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Great Guitar Tips, Issue #003 -- Information Packed Articles About Guitar
January 18, 2004

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Great Guitar Tips - The World's Most Useable Guitar E-Zine ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A free, monthly E-Zine dedicated to providing you with useful information and tips for your guitar playing ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ January 18th, 2004 Issue #003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ If you like this E-Zine, please do a friend a big favor and pass it on. If a friend DID forward this to you and if you like what you read, please subscribe by visiting... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Table Of Contents

1. News

2. Shaping Your Nails

3. Composer Spotlight ~ Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

4. Buying A Guitar 5. A Quick Look ~ Mordents

6. Recommended Resource – Metronome

7. Free Music ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome to the third edition of my E-Zine/Newsletter Great Guitar Tips! I hope you find it helpful and enjoyable...


Hello and welcome to the new year one and all!

I trust you all had a marvelous Christmas. I got some classical guitar c.d.'s in my presents so I'm happy!

I'd just like to thank David Colclough for the lovely e-mail he sent the other day. thanks for the kind words David, I really appreciate it.

I did respond to your e-mail but I'm having some trouble with my Outlook express e-mail program so I'm not sure if you got the reply.

David pointed out a glitch with some of the download music I've been providing so if there's anyone else out there who's having trouble just let me know and I'll send the music to you via my Yahoo mail account in P.D.F. form. By the way did you get that music David? Just drop me a line to let me know.

I was also wondering if anyone out there knows what happened to the e-borneo classical guitar forum. I can't seem to be able to access it from my home computer, which is a Windows or from another computer I have access to which is a Mac. Can anyone let me know what's going on?

If your e-mail doesn't support the html links in this e-zine you can copy then paste these addresses into the "address bar" of your browser...

For Sharon Isbin's book...

For Anthony Glise's book...

Just ignore the other addresses within the text itself on each topic.

I'm looking at some software at the moment that should fix this problem, so hopefully it'll be fixed by next issue.

Thanks in advance. O.K. Let's get on with the show! (As they say)...

Shaping Your Nails

It is said that the playing of the guitar with nails began somewhere around the time of Aguado and most probably originated with him.

Sooner or later, if you play classical guitar and want to have decent volume and good tone, you're going to have to use the nails of your right hand to pluck and play the strings. You still do, however, use the flesh of the pad of the finger as well as the nail to produce a warm, clear, penetrating tone.

To this point, the world renowned Sharon Isbin writing in her Classical Guitar Answer Book said...

"Classical guitarists can play without nails, but they should be aware that in doing so they are sacrificing certain possibilities of tone color and projection - all of which affect interpretation and musical presentation."

So just how do you shape the nails for the most effective sound?

Like many topics in classical guitar there is always conjecture, debate, disagreement and differing opinion. This is healthy and will ensure that classical guitar stays vibrant and relevant as we move further into this new century.

But there is always a core of knowledge from which our standard practices spring. Core knowledge that has stood the test of time over many centuries.

If you follow the basic tenets of what I'm about to tell you, you won't go far wrong. If you need to make adjustments to suit your physical shape or mental approach then don't be afraid to do so.

Let's begin!

There are several ways to shape the nails and it mostly depends on what you feel comfortable with. The most common methods are shaping the nails to follow the shape of the fingers themselves and having a more angled approach. Here is a little diagram of nail shaping from one of my favorite classical guitar books Classical Guitar Pedagogy by Anthony Glise. (It's really worth its weight in gold this book)...

You can see in the top picture that the nail follows the natural curve of the finger. If you turned the finger around so that the nail is pointing away from you, you would see that the nail length is just a few millimeters above the finger itself.

In other words if you hold your finger at eye-height, you should just see the fingernail protruding above the flesh. If you have it much longer than this it tends to catch on the strings and can be very awkward. If you have it much shorter than this you tend to miss the string itself when playing.

The other angled method as seen in the lower diagram is used to produce a "very dark, warm sound" according to Mr Glise. I can attest to this as I have shaped my nails like this on many an occasion. I often tend to reverse that angle as well, making the protruding part on the left of the nail rather than the right hand side. It just seems to make me feel more comfortable as I feel I can get a good "grip" on the strings.

Whether you use either of these methods is based on personal decisions of finger shape, nail arch etc. Something that everyone can do to help their sound, however, is to use a very fine sandpaper to smooth off the nail, particularly the inside edge. Left raw, the nail can produce a very scratchy, uneven tone which is definitely what you don't want. Also an un-papered nail could have uneven and slightly protruding edges that catch the string and cause some of those notes we all know as "clangers".

Having done all this you still must realize that it's not only the nail that plays the string. If you ever listen to Segovia (And who hasn't?), you'll notice that his 'very warm tone" comes from a mixture of playing the strings with the flesh and the nail. He really perfected this technique and that, along with the true passion that resided in his heart, was one of the major reasons he sounded so good.

Oh yes! You're right! Hours and hours of practice too:))

Here's how Anthony Glise explains the technique in his book that I've mentioned above...

"Using nails is somewhat confusing to beginners since they often assume that only the nail is used to sound the string.

In fact, only the nail releases the string. When correctly placed on the string (at the exact point from which the finger will play), both the nail and the pad of the flesh at the fingertip will touch the string at the same moment - the pad will stop the string (much like the damper pad on a piano), and the nail will be simultaneously positioned to re-strike the string."

Don't worry if this sounds too hard or confusing if you're a beginner. With slow and concentrated practice this technique becomes ingrained in your playing. After a while it's like anything you do - second nature.

I hope this little discussion has made the shaping of your nails a Little clearer.

Composer Spotlight

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Born in 1895 in Florence, Italy Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco became one of the most famous and talented composers of the last century. Although he was disregarded by some of his contemporaries for his "quaint and reactionary views of music", he nevertheless went on to write not only a great quantity of music, but music of great quality.

Indeed, his output was quite prolific, writing in such forms as: Concertos (including the popular guitar concertos); orchestral music; chamber music; piano music; vocal and choral music; ballets; operas; and of course, guitar music. A well-rounded composer by all accounts!

Castelnuovo-Tedesco showed great promise in music even in early childhood. He had composed pieces for the piano by the time he was only ten years old. His mother was a big influence, teaching him the piano before he went on to study music formally. At twenty years of age he was quite famous throughout Europe.

By the time he was twenty-three in 1918 he had studied in both Florence and Bologna and had graduated from the conservatories with a growing excellent reputation. He started mixing in the highest musical circles and was very successful. In 1925 he won an award for his opera La Mandragola, which was performed for the first time in Venice.

It was when he met the "ubiquitous" Segovia in 1932 that the repertoire for the guitar took a turn for the better. Indeed he wrote over 100 works for the guitar, some of which remain at the top of the repertoire of the concert platforms today. Who could not be moved by his guitar concertos or the Homage to Boccherini?

Castelnuovo-Tedesco continued composing, including works for the guitar, until 1939 when the "ill-wind of fascism began to blow in Italy". Being of Spanish/Jewish heritage the Castelnuovo-Tedesco family fled to America where they could carry on their musical life in a normal fashion, without the intrusion of the idiotic and ultimately doomed fascist regime. The weird fact was that the Castelnuovo-Tedesco family had come to Italy from Spain in the 15th century because of the persecution of Jews there.

So they fled to America, the "land of dreams" and Castelnuovo-Tedesco did indeed make his mark! It wasn't long before he landed a job with M.G.M. studios writing film scores and other incidental music for film. (In fact, he wrote music for over 200 films in his lifetime). This kept him in a sound financial position for many years but later on he realized he was more akin to being the freelance writer, which he later became.

He continued to teach music and had many students who became famous in their own right. Names like John Williams (Composer & conductor), Henry Mancini, Andre Previn and Jerry Goldsmith all came under the tutelage and influence of Castelnuovo-Tedesco, whom they all admired and respected a great deal.

He died in his adopted country in California on the 16th of April 1968. No doubt many guitarists and all manner of musicians the world over mourned the passing of this great, gentle, generous human being. A man who gave so much to the world of guitar and music.

Buying A Guitar

There are many things to consider when buying a new classical guitar. For instance, whether or not you are a beginner or seasoned professional will determine just what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend.

If you're a beginner to intermediate player there are many excellent online dealers that carry a good range of brands at reasonable prices. I've recently added a Guitar Store page on my website which carries merchandise from which I'm very happy with.

These online stores "live and die" by their reputation and so can't afford to have mediocre instruments or service. As we all know, news travels very fast on the web and they'd soon be out of business if they tried to "pull a swifty" on anyone.

You can pretty much trust that their instruments will be good and you can view pictures of them online so don't be afraid of buying a guitar online if you’re looking for that sort of convenience.

If your heart is set on going to a "bricks & mortar" store to seek out an instrument, actually getting it in your hands to get the feel, then there are a few things you should know before you go.

The most important thing is of course the sound of the instrument. Is it a sound that you are happy with and feel comfortable about.

The different types of wood that classical guitars are made from will give each instrument its own peculiar sound but in general, guitars with cedar tops produce a more "warm' tone whereas spruce tops are likely to be more "focused" or 'concentrated".

I've been asked in the past to accompany parents of some of my students to help in the purchase of a guitar. If the instrument is new then these things aren't so important but I still check them anyway.

So, one of the first things I always do is check along the neck of the instrument by looking down from the nut to the end of the instrument. That is, I physically pick up the guitar and hold it out from my body so that the headstock is pointing towards me. Then I look along the length of the neck to see if it is straight. There should be NO bowing of the neck at all.

I also look behind the bridge of the instrument to see if any area of the top is buckled or bowed. I would strongly advise anyone NOT to buy an instrument that was showing any signs of these defects. It's just not worth it in the end.

The third thing I do is to hold down the strings from the second fret to the twelfth fret and see if the string length touches all the intervening frets. There will be a problem with craftsmanship if you have any significant variation here.

I then check the sound of the instrument to see if it has the qualities that I'm after. They are: projection; quality of tone and; comfort i.e. is it the right size for me or whoever we're buying the instrument for.

Children, especially younger ones, will obviously need a smaller guitar than adults and it depends on the size of the student. Classical guitars usually come in half, three-quarter, five-eighth and full size.

If you've covered all these areas you'll usually come away with a decent guitar that will last you many years of happy playing.

If you're a more advanced player or have the money and inclination to buy something a little better, you know, that DREAM guitar, then you'll have to invest a little more time, money and testing to achieve it.

Sharon Isbin, writing in the Classical Guitar Answer Book , suggests these areas when purchasing that "dream guitar": Beauty of Tone; Dynamic & Timbral Contrasts; Clarity & Speed of Response; Sustain; Balance; Resonance; Intonation; Projection; Condition.

Phew! Talk about attention to detail! But if you're after an instrument of quality and it's worth the money then it's worth the time and effort to research.

I hope this has been of help in purchasing an instrument.

A Quick Look At ...


The mordent is derived from the Italian word "mordere" which means "to bite".

A mordent is really just a "hammer on" followed by a "pull-off" if you want to use more modern parlance. The mordent was introduced around the time of C.P.E. Bach and has two forms: the upper and lower mordent.

Here is a little diagram of the upper and lower mordent (if your e-mail will let you view html. If not go here)...

You can see that the mordent is a quckly played series of notes. it is really a three note slur and as such needs to be played cleanly and crisply.

The mordent is often found in music of the Baroque era but they are also common in the Classical & Romantic periods.

I've included a sound file of what the mordents sound like at a metronome marking of 92 in the key of A Minor on the music download page if you're not sure how they should sound.

Recommended Resource

Here is this month's recommended resource. It's a free metronome (sorry Mac users, Windows only).

I've downloaded it onto my xp and it seems to work well.

Here's what the publisher said...

Publisher's Description From the developer: "A metronome program that uses the computer's MIDI hardware (sound card) to play its sound. This program is very configurable. You can define any length measure up to 1000 beats with any beat emphasis you choose. More than fifty percussion instruments are available, and up to nine can be used at a time in a given measure definition. You can save and load your settings under as many presets as you like. All this and more in a tiny little download of only 18K."

Just copy and paste this link into the address bar of your browser...

Free Music

Here is this month’s free music (including midi files) that I have prepared. Composers this month include Coste & Giuliani. I have also included the usual tablature versions for those of you that want them. There are also P.D.F. files of the graphics if your e-mail doesn't support this so you don't miss out.


Well that's it for the third issue! Please let me know what you think or if you would like a particular topic covered in the future and I'll try to help out.

See you next month!

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