This is just a quick post that will hopefully answer a question that I get asked all the time. The short answer is: “Yes.” A slightly longer answer would be: “Yes. Definitely.”
Rather than try to explain to you why you need to learn scales, I thought I might just talk about the importance of having a positive approach to learning. The value of some things, like learning scales (or learning guitar for that matter) may only become apparent AFTER you have learned them. Any attempt I make to explain why you should learn scales, will probably only make sense to musicians who have already studied scales.
To the beginner or novice I would encourage you to make a choice to truly learn guitar. If you are fortunate enough to be taking guitar classes, then don’t leave anything off the table: Learn scales. Learn to read music. Learn how train your ears and your voice. Learn how to train the finer muscle movements of the hand. Learn music theory. Learn visualization techniques. Learn how to hear music in your mind’s ear. Learn to play with a pick. Learn to play with your fingers. Etc…
Too often I meet beginners who are in such a hurry to learn guitar. As if learning guitar is a phase that can be completed, and shouldn’t actually take that long. Typically a lot of beginners feel that anything other than learning the one or two songs they want to learn is a waste of time. This belief only serves to narrow their focus to a point that it actually prevents them from successfully learning any songs. Learning scales, theory, and other forms of training are in fact brilliant shortcuts that help musicians acquire amazing techniques and other skills that help us memorize lots of musical material with minimal effort in (you guessed it) a reasonable amount of time.
By far the best thing you can do is adopt a positive attitude toward learning. Be open to all aspects of music. You don’t have to play scales up and down the neck like a super shredder. For most musicians, that is not what guitar playing is about. But you won’t get very far if you one foot out the door. Please, come all the way in. Have a seat. Relax and let’s learn what guitar is all about.
In a previous post I talked about the Florida Guitar Foundation and their monthly Classical Guitar Open-Mic Nights. The performances are held at the Miami Conservatory of Music in Coconut Grove. Last week was my first opportunity to go and perform. Well, I did it!!
While the night was very casual and informal, it was still a stage with a mic and an audience, so it was a lot like a real performance. I wouldn’t say that I was nervous, but I sure was rusty.
I always forget how hard it is to START playing. I mean, you walk up, introduce yourself, maybe make a joke or comment and then there is a second or two of absolute silence. Ugh! I hate that silence. The audience is just staring at you and you have to just GO… Start!
With rock music you can usually unleash a KRRRRANNNGGGG chord to shatter the nerves and then dive right in. No such luck with classical guitar. You are supposed to be 100% beautiful sounding from the first note. Oh, brother.
I’d say my performance at the open mic was a solid 70% beautiful. I played two short pieces: “Andantino” Op.241 by Ferdinand Carulli, and “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams. These were two of the very first pieces I learned on the classical guitar and I have been playing them for a long time. At Gables Guitar Studio I can make these pieces sound great. I mean I have worked on them to the point where I can really dig in. I can manipulate tempo and dynamics, and make artistic choices as far as phrasing and direction… I can do all that when I play AT HOME. Being out there in front of people, even in this informal setting, is very different.
Right before I started the Carulli piece I had a moment to center myself and I could feel it. About 30% of my brain was just unavailable. I have performed in front of people enough to kill most of the actual fear that I used to feel. My heart rate and breathing were normal, and my hands were steady. But that part of the brain still always kind of shuts off when it’s go time. Maybe that part of the brain still feels all that fear and I’ve just gotten really good at blocking it out when I need to.
Either way, the mental block prevented me from being present on stage this time. Without presence any hope for a true performance was squashed. Whatever part of my brain is needed for interpretation, and nuance was all walled-up. Instead I merely recited my two pieces essentially from muscle memory. While this kind of performance squarely placed me in the chump category, this is about as good as I could have hoped for this time around. This was, after all, my first time on a real stage playing solo classical repertoire. I consider it a success having made it through without crashing and burning (which was a very real possibly here). Still, If I am ever going to become comfortable enough to become a truly present classical performer, I have to get more time in front of audiences. I will keep swinging hammers at that mental wall in the hope that it will break.
So its back to the rehearsal room to prepare to do it again next month. I have been going over my repertoire book during my practice time trying to decide what I might play at the next classical guitar open mic. Right now it looks like I’ll probably try to play “Lagrima” and “Romanza de Amor”.
Who knows though? Things are also progressing really fast for me lately, especially in terms of technique. Maybe I could have a complete flamenco falsetta by then. That would be awesome. Time will tell.
If you are interested in performing at the next open mic, it will most likely be held at the Miami Conservatory of Music:
Miami Conservatory of Music
2911 grand avenue
suite 400 A
miami, fl 33133
They haven’t announced the date yet, but when they do I’m sure it will be posted on the Florida Guitar Foundation website.