L319 Starting a new piece

//L319 Starting a new piece

L319 Starting a new piece

By this stage you are getting into some pretty great repertoire, and the pieces are starting to get more complex. In simple pieces, it might work for you if you just sit down and start digging into the notes but once you get to the intermediate repertoire things need to change.

First of all, you can save yourself a huge amount of time by sitting down with the score away from your guitar. I know it may sound ridiculous, and completely un-fun but the revelations about repertoire will be far more apparent without the guitar being there to distract you. We all love the guitar, we love playing the guitar, but in the case of learning repertoire it often blinds us to some pretty important information.

So, before you get the guitar, answer me this about your new piece:

  • What key is it in?
  • Does the key change?
  • What is the overall form or structure (binary, ternary, sonata etc.)
  • Are there repeats? A Dal Capo?
  • What are the tempo markings?
  • As a matter of fact, what about the other markings, do you know what they all mean?
  • Here is a big one, where are the phrases?
  • What style of music is this?
  • When did the composer live?
  • Was this even written for the guitar? If not, do yourself a HUGE favor and go and listen to the original. Even better, get the original score.

Then go and prepare a practice copy, by this I mean, if the piece is over one page long, make photocopies and stick them together so you don’t have to make pageturns and you can see the entire score.

The fun keeps on going…

  • Make more photocopies and grab a couple of colored highlighters. Get ready, its arts and crafts time.
  • Mark in with one color all of the melodic line
  • Mark in the bass
  • Mark in the inner voices that are connected.
  • Have a look at this piece by sor for an example.
  • What about the harmony? Are there any weird or interesting chords? Try to understand them in relation to their surroundings. Can you name the chord?

Now, you have started thinking about the music, and musical ideas. Now you can get the guitar. That is going to be the tool that helps you realize your ideas.

  • Have a quick read through the piece and see how it feels/sounds. Then start playing through your phrases that you marked out. Play through the melody that you highlighted. And the bass. And those intereting harmonies.
  • Identify the main themes. Do they come back again in the piece? Do they transform?
  • How about that structure that you identified, play through the piece and hear how all the sections link up.

Now you are ready to go into fingering.

By this point you are starting to get a good idea of how the piece should sound. Fingering can be your best friend or your worst enemy in regards to realizing your musical ideas. If you practice and practice, but you have a bad fingering, you will find it difficult to get your ideas working properly. So, it is very very useful to get good fingerings from the outset. Experiment. Try different things, have a look at videos online and see what others have come up with. In the end you need to find the fingering that will suit you and your musical idea. There are musical fingerings and technical fingerings and in the end it is up to you what to use at any given moment.

From here on in it is going to be the meat and potatoes work. Find difficult passages and isolate them, break the passages down, make exercises, look at other works by the composer, read about the history, the style. All of this will build into a great piece. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it is a labor of love, right?

A note on memorization.

I am not a believer in aiming to memorize, or trying to memorize. I think using the score is completely fine on stage, and a must in the practice room, I believe that if you have practiced thoroughly and well (like above) the memorization will be a product of good work. If you can play it from memory, great! If not, don’t force it.


Got any good preparation tips of your own? Write them in the comments below:

2016-10-24T00:20:06+00:004 Comments


  1. Steve May 10, 2014 at 7:45 pm - Reply


    Thank you, good ideas on the phrasing and identification of the melody, bass, and inner voicing. Breaking down passages and transitions is something I usually need and have to do. Thank you for the advice.

  2. Larry M. July 25, 2017 at 1:59 am - Reply

    Thank you for this advice. The ability to pick up a new piece of music, and methodically move from ignorance to a good performance still eludes me. Oh, I eventually make something of the piece. After much analysis, and a multifaceted breakdown of a multitude of perspectives, and parts, a final song may, or may not, come alive. Analysis paralysis? Short phrases, but no story? No flow. No beauty. Reminds me of trying to write a poem by focusing on grammar. The flow that should come when really playing a piece of music seems to be the one factor that eludes me with the classical guitar. The outline about how to start learning a new piece is absolutely correct. Without following such an approach, one is doomed from the start. But as I check off each step, I recall how such steps did not get me to my destination. So I continue to seek. I am simply searching for a way to start a brand new piece of music, and end up, in time, playing something musical, something of a small bit of worth, something of, dare I say the word, beauty.

  3. Pitchou July 25, 2017 at 2:39 am - Reply

    In my opinion and experience, all of it is not necessary to playing a piece but it definitely helps a lot and makes you understand what you are playing.

    But if you look at the title again, it is about Starting a new piece, not get it from scratch to performance level.
    After all this comes the real fun and the real work with the guitar : phrasing. Take all of these little passages and make them beautiful, then put them together and it’s an other type of work, to make them match. Then, as a poet, from one verse to the other you should write/play the story of your piece in your own way but with the authors’/composers’ words/notes.

    So many times we can master a piece technically, or think we do, and play it through but it lacks this extra step that separates us from playing it the way we want. The appropriation of a piece is extremely important.


  4. Larry M. July 25, 2017 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Good insight. Thanks.

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