Monthly Archives: October 2011

Choreography—To Go!

By Sally K. Albrecht
Director of School Choral & Classroom Publications

How about adding a touch of “showbiz” to your next concert? Alfred’s new Showbiz! choral movement DVD is packed full of complete choreography designed by Sally K. Albrecht and Andy Beck. Tons of movement ideas for choirs of all ages are included. Here’s a quick look at the 12 smashing numbers that are featured on this year’s DVD.

In case you’ve never experienced one of our choral movement DVDs (now there are 13 of them!), let me explain our format. Each song is presented in three different ways:
1. Complete performance with Sally/Andy facing the camera, mirroring your movements.
2. Instruction time, with explanations, descriptions, and options given as needed.
3. Our exclusive “Double Shot” performance filmed from behind, with Sally /Andy facing a mirror—you see the movements from both behind and in the mirror!

Santa Mash-Up
This holiday novelty number actually combines two powerhouse favorites by Lois Brownsey and Marti Lunn Lantz into one Glee style mash-up! Funky and fun! But best of all, each vocal line has its own choreography to match. Part I has “Santa Fever” while Part II does a stomp-stomp-clap routine. Perfect when combining two classrooms or two choirs for a special knockout number. 2-Part.

Showbiz Snowman!
By now, you know you can count on Andy Beck and Brian Fisher to deliver a “bring-down-the house” holiday number! This one has a “New York, New York” style intro and interludes with an easy-to-learn partner-song format. Andy has staged it on our DVD using top hats—either real or mimed. Sure to be a show-stopper! 2-Part.

Sing Noel, Noel!
Jay and I enjoyed experiencing the premier of this original gospel-style piece in nearby Wilson, NC. Features two short solos and a soulful descant group. Add handclaps at the key change and the audience will probably join in! Simple, yet effective staging, using gospel step touches and heavenly arm reaches. Works well as a closer. SATB, SAB, 2-Part.

‘Zat You, Santa Claus?
A jazzy Kirby Shaw treatment with zingin’ rhythms and rhymes! And just wait until you teach your performers Andy’s clever choreography for this one, with singers swingin’ their Santa hats on the scat section! You can feature a special dance group or have your entire choir join in. SATB, SAB, SSA, 2-Part.

Con la Música
How about a bit of Spanish flair? Jay Althouse is great at writing stylish tunes just perfect for movement. This one is staged using lots of easy upper torso “S-curves” and “tummy-walks,” plus handclaps that accent the accompaniment figures. SATB, SAB, SSA, 2-Part.

Get Happy
Hot, jazzy, and definitely made for choreography. Just ask Judy Garland, who made this one of her signature songs. Philip Kern’s arrangement offers lots of exciting twists and turns, great for staging ideas. Hallelujah! SATB, SSAB, SSA.

I Have a Voice
Every year, we present at least one touching, inspirational ballad with the addition of American Sign Language. This choral, written by Jay Althouse, is set up in such a way that one voice echoes another—making the sign language especially effective. If you’ve never added any movement to a larger performing group, give this one a try. SATB, SAB, SSA, 2-Part.

If I Only Had a Brain
This easy swing favorite from The Wizard of Oz is a natural for choral movement. I had a blast both arranging and staging this one. Features some soft-shoe style thigh hits and very simple riser choreography. 2-Part.

Let Me Entertain You
If you’ve seen a production of Gypsy, then you know how many ways this song is presented during the course of the show. Larry Shackley’s arrangement gives us all those wonderful styles, from 2-beat to swing to waltz to a raucous kick line! Andy’s choreography introduces simple ways to go from one style to the next. Great opener! SATB, SAB, SSA, 2-Part.

Singing A-Round
I work with many choirs that are: A. just starting to do some simple staging, and B. just starting to sing in 3-parts. One of the greatest ways to develop part-singing is to perform a round, so that’s what this choral is all about! Easy to teach (and to learn) riser choreography. 3-Part, any combination of voices.

Tama Tu (A Maori Proverb)
If you’re looking for a change of pace within a concert (who isn’t?!), here’s the tune for you! A Maori (New Zealand) proverb is set both in chant and song. I wrote this one with lots of echo sections, then staged it so students could do the movement standing, kneeling, or sitting. 3-Part Mixed, 2-Part/SSA.

The Time Warp
Andy Beck’s arrangement is almost as hot as his choreography for this popular song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This one is a blast, and nonstop from beginning to end. Lots of fun tricks in the staging that you’ll use for years. SATB, 3-Part Mixed, 2-Part/SSA.

Click here to see a trailer from the DVD Showbiz!
Showbiz!  (00-35858)………..$39.99

Marching Band: Flexibility Is the Name of the Game!

Victor LopezBy Alfred Author Victor López

Given today’s stressful life for typical high school students, band directors must take into consideration the rigor of academic demands and jam‐packed extracurricular schedules that students have to juggle (and still be able to have a life!). This can be a tremendous challenge for adolescents. In today’s society, high school diplomas are no longer sufficient, and students understand that a college degree is of the utmost importance. Therefore, getting into college becomes the priority.

The “school schedule revolves around the band” mentality is long gone. Expectations at the high school level and college level have increased, and the global competition has not made it any easier. Balancing the curricular demands and extracurricular activities has never been easy. It can take a toll on the young students both physically and mentally, not to mention the self‐imposed pressures teens are under. And although many would challenge the thought of calling band programs extracurricular, the marching band program, indeed, is definitely beyond the scope of all other music programs and involves many extracurricular activities. If the band is involved in marching competitions, the many hours of preparation that it takes in order to have an effective performance can take its toll on the students (and the parents!).

The stress level and balancing act can also be said of the directors themselves. The current economic climate is making things worse as arts programs continue to face cuts, and band directors are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities. Recently, many school districts have taken away the marching band supplement, violating contractual agreements between school districts and teachers’ unions.

Some thoughts on how to ease the situation:
1) We must keep in mind that it is all about the teaching and learning of music. If some students become professional musicians or end up working in the music industry, that is great! However, we should strive to make them good consumers of music.

2) Students have to realize that they cannot participate in everything. On the other hand, with some flexibility and planning, they may be given an alternate schedule that allows them to participate in various activities, including music learning.

3) Students are being stretched from all angles; consequently, long, prolonged rehearsals are tiresome, and after the attention span wears out, band directors find themselves kicking a dead horse. Short and focused rehearsals will do the trick. The more rested the students are, the better they will perform.

4) Schools must coordinate the amount of home learning with other activities at the school. Assigning three to four hours of homework on back‐to‐school nights is not good planning.

5) Based on the school/district calendar, school site administrators and band directors should agree on an adequate number of performance events for the entire school calendar year. Why? You may ask, because it is all about the teaching and learning of music. Recently, due to reduced school budgets, transportation to football games and other community activities have been drastically reduced. Consequently, many band directors see this as an opportunity to enhance the competitive mode of their program. That has translated to participating in fewer school‐sponsored activities and partaking in more marching band competitions. This often is not beneficial to the program as it adds more stress to student participants, making it tougher to get the community to sponsor a band that they never see.

In conclusion, most band directors know that the better the band becomes, the more demand for performances. The more performances, the more stress for students and the director. We all know that the marching band has educational values, which make it highly worthwhile. Additionally, we also know that there are many non‐musical benefits of competitive marching bands (Rogers, 1982). This article is not about doing away with competitions but rather focuses on the number of competitions and activities, and the well being of students, which should be a priority for all educators.

Bad Shepherds!

By Sheldon Curry,
Managing Editor, Alfred Sacred Choral Publications

Bad Shepherds!

He climbs into the truck and we head home after children’s choir rehearsal. He pouts. He’s 4.

Advent and Christmas are coming and not only is there joy and anticipation in the air – there is tension. Today, his choir started rehearsals for the Christmas pageant and I know something is wrong.

I ask, “OK. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing …”

Two minutes later I hear him hiss under his breath, “Bad Shepherds.”

“How are the Shepherds bad?”

“They break the rule.”

“What rule do they break?”


“I don’t understand. Did someone bite someone in choir?”

“Ms. Jamison told them to.” (She’s the children’s choir director.)

“Ms. Jamison told someone to bite someone??”

“Yes. The Shepherds … but not ‘til Christmas.”

He has my undivided attention now, so I pull into a parking lot and stop the truck.

“Ms. Jamison told the Shepherds to bite someone during the Christmas pageant??? Who?”

“She didn’t say who exactly, she just said when they were supposed to do it. She said, ‘ Now shepherds, this is the time for you to be abiding in the fields’.”

Christmas is full of surprises. Choir rehearsals will have them. Services will have them. And you can be certain Christmas pageants will have them. God – the author of surprises –loves them all. Especially the shepherds biting in the fields.

I hope you have a joyous season. Use these new anthems to enrich worship as you prepare to be surprised by Joy.

And be sure and take a look at “Now and Then.”

Blessings to us all as we continue to serve –

Arranging Today’s Pop Chorals

By Michael Spresser,
Alfred Pop & Lawson-Gould Editor

In the history of choral music, the arranging of popular music is still a relatively new phenomenon. Some of the earliest arrangements of popular songs of the day were developed in the 1930s, when Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians became one of the first ensembles known for singing ‘pop’ music. As you know, many of today’s current top pop songs are lyrically inappropriate, lack a strong melody, or the melody simply isn’t conducive to choral harmony.

What does Alfred look for in a current pop choral arrangement? Many of the same things that are found in any successful choral composition:

– Does the melody stay within an appropriate range and tessitura for developing voices?

– Does the arranger use the best voice-leading possible? In other words, do the parts move in a way that help a singer experience success?

– Does the arrangement allow for proper and healthy vocal technique?

– Does the arrangement replicate the sound of the original while allowing for solid choral harmony?

– Does the arrangement encourage the building of listening skills and the teaching of basic musical concepts?

– Does the accompaniment enhance, while still supporting, the choral parts?

– Is the arrangement rhythmically accurate (true to the original), without being difficult to read?

– Does the arrangement allow solo opportunities where appropriate?

All of these questions, and more, are considered when we select our current pop arrangements. Arrangements that maintain choral integrity while also maintaining the style of the original are the hallmark of our Alfred publications.

Teaching an Idol

An interview with Meredith Clayton, Garner Magnet High School, NC
Music teacher of Scotty McCreery, winner of American Idol, Season 10

We imagine that teaching Scotty McCreery at Garner Magnet High School was great fun for you, Meredith. Tell us about his musical background.
Scotty has grown up participating in choirs at each of his schools and at his church. When Scotty entered Garner Magnet High School as a freshman, he started off as a member of my Beginning Mixed Ensemble, which is mostly 9th graders. He was a great music student and had a lovely vocal tone. He jokes with me now, because I actually made him sing tenor back then. He could have sung bass, but every freshman boy wanted to sing bass. He was one of the only ones that understood his head voice at that time, and I needed him to sing tenor to model to other young singers. We knew he was special the day he sang a solo for us with his guitar for the final exam.

His sophomore year, he was a member of my Intermediate Chorale, which is a mixed ensemble with mostly 10th graders. I finally had enough balance in my choir and could switch him to bass, where he belonged. His mom said that was one of his happiest days that year! Of course, the low notes you hear now are even more developed than they were back then! That year, Scotty traveled with us to Busch Gardens and performed the lead role of Conrad in our spring musical production of Bye Bye Birdie. He also sang a solo at our Spring Choral Concert and during the Choral Awards Banquet. I programmed his solo last, knowing he would bring the house down!

Scotty was also one of the main pitchers on the baseball team. In many schools, students must chose between sports and music. How does this work at your school?
I am very fortunate not to have had many conflicts with the athletic department. Over the years, when students have had scheduling conflicts with sports, the coaches and I work together to share the student. We make sure that the student feels rewarded for being well-rounded, and not made to feel guilty or punished. If I have a rehearsal during a game, the student will miss my rehearsal and go to the game. If I have a concert during a sports practice, the student may miss the practice to participate in the concert. If a concert and a game fall on the same night, we let the student decide in which event they will participate. If the student misses the concert, I’ll give an alternate make up assignment. We work together very well.

Can you give us any insight into Scotty’s audition for American Idol? Did you work with him on his country-style audition songs?
I didn’t even know Scotty was going to audition for American Idol—never in a million years did it cross my mind. He was kind of quiet in class, and wasn’t the type to try to stand out. His mother called me that summer after the audition and said, “Guess what we just did?!” I think it was spur of the moment for them!
And no, I did not ever work with him on any country songs or vocal coaching. That is out of my league! I don’t think he needed my help on that, anyway. I mentored Scotty on other things, like confidence, work ethic, humility, staying grounded, being flexible with instructors, etc. But the country music thing—he did that all on his own!

Tell us about the reaction of the other singers and faculty at Garner Magnet High School.
The reaction around Garner Magnet High School, after his audition aired, was pure excitement! Throughout the rest of the school year, there was a positive buzz of energy around the school, the students, and the faculty. It was all great! It never distracted from our learning environment, and we went along . . . business as usual, but it gave us all something happy to talk about. Nothing but blessings came our way after Scotty went on American Idol, and for that, we are all very grateful.

Has being involved with Scotty in the American Idol experience changed you in any way? Your choral program?
YES! The many, many blessings that have come my way this past year as a result of Scotty, his family, and American Idol, have definitely changed me. I was reminded in a huge way that teaching can really impact someone else’s life, and we may never know where that influences ends. Most times, teachers don’t know if we’ve touched someone, and we certainly don’t always get rewarded . . . so for me this past spring was amazing. I also realized that we may never know when a student may do something really big and change our life. How often do we overlook some students more than others? It’s easy to get busy, only building
relationships with the students that are highly involved in our activities, while others might get “lost in the crowd.” But you never know what kind of talent is sitting quietly in that chair . . . something big could happen to one of them, and they may remember you in their journey. It could happen to any one of you, at any time.

This experience has made me realize the importance of taking time to care for individual students and their families, and build that rapport—as well as the importance of making connections in the community. It has certainly reminded me to stay humble and grateful for all that I am blessed with on a daily basis. I am also feeling supercharged and motivated to be the best teacher I can be this school year. I feel like a lot of eyes might be watching now, and so I’d better measure up! I have 20 more freshmen signed up in my beginning choir this year than normal, so I’m sure this has all played a role in recruitment for me as well. In that first ensemble, I have 34 BOYS on my roster! Can you believe it? In ONE class . . .34 boys!! Thank you Scotty! I hope that this year continues the upward climb . . . and thanks to all of you for your support!

Scotty’s first big single “I Love You This Big” was recently arranged by Jay Althouse for Alfred. Tell us how you’re planning to surprise your students and Scotty with the premier performance of this arrangement.
I haven’t told any of the students (or Scotty) yet about this choral arrangement. I’m excited to tell them face to face during the first weeks of school! I plan for us to learn the song, and then surprise Scotty by singing it to him one day this fall. I know he is going to just love it! And of course, I’m sure we’ll have to perform it for parents at our Winter Concert!

Scotty was only a junior when he won Season 10 of American Idol this past spring. Do you know anything about his future plans?
Believe it or not, Scotty plans to return to school to finish his senior year as soon as he is done with the American Idols’ Live tour. He will be back around mid-October. He will be very busy during certain months, but his peers and our faculty are going to do all we can to ensure that he has the most normal as possible senior year. I think it’s very admirable and noble of him to want to finish his education. While it may cause a stir in the beginning, I do think that the town of Garner and the students here respect him enough to let him focus on being a student once more. I am thrilled to have his beautiful voice back in my choir this year. It will bring joy to me everyday, and will add excitement to our class!

Composing as a Team

By Lois Brownsey and Marti Lunn Lantz

Although we’ve been writing together for about twenty years we are still always searching for that magical moment when melodies and words come together in a way that excites us. It’s a weekly event—our Thursday ritual. And our efforts can range from reworking a piece we were sure was finished last week, to brainstorming new ideas. While many writing partners divide the tasks (one lyrics, the other music), we both write words and music. This way we can critique each other’s contribution. That can be tricky, but over the years, we have become completely open to suggestions from one another.

There is much to consider. We’re always striving for a good message: something we feel is important and reflects good values, or something that teaches. It can come from other cultures, folks songs, poems, or be centered around a theme, especially the holidays and seasons.

We sincerely hope that our songs might inspire conversation. What does this song mean to you? How can you express your feelings about this topic? This might lead to some research or creative expression through painting, dance, or writing. And finally, could those creations be used in a performance? Nothing would make us happier than students not only getting something from a song we’ve written, but also bringing something to one of our pieces!

For example, Winter’s Frost could inspire you to read some of the poems of Robert Frost. Could someone read or recite an appropriate Frost poem before this song is performed? Our Santa Mash-Up, created from two of our popular “Santa” chorals, was obviously inspired by Glee. How do two songs fit together? Tempo? Key? Theme? Deedle Deedle Dai was just plain fun to write, but may lead to an explanation or discussion of the traditions of Hanukkah, or other seasonal celebrations.

We’re glad to see our songbooks still have legs. One of our favorites is Celebrations Around the World (and also its sequel), written in collaboration with Sally K. Albrecht. This collection reflects our interest in all things multi-cultural.

Our songwriting is completely spontaneous, yet formulaic—at the same time. That’s the mystery of the creative process. When we’re starting a new choral, we are never sure if it’s really going to work. If there comes a point when it clicks, then we’re excited. And if that doesn’t happen, it’s going to wind up in the recycling bin (literally or figuratively).

The final little piece of our ritual, upon completion of a song we feel is worthy of sending to Alfred, are our words: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever written!” Our little in-joke, but somehow we always believe it!

Designing a Great Instrumental Music Curriculum

By Bob Phillips

I am often asked what the factors of success for instrumental music programs are. There are a variety of things to consider such as starting age, time on task, facilities, equipment, scheduling and many others. One of the most important resources for any instrumental teacher is a well thought out curriculum. A comprehensive curriculum paired with great supporting materials allows educators to teach with efficiency and success.

It was Lewis Carroll that said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. The best instrumental curriculums pair national/state standards and best practices with local situations and traditions. Teachers tend to be more successful when they have input into the curriculum and the strategies for implementation. There are many great resources for music curriculum design such as the Music Educators National Conference and the American String Teachers Association. Professional organizations such as these offer many ideas and resources online and through their member services departments. Local teachers can then use these resources to help them design curriculums that meet the needs of their individual students and communities.

The exit outcomes for each grade level or age must be determined. Knowing what we want our students to be able to do is the first step in creating a great program. The second step is assessment, so we can monitor students’ progress toward those outcomes as well as our own growth as teachers. Assessment is a key component of any curriculum and is what makes it a living, breathing document that will be used and revised.

Another important part of any curriculum is method books. Instrumental teachers have a wide variety of books to choose from. Ideally any materials chosen should be flexible enough to meet the needs of the curriculum. The best materials take into account the teacher’s teaching style and the learning styles of the students, schools, and community. Alfred Music Publishing’s new methods, Sound Innovations for Concert Band and Sound Innovations for String Orchestra allow teachers to create a Directors Choice edition. Teachers are able to make pedagogical decisions as well as select some of the music in the method. The customizable version allows teachers to choose tunes from a wide variety of genres include Christian, Jewish, Latino, African-American, American Folk and Patriotic and many others.

In a recent national poll over 93% of Americans thought that music should be taught to all students and was an important part of the curriculum. If music is to play an important role in the school curriculum then music curricula should be written that allow all of our students to be successful and participate in our instrumental ensembles.

Bob Phillips is well known in the music education community as a successful teacher, composer, teacher-trainer and conductor. He is the Director of String Publications for Alfred Music Publishing and the President-elect of the American String Teachers Association.

For a Better Ensemble, Give Your Attention to the Individual Student

Jack Bullock
Music ensembles in public schools are formed of students with varying degrees of musical ability and accomplishments. The ensemble, whether it be Concert Band, Orchestra, Jazz Band, Marching Band or small groups of like or unlike instruments, as the saying goes, is only as good as the weakest performer. Let’s think about individual performers and methods to improve the performance of each member of the ensemble.

Most schools offer instrumental music lessons in small groups of like instruments. It is possible for students to get “lost” in these groups and need individual attention, especially at the beginning level. You, the teacher, are completely scheduled and this individual attention is impossible in your availability. What do you do next?

Consider a “Buddy” Teacher, an older student playing the same instrument well, who can help the young student with basic musical problems (counting, fingerings, tone production, stickings for percussionists, etc.). Prepare the older student in basic teaching approaches and briefly view the two together during the first “lesson” to insure that the combination will work. This will be effective in two ways – for the older student who will take pride in helping another with his or her “expertise;” and the younger student who will look up to his “buddy teacher.”

On a broad basis, try a solo and ensemble requirement of every student in your program that will help all become better musicians. One teacher I observed had such a program and it was very successful. Each student had to perform in two recitals each school year, on one recital as a soloist and the other as part of an ensemble. The recitals were held in the school auditorium, sometimes in the evening after school hours or held during the regular daytime instrumental lesson classes. The performance materials were compatible to their ability and the older students were instructed to memorize their solo performance. Young students were given songs or exercises from their lesson books and performed them in class as a solo generally standing in front of the class.

Give each student in your program “individual” attention to their “individual” needs. Sounds tough for you? Probably, but it will make your ensembles better.

Good Habits Are the Key to Success

By Thomas Kikta,
Author, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Classical Guitar Favorites
Co-author, Classic Guitar Technique, Vol. 1 (Revised Ed.)

It is my belief that good teachers have one primary goal in common; that is to see their students succeed at the subject they are being taught. The feeling of satisfaction that a student’s life has been changed for the better is truly a hope for all teachers. We have all experienced this life-changing power working with a musical instrument. The drive that is created from success with an instrument can be the difference between a motivated individual or one that simply floats through life. To this end, we try to help the student succeed as efficiently as possible. We have them practice scales, arpeggios, chords, theory, sight reading, ear training and repertoire―these are all details that help them not only become fine guitarists but well-rounded musicians. However one area that is overlooked and is the most important aspect of one’s progress is the awareness
of habits.

Habits are the fiber of our existence. Exercise, promptness, cleanliness, or moral direction are all habits that define who we are and how we are seen by our peers. If one is terribly out of shape, constantly late, or makes poor health choices then clearly their habits have made life far more difficult than necessary. The same holds true for our student’s musical development.
Poor habits of posture, concentration, practice, or physical movement can debilitate and ruin even the most gifted of students. These poor habits can cause pain, frustration, repetitive strain injury,and destroy security and confidence in one’s playing. These are all symptoms of poor habits that were not recognized, not brought to the student’s attention, and not replaced with habits that would have been more constructive. This is perhaps the most important role that a teacher plays in a student’s life.

It is not enough to simply teach someone how to read music, play their instrument, and learn repertoire. These are obviously important issues but they quickly become a second priority when a teacher begins to evaluate the quality by which they are done. If the student has poor concentration skills, tends to false start, makes errors then backs up and replays the section, then these are all bad habits that are not just happening in the teaching studio or on stage but are systematically being reinforced in the student’s practice room. The student must be given insight and an appreciation for recognizing their poor habits and realize the benefits they will experience when they replace them with more positive actions.

This is where the teacher plays the most pivotal role. Ask yourself the question “what habits does the student possess that you wouldn’t want them to bring to the stage?” Though at first this might be sobering, it will begin to give the student an appreciation of the areas that need the most attention. Once a bad habit is recognized by the teacher, it is essential that the student is made aware of the problem and shown the new habit that will replace it. The teacher is the first feedback mechanism to this process. Once the student is aware of the difference between the old and new habit then a regiment of reinforcement must take place. The more the new habit is reinforced, the quicker the old habit will be replaced. Again, a feedback mechanism is essential. Teachers may be the first mechanism but they might only have an impact of one hour per week. For the rest of the week, a feedback mechanism must be established to help them recognize right from wrong and keep them from straying back into old ways.

For physical movement or posture issues, a mirror strategically placed allows the student to see the problem and fix the issue. An audio recorder or video recorder can also be a fine feedback mechanism for monitoring undesirable performance habits. For issues of concentration, I have had continued success with students who solfège and visualize their repertoire without the guitar in their hands to help them foster deeper levels of concentration. Be creative, I have used rulers to help students monitor their crooked hands and electronic tuners to “tune up” monotone solfeggio students. Anything to help them instantly realize that they are straying and beginning to reinforce their old bad habit. Any feedback mechanism will help them recognize they are wrong, help them correct and continue to reinforce the new positive habit.

This process takes time and can sometimes be frustrating. Initially the student will complain that the new habit “feels uncomfortable.” Any new habit will feel unusual at first but settle in as time progresses. Help the student realize that this short term frustration is nothing compared to a lifetime of underachieving due to a few bad habits. This will be the difference between performing with frustration and disappointment or performing with security and confidence. Granted this subject is a far greater discussion than this space will allow, but if one begins to be sensitive to this issue, a world of difference can be made in a student’s life.

Thomas Kikta is Director of Classic Guitar at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA and cofounder of the Aaron Shearer Foundation―an organization dedicated to promoting quality guitar pedagogy. He is also the co-author of Aaron Shearer’s 3
rdedition of Classic Guitar Technique Vol. 1 and author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Classical Guitar Favorites, both published by Alfred Music Publishing.

For more information on classical guitar print music and books, visit today!

Let’s Talk About Flamenco!

By Jonathon “Juanito” Pascual,
Author, The Total Flamenco Guitarist

Like many, many guitarists from the get-go, I was always drawn to virtually anything that could be played on the guitar. Indeed, my first private lesson instructor was similar in that regard, and was able to work with me from a classical book while showing me Hendrix and Santana, then Chet Atkins and a lot of other things during the four years I studied with him!

Flamenco was not his forte, though I heard him play through a sequence of chords one time as he was tuning someone else’s guitar. I later found out he was playing a chord sequence from the form of Soleares. Something about the progression – the sound of those chords – made tears well up inside. It was a very evocative sound – simple yet profound.

A year later I met a boy in school whose father plays flamenco, and I began to take some lessons with him. I viewed flamenco and the techniques used in the style as additional colors I was interested in adding to my “bag.” I was drawn to it in a strong way and had the incredible opportunities to study in Spain at age 16 and then again the following year after graduating high school. Throughout the time spent in Spain, flamenco gradually consumed me. It has been quite a journey filled with ups and downs, and some incredible teachers. The process over these years has led to many insights into learning and in turn – teaching flamenco, that I feel is timelier now than ever!

We live in a golden age for learning and playing flamenco! This is in very large part due to the absolutely unprecedented availability of flamenco recordings, instructional materials (including books and rhythm track recordings), and in no small way, videos on YouTube. Like so many things, flamenco of the highest caliber from all recorded eras is viewable through YouTube and other sources.

Prior to the last 5-10 years, flamenco has always been something you had to go
out of your way to see and hear, and even with some effort was not always accessible! While videos are no substitute for in-person contact, not to mention the adventure that can come with seeking flamenco in person (think small Spanish village at 3am!), the difference between seeing vs. only hearing this style cannot be overstated. For decades, Flamenco guitarists outside of Spain have suffered from a sort of starvation from the source of this complex and beautiful style. There is no doubt that the last 10 years has seen an exponential growth in the number of non-Spanish players who truly develop fine technique, command of the rhythms, and fluid expressive playing. This just was not the case 20 or more years ago. The norm for many non-Spanish players in the past was a life-long struggle to put the elements together (strums, scales, arpeggios, taps, 12 beat rhythm cycles, etc.), often with a significant element of frustration in the mix.

Out of observing this again and again, I gradually came up with a 3-pronged approach to facilitate learning this exhilarating, though potentially daunting, art form. In essence it is quite simple -dividing your practice time into 3 discreet and parallel tracks of learning:
1) Technique 2) Rhythm and 3) Listening.

1) We want to make sure we are using good ingredients before throwing ourselves into the action of playing pieces, or even using some of the techniques in other contexts. So, rather than jumping in and trying to play unfamiliar rhythms with techniques that even people who grow up with this style practice extensively (hours a day for years), we are well-advised to first develop a sound technique practice. A clear, daily routine of fundamentals is essential and can ultimately save lots of time.

2) Then, a separate rhythm practice off the guitar is of great importance. Flamenco guitarists are in many ways equal parts percussionist and need to be able to set up and maintain a good groove. So, working on this off the guitar is essential to develop a strong pulse and fluidity with the various rhythms. Clapping or tapping on our laps, table, or cajón (a very popular hand drum
used in flamenco) along with recordings, a metronome, rhythm practice CD, or other musicians can be very beneficial to have those qualities present in our guitar playing whether it be solo or ensemble playing.

3) Listening is in many ways the most important thing because it gives context and direction to the other hands-on elements. Through listening, we get a sense of the music: nuances of expression, rhythms, history, and variations from artist to artist. Many guitarists who do not grow up around this music may hear or see flamenco once or twice and get very inspired to learn it, which is of course a great thing. In contrast though, someone who grows up around flamenco may hear and see it every day of their life before they ever pick up a guitar. This means they come to their first lesson with a huge library of conscious and totally unconscious knowledge of the style. We do well to recreate this as best we can by listening and viewing as much as possible in conjunction with the hands-on parts of our practice. So much of flamenco, as with any other style, is learned simply from being around it. A great guitarist, Rodney Jones, once told me in a jazz lesson “A lot of jazz is caught and not taught.” The same is true of flamenco. So listen, watch, and practice grooves and technique. Then, with regular practice in the mix, putting all this together is a very natural and rewarding outcome!

Jonathan “Juanito” Pascual is an active international performer, recording artist, and educator. A native of Minneapolis, MN, he has been playing flamenco since 1988. Juanito first traveled to Spain in 1990 to study flamenco, returning frequently since. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Boston’s New England Conservatory, where he now directs a summer workshop, “Unlocking the Art of Flamenco.” He has recorded two original flamenco CDs Cosas en Comun (2003) and
Language of the Heart (2009) and tours frequently with his own ensemble, as well solo performances and frequent collaborations. He has performed with a lengthy list of some of the finest flamenco singers, dancers, and musicians from Spain and the U.S. in addition to collaborations with such artists as Grammy-winners soprano Dawn Upsahw, bassist John Patitucci, pianist Danilo Perez, and percussionist Jamey Haddad, amongst many others.

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