The 20th EGTA annual conference was held in Birmingham at the end of July, 2009.
The conference was started by Stephen Griffiths. He gave us an illuminating talk on guitar set up and what to check for in student instruments.
Steve noted that we suffered an aversion from parents to invest in good instruments. When a starting oboe had a price tag of £1100, we should be pleased that we can get a good guitar for £200 – yet even a suggestion that a beginner spends £80 brings forth cries of anguish. If the saddle is low and the bridge is high, or if the saddle is high and the action is low – both these mean the instrument is fundamentally out of alignment. Machine heads could vary enormously in quality and cost from £3 through to £400 or more. Most starter guitars have the cheapest tuning devices fitted.
He suggested that when guitars snap between head and neck, a glue such as tightbond was effective for repairs. Steve pointed out the difference between scale length and strength length. He described how the strength length could be influenced by the shaping of the saddle, how a god saddle should be 2/3rs in and 1/3 out, and how the profiling of frets was important. He talked about back buzzing, and an ideal action. ( This is normally about 4mm from he underside of string 6 at fret 12, to the fingerboard, and 3mm at string 1.) He described the difference between short grain soundboards and long grain – although short grain is difficult to work with as a guitar maker, it can help big resonating bass sounds. It was an enthralling talk and we hope we can persuade Steve to write an article for the website soon.
Brian Whitehouse is the owner of the Birmingham Classical Guitar Centre. He had developed the idea of going to the Ramirez family in Spain and recording their entire collection of instruments. He described how he had to record all the material in 3 days, and time his recordings to fit in between passing traffic, sirens, children noise, and helicopters! He finished his talk by playing extracts of the new CD which will form part of the book he is publishing about the Ramirez collection.
Richard Wright gave a talk on Carcassi’s opus 60 which he thought were essential studies for all students at a standard of grade 5 and upwards. John Arran had maintained, said Richard, that only the piano has more studies of such a high level of musicality. However in the Russian school of violin playing, Richard was aware that there was a study to support more or less any tricky area of repertoire. Richard noted the two basic finger techniques of (a) one finger per string and (b) alternating fingers in scalic passages – were extensively used in Carcassi opus 60. He thought they could be categorised into studies with repeated notes, studies with scales, those with treble and bass dialogues, those with downward slurs, and those with a mixture of techniques.
He classified their difficulty as follows, in a line of progressive difficulty:
Repeated notes and arpeggios 2,13,7,18
Treble and bass dialogue 3,12,15,19
Combinations of different techniques 16,17,11,5
Finally he thought that 20,22,23,24,25 were the hardest studies of all.
Paul Gregory delivered a passionate recital on an imitation Torres guitar of music contemporaneous with Tarrega, because 2009 marks the centenary of Tarrega’s death. His recital had works by LLobet, Fortea, Malats, and Manjon. The following morning he gave a talk on the life of Tarrega and drew parallels with Chopin. Tarrega was influenced by Chopin in choice of medium – he wrote primarily miniatures in the form of Mazurkas and preludes, both favoured forms of the pianist.
There was a session led by Fiona Harrison about how we can use contemporary pop music, the music which our students may well know far better than the instrument’s classical repertoire, to develop their ears. We can recognise time signatures, learn to recognise on and off beats, sing different parts of the tune and become aware of bass lines to help better understand harmonic progressions.
This was followed by an open forum in which Ginette Eady demonstrated how finger glove puppets can inspire our youngest students. Colin Tommis demonstrated how a compositional template could be easily discerned in Fiona Harrison’s piece Dragon Dance, and how this could be harnessed to get children to start writing their own music. Alastair Gambling had devised a way to get through the problem of “well you had your 1st guitar lesson, can you play anything son?”
Bridget Mermikides explained how about 10 years ago she had moved across to electric guitar teaching and how the electric guitar was a completely different animal, requiring a different pedagogical journey – a journey in which the use of chord symbols and tablature was essential. She insisted on all children quickly learning the names of all notes on strings 5 and 6, because these were the foundations of all the chords they were to play. Students who tried to fudge this issue were quickly dismissed and replaced by others willing to do this fundamental and core learning. She demonstrated the CAGED system of chord progressions and the membership then got out their guitars and was led through a chord chart complete with flat 5 chords, 13th chords and so on. There was a discussion about the different perception of the term dominant. Bridget said in rock and jazz circles, the dominant is any 7th chord and when you say 7th you mean the flattened 7th. In classical circles the dominant refers to the role or function a chord serves in relation to a key – a much more specific definition. “The name of the chord exactly describes the chord,” she said.
Thus G minor 7 flat 5 consists of:
G, the root
Bb, the minor 3rd
Db, the 5th of the chord flattened
F, the flattened 7th
The delegates at conference were unanimous that this was one of the most invigorating conferences for a long time. Already we are drawing up exciting plans for 2010 – watch this space!
STEPHEN GRIFFITHS had a rewarding commercial career in the Chemical and Printing industries for over 30 years, and following redundancy decided to pursue an ambition to “work with wood”. With a lifelong interest in music, especially guitar, he decided to combine these two aspects and attended Leeds College of Music for three years, studying Musical Instrument Technology, specialising in classical guitar construction and stringed instrument repair. He now works from a small workshop at home in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, undertaking repair work and producing fine hand- built instruments with a clear balanced tone, using traditional methods of construction and finishing.
RICHARD WRIGHT teaches guitar at the Yehudi Menuhin School. He chaired the EGTA(UK) Grade Exams Working Party and led the classical guitar team for A Common Approach 2002. He was a consultant for the ABRSM’s Music Medals scheme, helped develop their 2009 grade exam syllabus and co-edited with Peter Batchelar the supporting publications, including two volumes of Time Pieces. From 2002–2004 Richard was the Musical Director of the National Youth Guitar Ensemble.
BRIAN WHITEHOUSE is a well established name in the guitar teaching world having been Head of Guitar Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire for many years. He is the proprietor of The Classical Guitar Centre Ltd, Birmingham and is a leading authority on Jose Ramirez. He has just completed a book on the eminent guitar maker which is due out in print very shortly.
PAUL GREGORY has established himself as one of the leading concert guitarists of his generation. Classical Guitar Magazine described him as “One of our very best guitarists”. He gave his Wigmore Hall concert debut at the age of 19. In 1978 he won the Andres Segovia International Guitar Competition and gained second prize an the Tárrega competition, both in Spain. He has performed at all the major concert halls in London and has been broadcast many times by BBC Radio 3, including live recital broadcasts from Broadcasting House as part of the famous “Lunchtime Concert Series”. He has been a visiting professor to the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin and currently chief external examiner at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. He also teaches at the Academy of Performing Arts, Lewes, Sussex.
FIONA HARRISON gained her undergraduate degree at the Royal Academy of Music, London and Master Of Music degree from Yale University, USA. She has worked for the ABRSM professional development team since 1999, co-directed numerous residential flute and guitar courses and been a guest tutor at international guitar festivals, including the summer festival at West Dean. Additionally, Fiona has broadcast live on BBC radio, appeared on television and performed the Rodrigo “Concierto de Aranjuez” in the UK and in Spain. Her flute and guitar ensemble work include performances in the Barbican Centre and London Purcell room.
BRIDGET MERMIKIDES (formerly Upson) studied the classical guitar at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, and the electric guitar at Los Angeles Music Academy.
Professional teaching work currently includes: Head of Guitar at Radley College, Guitar tutor for the London College of Music, contributor for Guitar Techniques Magazine, tutor for the International Guitar Festival and external examiner for the Royal College of Music. In 2006 Bridget spent six months filming the BBC1 documentary ‘Play it Again’ in which she teaches the guitar to Bill Oddie. The programme was aired in February 2007.
Bridget performs regularly in two all female bands: a blues/jazz band called the Rogue Dolls and a 9 piece funk band called ‘Lady Funk’ and she has recently joined the 15-piece all female Big Band; The Bombshellettes. Bridget has a long history of classical guitar playing and has been lucky enough to perform with John Williams and Paco Pena. Earlier this year Bridget had a tour of the Rodrigo Guitar Concerto, performing it four times with the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra.