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Week Number Thirty Five (June 9, 2005)

Starting a Band / Buy a Book

Playing versus practice

thyme for some sage advice

Oh man, that's spicey!

Bear with me, it's 88 degrees in Scotia, where the usual temperature hovers around 10 below zero. It just ain't natural. So I start punning -- and it gets ugly.

"Sure I practiced... I played at least an hour every day this week." Yup, that student did indeed have the instrument out of the case for at least an hour each day during the previous week. He even had the thing in his hands and made noise with it. So why did his lesson sound just as lame as on the first read-through the week previous? Is he a bad player? Did he suffer a sudden catastrophic injury to his hands? Did his truss rod pop out? Nope, nope, nope.

Practice and playing are two very distinct beasts. As soon as the student realizes this, the happier the teacher will be. Yeah, the student will be a happier camper as well.

Practice is how the instrument is learned. Wait, I thought going for lessons is how it's done! Now every teacher on the planet will be all over me like a wet diaper -- at least those who wish their students to think that that particular teacher is the only true path to enlightenment -- but the lesson time is not the most important aspect to a musical education. Lesson time is when a new concept or technique is introduced. Lesson time is when the previous week's assignments are heard, critiqued and problems corrected. Lesson time is when good practice habits and musicality are instilled. Practice is when the student takes these concepts and attempts to incorprate these into his actual being as well as into his skill sets on the instrument itself.

Playing is a totally different beast. Playing --performance-- is when you take everything you've learned through instruction and practice and put it into.. into... Well, I was going to say practice, but that is too redundant! Playing is why you learn and practice. It is not how you improve on the instrument. You can improve through playing, but only in gaining poise and performance savvy, but that is another tale for another day -- and only if you are playing in front of people, not just playing on the sofa to your cat.

So what is practice? How should one practice? Is there a formula?

Practice time should be regimented, structured and adhered to religiously -- a solid practice routine will grow a student faster than master classes with Segovia... while he was alive, naturally. Yes, there is a formula for practice. I can tell you mine, but a practice schedule is as varied as the individuals doing the work. Here is how I practiced in college:

Hour One:

Ten minutes: Chromatics, Slurs, Stretches and Barres (see some of the early weeks' sessions and the left hand accuracy article for details.) I even would run through a portion of the Giuliani 120 Studies.

Forty minutes: Diatonic Major and Minor Scales (Segovia Edition -- he was still alive then, but his scales remain with us to this today, a valid, living thing.) Played with all combinations of right hand fingerings that I could muster, including some rapid thumb work.

Ten minutes: Cool down.

Hour Two:

New assignments and read-throughs. This is where I took new studies, preludes and concert pieces assigned by my teacher and read them through for the second or third time, looked for the underlying technical difficulties/lessons and tried to glean the most benefit from them. By doing this fairly early in the day, I could give my best and brightest moments to the most strenuous mental tasks. I would use the entire hour for this without cool down as there would be alot of starting and stopping anyway.

Hour Three:

Pieces I was in the process of committing to memory with a school jury, recital performance or the looming graduation recital in mind. These were usually stuff that I had been using in hour two a month previous. Now they were no longer technically difficult -- or at least as difficult as they had been -- but were now no longer the "News of the Day." Hour three would incorporate a cool down if I were proceeding to hour four. Usually, on a week day, I had begun this process at 6:30 AM and would have to be off to classes at this point.

During the school day, there would be numerous opportunities to play -- even practice. I had a schedule with some gaps where I would either be running through ensemble pieces with others or would be playing old pieces in a closet by myself. I didn't count this time as practice, to me it was playing.

Hour Four through Six:

After One of my Mom's great dinners. I'd be off to my room to resume the practice schedule. Written homework was completed on the subway train. (And if you want to know genuine fear, try riding the NYC subway system through the South Bronx in the mid 1970's with a Jose Ramirez 1a between your knees.) The after dinner practice was more 'playing' in one respect -- I used this time of the day, a time when my mental levels were beginning to run low, to run through pieces that I knew I would be performing soon. Be it a student recital, a restaurant gig, or that aforementioned graduation recital, I needed to keep a solid 90 minutes of music ready to go. So I used this time to run through the pieces, ever mindful of places where I'd fumble through memory lapse as well as looking for new interpretive ideas while I played the established ones. I'd often read through a piece I had already committed to memory to make sure I hadn't locked something down incorrectly.

If it was before midnight and I still felt like it, then I would play for my own entertainment. I'm glad I did that all when I was young. A month of that type of work now would probably kill me!

So... How should you set up your time? Let's say you are at the point where two hours a day is all you have to work with. You don't want to do two hours straight. It isn't as much 'how long you play every day', but how often you had the guitar in your hands. It is better to do four half-hour sessions spaced out evenly than one marathon two hour hand-bash.

First, you need to warm up effectively. Schedule about a quarter of your time to scales, slurs, arpeggios, chromatics, whatever you do to get limber. The next and most profitable time is spent going through your weekly lesson material. Do this while your mind is fresh. It doesn't pay to play all day and then try learning new material in the evening. You will be throwing things in no time through frustration. Spend at least half your remaining practice time on that -- practicing new stuff, reading new pieces, copping new technique. This is development. Any time remaining should be used to run through memorization and older material. After that, play.

Sounds like work? It is -- if you love the instrument and want to do well, it is work you'll gladly do. If you get discouraged at your inability to sound like Eliot Fisk after six months of lessons, maybe you're a hobbyist, not a recitalist. That's not condemnation, not everyone who feels compelled to offer a band aid is destined to be a cardiac surgeon! Sorry if that sounds harsh, but music is not a neat way of attracting members of the opposite sex or a sure-fire route to money and fame. You have to love music, not that other stuff. Man, it's hot and I'm getting cranky, so I better shut up until next time!

Want info? Want lessons? Lonely? Just drop us a line at .


The Classic Guitar Method: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.

With the aid of a good teacher, the student will rapidly progress through The Classic Guitar Method attaining technical proficiency and musical eloquence.

This method stems from the need to incorporate a number of schools into a single cohesive curriculum. Years of honing a logical approach to the guitar and the creation of music culminate in this volume. As a self-proclaimed Disciple of Valdés-Blain , much of that famed teacher's focus can be found in Mr. Pellegrin's method.

ISBN: 978-1-4116-9442-2

Published by PAB Entertainment Group, P.O. Box 2369 Scotia, New York 12302

Please go to to order.


Hear selections from my new album, Reflecting Pools. A departure for me, it is a keyboard album. The music is a series of tone poems written for relaxation and meditation. Reflecting pools is the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon or a winter evening. Actually, it is a great stress-reliever at work!

Click the album cover to find links for samples of all the pieces on my album.

- Harry Pellegrin

May 12, 2005

Available soon through



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