CGTB 5: Music Theory Checklist

For me, having a process with a list I can check off is critical to getting things done in my personal and professional life. I guess part of this method stems from the fact that personally I am forgetful. It also stems from experiences I had in lessons and teaching students. I would come in and my teacher would ask me about something in the score. Often the question was something I could have and should have known already. There really isn’t a good reason not to have defined a French word in the score that indicated information about expression or dynamics in the piece. This is easy to do with google. By the time I as a grad student I really didn’t have an excuse for not knowing more advanced things like how many lines in a contrapuntal passage where there or which one was the subject.


    Likely part of the reason I was showing up to lessons without having all my basses covered was an issue of maturity. But I also think it had to do with a lack of habit and not knowing what to look for or when to look for it. I hadn’t really trained myself to think about all the different pieces of information I could and should observe about a piece before or while physically practicing it. And I don’t think I am alone in this. Guitarists often discuss whether expression should be added before or after learning the notes. This suggests that there is some ambiguity within the community about when to think through this aspect of playing. It thus does not seem entirely unreasonable that a student may come to a lesson not having thought about expression or the different things in the score that provide information about expression.


    If a musician subscribes to the notes first expression second mentality, its even less surprising that a student would come in without having expression words define. Its the argument of this method that the physical act of practicing is different when expression is added to the notes. Because expression changes the physical motions the body needs to make, its the argument of this method, and an argument presented earlier in this method, that one should think of expression as much as possible before physically practicing a piece and add it to practicing as soon as practically possible.


    My experience is that teachers often think students should know better when they make mistakes like the one I made with the French word in my score. The French word is in the score! Why didn’t the student look it up? It seems like many teachers just resign themselves to the idea that some students get it and some students never will. That may be true, but I think there are many enthusiastic and potential musicians who don’t know what to look for, when to look for it, and what to do with it when they find it. Nobody ever explained two bar phrases, or walked them through analyzing a piece, or taught them how to phrase. I think part of the problem is there is a ton of things to think about and keep track of in a new piece and its easy to forget to think about any of those factors. Its also overwhelming for a teacher to remember them all and walk a student through them. This problem is especially true in advance music like Bach. So part of the goal of this method is to help the reader keep track of everything going on in the music.


    The idea of this section is to have a checklist of things you should do or think about when you first look at a piece. This method is not a theory and analysis book, so I won’t always thoroughly explain all the vocabulary here. I don’t think this means I am leaving the reader of this method hanging. There are plenty of books on these subjects, one could google search any vocabulary in this list, and a good teacher can also provide an explanation and more context. Some of these concepts such as 2 and 4 bar phrases are probably easier to understand and hear with an explanation from a teacher with an instrument at hand.


    This method is focused on where these concepts and vocabulary are applicable in a practice process. In other words, from the time I get a piece of music to the time I perform it, when do I think about certain things such as scales, counterpoint, or words in the score that indicate dynamics. Thats why I don’t want to provide too many definitions here. There are plenty of method books and treatise that explain counterpoint. What I want to target in this method is when does a performer start thinking about counterpoint during practice so that they make sure the music sounds both the way it is supposed to and/or the way the performer wants it to.


    I do present some ideas in the following sections on analysis that may be less familiar even to experienced musicians. In particular, the concepts I present on rhythm analysis are not necessarily original but they are not ideas that are commonly discussed in method books or in some cases even amongst musicians. In places where I present less common concepts I will expand on those ideas more thoroughly.


    The goal of the analysis portion of this method and the lists I present within it are to make sure that all my bases get covered. By “bases” I mean all the mental aspects of a piece and what must be thought of before touching the instrument are already accounted for. I also try to present techniques for experimenting and working out some of these pre physical mental ideas. 


    Having used this method so much in the last two years, I actually find I often skim these lists and don’t necessarily need to write everything in the score anymore. Its about making sure I don’t miss anything. However, when I first started using this practice method I wrote in pencil in the score and noted nearly every detail. I will leave this choice mostly to the readers discretion, obviously I can’t force anything on anyone. But I would suggest being obsessively thorough for a couple pieces. Eventually it is both appropriate and more effective to make mental notes of these different aspects of a piece and skip intensive writing in the score. But wait until observing all these details become habit. The reason I can skim now is because I internalized a habit of looking for all these details.







    One of the goals of this method is to make teaching and lessons more pro active. If a student is working on their first fugue, walk through the analysis portion of this method with the student before they touch the music. Have the student play the different contrapuntal lines individually on the guitar and give them advice about phrasing. Play the two main contrapuntal lines as duets with the teacher and the student so the student can hear the lines together. Then have the student do the same exercises and analysis on their own with another passage for their next lesson. Its my hope to teach musician to fish.


    I can’t stress enough two more important points. First, one of the things that has to change is the idea that a performer is playing an instrument. I think part of the problem of musicianship is that the idea of the instrument and musicality are not treated separately enough. One needs to know how to make a piece sound like it has phrasing, articulation, and musicality before attempting to do so on the instrument. If a performer is not singing a melodic line with correct phrasing they probably don’t have the correct sound memorized in their mind for the passage and they probably can’t hear in their mind what correct phrasing sounds like. If the sound of a passage is incorrect in your mind it will very likely come out incorrect on the instrument.


    To put it another way, one must learn to play music correctly and then learn to play the music on the instrument. And to be more philosophical, one must enjoy just the music and playing music in addition to and before playing an instrument. So that brings me to a second really important point. Playing melodic lines, bass lines, contrapuntal voices, inner voices in an alberti bass, really almost any part of a passage individually is an important component of this method. Playing a line with ones voice, another instrument, or the guitar, and doing so to work out expression, articulation, and phrasing, is a very powerful tool in the tool box. If you are not a proficient sight singer or sight reader playing the lines individually can help you hear the music and work out phrasing, articulation, and expression. I tell my students to put the music on the instrument not the instrument on the music. If that expression seems a touch nonsensical, I blame the Spanish musicians I have studied with over the years who say things that sound profound but are actually difficult to make sense of. Do you know what “playing from the string” means?













    Below is the first list of analytical things to think about in the analysis portion of the method. This information is to be observed in the score.


Large scale structural analysis.


Mark large sections, phrases, and sub phrases using letters and numbers (A, a, 1, Roman numerals, etc.). 


For large pieces count the measures and give every row of measures and every four measures its number so things are easy to refer to. (Klickstein 44)

Look for the piece’s large structures like binary form, ternary form, ABA, ABACADA, AABA, 32 bar form, 16 bar form, 12 bar form, sonata form, rondeau form, dance forms, etc.


Be on the lookout for 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 16 bar phrases and sub phrases. (some of this may become more obvious or refined after harmonic and melodic analysis).


Note any double bar lines as these often separate phrases or sections.


Note major key changes. These also mark major changes in sections or phrases.


Note if the meter changes. These also mark major changes in sections or phrases.


Note significant differences in texture between sections or phrases. Many theory classes put great emphasis on brainy concepts like harmonic analysis or interval analysis but many works such as the Bach solo violin sonatas can very easily be visibly broken down by their texture. You could do a macro level analysis of most of the solo violin sonatas simply by noting which parts of the score have one, two, and three voices.


Note any Codas, DS signs, etc.


If you're piece is a dance piece, identify its rhythmic patterns; especially were the accent falls in the measure. This can be an instance where listening to an authoritative recording by someone who specializes in the genre can be a huge help.


Note when different phrases or sections share, repeat, or vary any of the features mentioned in the above list. If a phrase or section at the beginning of the piece is identical to one at the end of the piece, there is now one less phrase or section to practice. It may also be a place to change tone color or use an alternative fingering.


Learn any unfamiliar language, like musical terms from other languages, signs for dynamics or style, etc.


Section and phrase level analysis.


Note any melodic sequences. Sequences might be a key component in a phrase with the end of a sequence also being an end of a phrase.


Note scales being used in a passage (major, minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, pentatonic, diminished, whole tone, the modes of the major and melodic minor scales). If the scale in the passage can be fingered similar to a scale exercise you have done in your technique practice, you now have one less thing to practice.


Note any sections of 2, 3, or 4 voice counterpoint. A change in the number of voices may mark the end of a phrase or section.


Note any long contrapuntal melodic lines.


Note all the harmonies in each measure. Your left hand fingers will be influenced by the harmonies implied in the measure.


Note any harmonic progressions. This allows you to think and eventually memorize not in terms of individual notes but instead in terms of larger chunks of information in the form of chord progressions. Many sections of Bach look complicated on the page but end up just using many of the same open chord fingerings that a beginning guitar student would know and progressions that a student with moderate experience has done many times such as ii V I or IV V I.


Note any arpeggios you are familiar with. It is possible you may have worked on an exercise that uses a similar right hand fingering to the arpeggio in the piece.


Note changes in harmonic rhythm or phrase rhythm in phrases and sub phrases. (This may become more obvious after harmonic and rhythmic analysis). Harmonic rhythm often changes between phrases.


Note any rhythmic figures or patterns that are prevalent in a section.


Note any ornament signs that are indicated or that would be appropriate even when not indicated. Write in the score the ornament you decide to use. Stealing  ornaments from recordings by master performers or performers who specialize in the genre of music you are working on is great a idea for ornaments.


Be aware of or write in the appropriate use of the following: accents, strong accents, tenutos, brief tenutos, staccato, etc.







Constantly be mindful of the above points. Some analysis will be obvious right away from looking at the score or singing and playing lines in the score individually. Some analysis may become more clear as you continue through the followings sections and spend more time with the piece.


It is not a bad idea to do the large scale analysis portion of the above list before the section and phrase analysis before physically practicing. In other words, get a broad concept of the piece as a whole, but don’t work out section and phrase level details until you are ready to physically practice. My experience was that if I did too much analysis of the entire piece, I would come back to a section I had thoroughly analyzed and remember less. I also found myself changing many of the details on the section and phrase level. But if I did my large scale structural analysis of the piece I could organize my practice time based on how I sectioned off the piece and then do the section and phrase level analysis on passages I would actually be physically practicing soon so that the analysis aided my physical practice and memorization.

CGTB 4: Historical Information and Analysis

    The value of diving into the historical context of any piece of music is different for each player, but most great players have some background knowledge of the composer and the culture that created the composition. A performer would be wise to research background information for each work they are learning. Researching about the composer, the culture of that composer’s time, and information about the compositional methods and performance practices used when performing the piece have a significant impact on how one performs a work. (Klickstein 43 but also Pujol 62).


    Relevant performance practice such as use the of ornamentation, rubato, or slurs are critical to performance. For example, Renaissance lute music does not slur as much as other eras because lutenists from that time preferred the plucked sound and the ability to control dynamics that plucking gave. Music from the 19th century around the time of Chopin utilizes rubato differently than contrapuntal music from the time of Bach. Listening to players who specialize in a genre can be a shortcut to making your pieces sound more authentic to the genre. As rewarding and valuable as it is to read texts by scholars or source material from the time period of the piece you are performing, if you don’t want to specialize in 17th century Baroque guitar, listening to someone who does specialize in the genre and stealing their phrasing, rhythm, and ornaments can be a valuable learning experience and fast a way to quickly learn to play a genre with more authenticity.


    Music theory is another important element that can shape one’s performance. Chord progressions in the renaissance differ from the types of chord progressions one would see in the Baroque. Counterpoint also differed between the Renaissance and Baroque. Music from 1750 onwards has a different melodic character given the decreased use of contrapuntal techniques and greater emphasis on block chords and alberti bass. Knowing information like this can help a performer more quickly assess a work and know what to emphasize in the music.


    Compositional methods used for the music being performed are also important. The fugue has several specific qualities critical to understanding and performing it. The ability to hear multiple melodic lines as both independent and a cohesive whole is a critical element of the style. Knowing what a subject is in a fugue, a counter subject, and being able to hear changes to the subject such as inversions of the subject is critical to the genre and its performance.


    The Baroque prelude on the other hand can be interpreted differently from the fugue. Preludes in Bach can often be played with greater rhythmic freedom than one would play a fugue with use of rubato to create a feeling of improvisation. Listening to a harpsichordist improvise a French prelude would be informative to any performer playing the works of Bach


    A gigue and a bouree both originate out of French dance traditions. Knowing their particular rhythmic idiosyncrasies is crucial in making pieces in those dance styles sound authentic to the style. Listening to Julian Bream play Robert De Visee is a dramatically different experience than listening to Rafael Andia because of the rhythmic feel or “groove” that Andia brings to the music.


    The classical sonata has a structure that became standardized. Knowing the difference between the exposition and development section can play a role in determining one’s interpretation. I often change tone colors for the main themes of the exposition as a play through the exposition a second time. 


    Knowledge of the composer’s biography may have less influence on one’s practice decisions then other parts of the research and analysis stage. Still, knowing information about the composer, the culture the composer grew up in, and the context in which the piece was performed during its time can create a richer experience of the piece. This information can also be interesting points to bring up in between pieces during concerts. Important philosophical views of the culture and musicians from the time period often shape the music composed during that time. The emphasis on rhetoric during the baroque had a significant effect on the way composers phrased in their compositions. The enlightenments emphasis on objectivity and clarity influenced composers to emphasize simple and clearer melodic lines and decreased use of ornamentation.

CGTB 3: Goals of the Process

The goal of of the first section of this practice process is to use analytical tools from music theory and aural skills courses to internalize a piece and develop interpretive decisions about a work before touching the instrument. By the time this section is completed, students should have a strong grasp of the piece simply by having spent so much time looking at the score and doing analysis (Hill 142). The performer will also have some idea after section one of how the music will sound and have some interpretive ideas in mind so that they are not starting from scratch when the physical practice takes place (Romero 122-124). 


The early and middle stages of this process give students ways to aid memory such as harmonic analysis, phrase analysis, or rhythm analysis that give the practicer ways to internalize the piece beyond repetitive physical (or “muscle”) memory of the fingers and hands and that also relies on more than the proprioceptive memory and visual recollection of the movement of the hands and fingers. 


For a teacher, the early stages of this process tries to break analysis into small individual chunks that the student and teacher can work on together. For the teacher, I am trying to develop a way of thinking. One of the problems teachers face is how to get the student to hear the music and their playing in the same way and with the same maturity and attention to detail as the teacher. This process attempts to solve this problem by breaking down phrases into smaller units that can be focused on individually. For example, lets say a teacher is teaching a student to phrase a passage of two voice counterpoint. The teacher and student can record the session on an electronic device and the teacher can show the student how to phrase the first contrapuntal line and then the second line. Once the student can play each line of the music individually on their own with correct phrasing the student can begin working on putting the two lines together.


The Goal of the second section of the process is to create fingerings in the left and right hand before trying to play the piece (Pujol 62, Rene Master Class). The goal of this stage is to create fingerings that leads to the expressive choices from section the first section of the process. This should be done without the guitar primarily through visualizing all the possible fingerings while looking at the score. This part of the process also allows a performer to see in the mind what will be done physically so that when they sit down to play a phrase for the first time they have already “played” it in their mind and are less likely to make mistakes (this idea has been expressed by several methods and teachers: Izquiredo, Ryan, Pujol, Shearor).


The time spent visualizing the interpretive decisions, rhythms, sounds, and physical motions a performer will make through analysis, singing, visualization, and fingering (sections one and two) create a rough draft of the piece in the mind so that by the time the performer begins physically practicing the piece they have already ran through the motions in the mind and heard a rough draft of the music with their voice and with visualization tools. If you practice without any preconceived interpretive decisions, you are learning the note locations but not practicing the phrasing (Quin 83). The physical actions of hitting the notes are not the same as the motions used to play the notes with phrasing, so you are working harder by starting with the notes and then relearning it later when you add phrasing (Klickstein 31).


By the time sections one and two are complete, the performer should already have spent so much time looking at the score, singing the melodies, or visualizing the physical motions that they will have a strong idea of what their physical practicing will look like, what problems need to be solved, what spots are most difficult, and what the music will sounds like. This pre work will cause learning and memorizing to come more quickly.


Remember, part of the benefit of analysis is to see the physical actions in your mind. If the notes in the score are outlining the standard fingering for an open A minor chord, or if a passage is a scale you have practiced many times, your hands should form those patterns quicker, and memorization should come faster because you already know the content. That is a significant point of practicing exercises like scales, transpositions of chords, or chord progressions. Like memorizing a telephone number in chunks (800-765-432) versus large numbers (800765432) this way of thinking allows you to learn and memorize the piece using larger units of information by grouping smaller ones and also by relying on information you already know.


The ultimate goal of this process is to memorize the music. Because guitar music is difficult to sight read, we should see memorization as the ultimate goal of any practice regiment, as the score is just a reminder of content you have already learned and at least partially memorized (although sight reading is a very valuable and possible skill). Much of guitar music is too difficult to sight read or even be reminded of by the score; memorization is thus in most cases unavoidable.


And finally, always have and use a pencil to mark the score.


CGTB 2: What Is A Practice Process and Why Have One

This process is designed to provide a guitarist with suggested goals for their practice sessions and a process to achieve those goals. This process attempts at every step to explain the goals of each step of the process, why they fit into that part of the process, and tools used at each step to achieve those goals.


One of the objectives of this practice process is to illuminate as much as possible about the musical and technical aspects of a new piece and to make as many interpretive/musical decisions as possible before addressing physical (technical) aspects of its performance on the instrument (Clickstein 33). 


The process then attempts to provide different tools (visualization, singing, rhythmic practice, slow practice, memorization exercises, etc.) for achieving on the guitar the musical, interpretive, and expressive decisions determined in the earlier parts of the process.


The ultimate goal of this document is to increase the speed of the learning process by quickly and effectively making interpretive musical assessments of a piece through analytical tools and score analysis methods that allow one to hear and understand the music before playing the instrument. The process then takes the reader through stages of actually physically learning a piece using practice tools from a variety of sources in the bibliography. Sources used for this project include guitar teachers I have taken lessons with, videos of guitarists talking about their process, and method books that discuss how to practice. A key goal of this process is to determine musical goals and how to achieve those goals in the beginning of the process as quickly as possible before touching the instrument. 


An additional purpose of this practice method is to help with memorization by giving the brain more information to associate with for each piece a performer is working on. There are several examples provided in this document of guitarists claiming that when playing from memory, and especially during a memory slip, they have other associations that help them recall music (Glise 93, Clickstein 84-86). Its easier to remember a measure of music as a chord shape of open C or the finger pattern of a G lydian scale or a ii V I chord progression than it is to remember the notes in the measure individually (Sor 28-31, Glickstein 87-89). This concept is called chunking in psychology and is similar to remembering a telephone number in three chunks such as (800-700-6000) versus all one big number (8007006000). Often novice guitarists spend so much time trying to remember the notes from the score in their proper order that they miss the larger scale or chord patterns they imply or the exercises they have done that match what is in the music (Sor 28-31). It is easy to try to memorize every note of a passage and miss completely that it is a scale one has played several times before. 



Another example of aiding memorization with multiple types of information from the score is seen in the habit of many professional performers who learn to sing pieces they are working on (Glise 93). When you learn to sing a piece, your inner ear often guides your hands when performing because you have associated sounds with physical actions (lessons I took from Rene Izquierdo and Andrew Zohn as well as sources in the bibliography including Klickstein 86, Kageyama “8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently, Romero 122-124). The ability to trigger memories of physical motions by associating them with another body sensation is similar to the triggering of normal memories from every day life. A smell can trigger visual, auditory, and emotional memories of a thanksgiving dinner for example. This ability for the brain to reinforce memories through remembering multiple aspects of the thing being remembered is a potential tool when learning music. The more ways we learn or examine the score, the easier it is to remember (Carey, Romero 122-124). 


Another element of this process is to brake the act of practicing down into individual problems. Too often teachers prescribe time spent practicing as the fix to all problems. If you can’t play it, “practice more” is often the common advice. Alternatively, it is often said that focused practice is more beneficial. It is the assertion of this blog and podcast that practice can and should be the act of identifying and solving physical (technical) problems of playing the instrument that allow a performer to express their interpretation and/or analysis as clearly and easily as possible (Carlevaro 22-23). This blog/podcast’s goal is to create a guide for how one might practice more effectively by defining what “focused practice” means. In order to practice effectively, one must be able to develop musical goals and find ways to execute those goals on the instrument. A player must also be able to identify problems in each passage preventing the execution of musical goals and then create specific solutions for those problems (Kageyama, Noa. “8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently,”).


It can’t be understated how important it is to think of technical decisions as results of previously determined musical decisions (although a performers perspective on interpretation may evolve as they spend time physically practicing a piece). Technique serves the music, it is not an end unto itself (Carlevaro 12). An example in guitar is left hand fingering. A single note on the guitar can often be played on different strings and at different positions on the neck, yielding different qualities of tone and vibrato at each location. While the location of the note is to some degree a purely technical decision, the reason to choose one location over another is also and primarily a musical one. To pick the fingering that is easiest, most familiar, or written by an editor may be technically sound but musically inappropriate compared to other available options. 


Sound technical decisions are easier to make when a performer has a concept of sound for a work in their mind (Klickstein 43). Concept of sound means a performer has some sense, ranging from partial to complete, of how they want the piece to sound when it has been practiced and at performance level. Many novices and amateurs do not know how a piece is supposed to sound, or have not been taught how to develop a piece’s concept of sound before practicing the piece on the instrument (Ryan 210). This partly explains the slow progress of beginners: if a performer does not know what a piece is supposed to sound like and does not know how to make decisions that create a concept of sound, they usually struggle to know what to listen for while practicing or what to fix. The performer must learn how to develop a concept of sound for each piece and then how to listen to themselves intently to make sure that the physical motions and technical decisions they make yield the desired sound (Carlevaro 28-29). This idea of a preconceived final sound probably explains why so many great musicians started by transcribing or imitating recordings by other great musicians by ear: they learned what the music could sound like by listening intently and meticulously to other great players.


“One starts by hearing the appropriate sound inside the mind and, while the body recalls the physical sensation of the sound, the hands automatically go to the necessary place and make the necessary movements.” 


-Pepe Romero, (Romero 122-124)



As the performer advances and gains more experience, elements of this process may and should be adjusted as the user of this practice process discovers what works better for them. A performer’s first piece or pieces should follow this practice method closely. After those initial pieces are learned well using this process the performer should consider themselves ready to create their own process. The performer risks not knowing what tools from this system work for them and what tools do not work if they do not try everything and do so for enough time to truly determine the value.


I think many teachers are afraid to offer performers their practicing process in an organized format because they fear they are imposing their perspectives or process on their students. Often teachers also fear that because there are so many different problems to be solved in each piece, generalizing the practice process is either not beneficial or perhaps even harmful. Many musicians seem also to be unaware that they have a process because their process is so internalized that it is subconscious. There also appears to be a culture within music that ascribes talent or time spent practicing as the solution to many of the problems faced by all musicians when the solutions actually come from how the performer identifies problems and spends their time while practicing. The goal of this document is to at least make an attempt at making the practice process more organized, rigorous, and clear.


Musicians also let the culture of music as an “art” prevent the community from viewing music as a trade like engineering or welding that has skills that can be more methodically taught (perhaps a holdover from 19th century attitudes about art and artists). There is also a valid argument that what works for one musician may not work for another. These attitudes creates a reluctance of many musicians to systematizing the practice process. While individuals often have unique health circumstances, doctors are often able to prescribe the same treatment to many patients with routine problems. This document hopes to demonstrate that the same attitude can be taken with the practicing process. Yes, sometimes the cause of a headache is not something that can be treated by Advil, But doctors do not avoid trying generic solutions just because their patients are individual postmodern snowflakes. 


Musicians and academia take postmodernism too seriously and it inhibits pedagogy. To say that some of my performer learn better visually, some learn by listening, and some by touching, therefore I will provide them with very little or nothing and let them figure it out for themselves is, to me, a huge flaw in the culture of post modern education. As an instructor, I should have options and tools that all three learners can utilize, provide them with those tools, and then let them decide what works for them. To give them nothing is inefficient and a unethical.


The point of this practice process is to help teach performers how to think in the practice room. Too often lessons are set up as follows: performer practices, performer comes to lesson, teacher offers feedback, performer is expected to draw broad principals from teachers feedback. This process is an effort to teach a man to fish instead of identifying problems after the fact. I want the teaching and learning process to become proactive, not reactive.


I feel the need to say a word about analysis and music theory as it is a key component of this method. Analysis of a piece as done in many college music theory courses is often frowned upon by musicians. It is even sometimes viewed to be impractical. Some fear that analysis of the music gets in the way of the intuitive artistic process of music. However, all great performers analyze their music. 


If we define analysis as simply the act of identifying auditory patterns in the score and making determinations on phrasing, articulation, and technique to articulate those patterns, all performers do this. The reason performers believe they don’t analyze music is often because the way they do it and what they look for are different than the analysis taught in music theory. Performers may focus less on harmony than they do on texture in their analysis. Performers may internalize their analysis using their ear and their voice instead of doing so in writing or with the scale and chord vocabulary from theory. While music theory often focuses on scale and harmonic analysis because it can be done on paper in the classroom, performers may tend to focus more on rhythm in order to create articulation and phrasing. I am skeptical of any musician who says they do not analyze a piece, but I think its fair to say that each musician might analyze in different ways. One goal of this practice process is to demonstrate that music theory and analysis can be applied in ways that are more practical than simply writing roman numerals for harmony under the staff. 


It can’t be overemphasized that this document is not meant to determine how a performer practices for the rest of their life. It is a guide for how to approach a piece for a performer of any level who believes their practice time could be more effective. Readers of this document can and should modify it to suit themselves after they have attempted all the tools offered in this system.


This process is informed by my own practice experiences, observations of difficulties my students have had, tips from multiple eras of method books from Sor to Iznaola, information from non guitarists, and my own lesson experiences with Christopher Kachian, Andrew Zohn, Rene Izquerdo, Robert Sharpe, Jeff Thygeson, Jeffrey Van, and a host of videos I have watched by great guitarists who at times have provided examples of how they practice or “work up” a piece of music.


Please see the forest through the trees. Its rarely about how many times you do a particular exercise or what type of exercise you do. For example, Whether you choose to sing and play the melody on another instrument, on its own on the guitar, or while playing all the parts together on the guitar is less important than committing to being able to sing the melodic line because doing so reinforces your memory.

The Bibliography

I thought I would post the bibliography of the resources I have drawn on for this project. The reason for doing this is because in addition to having the bibliography I also cited the book and page number of most of the facts I gathered (occasionally I forgot to do so, and going back and finding where I found a fact was a painful process).


So if I read something useful in in say Carlevaro’s method, I put it in a word document and also noted where I found it. I did this partly because documenting sources is a necessary and ethical part of research and building on other people’s work, but also did this so that down the road if I decided to present this material I could point them to where I found the information. I figured it would add to the credibility of anything I was saying if I could point to an established musician or method who also said what I am saying. It also gives people the opportunity to explore for themselves.


Over time I will probably add a couple things to this bibliography as there are a few resources I would like to further explore and draw on that I did not get a chance to during the project. Right now my citations actually in the blog posts are a touch crude. Often you will just see parentheses with the author I am drawing on and the page number of the book or title of the article. Sometimes it will just be a note like (learned this from lessons with xyz guitarist). Over time I plan on making the citations more professional and organized but in an effort to get the podcast up and running I am going to just make sure that somehow sources I am drawing on, especially direct quotes, are at least acknowledged even if the format doesn't follow Chicago Manual of Style or something similar.


Aguado, Dionisio. trans. New Guitar Method. London: Tecla Editions, 2004.


Andreas, Jamey. The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar. Richmond, VA: Seven Eyes Publication, 1999


Bobri, Vladimir. The Segovia Technique. New York: Macmillan Company, 1972.


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CGTB 1: What Is This Anyway?


This blog is an effort to present the results of a research project I did while in graduate school for a masters degree in classical guitar. Essentially my project involved splitting the act of learning a piece of classical guitar music into two broad categories. The first category was the mental aspects of learning a piece of music. Things like musicianship, analysis, phrasing. The second category was the physical aspect of playing guitar, or the technique.

The idea for the research project came to me because I believed I had potential to improve as a musician but I didn't have a clear path on how to do so. I found myself struggling to do what seemed like basic things such as plan out a practice session or make technical decisions about a passage. And I was not really receiving answers from books or teachers or peers that I felt comprehensively addressed my problems. I felt like there had to be more information about technique and practicing and a process for applying that knowledge than what I was getting from the method books I was using or the people I was studying with.

So, I set out on an academic journey to discover "what is out there on the mental and physical aspects of learning classical guitar music?" So that meant hours of reading. As of writing this first description/post of this blog/podcast I have not looked at my bibliography in awhile, but the list of YouTube videos, CDs, DVDs, books, and interviews with guitarists, grew very long.

By the end of the project I was surprised not only at how much information I had gathered, but how spread out it was. There was good information in all the sources I reviewed, but there was not one book that comprehensively covered all the information I had gathered. But once I started to apply the knowledge I had gathered to my own playing, the improvements I was seeing and hearing confirmed to me that this project had value. I then started to notice other people had the same problems/questions I did and that is when the potential for this project to be useful to others became a possibility.


So, having said all this, I would like to outline the goals of the Classical Guitar Tool Box here on this first description/post of the podcast. Of course, the program will evolve over time, but I have a pretty good vision of it to start with:

1) Present through video, podcast/audio, and writing the information from my project on practicing and technique.

2) To present a method and process of learning a piece of music that is comprehensive. My goal is to create something that can walk people through a step by step process of learning a piece of music that is also flexible enough to modify and taylor to an individual's needs and preferences once they are familiar with it.

3) To gather all the information I learned about technique and present it in one place that is easy to access, understand, and apply.

4) I believe part of the future of guitar and other instruments is understanding anatomy and physiology in order to develop an awareness of the body that allows one to play the instrument effectively. I also believe there is vocabulary from anatomy and physiology that is not difficult to understand or internalize but would dramatically improve the ability to communicate about guitar technique.

5) What I believe I have to offer in the Classical Guitar Tool Box is communication skills. There are guitarist who play as well as me and many who play better than I do. I believe the value of this blog however is my ability to communicate knowledge that many musicians know and have internalized but struggle to effectively communicate and present. In the long run my goal is to develop a community where people can add or improve what I am doing here. I hope this blog helps people play classical guitar with greater ease and freedom and increases the accessibility and enjoyment of the instrument. And I hope this way of thinking I present here is taken up by players better than myself one day and they can fill in the gaps I am incapable of covering.

6) On a personal level, I believe in making the world a better place. I think part of doing that is contributing to something like music that brings people together, creates or expresses meaning in their lives, and gives them something to do other than eating and watching TV (huge fan of both don't get me wrong). Part of personal wellness and health is having something to do with your time that brings you joy and meaning. To the degree that this blog achieves this is my very small contribution to making the world a slightly better place.

Thank you for listening/reading/watching and I hope you find my work useful.