In the summer, Kabir Dabholkar went to study with Judicael Perroy at MusicAlp for a week. MusicAlp is an intense “International Academy of Music” for students of strings, piano, and guitar who are taught by musicians of the highest calibre. With Pascal Devoyon and Dong-Suk Kang as artistic directors, this festival (or rather, intense music camp) is located at Tignes a beautiful town in the French Alps. Kabir tells us about his experience there and in particular his top takeaways from the lessons with Judicael Perroy.
I have decided to write this article keeping in mind the young musicians of my generation or younger, who are either aspiring professionals or are dedicated enough, for whatever reason, to put in the mammoth effort required to improve themselves as musicians. That said I’m sure there are at least a couple of useful and interesting things in this article for every music student no matter how serious they take their practise. It is also a list of things that I learnt recently that were new to me, that made a lot of sense to me and that I would like to see myself improve in. So really, I’m writing this for myself, with me in mind.
Write down ALL Left Hand & Right Hand fingerings.
Yes, all of them! It’s common for classical guitarists to write down some Left Hand fingerings and leave out the Right Hand altogether. However, no matter how much you think you’ve finalised fingerings, if you haven’t written it down and memorised them, you will still be making run-time decisions while performing. This takes your attention away from the act of performing and to the mechanics of performing and changes the quality of connection you have with your audience. Making run-time decisions regarding fingerings also makes it harder to recover from mistakes. This should be among the first things you do when you start a new piece. Once you are finished with this, it is out of the way and the remaining work is more straightforward.
Xavier Jara writes everything on his scores. So much so that other accomplished guitarists find it useful to read. Breathing for example. Breathing is a very nuanced and complex subject but it is helpful to remember: breathing in increases tension and breathing out releases tension in your body. This is reflected in the music.
This is the smooth, seamless, minimalist movement of the Left Hand that you can witness when Gabriel Bianco plays the guitar. Or in Florian Larousse or Thibaut Garcia or Xavier Jara or any other student of Judicael Perroy.
Try doing multiple things in one sweeping motion of arm/hand rather than stopping at multiple places. No jerky motions. The metaphor that Judicael used to describe this motion was a stone skipping on water: it moves smoothly, keeping its momentum, just barely pausing at each bounce.
This technique serves multiple purposes: playing more legato, keeping your arm relaxed, and looking more professional when you play.
A good legato
On the classical guitar, you really cannot produce a perfect legato. We will almost always have two separate notes, with space between them (unlike a violin or a flute in which you can actually travel from one note to the next). We need to create the illusion of a legato. This is not about getting from one note to the next as soon as possible, but rather the smoothness with which you can move between notes – even if there is a gap. This is a major benefit of the slow-hand motion of the Left Hand.
Watch out for your tone!
The quality of sound you produce from your guitar is the first thing people notice when you play. Put in effort to make your guitar sound nice. No matter how fast you can play or how skilled you are, if the guitar doesn’t sound good, you will lose the attention of your audience.
After a point, for a good tone you will need a good guitar
There is only so much you can do with a factory-made guitar. After a point, you will have to invest in a handcrafted instrument.
Change your Right Hand position for forte and piano.
It’s important to produce a good tone while playing forte. It’s easy to make a loud, twangy sound, where the strings slap against the neck. In order to avoid this, you have to dig in with your right hand for each note, and press the string down with your flesh (and a little nail) before releasing. Your right hand fingers must move more slowly, spending more time on the string and pushing through it.
While playing piano, the guitar almost always sounds good. So draw your Right Hand back a little and use your nails. This is not only a faster motion, but also creates a lighter, airier tone. You have much finer control when you play with just nails, allowing you to play super soft. This is just not possible in a controlled way when using flesh.
You should be able to maintain the same tone going from piano to forte but changing the hand position to tame the extra energy you are putting into the string as you get louder.
This practice will help you think ahead when playing the piece. This way when you make a mistake you will continue, insteadof stopping and starting. Here’s how to go about memorising the piece in this way:
- Play a small phrase.
- Hold final position and stop.
- Visualize the first position of the next phrase and sing it in your head (or preferably aloud). Recall all the notes.
- Play the next phrase.
- Repeat for every phrase.
The final goal of anticipative memorization is to always be looking and thinking ahead during the performance of a piece.
This is different from practising pieces. Practising performing is the act of practising the entire concert performance – like a rehearsal.
You could call your friends over to your home (lure them with the promise of chips and drinks – whatever it takes), or go to a friend’s home, perform for your relatives, your school or college cultural society, in an art gallery.. anywhere you have the opportunity.
Give each performance (no matter where the venue or who the audience is) the same weight as your final concert. Perform your pieces in the order of the concert repertoire and time them for additional accuracy. The more often you do this the better and I find it especially useful before a major performance.
The camp was a fantastic experience. Some of the things that I learned were in fact not from the teacher but from the students, watching them practice and conversing with them. I suppose different people can have different experiences when at a music academy as you surrounded by so many talented musicians. For me, it was both humbling and encouraging. Judicael definitely had good things to say about me. His style of teaching is encouraging not putting down. Of the more than one hundred and fifty students that were at camp, the ones that I interacted with were incredibly kind and fun to be with. It is notable that camp was truly international. Just among the guitarists, there were people from USA, Lithuania, Romania, Finland, United Kingdom, India and of course France. There was plenty of hard work and practice during the day but there was also time for partying and socializing at the end of the day.