Author Archive for: Marc Rosenberg

Keeping Up with Programs

Learning pieces is of course important in practicing technique and also for putting programs together. As your musical life (hopefully) expands and improves, it becomes quite tough to keep up with all of the pieces you have learned. Here are a few tips to try keep in mind.

  1. Have some reliable set pieces your can always count on. You never know when a concert opportunity might arise. Sometimes whoever hires you will have a specific piece(s) in mind for you to play, especially if it’s for a group performance (with choir, orchestra, string ensemble, etc). But for solo performances, most of the time it is up to you. Always keep in mind pieces you like playing and pieces you feel are performance ready or can be easily worked back up to performance ready quality.
  2. Put in a lot of hard work in learning pieces the first time. It will pay off immensely later on down the road. Pieces I put a lot of time and effort into the first time I learned them either stay in my memory bank no matter what, or at the very least, is mostly still in my memory and will come back after playing through it a couple of times with or without the music. It always amazes me how, even if I haven’t played those pieces in awhile, quickly it can all come back if learned properly.
  3. As mentioned before, sometimes you can get away with not keeping up with pieces and allowing muscle memory to kick in. But the best way to make sure you remember these set pieces is to occasionally play through them and see what kind of shape they are in. Depending on how much practice time you get with your schedule will determine how much time you can spend with the pieces. David Russell has a system where he makes a practice log labeling which pieces he’s practiced, when, and what performing shape they are in. Of course with a schedule like Maestro Russell has this is extremely helpful. It almost doesn’t matter what system you create or use as long as it works for you.

You never know when a performance opportunity might come up. Instead of scrambling to pull programs together, always try keep in mind programs for future use. You can obviously substitute different pieces along the way, but it’s a lot easier to pull together already existing programs you have than to start from scratch.

Ideas for Sight Reading

Sight-reading is not always a skill developed by guitarists, but it is a very good skill to have, especially once you (hopefully) get your foot in the door in the real world as a musician. There are lots of good reasons for developing a good level of sight-reading ability. Most of them deal with time. Most musicians’ incomes tend to come from teaching, which is quite draining and time consuming. Acquiring the ability to sight-read can:


  1. Help you learn pieces faster and without as much work for gigs or performances that might arise
  2. Allow you to teach students pieces without necessarily having to completely master it yourself (will depend on the piece of music of course)
  3. Allow you to collaborate with others in chamber music settings easier and also without having to master the work completely beforehand


Sight-reading was not stressed much in my early guitar endeavors, and it wasn’t really until I went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon when my teacher Professor Jim Ferla strongly encouraged me to work on it. I will always be grateful for him for pushing me to sight-read better. Here are some tips and things to remember in order to get better at sight-reading.


  1. Remember, like all skills it takes practice. The only way to get better is to keep doing it. Even just a little bit each day.
  2. Start off with single line melodies. They don’t have to be written for the guitar. It could be flute melodies are even the top line of a piano score. In the beginning just stick to playing in the first position and play them SLOWLY but RHYTHMICALLY ACCURATE from start to finish, trying not to pause.
  3. When you start feeling comfortable in the first position, start moving them around the fretboard. You can either use the same single-line melodies or different ones, but try playing them in different positions. Check out this example of a made up melody: Sight-reading example
  4. As your sight-reading skills begin improving, start trying to read through easy guitar pieces. There are many relatively simple etudes and studies from the Classical era (Carulli and Aguado, for example, have many). Play them with the same process as reading through single line melodies. First play them in first position (most of them are written for this anyway). Then, if possible, try play them in other positions (even if it doesn’t make much sense to do so).


As already stated, the only way to get better at reading is to practice a bit every day. Grab some books of collected works like those from Frederick Noad and give it a try. Not all pieces are made for sight-reading, so make sure they are relatively simple. Also, keep in mind, the object of this isn’t to practice these little pieces and commit them to memory. Only to play through to better your reading skills.

Finding Theater in Guitar Music

About a week ago, I was able to go see an incredible performance of Pavel Steidl. I, of course, had heard recordings of him and seen a few videos on Youtube, but listening to those is never the same as it is live. When I watched the videos of him playing, and saw him mouthing the melodies as he played them, I wrote it off as just an unusual performance practice, like Glenn Gould and his vocalizing of the melodies as he played. But having watched Steidl’s performance live, especially during his Italian set where he flawlessly executed a musical dialogue that could have possibly taken place between virtuosi Paganini and Legnani, I realized (at least to me) that he wasn’t just singing the melodies, but rather he was turning this guitar pieces into mini-operas. The melodies or musical gestures became leitmotifs for characters of a story. This seemed exemplified as he altered the characteristics of the melodies through different tones and articulations. His facial expressions would act out the different characters and the moods they were to personify: whether they be serious or what looked to be a whiny, little brat.

The point of this article isn’t to write a review of Steidl’s performance, but rather to get other players to experiment with playing in this manner. The Classical era in guitar history attempted to show-off the guitar as a mini-orchestra (Giuliani’s Grand Overture), and perhaps at times would hint at an operatic style (Rossinianas). But in terms of executing this in a performance, I had never seen anyone exploit the different timbres of the instrument in this way, or so effectively. It changed the whole interpretation of every piece in the program. I haven’t been able to experiment with this idea of playing yet myself, but I offer a suggestion to anyone who reads this to give it a shot. Play the melody of whatever piece you’re playing, and try create a character for it. Experiment with not just playing it a standard manner, or a way in which one would expect. Then, do the same with other melodies that make up the composition. Finally, try find moments where you can make these “characters” to interact with each other in some kind of dialogue. This could add a whole new depth to even pieces we consider standards.

Life After Music School

Life After Music School

Throughout my studies, teachers and more experienced guitarists always told me to take advantage of the time I had in school, because after that, practicing and learning pieces gets harder and harder. But no one ever really explains why. I always thought between the various classes I had to take and other projects, life after school couldn’t be too much different. Now after almost a year of teaching, it all makes sense to me. After hours of teaching and playing (even if simple one line pieces or simple pop songs), when I’m home I often feel like the last thing I want to do is play more guitar. There is certainly an adjustment period of getting used to the work schedule and practicing for yourself.

I know we all aspire to be traveling musicians, performing in amazing venues, and supporting ourselves with concerts. But the reality is very few people can earn their living this way alone. More than likely, teaching is needed to supplement what performance opportunities we are given. Here are a few tips I suggest for current students studying music.

      1. Learn the pieces you want to while you can. While in school, even though there are general guidelines as to what to play, often times your teacher allows you to pick the pieces you would like to learn. Take advantage of that. Many of the pieces you learn in school stay with you forever. And since it gets harder to practice and learn after school, learn what you want to now while you have the time to do it. Also, often times for performance opportunities, the piece is already chosen, and you’ll have to learn that as opposed to a piece maybe you’ve always wanted to play.

      2. Get used to the mornings. I have never been a morning person. While in school, my best practices were in the evening, when I felt more alive and productive. Now I’m often done teaching late in the evening, then I need to eat dinner, and by the time I would be ready to get a practice in, it’s far too late. Life after school often doesn’t afford you the luxury of private practice rooms, especially if you live with roommates or spouses or have a family by then. More than likely your teaching schedule starts in the afternoon and goes to the evening when kids get out of school or some of the adults get off of work. Therefore, the morning becomes your best option for practicing. This is something I’m still trying to get used to, so I suggest experimenting with morning practices now.


A Holiday List

Every person is different, but there are always a few things I like to accomplish during the holidays if I can:

1. Take a break. Usually at this point, the most stressful part of school semesters have just ended. I often try to take a couple of days off from playing the guitar (if I have no gigs etc) to unwind and calm down again. This is more for summer vacations, but a few days off during the winter is ok too.

2. For non-music majors, perhaps your semester of studies has culminated from studying too much of another subject. In this case, use the guitar as a way to do something fun for awhile.

3. Work on technical exercises. Since classes are finished, and you have more free time, and do not necessarily have specific pieces you need to learn, take this time to work on technique. It will work wonders for you later on down the road. (Of course this is something that should be worked on everyday, but let’s be honest, sometimes there’s not enough time in the day to give it the time that it needs.)

4. Choose pieces. Take this time to choose a few pieces to work on for the coming semester. If you already have some in mind, start trying to read through them.

5. Discover pieces. Use your free time to discover new works (could also be old works you just have never heard before). This could help you out with #4 on this list. Also, don’t just limit yourself to solo pieces. Find chamber pieces as well.

6. But the most important thing is to always make time for your family and friends.

Musical Diversity Part II

In one of my first posts, I discussed the idea of having a life outside of music as well as listening to other instruments for inspiration and ideas (symphonies, quartets, solo cello, etc.). But as guitarists it is also important for us to be able to PLAY different genres other than just classical. I think for most guitarists this is not an issue. Most people begin playing guitar because they want to learn their favorite songs. I first began playing electric guitar as I attempted to imitate the sounds of Metallica. I then began learning more classic rock (Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc.) and then explored jam bands (Phish, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, etc.). While I continued my studies of classical guitar, my knowledge of these other genres led to other performance opportunities: school productions of musicals (The Who’s Tommy, Bye Bye Birdie, etc.), playing in a jazz combo accompanying a jazz choir, and other band performances. Without my previous knowledge or exploration of these other genres, I probably would have had to pass on these gigs.

At the same time, most guitarists will need to earn a living teaching lessons. And as I mentioned earlier, most people begin taking guitar lessons to be able to play their favorite songs and are not necessarily interested in playing classical music (that’s not to say they won’t change their minds further down the road). If a student is doing something they don’t want to do, they won’t have fun. And if they aren’t having fun, they aren’t going to continue taking lessons. As I found out from colleagues in Spain, this is not necessarily the case in Europe where there seem to be droves of people wanting to play classical guitar. But as Alex Ross discusses in his fantastic book The Rest is Noise, classical musicians in America will always struggle attracting audiences because of the lack of tradition classical music has in this country. And so even from a teaching perspective, being well versed in the guitar outside of the classical realm is important. I recently had a new student come to me with songs he needs to learn for his middle school jazz band that he plays in. I didn’t have to panic about what I was looking at (chord charts) because I had seen it before, I had done it before. And I didn’t have to turn away a new student. The opportunities are endless with a well balanced, diverse knowledge of many styles of playing guitar even if your main focus is classical. You never know where it could lead.

Artists’ Passion, Rejection, and Advice from Wayne Gretzky

The life of a musician, of any artist really, is a tough and arduous road. For most, things will not always end the way you want them to, but it’s how you deal with those moments that will determine the rest of your career. For those that know me and/or have read my blog, you know I just returned home from the best 7 months of my life as I studied with some of the best guitarists and lutenists in the world in Alicante, Spain. Within a week of moving back, I got a job with the Vivaldi Music Academy (http://vivaldimusicacademy.com) and have been making connections for possible chamber music projects in the future.

This past Saturday, I auditioned for the Young Artists Program that is apart of the Houston Da Camera organization. Overall, I felt very good about my audition. I thought I played well (and for me to say that is something!), I thought the interview went well, and I walked out feeling very proud and good about the preceding events. Today, I found out I did not get into the program. Though a little bit disappointed, and a little bit not surprised (it’s very tough for the guitar to compete with more “traditional” classical instruments, and at the same time even more difficult with the competition is at such a high level with very limited space), the experience has not deterred me at all. As an artist, one must deal with rejection almost constantly, and every single artist I know has stories about it.

And those heartbreaks are a huge part of what it’s all about. It’s the only way to get those special experiences of performing, of being apart of projects. And when you land them, there is nothing like it. So there are essentially three options. 1. You learn your art for yourself as a hobby, and nothing more. 2. You give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work out, feel the rejection, and give up. 3. You give it a shot, and no matter what happens, use it as motivation to push you forward. The life of an artist is certainly not for everyone, and there is no shame in not wanting to go down that path. But for those who have the passion and love for what they do, for those that really CHOOSE and PURSUE it, there is a quote I would like to share. I’m not a big hockey fan, but my first guitar teacher Adam Flint is. He shared with me a quote from the great Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I think this statement is very pertinent to life in general. Unless you try, you never know what could be, and you know never know where it could lead you. But keep in mind, there is no winning formula, and unfortunately there’s really no guarantee it will work. So for all those who are just embarking on their journeys like I am, and for those that have already begun, keep your heads up high, and always push forward.

Bach, The End, and a Week with Nigel North

Before I begin, as I sit here writing this article from Houston, TX, I would just like to say how bittersweet this is. My time in Spain was phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for the program and my experiences and adventures to have gone any better. It’s still hard to believe it’s over, but I couldn’t be happier. Even though the program has finished, I still plan on continuing this blog and hoping to share knowledge and advice I accumulate well into the future.

The last week of the program was with the incredible lutenist and musician Nigel North. This week was geared towards the music of Bach.

The style of these pieces is what’s really important. The connection between music and speech was a central idea in this period. Playing music was like telling a story, and though this idea still exists today, it was specifically talked about in this manner in treatises. Use the harmonies to build phrases that tell the story properly, as well as emphasizing the important beats. You can do this by leaning in on dissonances and enjoying them, and backing off of their resolutions. Also, using words and phrases to hear where strong and weak accents are can help. And since playing this music is directly linked to speech, this will reinforce that idea.

Other important concepts: guitarists always tend to fall into a trap of thinking we need to add ornaments to Bach’s music because it was typical of the time. But Bach often writes out the ornaments in his pieces, and so adding ornaments can be done, but isn’t really necessary (with the exception of cadences at the end of sections. It is of course standard to trill here. And remember, trills begin with the top note in this period!).

Also, the tempo of these pieces. One does not need to play these pieces at blistering speeds. In fact most of the time, it sounds so much better when it’s not racing. All of the nuances, phrases, and counterpoint come out much clearer when taken at comfortable tempi.

Bach is of course extremely difficult music, but Maestro North had an interesting take on difficulty that I would like to share. He said, “I don’t think there’s anything difficult. Just things that you don’t know well enough yet.” It’s rather profound in it’s simplicity. But essentially if you put the hard work in, (whether it’s Bach, other tough pieces, or things in life), nothing is impossible. So don’t give up.

As an added bonus, if you are interested, here is a list of books suggested by Nigel:

The Performance of 16th-Century Music by Anne Smith

A Performer’s Guide to Renaissance Music by and A Performer’s Guide to 17th-Century Music by J. Kite-Powell

The Story of A by Bruce Haynes

The Weapons of Rhetoric by Judy Tarling

New Bach Reader edited by David & Mendell

Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works by David Ledbetter

On Playing the Flute by J. Quantz

L’Art de Toucher by Francis Couperin

Ornamentation in Baroque and Post Baroque Music: with Emphasis on J.S. Bach by Frederick Neumann



Singing with the Guitar and a Week with Manuel Barrueco

A common theme throughout these months here at the Master of Guitar Interpretation of Alicante has been finding ways to sing through the guitar. We enjoyed a fantastic week with Maestro Manuel Barrueco who constantly pushed us to do just that. We are often taught this through the use of vibrato and changes in timbre. Here are some other things to think about when interpreting and getting the guitar to sing:

Technique – It’s always important, but it can also affect our interpretation. For example having the ability to play rest stroke scales can dramatically affect the sound of the piece. Also the more relaxed your hands are while playing, the more expressive they can be. Essentially, the more things we are able to do, the more options we have to successfully play the piece.

Fingerings – Most think of the art of choosing a good fingering as making passages easier or achieving a color. Though both of these things are true and should be utilized for these means, fingerings can make or break phrases. Always choose a fingering that caters to the melody first.

Follow the Directions – As artists, we try to reenact pieces in our voice and style of playing, but at the same time we must try achieve this within the confines of what the composer has asked us to do. Knowing when to interject your own voice sometimes comes from experience, and sometimes it comes from a knowledge of performance practices of the time period.

Actually Sing – Probably the best way to find out how to sing through the guitar is by actually singing the melodies. Note: Don’t worry about the quality of your voice! The purpose of this is to give us a good sense of what the piece should sound like and how to phrase it. Then, when you have an idea of what you want the piece to sound like, find the technique that will properly reenact that sound and phrasing.



The Thumb and a Week with Roberto Aussel

Many helpful tips from the teachers, including Roberto Aussel, here in the program have revolved around the the thumb. It has become quite apparent to me just how much we neglect the thumb as guitarists. We get a good consistent sound and keep it, never changing the way we pluck just where we pluck on the string. Even I have been guilty of not exploring all of the possible colors the thumb can produce. Though it is common practice today to play only with nails on all fingers, the timbre and color created by plucking the bass strings with only the flesh of the thumb is very effective and, to me, too underused. I don’t blame today’s guitarists so much as it is not a concept much emphasized of even taught by many of today’s teachers. Fernando Sor, who in the beginning played guitar without nails, eventually converted to plucking the strings of the guitar with the nails of his fingers, but he always preferred the sound of the bass and his thumb without nails. Part of my experience in this program has opened my eyes as to why that is. Thinking about the timbre and color produced by the thumb should be just as thoughtful and planned as the melodies of the pieces we play. That is to say, we shouldn’t give up on the thumb nail entirely, but rather it is a suggestion to incorporate new sounds to the thumb.

Technique for the thumb is very important as well. With Roberto Aussel lessons, we covered the music of Latin America. The rhythm of this music is often the most important thing, and it is often driven by the bass, and hence the thumb. Developing the independence of the thumb can help make the dance rhythms clearer with accents and also by stopping the ringing open string bass notes. It is quite difficult to do, but it can make a huge difference in your interpretation as well as your overall technique in general.

Though not about the thumb, tere is a helpful exercise for playing legato with the left hand while shifting positions on the same string. Maestro Aussel showed it to us. It is an exercise from Abel Carlevaro’s method, which I highly recommend guitarists check out. There are many great exercises for building technique in both hands. Practice the movements of the shifts slowly at first and as legato as possible. Then, slowly speed up the movements while maintaining the same result.

Left Hand Shift Exercise