Author: Ron Payne


Principles of Practice

By Isolde Schaupp

Even the best talent will not achieve notable results on an instrument without adequate practicing techniques. It is therefore essential that students are taught how to practice effectively. What might in the beginning be a mere following of detailed instructions given by the teacher should at a more advanced level, become a dynamic procedure, based on proven principles and continuous creative decisions by the player. Practice should be economical. It must therefore be well planned and executed with discipline. The following practising habits and strategies should be gradually developed:


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A player should always have a clear idea of how to use a particular practicing session before starting, either by proceeding after a set plan from a teacher or according to approach, know what material to work on, and how long, approximately, to spend on each segment of the session. Although one might deviate from such a plan in the course of a session it is still important to have a concept, for the beginner as well as for the highly advanced musician.




The attitude towards practice should be positive before the session starts. If one is tired or has cold fingers, practicing should either be deferred or efforts should be made to wake up or warm up first, by doing some light physical exercise. Trying to warm up cold fingers by rushing through a string of mechanical finger patterns superficially is very inefficient and can even have an adverse effect on coordination.




The warm up period should serve to build up concentration level and motorial responses to the highest possible degree. It is advisable to start slowly with familiar material. Scales are most popular, but anything can be suitable, even longer musical passages, as long as they are played with the right attitude, while focusing intensively on the playing action.




The continuous training of both these skills is essential, as through them the musical imagination and self-assessment of a player will gradually improve. Eventually the ears will become trained to pick up the finest musical and technical details. Even the beginner should make “thinking ahead” and “active listening” a habit. The tendency to play on and on mechanically, without mental control, must be fought from the beginning, since it works against the development of expressive playing and reliable technique.




Practice which is too fast leads to inaccuracies and works against the development of technical control. Every single mistake delays the leaning process more than one might expect. It takes much less time to make a mistake than to erase it from the memory. In fact, it is estimated that up to 20 correct repeats can be necessary to prevent the return of a single mistake. Mistakes which have been practiced are especially persistent, particularly rhythmical ones. It can be quite an effort to eliminate them completely, and it is sometimes almost impossible. The memory must be fed only with correct information, in order to avoid confusion.


Many players become impatient with fast pieces, believing that they have to risk faster tempi during practice session, in order to increase their speed. It must be realised that the development of a good speed cannot be forced – it will occur by itself in due time. It is most effective to practice only as fast as one can without loosing control, but at the same time, practice should not be slower than necessary. From a rhythmical or dynamic point of view it can be very effective to practise certain passages in various speeds, from ultra slow to as fast as one can manage accurately. The use of a metronome is, in any case, of great help.




Only if one makes it a rule to practice in short passages can enough attention be paid to each detail. If longer passages are repeated, too much information is presented and there is a greater chance that this information will be forgotten. Long units therefore require many more repeats to reinforce than are needed by shorter units.




It is uneconomical to practise over and over again a difficult and complex sequence which represents a major obstacle. The solution usually comes much more quickly if one works on one technical aspect of it at a time by dividing it into separate exercises, e.g. by isolating a right hand finger pattern from its coordination with the left hand or by practising a left hand pattern silently without right hand involvement.




Playing in a relaxed manner, means that only the muscles needed for a particular coordination are activated. If too many muscles are used and/or if there is no alternation of action and relaxation in a string of different co-ordinations a feeling of tension or even pain is the result. Tolerating tension or pain and hoping that it will eventually disappear, as many players do, is the wrong strategy. It means actually reinforcing a wrong coordination and can also mean risking physical damage (e.g. tendinitis etc.). A better way to proceed is to practice slowly in very small units, focusing on active relaxation at every possible point until the alternation of action and relaxation becomes a habit.


This will also help to gradually reduce the muscle power used during the action, which will result in the playing feeling more and more relaxed when playing the same passage. Apart from the playing apparatus, the rest of the body should also be observed to detect accompanying tensions which only absorb valuable energy that should be used for playing.




Practice which is executed with the described mental and physical discipline is most effective but also very exhausting. It is therefore advisable not to practice for too long at a time, especially not after the concentration fades and playing becomes mechanical and uncontrolled. With continuous application of the described discipline, endurance should improve quite rapidly. A player should observe him/herself carefully, and take a break, rather than force him/herself to practice for over lengthy periods. This wastes energy and will only require longer recreation time afterwards. 30-45 minute practice units are most economical for the adult player. Children do well with 10-30 minutes, depending on age and individual situation. One should remember that the quality practice is worth more than hours of shallow playing. How many sessions per day a player can do and should do, differs from one individual to another.




Many players believe that they are doing the right thing by working blindly through a daily technical training program suggested by some authority in the guitar field. This can be very ineffective as such a program does not necessarily serve the needs of the individual. There is considerable variation in technical talent, with very varying strengths and weaknesses. Apart from that, an elaborate technical standard program can take away too much valuable time from the work on the actual music. There is not much point in practising a great number of daily exercises before one has reached a certain standard of aural control and musical expression. Music teaches a player best what to listen to and what to aim for technically, and also where his/her weaknesses are. Much fundamental technical work can be covered by an appropriate choice of pieces and studies and by the way one works on them. Also, specific technical exercises will emerge during the work on such pieces anyway. The more advanced one becomes musically and the greater one’s aural awareness, the more one can afford to focus on purely mechanical exercises in order to achieve greater dexterity in certain technical areas. Such work will also be more effective because of the higher degree of aural control. The choice and number of exercises a player should practise is therefore a matter of each individual case.




Before practising a new piece a player should gain an understanding of its mood, structure and style, by reading and imagining it, playing through it several times, analysing it, listening to it etc. The fingerings for both hands must be established on the basis of musical and technical considerations. To what degree, a teachers guidance is required in this, depends on the standard of the player.


In practising a piece, it would for obvious reasons be advisable to approach the most difficult passages first. The piece may then be practiced in small technical units. Each unit should be repeated at least 5-10 times, aiming at playing the correct notes, with correct fingerings, well connected and in correct rhythm (strictly as noted – no rubato – check with metronome). This procedure should be repeated until one can play through the piece accurately, with a clear tone at a reasonable speed.


The next stage involves paying special attention to the phrasing and the disciplining of emotional responses. In the course of this, one should focus on voice leading (e.g. singing the melodic phrases, in contrapuntal contexts, singing or imagining one voice while playing the other(s) etc.), and rhythmic-dynamic shaping (rubato within the pulse should be practised with the metronome -stronger rubato effects may be included as well if appropriate). During this stage, a player should also work on the piece just mentally, away from the guitar, referring only to the printed music in order to refine his/her image of the piece as a whole and in its detail. Systematic memorization may be started in connection with this.


As a last step larger musical sections should be practiced concentrating on how and where to vary tone colours. Work should also be undertaken on the technical projection of the overall shape of the piece, on the basis of analytical understanding and practised emotional responses.


The above mentioned steps are to be understood as a rough guide only, open to individual variation. Also, it must be added, that periods of rest away from the piece are important. They may be periods of days, weeks or even months, either between any stages or during stages, depending on how long and how intensively one had been working on the piece. Such periods of rest are of great benefit, because the mind keeps working on a piece subconsciously. Suddenly, it appears to be easier and new interpretational ideas arise.


Practicing efficiently means working hard, with a well planned strategy. Although the result rewards the player, many students have difficulties in the acquisition of the necessary discipline. Teachers should be patient and realise that this can be a long learning process. If practice methods such as described here are introduced gradually from the beginning, students usually cope with them very well. Ideally, a player will succeed in refining and developing his methods of practice until it becomes a creative act in itself.


Teaching students how to practice should be part of a whole concept of teaching the instrument.

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Phillip Houghton

Music for me is the end result of trying to bring dreams into reality, it’s a universe of emotion producing a living experience not easily expressed (for a musician) in words but found in sound itself.


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The combinations of techniques and systems employed in producing music can give it a specific language. The culture within which it evolves its content and meaning and the choice of instrumentation is also crucial in its transition from “dream, to form, to performer.” How this is achieved is completely up to the individual, as apart from practical instruction in theory (harmony, counterpoint etc.) I don’t think composition can be taught. I see it as a process of invention and discovery – an internalised dialogue between the composer, the known and the unknown – the unknown which is intuitively felt, is abstract and is perhaps the “space” we fill with “learning.”


It was this sense of intimacy, or inner-voice, which directed me away from institutionalised education and led me down the road of intensive private study, going at my own pace through scores, recordings, volumes of books and discussions with many composers and musicians, of whom four people have had a major impact on me: John Champ, Sebastian Jorgensen, Peter Mumme and Helen Gifford.


In music the one constant (that I see) through the ages has been melody – a tone or pitch, its travel in time, its rhythm and the style.


I can’t explain why I love the guitar. Perhaps it’s the poignancy of each note’s death -the pluck and the decay; the incredible tactile intimacy of direct contact in sound production. Or maybe, for me, it’s the instrument of Arcadia, the brushing of the strings breathing at once as an ageless voice of change.


I left a Fine Arts painting course in ‘73 and bought my first classical guitar. A big fan of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Miles Davis and Frank Zappa to name a few, the world of classical music suddenly opened up to me. It was an exciting time. My principal studies were with Sebastian Jorgensen (1975-76) at Montsalvat, Eltham, a wonderful centre for artists, jewellers, musicians, sculptors and poets. I later taught there, assisting in concerts, music festivals, drama and dance productions.


During the years 1977-80 I performed both locally and interstate and was recorded and broadcast by the ABC and other radio stations, playing, largely, original compositions. Career highlights include the Boosey and Hawkes publication of a set of some of my early guitar pieces, Five Exotic Studies; the premiere of In Amber given by Sebastian Jorgensen and the Petra String Quartet; overseas performances by the John Mills Trio of a set of Six Trios, originally written to commemorate the opening of Montsalvat’s chapel premiered by Angelo Karavitis, Sebastian Jorgensen and Roger Treble.


Although I’ve written music for theatre, film, experimental video, dance and electronic projects, it is the guitar that is my main interest and which I find most fulfilling.


Much has been written about the state of music today and where it is headed. For every person there is an opinion, and therein rests the broad score of expression, be it tonal or atonal, this school or that school, electronic, acoustic etc. Never before have we had such a full palette of sound sources to take us into the future, nor such a rich history to draw from music is such a subjective thing – a thing of the spirit.



These two early solos are from a collection of Eight Short Solos (Book 1). Melodic and of an easy to moderate standard, the Solos are each dedicated to certain composers who had an impact on my development. ‘The Passing’ is a little tombeau (or lament) to Chopin. ‘Dompe’ to Ravel, is loosely based on the 16th Century English dance form of the same name (or Domp, of Dump), that works on pedal notes or drones, of which the earliest known example is thought to be ‘My Lady Carey’s Domp’ c.1525. These two pieces are not intended pastiches, only my response and attempt to capture a mood and feeling.

Phillip Houghton The Passing


Phillip Houghton Dompe Drone Dance

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Fretboard Harmony 1

By Peter Altmeier-Mort

In the performance and study of music, the player, the music, and the instrument, are the components of a whole whose engine (and source of energy) is really the person themselves, PLUS their perception and understanding of what is being played – particularly its form and structure.


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As two points of comparison, one could propose that a professional racing car driver could not afford to be ignorant of the structure and way in which the engine of his vehicle works. He would no doubt feel less able about his role nor NOT knowing all about it, and consequently perform only up to the limitations that this might impose. In the performance and study of music, the player, the music, and the instrument, are the components of a whole whose engine (and source of energy) is really the person themselves, PLUS their perception and understanding of what is being played – particularly its form and structure.


Fretboard harmony is a tool to be applied in achieving these ends so far as the harmony of guitar music, its positioning on the instrument, and it’s not inconsiderable peculiarities are concerned. The study of harmony and its application to the instrument being played, is simply part of becoming musically literate. It is a fundamental skill that helps a musician perceive what a composer has done to create the effect that so pleases the player and the audience (if there is one), as the music unfolds its communication. Harmony, as well as melody and rhythm, is always a part of the composer’s communication apart from the whole area of his intended emotion, style and interpretation. Like everything else in music, harmony has to be “heard” before one can do anything with it emotionally.


Equally important is the fact that understanding the music’s harmony is an aid to memorisation of a piece, and, understanding the options on the fretboard gives the player greater freedom for a variety of left hand fingerings. In many students a large amount of “muscle memory” is enforced upon the act of memorising a piece of music – a time consuming pursuit in itself. Under the pressure of performance (public, private or in exams for example) the “muscle memory” approach to memorisation is liable to complete collapse, mainly because by its nature it is robotic. When this memory “system” falters the performer quite often has no other reference point from which to pick up from – no amount of “muscle memory” will cover for a lack of understanding of the music. The former is actually a symptom of the latter and unfortunately both understanding, or a lack of it, are equally transmitted to the listener. This is not to say that the player must be consciously saying to him/herself “and now I am moving from a 1st inversion F major chord to a root position A minor chord” when performing a work. This amount of attention on the structure or harmony would be obviously detrimental to one’s freedom of expression and personal message in the music being played. But if, after the notes, rhythm and fingerings are established a piece IS then studied like this, even with limited knowledge an awareness of the music’s structure become inbuilt. It becomes an internal path the player follows within themselves as the music is played, never too far in the background of his/her mind and always available as a passing reference point for memorisation during the act of formally presenting music. This study or practice habit can even continue right on up into the refinement stages of preparing a piece – the moment of performance is the time to drop all this attention into the background and just PLAY.



Harmony – from the Latin/Greek roots “harmonia” meaning to join, fit together, which gives rise to the normal English use of the word as in agreement, understanding, goodwill or peaceful relations. In music, harmony is the fitting or joining together of sounds to form chords. More fully, it is the structure, function and relationships of chords.


Chord – a combination of 3 or more notes sounded simultaneously. In this text, the simultaneous playing of 2 notes any distance apart, is referred to as an interval. The concept of harmony concerning intervals occurs in that the 2 notes may sound harmonious or well fitting together, and following on from this, a pair of notes sounded together can often imply the sound of a 3rd note and therefore a chord. Some guitar tutors refer to intervals as chords, but it is probably best to maintain a distinction between the two, because it is the way in which intervals resolve or move one pair to another, that affects the way chords resolve or move one to another.


In music, the scale functions as a reserve of notes from which melody and harmony are formed. A piece is said to be “in the key of C major” because its melody and harmony (or chordal accompaniment) have been so constructed from the C scale. It is a scale that provides this type of order and organisation for the music. The character of a piece of music, to a large extent, is a result of the character of the scale that has been used. This explains the main difference in character between a piece in a major key and one written in a minor key – to begin with the character of the scales used is different, the major scale creating one emotional effect, and the minor another.


Our Western system of harmony or chords is based upon intervals of thirds (taken from within a chosen scale) placed one upon the other.


For example, consider the C major scale.





To build the chord of C, take the note C as the starting point and select from the scale an interval of a 3rd above this note. That will add the note E to the C.


Now select from the scale the next interval of a 3rd above this E. That will add the note G, giving a complete 3 note chord of C major (remember the scale being used is C major) These notes are termed:




These 3 notes, C,E,G form what is known as the basic TRIAD of the C major chord. Triad – a group of three of something. The beginner will have seen this chord written several ways.




For now, it should be understood that any of these three different notes making up the triad, can be repositioned higher or lower on the staff, and that any of these three notes may be repeated in any single writing of the chord – whatever happens with the positioning of the notes, there is nothing else here but the basic C major chord. WHY they are rearranged is covered in the next section.


The beginner will also have seen the notes of a triad used in this musical context.




Looking closely at the notes employed here, it breaks down to being nothing else but a useage of the three notes of the C major triad C,E,G. The three notes of the triad are not played simultaneously as a chord would be, since the composer has designed here an arpeggio technique (from the Italian “arpeggiare” – to play like a harp) to be played over the notes within this triad. For now, such an awareness of the harmony and it’s use in this bar is a sufficient expression of it.


Neither do the three different notes forming a triad ALL have to be present in a statement of a chord. Beginners will be familiar with this musical context.




Here there are three notes used in each bar, but ALL three notes of the C major triad are NOT used in any one bar. The first bar has used only two C’s and an E, the second using two E’s and a C. Again, the harmony of each is nothing else but a “broken” formation of the C major chord, with the note G omitted.


Among themselves, musicians tend to use the terms “triad” and “chord” as interchangeable terms – which is fine if these terms of reference are agreed upon. To perhaps place some clarity on this for the beginner, “triad” simply describes those three different, fundamental notes of a chord (C,E,G as in the above examples) – it does not infer how they could be played, or how they may be written in music. As first defined, the term “chord” means three or more notes sounded together, and not ALL the three essential notes of the triad need to be present, but they usually are. Another use of this term is for those situations using arpeggios. An arpeggio is a “broken” chord – that is, the notes of the triad are broken up and sounded one after another in some deliberately constructed pattern. See ex. 2 again. So here, “chord” is used in analysis to describe the harmony of any given arpeggio, and thus the term IS applied to occasions when notes are in fact NOT being sounded together.

Returning to the C scale, build a triad now upon the second note of the scale, D again using intervals of thirds from the scale.


Example 4.





Now place this new chord beside the C major triad and observe the intervals between the Root and the 3rd of each chord.




It is the interval from a root note to it’s a 3rd, that determines whether the chord is MAJOR or MINOR.


The interval of a MAJOR 3RD is a distance of 2 tones from note to note (the C to E here). The interval of a MINOR 3RD is a distance of 1 ½ tones from note to note (the D to F here). Thus the triad built on the 2nd note or degree of a scale, in this case D is a MINOR triad – so this is the chord of D minor. Again, no matter how the notes of the triad (the root, the 3rd and the 5th) are distributed or positioned over the staff, the harmony used is still the basic D minor chord.


Returning to the C major scale, build a triad upon the third degree of the scale E, using intervals of thirds from this scale.


Example 5 –



Looking at this triad on the note E, it can be seen that the interval from this root note to its 3rd above (the note G) is again a MINOR 3RD. This is the chord of E minor.


Consequently, the result of building triads on each note of the C scale is this:


Example 6 – min. B dim. C maj.



These are the chords and the harmony naturally occurring in the key of C major – the scale has provided it all. Any major scale will create the same sequence of major and minor cords, always with three major, three minor and one diminished. Observing the intervals between the notes of the triad built on the 7th scale note B, it will be seen these are minor 3rds all – this is the characteristic of the diminished chord, intervals of minor 3rds one upon another. To “diminish” or “make smaller”, is a direct reference to the interval of the 5th (from the B to the F) in this chord – it is semitone too small to be a perfect 5th. So this diminished interval places this name upon the chord.


A composer writing a melody in the key of C, would then choose from these chords his harmony for that tune. Any chords he chose NOT belonging to this group would amount to a “modulation” or change of key. Played as written, the above triads sound uninteresting on the guitar, but this presentation is the simplest form to explain the theory. The next section leads into a satisfying realisation of their sound and positioning on the fretboard.


Student exercise:

  1. On manuscript paper, write out the scales of G major, D major and F major without their respective key signatures. Place the correct accidentals (sharp or flat signs) into the writing of each scale – analyse and write in the correct names of all these chords. In particular, compare the chords of the key G to those of the key of C (as above).
  2. Draw the basic major, minor and diminished triads for EACH of these root notes – A, F and G. Use accidentals as necessary.



The VOICING of triads and how their notes are distributed through higher and lower positions on the staff.

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Fretboard Harmony 4


Student Exercise: To review the categories of fusion and tension as introduced in the last F.B.H. column, name fully the following intervals, and then describe each one as being either constant, neutral, or mildly / strongly dissonant.


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Fretboard Harmony 4

To recap, the basic chords of a key consist of consonant (and neutral) intervals. When major or minor 7th, 9ths, and later diminished or augmented notes appear in these triads, dissonance or instability is created which must then be resolved. At the beginner/intermediate stage of music study, this mostly concerns the dominant 7th chord and its interaction with other chords of the key.


The answers to last issue’s exercise on resolving chords around given intervals are:

Fretboard Harmony 4

From these examples some simple rules should be noted:

  1. The dissonance of the 7th in the dominant chord resolves by falling a step of a semitone to the 3rd of chord I (the chord of the keyname).
  2. If the 3rd of the dominant chord is the upper most voice (the soprano), this will rise to the tonic or root note of Chord I. (see 2nd solution of answer No 1 above)
  1. If the 3rd of the dominant chord is an inner voice, it may rise to the tonic or fall to the 5th, of chord I. (see 1st solution of answer No 1 above)
  1. When writing in 4 voices as the above chord has been done, it will require the doubling of a note to expand the basic triad from 3 to 4 notes. For this, double the root note. The dominant 7th chord can have just its 4 constituent notes (2nd solution, answer No 1) or it can have the 5th omitted with the root note doubled to take its place.


(1st solution, answer No 4 above). These considerations about the horizontal movement of voices from one chord to another, form the subject known as VOICE LEADING. The music of Sor and Barrios comes to mind as splendid examples of this craft upon the instrument – Sor for his classicism and Barrios for his innovation on the guitar. As some students would be aware, the movement of the dominant 7th chord to other chords of the key, forms CADENCES.


CADENCE – “harmony that has the effect of punctuating a melody in the way full stops or commas punctuate written sentences” – N. Long; “a formula that occurs at the end of a composition, a section, or a phrase, conveying the impression of a momentary or permanent conclusion.” – Harvard Dictionary of Music.


The dominant 7th can be involved in any of the following harmonic movements, and its dissonance always has to be resolved. (all examples given in the key of C major) V7 -ii (i.e. chord 5 to chord 2, or G7 to D minor) V7 -iii (G7 to E minor) V7- IV (G7 to F major) V-VI (G to A minor) V7 -I (G7 to C major, the Perfect Cadence) IV- I (F major to C major) forms the Plagal Cadence, but as both these chords are consonant there is no dissonance of the 7th interval to resolve. Its voice leading is set out below.


Each of these chord progressions has a different musical impact and directs the harmonic flow of tension and fusion in its own particular way. Up to about 4th grade standard, V7-I, IV-I and V7-VI will be the most commonly seen cadences. The V7 -I cadence has been looked at in the answers to last issue’s exercises, so has the voice leading of the IV-I Plagal Cadence. The most familiar use of the Plagal Cadence is as the chordal accompaniment “Amen” to hymns. Since chord IV is a consonant chord with no specific dissonances, its voice leading is relatively free. With the inner parts, try to take a line of least resistance, that is, do not leap up or down with a voice if a step (a tone or semitone) is available, and do not step up or down if the note can be retained in the oncoming chord. Double the root note of chord IV (doubling the 5th is allowable) to form the 4 voiced chord. This cadence is more passible than the V7-I Perfect Cadence which always has the impression of a full stop or permanent close to the music -the impact of the Plagal is more momentary than final. The note common to both chords, is usually the melody of the “Amen.”


Fretboard Harmony 4


Student Exercise: Write out the Plagal cadence progressions for the keys of G maj D maj, A maj, F maj and Bb maj. Finger them in as many ways as possible on the fretboard.

Fretboard Harmony 4

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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A new website!

After weeks of hard work, I am very excited to officially announce the launch of my new website. If you can’t remember the old website see the before and after images.


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A few of goals with the new website were to make it uncluttered, easier to navigate and more user friendly.


The new website features an entire news section dedicated to all articles, classical guitar news and tips, making it as easily accessible as possible for our current and prospective students with better photos and the additional feature at the end of each article to write your own comments.


Amongst the new features the site contains social media buttons for Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. You can find us on Facebook at


Constant updates will be made to the new website and Facebook channel with classical guitar articles, insights, prompters, motivational quotes, inspirations, announcements and student successes.


Many more new features will be coming soon, such as a monthly newsletter, lesson videos, and audio; stay tuned for more.


Thank you to Peggy, Rodney and Luke for your time and energy in helping to make this site what it is.


I hope you find the new website easy to access and informative. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments.

Thank you!

Ron Payne – Classical Guitar Teacher



Classical Guitar Teacher Melbourne



Classical Guitar Teacher Melbourne

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Our Task is to Educate Musicians Not Just Guitar Players

By Isolde Schaupp

Technical and musical education must take place simultaneously if a musician is to emerge from the training. This seems to be only common sense. But the opinion that technique must be built up first before one can make music is still fairly widespread among guitarists.


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As a result of this way of thinking, hours are spent in practising numerous exercises, covering all sorts of fingerpatterns (frequently irrelevant ones) players become obsessed with developing high speeds. Studies and pieces are more or less worked out from a mechanical point of view without paying much attention to the interpretation to the music which they contain. In striving for “technical improvement” no time remains for the music. As soon as such players feel equipped to play the standard repertoire pieces, they listen to recordings of famous guitarists and try to copy them, regarding their interpretation as the “right” one. Often the difficulty of the pieces is underestimated and it is also not realised that parroting another’s performance can hardly lead to musically convincing playing.


The picture drawn might look somewhat negative but it only reflects tendencies which can be found far more frequently than one would wish. The described attitude is mainly based on the error that technique exists completely separately from making music. In fact, both are to a great extent indivisibly connected to each other. Technical skills can only partially be developed separately from music making.


Imagination and Aural Awareness
Imagination and aural awareness are the most important skills which need to be trained in order to develop a refined musical image and technical control. To anticipate mentally (aurally and physically) what one wants to play and to listen critically to the result of the attempt, requires a great deal of concentration besides the actual playing, particularly as it all has to happen simultaneously. These skills need long deliberate training (from the very beginning) as they do not necessarily develop automatically.


As music is a “time-art,” strict rhythmic discipline is essential and should be introduced from the very first attempts on the guitar. The first step towards rhythmic progress begins when the student simply learns to play even beats with accuracy.


Wrong timing makes any piece fall apart, no matter how much effort is put into playing it well in other respects.


But frequently extensive rubato playing is used before basic rhythmic control has been established and this will almost inevitably end in disaster. To avoid this happening, emphasis should always be placed on correct rhythmic execution whatever is played. Even purely mechanical exercises should be played with rhythmical accuracy making them a musical exercise as well as a more efficient technical one.


It should be one of the first priorities in educating young players to develop systematically their sense of rhythm and timing.


The guitar is an instrument with a relatively small dynamic range. Therefor it is important to exploit the possibilities in this area to the limit. The foundation for this again should be laid in the very beginning by aiming to develop a strong, but unforced overall tone and the ability to play tones of equal strength. As soon as this is achieved to a reasonable degree, dynamic differences should be practised regularly within musical contexts (terraced dynamics, crescendo, decrescendo etc.) The dynamic range should be gradually extended in both directions as far as the improvement in tone production allows. If this is not done, a weak tone and flat, boring playing is usually the result.


The tone someone is able to produce is mainly dependent on 1) the mental image of the tone the player wishes to produce and 2) the natural fingernail condition, individual and angle of attack.


If there is no desire for a good tone there is usually no motivation to work on it. On the other hand it is surprising what kind of problems regarding fingernails can be overcome if the desire is strong enough. The imagination comes first. Therefore, it is important that the desire for a good tone is stimulated alongside the teaching of principles of tone production.


The tone should at no stage be disregarded. Despite the compromises we sometimes have to make on the way to a good tone (e.g. due to age, fingernail condition, pattern of talent, quality of the instrument, student’s working attitude etc.) students should at least be encouraged to make reasonable efforts to achieve the best tone possible at the time. They should also make use of different tone colours according to their level of progress, e.g. by using different registers, special fingerings or by changing the angle of the attack in certain musical contexts. If the fingernail condition is so problematic that a reasonable tone is unachievable, fingertip playing or the use of false nails can be the better compromise than being forced to put up with a bad tone. Children who are too young to care for their fingernails should in my opinion begin with fingertip playing rather than become accustomed to a poor nail tone. I found no problems converting them to nail playing at a later stage (ca 11-13 years, depending on the individual.


Phrasing – Formal Shape
The phrase is the smallest complete musical unit. Consequently, if Phrasing is neglected, the music is in danger of becoming simply a sequence of notes. The phrase becomes alive by means of its rhythmic and dynamic shaping, appropriate articulation and choice of tone colour according to context, style and individual taste.


Phrasing can and should be taught as soon as a beginner is able to play a simple melody. Melodies which can be sung are most suitable, as phrasing comes naturally in singing. Even at an advanced level, it still can be very helpful to sing the phrases before playing them.


As phrases are just the building blocks, of a larger musical context, students should also be made aware of the overall formal structures, and this can already be done at a very basic level. Gradually students should be guided towards a more refined interpretation by shaping each phrase in relation to the next and finally by giving each piece its overall form.


In shaping music, all the skills described above must function in addition to the positioning of fingers into the correct places.


The ability to bring the formal shape and stylistic character of a piece across to an audience and the ability to transform spontaneous emotional responses into expression on the instrument, without developing distracting muscular tension, can only be gained by continuous and systematic training on the music itself.


The interpretation of music should therefore be at the center of our concern from the start, with pieces and studies being the main working material and with quality coming before quantity. These must, of course, be carefully chosen to ensure step-by-step musical-technical development for the individual student. Mechanical exercises do still have their place in the achievement of dexterity and coordination. However, they should only represent a logical supplement to the work on pieces. Many exercises will emerge from the music itself. A musical approach to development of technique, as described, will ensure that the technique serves the music and not just itself. It is the responsibility of the teacher to guide the beginner in the right direction to avoid later frustrations. True virtuosity can only be developed on the basis of musicianship.

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Sadie Bishop An Appreciation

By David Gregory

From today’s perspective it is hard to imagine of the earlier days of the 20th century when at least in the English speaking world, the guitar was largely considered to be a folk instrument, not a proper instrument like the violin or piano.


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John Williams, the world’s foremost living exponent of the classical guitar studied piano and music theory at the Royal College of Music in London, as guitar was not on the curriculum at that time. Of course there were concert tours by performers such as Andres Segovia and others but teachers of the instrument were few and far between. The 1960s and 70s saw the folk revival and coffee bar culture where no bohemian worthy of his beard and sandals was without a guitar.


A sizeable number of these enthusiastic but technically limited acolytes went on to higher things. Bored by the “3 chord trick” they tentatively discovered the world of Sor, Guiliani, Carcassi and their like, and were inspired by the mercurial Bream, the youthful John Williams and the colossus, Segovia. By the 1970’s guitar schools were proliferating, the repertoire was expanding via the publication of previously obscure music and new compositions and the standard of playing rose markedly.


Sadie Bishop


Sadie Bishop is a key figure in the renaissance of the guitar having advanced the standard of playing and teaching in both hemispheres. I was privileged to meet Sadie at her home in inner Melbourne and the following is a summary of her recollections


Sadie was born into a musical family, her mother being an accomplished pianist with a talent for improvisation.


Leonard Williams was a jazz guitarist who emigrated to Australia from London in the late 1930s. During the 1950s Sadie shared a house with Len and his family in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick. This was the origin of Sadie’s interest in the guitar and she rapidly became adept.


A leading light of the artistic life of Melbourne at the time was the Jorgensen family based in the bluestone gothic fantasy castle of Monsalvat in what was then almost the bush but is now an outer suburb of Melbourne. The great hall of Monsalvat is arguably one of the best places in Australia for chamber music and Sadie often gave recitals there. In the audience were the youthful contemporaries, John Williams and Sebastian Jorgensen. Sebastian also became a fine guitarist and teacher.


Len and the family returned to England in 1952 and set up the London guitar centre (still extant and thriving) and later at Len’s invitation Sadie joined them. Sadie taught at the centre for several years. During her time in Europe she was able to attend for three years in succession the famous summer school at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana di Siena in Italy where Segovia taught. It was there she became acquainted with Alirio Diaz, another notable guitarist of the age. Sadie recalls playing the Receuerdos de la alhambra for the master and being greatly advanced in the musically stimulating atmosphere.


On returning to Australia Sadie continued to teach and give recitals. A friend (Paul Chick, guitarist in a band called the Premiers), recalls attending a concert in Mordialloc which was well attended and enthusiastically received.


Sadie’s proudest achievement is in being appointed head of guitar at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, the first academic appointment of its kind in Australia. Now most music faculties would have a head of guitar but Sadie was the first. While at the ANU Sadie continued to give solo and chamber recitals as well as teach. Timothy Kain was a noted pupil who later assumed the academic position held by Sadie. Tim is well-known as a teacher and recitalist and also as the inspiration behind the classical guitar ensemble, Guitartrek with many CDs and concerts to his credit.


Sadie Bishop with Joe Washington


Sadie’s partner, Joe Washington was also a fine guitarist in the jazz idiom, probably best known to a generation of guitar players from his arrangement of Beatles tunes for classical guitar. Beautiful arrangements but far too difficult for a “pop star” to attempt.


The family musical talent carries on in the form of George Washingmachine, a noted jazz musician. George also learned the guitar (“he was a “natural,” Sadie says) although George is now more often seen on stage playing the violin in a Grappelliesque style and singing in the company of guitarist Ian Date.


Sadie played at first a Maton guitar and later a Ramirez.


Sadie’s recording is now out of the catalogue. Entitled Sadie Bishop, Classical Guitar it includes pieces from the student and concert repertoire. Studies by Guiliani, Carcassi, Villa Lobos along with works by Sanz, De Visee and Tarrega evincing a robust technique and a beautiful tone.


Sadie continues to take a keen interest in the instrument and follows concerts, recordings and recitals of her favourite players who include Slava Grigoryan, Peter Constant, Marian Schaup and of course John Williams.

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Fretboard Harmony 3

By Peter Altmeier-Mort

For those readers who made an effort to analyze example 1 from the last Fretboard Harmony column, the answers are:


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Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


The second last chord, which has been left unnamed here, was one of several misprints in the last installment.This chord should have been F, B, D, making it an inverted diminished triad. The indicated chord of F, G, D, will in fact be covered in the material set out below. See if you can identify it at the conclusion of this issue’s lesson.


The Movement of Voices
As stated in the first article of this series, it is the way in which intervals “resolve” or move from one pair to another that affects the way chords and some of their individual voices move one to another. This is one reason why the subject of intervals is treated before chords when studying theory of music, yet it never seems to be made abundantly clear to students, especially those who may be preparing for theory exams. Beginners, and intermediate students, should get to know the following tables of intervals (done in the key of C major). The bracketed numbers underneath show the distance between each note of the interval in tones.


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


  • Unison = the combined sound of two notes of the same pitch.
  • Perfect = a term (based on mathematical ratios) applied to intervals of the octave, 5th and 4th.
  • Octave = the interval between the 1st and 8th notes of a scale, or any two notes of the same letter name 6 tones apart (from the Latin “octo” = 8).

Taking this one step further, the above basic major intervals can be altered with the use of sharp and flat signs to produce finer gradations of intervals within this range.


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


  • Augmented = enlarged, made bigger – used on those major or perfect intervals that can be made larger by one semitone (sharpening the upper note).
  • Diminished = reduced, made smaller – used most commonly on the perfect 5th and 4th intervals to make them smaller by one semitone (flattening the upper note).

As will be seen in the near future, it is from this spectrum of intervals we form the more complex chords like 6th and 7th chords (9th and 13th chords too) augmented, diminished and flattened 5th chords etc.


DISSONANCE in music means “unstable.” A dissonant interval (or chord) has a tendency to ‘resolve’ or move towards something more stable. This characteristic in harmony is often termed TENSION.


CONSONANCE in music can be defined as “stability.” Consonant intervals are pairs of notes which sound compatible or ‘agreeable’ together. This is termed FUSION.


The foundation of harmonic music is a continual interplay between fusion and tension, or consonance and dissonance. The categories of fusion and tension concerning intervals are:


1) Consonances – unisons, octaves, 5ths, 4ths, major and minor 3rds and 6ths.

2) Neutral – augmented 4ths or diminished 5ths.

3) Mild dissonances – minor 7ths and major 2nds.

4) Strong dissonances – major 7ths and minor 2nds.


The student should select the appropriate intervals from the above tables and play through these categories of fusion and tension on the guitar.


The first chord with an inherent tension or dissonance that students experience in their music is that of the Dominant 7th. This is the triad built on the 5th note of a scale with an interval of a 7th (above this root) added to it. In the key of C major the 5th (or dominant) note of the scale is a G. Counting on up through the scale from here, the 7th note above this G is an F. This is an interval of 5 tones and it is in fact a minor 7th – a mild dissonance. And so it is with all chords called ‘a 7th chord,’ the basic major triad has an interval of a minor 7th added to it.


Play this interval on the guitar, listen to it, and then add the notes of the basic triad built upon G.


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


This is the chord of G7, the dominant 7th chord of the key of C major. When writing the notes of this chord, the 5th note of the triad (a D here) is often omitted to make way for a 3 or 4 part writing of the chord with the extra note of the added 7th.


Because of the “tension” this minor 7th interval creates in the dominant 7th chord, it has to resolve or move to a more stable interval (or chord) after it has been heard (at least in traditional harmony this is the case). In the following chord progression the G7 chord moves onto the C chord. The upper note of the interval of the 7th in the first chord falls a semitone and this is the most common resolution for the dissonance or tension created by the 7th chord.


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


The G7 chord could also resolve to another chord from the key of C, an A minor chord for example. Again the dissonance of the 7th interval can be resolved by falling a semitone.

Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


If G7 was to move to another chord from the key of C which itself contained an F note as the G7 chord does, no resolution by a semitone drop would be necessary. Notes which are common to any two connecting chords do not move, and this is known as a passive resolution of the dominant 7th chord.

For example:


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces


With the following intervals and resolutions, fill in the missing voices of the chords involved and label each chord with its correct name. Remember to leave out the 5th of the dominant 7th’s basic triad. Also, the resolving 7th will not always appear as the upper most note of the chord. After writing in your answers, play them on the guitar to hear how they sound.


Fretboard Harmony The Movement of Voices Pieces

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Fretboard Harmony 2

By Peter Altmeier-Mort

The Voicing of Chords

Voicing – from “voice,” a technical term meaning an individual part of ‘strand’ within a composition. The word is used in discussing instrumental music because writing for instruments originally imitated similar writing for human voices.


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Fretboard Harmony The Voiving of Chords Pieces


For now the notes of a triad may be terms as follows:


In harmony, “voicing” refers to the notes of a triad and the way in which its 3 essential notes can be rearranged at different pitches on the staff (and therefore on the instrument). It is the various combinations of distances (intervals) that can be set up between the notes of a triad that become the subject of the voicing of chords. This practice gives a chord and its harmony either an “open” (wide spread) or “close” (compact, dense) sound, depending how the writing of a chord is treated.


Play and compare the sound of these voicings of some of the chords from the C major key.


Fretboard Harmony The Voiving of Chords Pieces


So in these examples, the middle voice of each basic triad has been relocated an octave higher to create the open voicing version of the chord. The basic triad with its root, 3rd and 5th notes appearing in this strict succession is actually in close voicing.


A chord is said to be inverted when its lowest note is Not the root note. This manipulation of the harmony of a triad opens up further voicing possibilities for any given chord. Any of the three essential notes of a triad can be written as the lowest note in a writing of the chord.


Fretboard Harmony The Voiving of Chords Pieces


The inversions of the C major triad in close voicing:


Again, to create the open voicings of these inversions, place the middle voice of each up an octave higher


Fretboard Harmony The Voiving of Chords Pieces


Student Exercise:

  1. Write out, in close voicing, the chords of G major, A minor, D minor and B diminished, each with its accompanying 1st and 2nd inversion form.
  2. Rewrite all of these in open voicing.
  3. Play through the following progression of chords and then state under each one, its name, its inversion, its voicing (open or close). (see example one)


To add more interest to this progression, now play through it using this right hand arpeggio pat- tern. (see example two.)


Taking a 2/4 time signature, and giving each chord one bar in the above voicings, another musical variation could assume this form. (see example three.)


It should be noted that the chord progression examples with its mixture of close and open voicings and inversions, definitely takes on a feeling of harmonic movement. One should play the progression a few times listening each time to the movement of just one particular voice – the bass voice first, then the middle voice and then the treble. This latter part will appear as a melody and is the easiest voice to hear amongst the notes of the chords because it is positioned on the top of the harmony. This progression could be treated in many ways, the two given examples being simple but effective ways to show how a composer might expand the harmony and voicings.


The main point is to become familiar with the chords of a key, both in theory and on the fingerboard. It is sufficient to finger these anywhere between the 1st and 5th positions of the guitar for now, and there are not really many alternatives to the fingering of these chords within this range. Using open voicings and inversions with the C major scale chords will take the left hand fingerings much higher up the guitar neck if one follows through with a particular voicing for an entire octave. This type of movement occurs rarely in classical guitar repertoire (Turina’s Fandanguillo is a good example of its use though) so extended practice of it is of doubtful use, but it certainly has value for the ear and left hand technique in changing chords legato style. Knowing how voicings/inversions work together and being able to identify them on guitar and the effect they create is important. If your technique or note readings is limited beyond the 5th position, do not sweat over the following voicings of the chords in the C major key. Play what you can, and listen to the character of the different inversions.


Fretboard Harmony The Voiving of Chords Pieces

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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Richard Charlton

The Guitar In Ensemble

By Richard Charlton

During the past few years there has been a favourable increase in the number of ensemble activities for guitarists, students and professionals. The guitar ensemble whether it be a duo, quartet or larger body is now an established fact and can provide the player with an opportunity to improve themselves not only as a guitarist but more importantly as a musician.


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In an ensemble even relatively inexperienced players can learn to read more quickly, phrase correctly, gain control of dynamics and improve their rhythm by having to follow a beat. More over, players can gain confidence in performance, as the prospect of having to play in a group is nowhere near as daunting as having to follow a solo performance! With these aims in mind a group of teachers and players in Sydney have for the past eight years conducted the annual Sydney Guitar Summer School.


A feature of all the courses offered, whether it be at a beginners level or at an advanced level, has always been the “large ensemble.” Each year I have tutored, conducted or played in many of these groups and can highly recommend any such activity to teachers and students alike. I myself am a member of the Sydney Guitar Quartet and conduct my own guitar ensemble at the school at which I teach. In recent years I have come in contact with the Perth Guitar Ensemble (a body of about 20 players), there is also a group “The Guitar Family,” a quartet at the Canberra School of Music, and I have also heard of a quartet in Adelaide. Although these groups are more or less professional I see no reason why there should not be more amateur ensembles set up by students and teachers.


Having expounded the values of ensemble playing I must also say that the guitar is one of, if not the most difficult instruments to combine with others. Owing to the immediacy of the plucked string sound the precision required to get a single chord to sound together is far greater than that of, say a string orchestra. In the words of one conductor who was trying to get a particular section of the ensemble to come in on time, “you will always be early!” Be that as it may, the advantages, in my opinion, outweigh the difficulties – half the fun is getting there anywhere!


The simplest form of ensemble is of course the duo and there is plenty of music published for this, but if you get four people together, the number of things published for guitar quartet is quite surprising – everything from Bach to Joplin. Broekmans and Van Poppel publish a book called Five Pieces from Danserye by Susato which is an excellent introduction to quartet playing for students and one that I have used many times. There is also student material published by Novello, a many others. When there are six or more, you can try trios, doubling the parts etc. and so on.


If you are lucky enough to get a larger body of players interested, say 15 to 20, then you can really get down to business. You can use quartets or trios and double the lower part with bass guitar. I use an electric bass in my own ensemble but acoustic works very well. If you cannot find a bass player the ensemble can function quite well without one but it does add a great deal to the fullness of the sound.


Most of the larger groups I’ve seen use a bass instrument of some sort. The Sydney Mandolins use mandolins, mandolas, guitars and an electric bass. The Perth Guitar Ensemble use an acoustic bass guitar and if I remember correctly the University of the Philippines Ensemble use an 8 string guitar in their group.


You can also extend the top range by using one or two requintos or, as I have done in the past, attach capos to say the fifth fret of a section of the ensemble i.e. give them a transposing part written a 5th lower. This is only necessary where the players are more elementary and cannot play or read with confidence in higher positions.


I merely write to interest those players or teachers who might not have thought of such things as I am sure there are many guitarists, to whom all of this is nothing new! My knowledge of guitar ensembles has been gained mainly by trial, error and experimentation but I know the possibilities are endless. The tone colour produced by some 20 guitars playing pizz and pianissimo and forte. Between these two extremes is a whole new world of sound.


Richard Charlton is a member of the The Sydney Guitar Quartet and the Bennelong Players. Since 1984 he has been co-ordinator of instrumental music Ascham School in Sydney.

All the members are involved in ensemble music either in teaching or performing.

– Australian Guitar Journal, 1990 ©

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