When I first started practicing guitar, all I had was a chair, a music stand and a guitar. Sometimes I would even play sitting on the floor with my music. This minimal practice setup felt good initially, because I felt I could be free, but I was soon experiencing aches and pains (not sitting properly) and I didn’t feel that I had the tools necessary to practice well.
I recently read the book, ‘The Musicians Way‘ by Gerald Klickstein which inspired me to think more carefully about how I set up a space to practice. After reading this great book, I decided to write my own practice space inventory. I was really surprised to see how much stuff I actually needed to practice well:
- A good armless chair (at a suitable height)
- Music stand
- Music (everything you need all in one place, including any technical exercises and sight-reading material)
- Guitar stand
- Music notebook (for jotting down musical ideas as and when you have them)
- Footstool / guitar support
- A music stand light
- A light / lamp for your general practice area
- CD / mp3 player (for transcribing / listening to examples)
- Nail care equipment (files, polishing cloths, nail cream, and nail scissors for the left hand)
When choosing equipment, get the best you can. Nothing is more frustrating than a music stand that does not stand up properly or a pen which doesn’t work. Everything should be geared to making practicing as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. If something frustrates you, change it.
When learning a piece I try and practice things in as many different ways as I can think of. Not only does this help me keep interest in a piece, but it can often throw up new ideas, which can be particularly useful in overcoming technical difficulties.
Sometimes I come across a phrase that, no matter how much I practice it, just doesn’t sound musical to me. A few weeks ago I was revisiting Suite Populaire Bresilienne by Villa-Lobos. I was reading though Schottish Choro (the second in the suite), but for some reason, the first phrase just didn’t sound right.
Here is the fingering I was using (as suggested in the fantastic Frederic Zigante version):
I felt that I was landing too heavily on the d# in the second bar (circled in red).
With this original fingering, the move to the d# coincided with a significant shift of the left hand from the fourth position to the first. The natural reaction was therefore to play the d# quite heavily.
You would think that could just be solved by playing the d# lighter with the right hand. However, this didn’t work either, since no matter how quickly I tried to shift, I could always ‘feel’ a gap between that d# and the preceding g#.
After some more experimenting, I came upon a solution:
By keeping the half-bar at the fourth position until after playing the first d#, the phrase just seemed to work much better. I didn’t feel rushed to get to the d#, so I felt in control and much better able to ‘shape’ the phrase.
Try it out – I would be interested to hear what you think!