Playing guitar duets or playing with an ensemble can be a most rewarding experience. " Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two - Chopin"
All I would add to that is "perhaps three or four guitars" - Nockalls.
Guitarists, I have noticed to be a rare breed of musician that tend to be insular at times - (so many soloists !) There is such a rich repertoire of solo guitar music that this is perhaps the cause.
Duet material is much easier to obtain now than during my days as a partner of the English Guitar Duo - back in the mid 1970's. It may seem hard to believe but, in the mid 1970's, there were actually very few guitar duo pairs around - When we eventually managed to find suitable music beyond Carulli, Sor etc. or persuading contemporary composers to write for us - it was usually in need of a lot of revision and editing. The fingering was often poor (sometimes impossible). So many mistakes compared with the originals. I found that the only way was to transcribe our own music from the original scores of the great composers. This was a great learning curve for me, personally, and one which I still get a kick out of to this day !
The few, really great duo partnerships that did exist rarely published their own arrangements for reasons that I can only speculate. - Perhaps they were too busy doing their own thing, didn't want others to copy them, or maybe just too little profit in having their work published for so very few other potential customers.
I can remember searching many specialist Guitar Centres for ensemble music in the early 1970's for many hours as a young and newly qualified guitar teacher. I found it to be a most tedious, dusty, time consuming and weary task. Surfacing from the vaults with what I had hoped would be suitable material for my fledgling guitar groups. Most of it was garbage ! - To be read once and then put in the library to collect dust for a few more years.
I slowly, but surely, learnt my craft by listening to my students' wishes, finding which arrangements worked best, changing keys for different ability groups, simplifying or embellishing and, basically trying to bring everything up to date and offer tunes that people want to play.
As a small child I was 'painfully' shy and quite withdrawn. It wasn't that I didn't know what to say to people, but somehow the words wouldn't come out properly.
Sometimes I couldn't be bothered to answer adults attempts because of this barrier.
I started to play the guitar at age eleven and after only a few months whilst at school in Sheffield, Yorkshire, I was asked to play in the 'Summer Concert' at school. I said to my music teacher (the only teacher that had managed to gain my confidence and trust) that I would like to perform as long as I didn't have to speak ! He agreed to do the announcements.
The big day arrived. Sweaty palms, feeling nervous, everyone wishing me well, which only made me feel the pressure even more. Wanting a hole to appear in the floor that I could fall down. - All the usual reservations, but deep inside - I knew that I could do it - even if it was in front of about 500 people.
The concert was a success and this little eleven year old had stolen the show!!
Did I feel good! I had just communicated musically with 500 people and even made a few of them feel emotional enough to cry! - including the music teacher. It wasn't the fact that I could play well (for my age) but the fact that I managed to hold the audience 'in the palm of my hand' by feeling the music and playing from the heart and soul. This is something I have tried to impress on my pupils ever since. Needless to say that once I had tasted success, my confidence grew. By the age of eighteen I felt at ease addressing any number of people in almost any situation. It worked for me.
These days, we as a society seem to be geared up to passing examinations, reaching targets, making deadlines, etc., and many pupils today forget why (or do not conciously know why) they are playing a musical instrument. Some reply that it has good 'street cred.' - But when they really think about it - playing the guitar is all about communicating a message as in any other art form.
The point I am trying to make is that too many people just play the notes without feeling anything from within themselves. Sometimes I have advanced students who go through the motions and expect praise because they played the notes in the correct order. I ask them -
"What did you feel while playing the piece just now"? - A blank response usually followed by - "I was too busy concentrating on the playing".
The lesson that I hope to achieve in getting across to students is this: -
If you as a player do not feel anything whilst you are performing, then how can you expect the listener to feel anything? In this sense we are entertainers and must 'sell' the music to our audience. This usually does the trick with my more 'sensitive' students.
- As Andres Segovia, the great Spanish Virtuoso once said -
"To a wise man, an indication of what is necessary is enough. To a fool, a thousand explanations will not suffice."
- I may not have remembered the quotation exactly, but that was the intention of it.
Here endeth the lesson.
Here is a list of things that will seem incredibly obvious to some people, but I have encountered many students (and a few professionals) doing things in a way that can be improved. - Call it a list of things you hate to see people do, - but they do it anyway.
Maybe you guitarists out there would like to add to the list - Yes? let's hear from you !
String 6 - tuned down to D. It's a common thing for guitar players to do isn't it ?
How many times have you been to a concert or recital where a player has to tune down to D for the next piece, takes quite a while to do this, - starts to play. When the player is about a page into the piece, you can hear the guitar going out of tune. The sixth string starts becoming sharp doesn't it ?
So many players just tune down to the note they want and then stick with it. - The solution is to take the 6th. string well below the pitch you want and then bring it back up. - SIMPLE. It works.
Tip No. 2
Students on a budget.
I think that guitar strings are generally good value for money approximately £9-£10 for the best (not fair to say which make it but you could ask me) - given that a reasonable set of 4 violin strings can easily cost £35 + for example.
- However If you take the old strings from your guitar and wipe them with a damp cloth, then a dry one. Change the ends around and your strings will sound almost as good as new (for a few days anyway). Excellent for students that cannot afford a new set of strings, or if you have a concert coming up shortly and do not have the time to settle in a new set, which as we all know takes a couple of days at least - no matter what claims are on the packet !
Tip No 3.
A professional/ serious student package in the string compartment of your guitar case should be : -
A new and good set of strings actually on the guitar - (new and good do not necessarily mean the same thing remember! ) - at least one spare set of new strings, BUT most important is to have a set of good strings that have been on your guitar for a few days, just to see if they are without imperfections -(RARE)
If you are fortunate enough, it's also a good idea to have a second guitar with all the above - for reasons of theft behind stage etc.