header artProcessing Greatness

Processing greatness was something my guitar teacher, William G. Leavitt, creator of the Berklee method, used to love to say. By that he meant that reading songs, musical ideas, pieces and melodies written by great musical minds means you're greatly adding to and augmenting your musical experience and expertise. Every bit of sight reading material he ever gave me, or that he wrote, not only sounded great, it was interesting, challenging and fun. A good bit of that material was drawn from the works of history's great classical composers. Mr. Leavitt was also quite fond of the famous Duke Ellington quote, "There are only two types of music: good and bad!"

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All of the really good sight readers and excellent music students that I know have a fairly decent sized collection of sight reading books. Although these collections are drawn from a wide variety of styles and genres most of these books can be categorized as classical music studies. Meaning they were originally written for orchestral instruments such as the flute, cello and violin. When I was in music school for example, my friends and I all had “Sonatas and Partitas For Unaccompanied Violin” by JS Bach in our backpacks for quick, high quality practice sessions. Using and incorporating classical music as part of your normal sight reading regimen has 2 huge benefits: (1) your brain is working overtime trying to find, play and rhythmicize all of the notes of course and (2) you will find yourself analyzing the music, thinking about why and how they did what they did to make such interesting and beautiful pieces.

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Reading material

This is another one of those lessons where the rubber meets the road, where you are putting it all together: naming notes, finding notes and playing those rhythms of those notes correctly. If you're like most people, what is going to trip you up is naming in finding notes. Essentially it's no more than a few little facts and bits of information that you need to keep straight and at your fingertips. The diagram below contains all of those important little facts and bits of information. Essentially, as a proficient site reader, you're responsible for all of it. Take a few minutes to study that diagram by looking at each and every note, saying the name of the note out loud and playing the notes on your guitar as you say them.

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Below is a reading exercise based on the famous classical composition Can Can by Jaques Offenbach. It is our most difficult reading example to date because the notes are simply all over the place. That is however, the true nature of sight reading -you have to be ready for anything. In this example, you will want to learn both the melody part and the accompaniment part as both are well within the capabilities of anyone who is at this point in the course.

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Hopefully, you will practice Can Can over and over again until you can easily play both parts in time with the recording. If this is difficult for you, you must print out the music and apply my 3 point system to this piece: (1) simply look over the music and read the names of the notes one at a time, saying the letter name of each note.(2) Locate each and every note in the piece on your guitar, when you do say the name of the note and play the note, do this without regard for the rhythm, employing the concept of 'zero mistakes'. Finally, (3) Play the music in time using a metronome or drum machine.

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The Big Three

For well over a century now, the worlds' guitar students have been given one of the three most famous method books ever written: one by Ferdinando Carulli, Fernando Sor or Matteo Carcassi. Interestingly, these books were written in the 1800s and are still in wide use today. Most of the current classical guitar methods are works based in large part on the works of Carulli, Sor and Carcassi -whom I call The Big Three.

Of course, this is a course in reading guitar music using a pick, nevertheless I believe it that it is not only a beneficial and educational musical experience but a necessary part of any guitar student’s growth to be familiar with playing, processing and thinking about the music written by The Big Three.

The music itself is extraordinarily lyrical, harmonically interesting and quite rewarding to play and listen to. Not only does this music have considerable technical merit, standing the test of time, the pieces have a simple charm and are artistically complete. My take on this type of writing is seen in the piece below, which I have called “Carcassi Style”. The exercise is reminiscent of so many of the guitar etudes and studies I have seen in countless method books.


If you were playing this song finger style, it would be a breeze. Using the pick on this type of material however, creates a whole new set of challenges and rewards -first and foremost being the development of a fast and accurate right-hand. Notice in the sheet music below I have used the traditional markings for and down and up strokes, in that regard, this song should be easy as you will be using strict alternate picking technique.

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The final piece for this lesson is a duet which I have adapted from a guitar solo by Ferdinand Sor. You will find the melody to be rich and interesting but not easy, as I said earlier you simply have to be ready for anything . Both the melody and the accompaniment parts are well within your capabilities and both parts should be studied and learned before progressing through the rest of the material in this course.

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End Of Lesson 8