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Classical Guitar Lessons: The 3 C's: Clarity, Comfort & Consistency

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The three C's,
clarity, comfort and
And these are three values to shoot for.
In the first days and weeks of practicing
a new piece, and
that's what this chapter with you is
In teaching at a conservatory environment
16 years now, I've observed that many
have two primary concerns when they're
learning a new piece.
And it seems that those two concerns
mostly are memorization and
speed, and this seems to be what they're
mostly worried about in when,
I ask them while they say, you know, I'm
trying to get it memorized for
the lesson or I'm trying to get it up to
tempo for the lesson.
This is often with students that are first
studying with me at, say,
Cleveland Institute of Music, for example.
There is, I try to
have these students think about an
alternate approach because,,
you know, these are admiral goals, of
course, memorization and speed.
A lot of this is understandable, because,
especially, in a conservatory environment,
the student is aware of an approaching
deadline, their recital.
And so they feel this kind of internal
that they have to get a piece that is
presentable, in a performance context.
I try to work with those students,
actually, to value clarity,
comfort, and consistence ahead and
place it as a higher value when they're
first learning the piece.
I mean, in some cases,
students just want to hear how the piece
sounds in their hands as soon as possible.
But if you put memorization and tempo
first and foremost at the start of
the learning process, it can cause some
students to skip necessary steps.
In achieving the three C's, clarity,
and consistency, which are much more
important goals and
concerns to have in the first 50% of the
learning process, memorization and
tempo certainly are important, but they're
more or less kind of the ladder 50%.
They should become more of a concern at
that point
when you're starting to get sections,
larger sections of a piece together.
You're just about at that point where
they've got it memorised.
You can play those sections at anywhere
from 60 to 80% of the tempo.
Then you can introduce a kind of
practicing that addresses those two goals,
memorization and tempo.
And the three C's was basically my
approach when
I was a student at the Cleveland Institute
of Music in the early 90's.
I certainly would try to get the lay of
the land
of a piece the structure and just kind of
a sense of how I was going to interpret it
by getting some very loose play-throughs
that, you know, after deciding on some
initials fingerings in the first week or
so for each of the passages.
I would lightly play through a series of
phrases or a section, but
I was also aware while I was doing that
naturally, I was gonna make some errors.
And that was okay, because I was very
aware that I was not practicing.
I was simply playing through a section,
getting a feel for things,
getting a lay of the land, allowing my ear
to hear how the piece sounded.
And even just for my own personal
hearing myself play, you know, the piece
even with some errors.
So this is okay, I knew what I was doing,
I wasn't really practicing,
I was taking a couple of non-judgemental
passes in order to get an aural or
emotional feel for a large chunk of music.
But after those initial passes for a few
it would only take about a few minutes to
do that, the real practicing would began.
Several repetitions of very small chunks
of music,
with an eye toward the three Cs, clarity,
comfort, and consistency.
Let's take that first C, clarity.
I would group that first C into three
subgroups: clarity,
clarity, and more clarity.
What I mean by that is, rhythmic clarity,
technical clarity In other words,
clean playing, and musical clarity,
dynamics, details in the dynamics, details
in the tone color.
If there's a ritardando, I'm going to play
a ritardando.
If the composer says an accelerando, I'm
going to do that.
Any of those markings that are in the
I would pay attention to right away in
that first week of learning the piece
without a care in the world for tempo or
Now, after doing several repetitions in
order to get those the clarity in
the playing in the technique, the clarity
in the music details and the clarity in
the rhythm very very important, and
unfortunately, often overlooked.
Immediately following those
repetitions, I would try to then make
those same repetitions but
with a more comfortable feel, to make it
feel easy.
The ease of action, making it feel easy.
Comfort, the second C.
Exhaling exercise, you'll see isolated
topics that we talk about in
throughout the curriculum about practicing
exhale through shift, so
that if you have like a series, something
like this,
a move where we have several shifts in it
and if it feels hard, then try to
exhale through and make that feel as easy
as possible.
That's one way of achieving comfort,
checking the left hand pressure,
making sure that the left hand pressure is
not too great, and
you're using as little pressure as
That's another thing that gets you closer
to that goal of maximum comfort,
checking that your neck and your shoulders
are not con, constantly flexed or
that your breathing muscles in your gut
are not constantly flexed.
So yes, comfort and then also consistency,
which is the tough part.
Consistency is a very hard thing to
And I would try to, and to this day,
I try to attain a certain level of
at these very slow tempos, but with all of
these musical details,
rhythmical, rhythmic clarity, musical
clarity, and
such with a certain amount of consistency
within reason.
I don't expect that I'm going to play
five repetitions even at a slow tempo of a
certain difficult passage and
play them five times in a row with maximum
That's just not really being all that
realistic on the first day.
So, you have to measure according to where
you can, you know,
discern what your playing level is you
You have to give yourself a break, but you
also have to push.
You have to push yourself too for
So, hence, the two-in-a-row,
three-in-a-row things that we talked
Like, say if we take this, [SOUND] this
run that I just made up.
It consists of four shifts.
So, if I break it down, you know, using
your break downs and
then adding a note [SOUND].
You know, that might be the initial sell
of the breakdown.
So I try to get a consistency that was two
in a row, and then maybe I'll try for
a third in a row.
But with each of those three in a row, I
try to be very relaxed when I do it and
just again check my comfort level and
the ease of action, then add the note like
this, so on and so forth.
So that the consistency would happen and
the comfort along with it,
along side of it, happen in many stages,
many stages involving many repetitions.
That's really what practicing is on a
classical music instrument,
on any classical music instrument.
Because we, we're not, when we're playing
a piece of music, we're not improvising,
we have to play the notes.
So we've talked about these things in many
of the lessons in the curriculum already
about how to break down passages, how to
achieve consistency.
And you want to shoot for consistency, the
third C,
along with comfort, which we have many
lessons and a lot of talks about that too.
These two goals, as I've mentioned, can
often be worked on together.
They should never be worked on at the
expense of clarity if you can help it.
If you need a pass or two to just get the
comfort of something, and
the passage isn't clear, there's nothing
wrong with that.
So, the three Cs.
I mean, what are we talking about here,
what's the gist of this?
The approach is basically that if my
playing has clarity, comfort,
and consistency, regardless of speed, even
if I'm just working with my score.
You know, if I'm staring at my score
everyday, then speed and
memorization will be basically a more
natural by-product or an inevitable
kind of an inevitable result of my work,
simply because of the sheer number of
quality repetitions that clarity, comfort
and consistency demand.
And so, the greater your focus on the
three C's,
the more that memorization and speed will
be less forced and feel more natural.
Thank you very much.