Meeting inspiring performers (including non-guitarists) and teaching students with different musical backgrounds made me conscious of two types of musicians: those who are practicing technique separate and those who focus on repertoire to develop their playing skills.
With a few exceptions, beginner students pick up music lessons to play ‘music’ or even a particular composition, rather than ‘learning the instrument’. On the guitar (like most instruments I’m sure), students need complex basic skills that serve as a solid foundation to play anything they desire.
Many musicians find themselves back on square one to re-evaluate these skills (much) and are practicing technique more thoroughly later in their careers or when switching to another instructor.
Over the last few decades, ‘technique books’ have been published and have been part of my daily practice routine. Although, I kept asking myself what the exact purpose was of practicing my scales daily (or any other technical exercise for that matter) and what to focus on exactly.
In the following podcast by Goes2Eleven (starting at 40’27”), you can hear world renowned guitarist Marcin Dylla’s point of view. He seems to agree with John Williams, who is perhaps known to have one of the most polished techniques around, explains in this article that practice often becomes too regimented and too much based on exercises. He continues by saying that every piece of music has hundreds of exercises in them.
Perhaps we need to redefine what the ‘basic skills’ are and what to focus on when practicing them, needed in any music (regardless of its difficulty level of the music). These can then form a solid foundation for advanced techniques.
What are considered Basic Guitar Skills?
To find an answer to this question I have done quit some research over the past two years on different methods (including non-guitar method books), starting with literature from past centuries.
The overall distinction between modern methods and those who have passed their copyright expiration dates a while ago, lays in the approach of the guitar as a polyphonic instrument versus a melodic instrument.
Before going too much into detail about my own method book, I’d like to say that I truly see the benefits of introducing polyphonic music from the very beginning. This way the student gets exposed to contrapuntal and polyphonic / harmonic music from an early stage. Starting out with the tirando technique creates a more stable right hand technique as well in my opinion, but that is a different topic all by itself.
It may seem logic that most of the attention of our first lessons should go towards right hand development (see article Plucking vs. Pulling), however priority seem to switch to the left hand once ‘simple’ one-line melodies are introduced. Therefor simple exercises (or pieces) inspired by nineteenth century literature often serve this purpose.
Although introductory polyphonic pieces with open strings (arpeggios or chords) are very useful, including notes as A and C on string 2 and 3 give the apprentice access to a different harmonic range. Placement of left hand fingers need to be accurate, to again serve the polyphonic character of the guitar from the very beginning.
In other words, when accessible technique serves the music, it’s a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, reality learns that not all of us had a well-balanced practical foundation, and therefore certain books can bring solace.
Books Worth Considering: Literature Review
Technique vs. Warm-up
A great player once explained: “I like to see my first session of the day as the very first guitar lessons I had”. Now, plucking open strings or simply feeling the weight of my left-hand fingertips on the strings after that first cup of coffee feels so right.
All should be about what you ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ when going through this. Until you’re not satisfied with both, don’t consider your ‘easy’ warm-up as being complete.