Andrés Segovia

The Master — Andrés Segovia

a very instructive lesson from the Master, Andrés Segovia. This is only one of many classes from Segovia on YouTube, but it reveals a wealth of information on his thinking process and approach to guitar. While much of the information he imparts pertains to classical (acoustic) music, the same approaches can be applied across the musical/guitar spectrum. Segovia’s influence cuts a wide swath across the history of music and he is often credited with bringing the guitar the respectability it always deserved as a sophisticated instrument. Not only did he have impeccable technique and an almost unlimited tonal palette (as seen in the video above), he also pioneered a “new” repertoire for classical guitarists and took it upon himself to be the instrument’s biggest supporter and teacher throughout his very long life (also as described in the above video and here and here. The second link with Hugh Downs is really great not only for its information, but also to watch how an 80-year old guy can still shred and how he helps Hugh pick a nice classical guitar!

A few months ago when I created the first post on The Impressionists, specifically Claude Debussey, I linked up to a few performances by Julian Bream and John Williams. While Debussy was probably a little too out there and modern for Segovia’s sensibilities, his music (along with the other impressionists I profiled) translates very well to classical guitar arrangement and performance. Bream and Williams were both students of Segovia and some of what Segovia demonstrates in the top clip can be seen in their performance of Golligwog’s Cakewalk, above. What they do with their hands; the positions, the touch, the tonal reproduction is crucial to a great performance of this piece. In the original post I linked to Tommy Emmanuel‘s performance of Golliwog and, of course, he can turn it out in great style just like everything he does. But there is much more of a classical sensibility to the Bream and Williams performance; a delicate stridency, intense dynamic range and, a the variety of tones that gives the impression that one is hearing many instruments, or a very classical, salon-style adaptation. The breakdown in the middle is especially intimate and sublime, and looks like it attempts to exactly create some of the instruments in the same style as Segovia in the top video.

I haven’t spent any time exploring how one may arrive at a place where playing like this is possible, but one can learn a whole lot from watching and imitating the videos and any of the other classes that feature Segovia, or Julian Bream on YouTube. It’s pretty amazing how much really valuable info is out there for free! People used to have to spend the big bucks for the same thing! The first step is to know, imagine, and understand the possibilities. A lot of guitar players just want to play fast and loud, even if they are playing acoustic jazz, but there are many other options that often are not even considered. It’s also not true that energy or the entertainment value of what one is performing necessarily drops off because more of a focus is really placed on the tonal value of every note that is played. A figure one can play on the guitar can be played many ways. How does playing it in one position with one fingering sound compared to playing in another position with another fingering? How many people actually ask themselves these questions? This is where it begins, I think. Having that awareness. Then it is just a matter of developing the technique to pull it off and the imagination to hear and reproduce as much as is possible. No small feat, especially to play at this level, but the realization of what’s possible and the importance of considering the possibilities that the guitar offers are the very important first step.