atrafanaPlays - Acera del Rio (Solea) - by Paco Peña
Advantages of Personalized Lessons in Flamenco Guitar
I create an individual curriculum and lesson content for each student depending on their needs, wishes, and time constraints. Since every student is different in those regards, each individual syllabus is unique and would only work on the student it is designed for. Although this syllabus is revised and adjusted as the lessons advance, it always remains individual. This is the main advantage of having one on one lessons with an instructor. I cannot deny the fact that one can learn a lot from watching and listening, especially in this day and age, but not everybody has the time for that. Besides, there is always the risk of forming bad habits such as mimicking Paco de Lucia's right hand technique believing that's the only way one can play like him. If you asked the maestro himself, he'd probably tell you to find your own technique! Every "body" is different and has different capabilities. A certain tone or speed, or any other technical feature, can only be achieved by analyzing your own body and listening carefully to the outcome. This is difficult to accomplish just by watching videos, if not completely impossible. You can, however, learn a lot from the internet once you have a strong technical/musical base. My aim is to give you that strong base so that you can follow your own path. To make a long story short, it's good to have a teacher :-)
Why Technique is Important
As you are probably already aware, classical/flamenco guitar is a very technical form of art that involves lots of drills, scales, exercises, etc. The whole atrafanaschool youtube channel is dedicated to that. I try to demonstrate how to attack the strings, how to position your fingers, at what speed you should practise a certain scale or arpeggio, so and so forth. Learning guitar seems to be all about practising, right?. However, at the end of the day, it is music. Music is creating expression and generating feelings by making sounds within a certain structure. A person who enjoys music but doesn't play guitar could not care less about how fast you can move your fingers! They will only listen to the story you are telling with your instrument. In that sense, the best technique is the one that is invisible - or inaudible in this case… And this is precisely why technique is important. I focus exclusively on technique in my preliminary lessons and advice the students to stop playing pieces they cannot articulate - or put them aside for a while. The worst thing to do to a student is to give them pieces they can barely play. The whole process, then, becomes a big struggle. They fight with the piece and create an unpleasant sequence of sounds particularly nasty for a non-guitarplayer audience. And what is even worse is that, in time, you get used to your own broken playing and form a repertoire of half-completed pieces that don't work at all musically. I've been there… One good way to snap out of this is to record yourself and listen to it as if you are listening to someone else. Having an instructor/advisor also comes in handy in that department. Once the basic techniques are in place, I teach pieces that the student can articulate well with his/her newly acquired skills. Also, each piece challenges the student enough to give them the motivation to advance their technique but not so much that they'll either give up or settle for a poor interpretation. It is a fine balance. Each piece adds another skill set to the player and this eventually leads to the formation of a repertoire. At the end, every piece in that repertoire is played well and can be enjoyed both by guitarists and the general public.
The Right Hand
This may sound too radical to some but let me say that the quality of a player is determined more by their right hand technique than their left-hand technique. I've always spent more time fixing, adjusting my students' right hands then their left hands. The main reason for that is TONE. A good and powerful tone is the very first aspect of a guitarist's performance that reaches the audience. The left hand is not unimportant. But, as long as you can fret the notes with the right timing you are good to go. If your left hand is weak or lacking good coordination/technique then you cannot play - period. But if you are not attacking the strings with the proper action and positioning of your right hand fingers, you will play with a poor tone. Therefore, a big part of my lessons is dedicated to helping my students acquire a good right hand technique. Everybody has a different finger/nail structure and needs different methods of care and filing. It is interesting to see how different players achieve the same powerful tone with completely different right hand positions. That's why it is a mistake to emulate other players' right hands. This argument applies to speed/agility too. Again, so many people try to copy Paco de Lucia's right hand position to achieve the same speed. There are as many different right hand techniques as there are players. Just compare the right hands of Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, Grisha Goryachev and see if they resemble each other.
Reading Flamenco Music
Not the complete beginners but the students who already play a bit by ear tend to find sheet music scary. I know the feeling. When I first started playing I also figured out everything by ear and the idea of learning how to read notation was intimidating. The students who have experience with tablature also think that reading actual notation would be a big challenge. This is probably because standard notation looks too "scholarly." Let me just say that I do not have a notation fetish by any stretch. I play most of the falsetas on my atrafanaschool youtube channel by ear. I do believe in the primacy of the actual music you perform on the instrument and notation is simply a tool to guide you. However, learning how to read music, be it tabs or standard, is first and foremost necessary to communicate with your teacher. I do not have separate lessons to teach notation. My students learn notation as we move forward with the exercises. It is not difficult at all. If you can read tabs, you can read standard notation too. With some of my students, I did get to the level where we did not need tabs or notation and worked on pieces purely by ear (flamenco material, obviously). For classical guitar, however, reading notation (or good tabs) is a necessary skill as the whole literature is based on "interpreting" what is written. I would not advise playing classical stuff by ear by listening to other players because they are already interpreting what is written and your rendition will be shaped by the interpreter you are emulating.