you know best. Encourage the attendees to figure it out for themselves and share their own ideas and experiences regarding what works and what doesn't work in their respective programs. You may introduce a subject during the conference, but your primary role should be as facilitator, allowing the teachers attending to network and discover new ideas and approaches from each other.

One unexpected delight we discovered in the 2014 Congreso was the inclusion of guitar students as well as teachers. Since the very first invitations were sent out, teachers were asking us about bringing their students. And the students themselves were showing a lot of enthusiasm toward attending an event dedicated to learning about the guitar. So, of course we said, "yes, bring your best students," and that was a phenomenally good decision. The students participated in most of the teaching training (which they themselves will use some day in their own studios), and they brought their enthusiasm and excitement to play and to ask extremely relevant questions. Their involvement was deeply inspiring to the teachers as well.

This being said, I would encourage all guitar society or festival organizers to try to include students in every event they organize. In fact, I would encourage all guitar festivals to be re-designed to put guitar education, and especially education of youth, as the primary focus. When you educate the educators, and the future educators, you are really spreading the seeds of sustainability of guitar education into the community and out into the world that will continue to be passed on for years beyond the event itself.

GuitarCurriculum.com: Is there any thing else you'd like to add?

Edward Grigassy: If anyone would like to contact me about this or other guitar education related topics or events please email me at guitar@texas.net.

I would also like to deeply thank the staff and leadership at ACG and GuitarCurriculum.com who gave us hours of free consulting time in addition to permission to present their methods and techniques. You guys have shown the world that using arts education to serve the community, instead of serving a single individual or small group, creates such a field of goodness and cooperation that continuously expands to touch many more people than a single teacher or artist could ever do alone.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story and I hope we can all continue serving our respective communities with guitar education for years to come!


Workshop for guitar students, July, 2013, Esteli, Nicaragua

July 8-13, 2013
Guitar workshop for kids
Escuela de Musica, Sones Segovianos
Guest Instructor, Edward Grigassy
Esteli, Nicaragua

Being introduced by the director of Escuela de Musica, Sones Segovianos, Hannah Curteis

I had the distinct pleasure to work with some excellent young guitar students at the Escuela de Musica, Sones Segovianos last July, in Esteli, Nicaragua. The school is named for a local exquisite musical art-form tradition from the northern region of the country, the so-named Segovia region. There is a long and beautiful tradition of songs and song-stylings from this area of the world. The folkloric styles of music from this region have contributed significantly to the overall musical culture and identity of Nicaragua. And from a anthropological, musicologist or ethnomusicologist viewpoint, the musical art created and fostered in the region is complex, interesting, and valuable to the broader global community as well.

We met as a guitar class for 5 class days and then I collaborated with the students and faculty of the school on their end-of-term recital, which took place at Sor Maria Romero hall, Saturday July 13, 2013.

In addition the school found out there was interest in guitar instruction from outside the enrolled students, so we had a second class meet per day of students from around the community.

In all there were 11 students, enrolled formally in Sones Segovianos, that attended the morning class, and six others who attended the afternoon class.

The morning class photo:

In the past, for many musical education workshops, it has often been a fun challenge to attempt to prepare a group of students for a recital at the end of the workshop, as a method of affirming what they learned as well as sharing the students' success with their families and the local community. However in this case, since there was already a Saturday night recital being prepared for, with a substantial list of songs already programmed, I felt it was better to focus on technical ability (on the guitar) as well as to model good practice and rehearsal skills as we all prepared the concert program.

So the form this particular workshop took was a series of technical workouts (many of which I have borrowed from the Grisha Goryachev toolkit), followed by a rehearsal of every song, where I served as coach. This way the students could get better (by physically playing exercises, learning and reinforcing the locations of the notes on the guitar), and they would be more prepared for Saturday's performance.

Students from the school are trained in solfege singing, recorder, guitar, marimba, mandolin and accordion. Here are some images of the Saturday night concert:

There wasn't time to perform our exercises on the Saturday night concert, so in order to showcase their progress in the workshop, I had each of them perform for the class on the last 2 days. They each performed the “first-string, all-fingers” exercise, and they each also had to perform a song originally learned on recorder (Spanish: flauta dulce), but instead to prepare it and perform it on their guitar.

Notice the excellent training the students already are receiving about bowing, stage presence, and proper concert etiquette (both on stage and in the audience):

[Tangent: the school which hosted the workshop is located on a facility owned by a foundation called Superemos, which partners with a local cooperative named Cooperativa "Chrisinte King".]

[At this cooperative they have a computer lab (for computer classes for the community), a solar panel building workshop, an on-site welding shop, a cafeteria, and other projects that uplift and support the local community. The locals know the property under its former name, Escuela Las Chanillas.]

Here are a series of exercises we were able to practice as a class each day.

On some days we could not get to them all (especially if there was time devoted to having students play for class or show other students their progress), but I recommend doing one or more of these technique exercises in EVERY class session. It's a great way to get kids playing the guitar, focusing on technique and it is immediately accessible for every student (they don't need to know how to read music or have extensive knowledge of the instrument). Also they are good because they foster immediate, direct interaction between teacher and class, especially the exercises which are played to a beat the instructor sets.

TEACHERS: I recommend tapping your foot to the beat so as to give a soft, visible, constant reminder of the beat. (Make sure YOU can do this without double-tapping your foot on the eighth-notes, or quadruple-tapping your foot on the sixteenth-notes!). If students have solid rhythm stability in their playing, ask them to also try to tap their foot as they play. It is a challenge for a beginner and a great skill to have as a musician, especially when playing in a ensemble. (There is a great tendency amongst students to try to accelerate in small increments as they perform a regular rhythm, like the way rhythmic clapping at a sporting event or concert, gets faster until it approaches the sound of applause! It is important to continually reinforce the idea of “a slow, even beat, not rushing, not hurrying, playing each note, being present, feeling each note, feeling the beat.” These phrase should be SAID OUT LOUD as you play the exercise to remind the student to be aware of the beat and not rushing ahead).

A. Plucked Trills (Spanish: Trinos Picados)

Start by being able to alternate in the RIGHT HAND:

Finger 1: “ i ” Finger 2: “ m ” Finger 3: “ a ” Right Hand Thumb: “ p ”

1) Place p on string 6.

This keeps the thumb out of the way of the work of the fingers and anchors the Right Hand.

2) Practice alternating i & m on string 1. Start freely then play to a pulse (quarter notes):

i m i m i m i m …. etc. (repeat)

I recommend have everybody use rest-stroke, and possibly on another occasion, free-stroke. We used rest-stroke exclusively during this workshop.

TECHNICAL ISSUE: We had to adjust seating position (ideally in the future all students would have footstools and would create a better right hand to string angle of about 45 degrees). Also the teacher needs to continuously monitor right-hand position, especially making note the right hand wrist is not touching the top of the guitar. In general, the wrist and hand should be in-line with the forearm and the fingers should move diagonally through the string, moving towards the right elbow. For free-stroke the fingertips should move diagonally through the string, this time into the palm of the hand, ideally bending every joint in the finger and actually touching the palm for proper “hand-programming” of follow-through.

TECHNICAL ISSUE: It is crucial that the teacher notice if there is ever any situation where the i finger runs into the thumb, p. Work with the students patiently to move the thumb to the left of the i finger and anchor it on another string, or simply make sure it stays “outside the lane” of the i finger's natural path. If the i finger is in the habit of running into the thumb, this creates a “traffic jam” for the fingers of the right hand. The i finger will play with less power and confidence than the other fingers since it has been trained to stop abruptly when it hits the thumb. (The fingers should move in a natural, “grab the apple” motion, except make sure the thumb p stays outside, that is, to the left of the fingers!).

3) Bring in the rhythm of the SPEED BURST (on string 1, in this case):

One measure of quarter notes, then one measure of eighth notes, repeat.

Then try one measure of eighth notes, one measure of sixteenth notes, repeat.

For fun go as fast as possible! Always return to the slower speed to re-align your playing to the beat. and to make the alternation more precise. It is called a “speed burst” because you set a base speed that is slow and easy, then jump up to a faster speed (that is more challenging) then go back to the base speed. Slow speeds help develop precision and proper technique, fast speeds develop fast playing! It is important to practice (and guide the students through) ALL SPEEDS.

This practice of all playing together to the different rhythmic values is great for comprehension of the values as well as for playing together as an ensemble. Also when you speak out, “Ok next it will be eighth-notes,” for example, it activates the brain of the student, who must imagine and actively keep track of where we are in the current measure. The transition to the new rhythm helps reinforce the student's application of the rhythmic pattern in their minds, in their fingers and to their ears.

B. Bring in the LEFT HAND (again on string 1): Finger 1: “ 1 ” Finger 2: “ 2 ” Finger 3: “ 3 ” Finger 4: “ 4 ” The number “0” represents no left-hand finger, or the open string.

Practice alternating in the RIGHT HAND as you play frets 0 and 1: 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 … etc.

Start freely at first, then do quarter notes/eighth notes SPEED BURSTS.

Try eighth note/sixteenth note SPEED BURSTS:

0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 | 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 | repeat
i m i m i m i m | i m i m i m i m i m i m i m i m |

TEACHERS: Look for accuracy in rhythm, good right and left hand technique (no tension or awkward wrist positions – straight wrists, left hand thumb behind the neck, left hand fingertips stay close to the string/fret where they play – not zoom far away). Goals: efficiency and precision.

TECHNICAL ISSUE: Some students are not playing with perfectly curved left-hand fingers. This means they sometimes don't use their fingertips for every note, or they allow the joints of the finger to collapse, or “bend-backward.” Any time you notice this, encourage them gently to see if they can try it again with proper, curved left-hand fingers. Since very few fingers are used at any one time, these exercises are great for training good left-hand habits, when we notice poor habits.

TECHNICAL ISSUE: Many students have unfortunately learned the bad habit of keeping their left-hand pinky away from the strings (often VERY FAR away). This comes from an emphasis on learning chords which tend to turn the left-hand wrist to favor finger 1. Try to correct this when you see it, or model it and mention “Look at your left-hand pinky” as you play exercises using ANY fingers – sometimes when exercising finger 3, you will notice the same “pinky escape” habit!

Teach the students to keep their left-hand palms parallel to the fretboard, and each finger about the same distance from the strings. (You can model this to the students by putting all 4 fingertips on string one then playing the note and sliding up the fret board to the 12th fret, creating a portamento – students will have fun with the sound and they can see the curved finger relationship to the string). Remind them that ideally in all scales, melodies and chords, the fingertips should hover above the strings and maintain their position close to the strings, ready to engage rapidly and efficiently.

C. Do SPEED BURSTS with all the combinations of Left Hand fingers and the open string:

0 1, 0 2, 0 3, 0 4 – Use the same fret as finger. Very important to practice with each finger!

D. Do SPEED BURSTS with 1 finger fixed in place, adding and removing the next:

1 2, 1 3, 1 4, 2 3, 2 4, 3 4

(again look for keeping fingertips close to the string, good LH technique)

E. Practice a combination that fits in one measure and do it with SPEED BURSTS:

0 1 2 3 4 3 2 1 || repeat (note for eighth notes play the pattern once, sixteenth notes: twice)

TECHNICAL ISSUE: I also noticed many of the students want to put their left-hand thumb up above the neck of the guitar. Again this goes back to their training with chords and it is a common position error that students learn. It is fine if all they will ever play is chords, but as soon as it is time to play melodies, this left-hand thumb position will GREATLY RESTRICT their ability to move and place finger 3 and 4 in every position on the fretboard. A simple demonstration is to put finger 1 fixed on fret 1 first string. Then with the thumb behind the neck ask to what fret can they stretch to play finger 4 (keeping finger 1 in place). Then try the same exercise with the left-hand thumb up and out above the neck. It is physically impossible to reach very far with the pinky when the thumb is in this position.

F. Practice changing the Right Hand alternation pattern. Here are some more advanced patterns:

The exercises above can be done with different right hand patterns. In the Sones Segovianos workshop, we only introduced these patterns on the open strings, but later if there is time, they are EXCELLENT for developing the right- and left-hand coordination.

a m i a m i (a group of 3, which doesn't line up as nicely as 2, but if practiced it can become very fast!)
p a m i p a m i (all on one string, also can be very fast)
Change the RH technique to use REST-STROKE instead of free stroke.

PRACTICE ISSUE: It is always important with these exercises to reiterate that precision and efficiency of motion are far more important than speed without control. If ever a speed is to fast for a student or a class, slow down the tempo so the student can have some confidence in their accuracy and coordination of the two hands.

In general I noticed that the emphasis on speed and getting through the song did often create problems in the students' practice and performance. Many students were rushing through the melody of “La Mora Limpia” for example, because they had learned the speed they were taught it should go. They would often play until they made a mistake and repeat large portions of the melody again. Practicing this way is preparing the student for making errors (that is what they are practicing after all, running into errors) instead of allowing them to confidently and carefully perform every passage.

I would like to see future guitar education there include a DRAMATIC slow-down of the tempo, encouraging students to play each phrase correctly and cleanly, with good left- and right-hand technique. In my experience a good phrase to practice (and to teach the child to practice) is “one measure plus one beat,” that means a full measure of notes, plus just the first beat (or note) of the next measure. Practice a measure until there is no confusion (train the brain to remember what exact notes to play) and no error (practicing slowly and carefully so that the performance of the measure is perfect, at a slow tempo). Then move on to the next measure (or phrase). Sometimes phrases can be just one to five notes, depending on how complicated they are to memorize or physically perform.

My motto is the student should be able to play it 3 times, in a row, perfectly at a slow tempo before they are qualified to play it for the instructor or anybody else. This applies to each phrase, as well as to the whole song.

Other exercises:

G. This one was from my friend and flamenco guitar virtuoso, Grisha Goryachev. The students all seemed to like this study and they immediately could see where they needed work on their performance of it.

The “First-String, All-Fingers” Exercise:

Use this pattern in the right-hand: i m alternation using rest-stroke, p anchored on string 6. In the left-hand use this pattern: 0 1 2 3 4 3 2 1. Use same finger number as fret. Then move the left-hand to the second position (so that finger 1 plays fret 2, finger 2 plays fret 3, etc.). Play the same left-hand pattern there: 0 1 2 3 4 3 2 1 … Continue moving the left hand one fret higher each repetition until you reach the 8th fret (8th position), then with each repetition decrease the fret number by 1 until you play the last repetition back in 1st position. Don't forget there is meant to be an open string played between each grouping of notes, and the whole exercise ends on a single open string. Optionally the student can strum an E major chord at the end of the whole exercise as a way of “celebrating” their achievement!

Start at quarter-note speed. Then do the whole exercise at eighth-note speed. Then try sixteenth-note speed. Then challenge the students to practice it at home as fast as they can maintaining accuracy and precision of each finger and a good clear sound for each note. Always remind the students to go back to the slow, comfortable speed to reinforce accuracy.

H. Add Staccato Technique to Plucked Trills and First-String, All-Fingers exercises:

Now at a slow speed we can train the right-hand to go faster, not by simply rushing through the movements, but by training the next finger to get ready at almost the same time as the previous finger plays. When executed on a single-string, this creates a staccato articulation which is an important ability for any musician to have in their toolkit.

The procedure is like this: Immediately when i goes through the string, m prepares, ready to play, on the same string. Then when m goes through the string, i prepares immediately on the same string ready to play next. When played slowly (quarter-notes for example), it sounds like a series of short notes. Train the students to move efficiently, making VERY SMALL motions in the right-hand so that there is no excess time or energy wasted with big, sloppy motions.

Overall we want to train our right-hands to be quick, efficient executors of the strings, and then bring in the left-hand, to improve our two-hand coordination, to play fast and accurately with both hands moving quickly and efficiently.

So have the students play the plucked trills with staccato at the slower speeds. Remind them to look at their hands (sometimes right, sometimes left), to make sure they are keeping the fingertips close to the strings at all times. If there is a habit to move a finger FAR from the string (like the left-hand pinky, for example), have the student do the study SLOWLY, thoughtfully bringing the finger closer, in a relaxed manner.

This use of right-hand staccato, always preparing the next right-hand finger in advance, and training the hand to do it automatically, also can be applied to scales and melody passages. In scales, when the notes change string, the right-hand preparation will actually be on the NEW string, thus there will be no staccato sound.

I. Natural Notes Scale:

I wrote the natural notes of the guitar in first position on the staff and guided the students through the scale. I think it is helpful to repeat each note 4 times (also good is 2 times), using a good right-hand fingering like, i m i m, on each note, so it reinforces two-hand coordination. Then as you ascend the scale, have the students SAY OUT LOUD the name of the note, before moving on to the next one.

Since the students at Sones Segovianos all had extensive training in solfegio and recorder, this connecting the note names, to locations on the guitar – and to the note location on the staff – put together the missing link of knowledge and ability for students to read staff music on their guitars.

After we did this several days in a row, I asked them all, now that they knew where the notes were, to read or perform from memory one of their recorder pieces on the guitar. Without exception the students did a great job at this. Some students chose difficult pieces, others chose basic ones, but they all performed them for the class and it was a great success.

I think the next step for these students is to have them play ensemble pieces with groups of students playing different guitar parts (guitar trio or guitar quartet music), AND to have individual students begin to learn basic classical repertoire pieces. Some students may be ready for Carcassi, Sor or Guiliani studies, while others should be assigned short single-line excerpts.

Another good idea is to have the students practice reading new songs (or excerpts of songs), from the staff and to play them alone or as a class. (I have a collection of short reading exercises I can provide if asked.)

J. Spanish Rasgueado Technique:

The students are fabulous already at performing the traditional folkloric strumming patterns they have been carefully taught. These Nicaraguan (and for the most part Latin American-style) patterns are an important part of their musical cultural heritage and help to increase confidence in their performing with a guitar in their hands. Add a vocal line or a melody line on any instrument and you have instant music that is interesting, rhythmic and engaging to the musicians and the listeners.

In our workshop I wanted to introduce some other right-hand patterns that are common in Spain and in flamenco style in particular. I have found that young students can learn these patterns rapidly and they are fun and rewarding to play.

The basic one we used was: minique a m i (pausa), repeat. Placing the thumb, p, again as an anchor on string 6, the other fingers should be brought into the palm like a “soft fist.” The student is then trained to extend each finger from the palm in the order specified. Each finger is a separate motion, at no time should 2 fingers come out of the fist together. I also had them use the “ball” of the thumb (the bigges joint of the thumb, where it connects to the hand) as resistance so that each stroke (physically downward toward the floor), comes out strong and percussive.

We played this chord progression with the technique described above:

2/4 || Bb * | Bb * | A | A | Bb * | Bb * | A | A |
| Dm | Dm | C | C | Bb * | Bb * | A | A || Repeat from beginning...

The Bb * chord is a “Spanish” B-flat major, meaning simply the A major pattern, but all left hand fingers at the 3rd fret. Or another way to describe it is a B-flat chord with an open 1st and 5th string. Note that the 6th string does not sound in this song, simply because the right-hand thumb, p, rests on in “like an anchor” during the entire procedure. The rhythm used for the notes in each measure above would be: minique – m – a (triplet eighth-notes), and the i finger a quarter-note with an accent (striking a little louder than the other fingers).

K. Sextuplet Continuous Rasgueado

This one we only started to introduce, but it is an essential rasgueado for Spanish and other styles of music.

It is 3 motions done twice. In this case the right-hand hovers over all the strings in the soft-fist position (like a fist except the thumb, p, is outside, that is, to the left of, the i finger. p in this case is straight and relaxed, not curved under the fingers as in a tight fist position).

The first motion is a (and m which moves sympathetically along with a ) extend and sweep over the strings. The arm should not move, the wrist should not turn... yet.

The second motion is i extends and sweeps over the strings, and as it does, the wrist turns so that the back of the thumb, p, is ready to touch string 1. I liken this “wrist” turning to the motion we use when opening a door, or turning a screwdriver. Again the arm should not move down. In this rasgueado, only the fingers extending and the wrist turning does the work.

The third motion is for a quick wrist turn up, so that p drags up over all the strings. Again the arm should not move up, by extending p in towards the soundhole and turning the wrist, we make a nice, quick percussive stroke.

Return the fingers to the soft-fist position and repeat. By doing it twice you can eventually create a pattern of six strokes that, when played rapidly, and continuously, sound very effective!

A good chord progression for this pattern is (each measure would be six slow, rhythmically even strokes):

|| B7 | B7 | Em | Em | B7 | B7 | Em | Em |
| Am | Am | Em | Em | B7 | B7 | Em | Em ||

L. Regular Trills

These exercises use the exact same left-hand finger patterns as in the Plucked Trill exercises, except these trills are performed as most trills usually are, with only the left hand.

For example: let's discuss the procedure for playing the 0 3 trill.

The right-hand can start the trill by playing the first note (the open string) then immediately, finger 3 does a “hammer-on” at the third fret. This is with a curved 3rd finger, hitting the string with the fingertip, right by the 3rd fret, so that it creates a tone.

Then the left-hand finger does a “pull-off” technique, where, on the nylon-string guitar, the LEFT HAND finger actually plucks the string by pulling down towards the floor. Again the fingertip should move through the string, thus producing a tone.

The volume of the tones will be much quieter than the plucked trills, but if you ask students to repeat the exercise many, many times, everyone will soon see how directly this exercise works the finger muscles and develops accuracy of the fingertips. The more times the students practice this, the better, more accurate and louder the trills will be.

It is important to practice it to the beat, with speed bursts as well. Also these are good for playing them as rapidly as possible, without missing the string. It is a true physical challenge that makes up part of an important left-hand technique. You will see the students struggle after a few repetitions due to the strength and endurance required to make the trill sound clear and loud.

It's a good idea to show the students how the trills show up in music, especially the 1 2 1, 1 3 1, 2 3 2, 2 4 2, and 3 4 3 combinations.

I recommend going through all 10 combinations:

4 with the open string: 0 1, 0 2, 0 3, 0 4

and 6 combinations with 1 finger fixed in place, adding and removing the next:

1 2, 1 3, 1 4, 2 3, 2 4, 3 4

After you have done this on the first string a few days, try doing these on other strings. The technique of the pull-off will be affected on higher number strings. Good technique is when the fingertip does a pull-off and briefly rests against the next string (physically down). The left hand is doing something similar to the rest-stroke of the right hand!

M. Warm-up away from the guitar: Waving the fingers on both hands

Have the students hold up their hands with the palms facing you, the instructor.

Show them, and describe to them, what it looks like if the fingers are fully extended (literally pointing straight up to the sky). Then flex the fingers so that the tips touch the palm of the hand (both hands).

Now ask them to do 100 extensions and flexes without stopping. Make sure everyone is truly extending their fingertips straight up, many students only move a little bit. It needs to be a full extension and a full flexion. If students get tired, they can stop and rest. Don't REQUIRE the students to do 100, just several.

Ask the class where the exercise is felt. It's in the forearms where the finger muscles actually live.

This exercise is a great way to warm up the fingers away from the instrument. It's a good exercise to start with and end with. Two minutes of this feels like several hours of music practice!

I have been told, by Grisha who gave me this study, that the faster you can do the extension-flexion alternation, the faster you can play notes on the guitar. Please don't allow any one to overdo this one, it's just a nice warmup.

Self-evaluation of the workshop:

If the students were inspired in any way, especially if they could see how practice made a real difference in a short amount of time, then of course the workshop was a success.

The students performed in a very professional and orderly manner the day of the concert. They indeed were thoroughly prepared for the performance.

Hannah Curteis, the director, asked me to play a couple pieces for variety. I played Danza Paraguaya, by Barrios-Mangore, and Panaderos, by Esteban Sanlucar

A group of the young students perform as a children's choir! They sounded great!

The concert concluded with the faculty members Beto, Byron and Hannah joining the students on stage for a classic Son Segoviano! -- Bravo!! ... to everyone!

The best part was getting to meet and interact with all the kind students, teachers, facilitators and administrative staff that made the workshop possible. Most of all, the biggest success was not the detailed content of what notes we played and what fingers we exercised, the greatest reward for all involved was the cross-cultural connection between the enthusiastic guest and local teachers and the dedicated young music students!


Summer Guitar Workshop for kids in San Ramon, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Part 3

Despite my being sick the first two days of the last week, I am happy to report the guitar workshop was a success!

The 14 students who completed the 4 weeks of classes performed in a recital (in Spanish, "presentacion") on the last Thursday, July 26, 2012. Here are some images from that presentacion:

Here were my suggestions for follow-up plans at the Centro. (Some suggestions are general and would be valuable in other class settings, in Nicaragua or anywhere).

Report to the Administration at
Centro Promocional Cristiano
San Ramon, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, C.A.
Regarding the 14 students completing the guitar workshop, July 2012

Tuesday-Thursday Class
8 students in this group:
Ages: 7, 7, 12, 13, 13, 13, 14, 15

Every student in this class had talent and interest in learning guitar!

The Chavarra Hdz Brothers have the most experience with guitar (they have one at home and take turns practicing it). Both are especially ready to read music and learn new right and left hand techniques. Here they are playing "Muelle de San Blas" by Mana:

Ideally, every one of these students could have one-on-one lessons. Special attention and gentleness will be required with the youngest students (7 yr. olds). Both were excellent students and each had dedicated parents that dropped them off and picked them up each day. In this situation, as in most of Latin America, where elementary students only go to school for 4 hours, these particular students could learn a lot if they continue. I recommend scheduling a regular afternoon time for one-on-one lessons and focused practice time. Focused practice time is where I ask the student which song they will practice for the next time segment (10 to 30 minutes). If necessary, remind them what they promised to work on!

The other students are good friends and all are excellent at both technique and memorization. They all had courage to play for class. I did have to speak twice to one of the older students about being polite, behaving respectfully. To his credit he always responded to requests from the instructor!

Monday-Wednesday Class
10 students completed these sessions.
Ages: 8, 8, 12, 12, 12, 12 ,12 , 14, 14, 15

The youngest children have much desire to learn. They would be good candidates for private lessons. Three of the middle age group of the students were especially gifted in understanding and mastering musical examples and songs. The other students are probably best suited for a group class, but if they show more interest, it would be great to give them lessons one-on-one.

Ideas to continue (this information especially for local teachers at the Centro):

Continue with each group classes. Try always to give a new song each new class. You will need to insist students take part of the class practicing (rehearsing) individually (for example, after the first hour, spend 30 minutes individually practicing - every student finding a quiet place to practice). As I mentioned above, during this period, it is important that each student say which song they are going to practice, and at times, whenever they are distracted, remind them of the song they promised.

I recommend giving one-on-one lessons. Even if only during class, it is important to listen to students individually. Ideally in front of the class (master class style) or in a quiet corner.

Practicing on guitars: There is a school in Managua that has a good system. On days when the Center is open, but not a day of class for the particular student, they allow students to practice guitar in the center. During business hours of course, and ideally in a room where they have some monitoring (ideally only one or maximum two guitarists practicing at a time). If you want this option for students, of course you will need to tell students and parents the rules of this program.

Ideally the student have a notebook for all classes and all practice sessions. And it is good pre-requisite for the student to obtain permission to practice outside the class, because if they are allowed to pratice, they need specific notes as copied in their notebooks.

I am sending some melodies that can be used to teach students. However since you are experts in guitarra folclorica, a good song to teach is Mazurca Segoviana. It is possible to write the strings and fret numbers on this song and they can copy this, the "tablature" of the song.

Two days for each group does serve students. They can have dramatic improvement, if they can practice on days that they have no class.

Recitals and presentations: I recommend trying to give presentations every two months. If you need extra time, take it. It is important students can play 4-6 songs on stage.

Profesor Donald, the painting instructor, also a great student who learned all the guitar class material AND substituted for me on the days I got sick and was recovering from intestinal parasites!

Rosario Gonzalez, the director of the Centro Promocional Cristiano

Faculty and support staff: (from left to right) Melissa Abjabshir (ProNica director), Dona Margarita Sanchez (one of the founders of the Centro), Lillian Hall (former ProNica Nicaraguan director), Armando Ramirez, Carmen Gonzalez (ProNica Delegation Coordinator) and myself.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the directors of ProNica introduced me to the Centro last year, so though they did not donate money or guitars to this particular project, they helped make it all possible.

I sadly left Nicaragua on August 6, 2012, leaving behind the eight guitars and detailed notes about each student and recommendations for future guitar classes there. Rosario Gonzalez mentioned they have plans to hire local musicians as future teachers. I met several, talked to them about the teaching possibility, and made my suggestions to the teachers and the administration about how to continue.