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How Do Professional Guitarists Practice?

The Practice Habits of a Classical Guitarist

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Go beyond the simple guitar practice plan, and add something new to your regimen. Professional classical guitarist Mak Grgic shares tips, techniques, and approaches to practice guitar, including how he practices — and finger pushups. Whether you want to build up stamina, strengthen those playing fingers, or interpret a new piece of music, get your inspiration from a professional. Don’t just practice guitar more, practice better.

Learning a New Piece of Music

When you are first learning a new piece of music, what steps or approach do you take in practicing it?

Good question! I wish there was only one way of going about this. Personally, I tend to try to get a sense of the piece as a whole. Step one would be reading it from beginning to the end. If the piece tends to provide difficulty when reading, I opt for listening to someone else’s performance of it. Not too much, however, to stay away from being influenced by other interpretations.

"Repetition and, foremost, performing… get some perspective!"

Once a sense of the piece is there, I try to make informed fingering decisions that help with phrasing. This includes dynamic, agogic decisions, too. After that, it is just repetition and, foremost, performing. Nothing like bouncing an interpretation off another listener to get some perspective!

 


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What kind of research do you do about the piece to help interpret the music?

Wikipedia does the trick! If it something that requires more in depth research, then the Grove Dictionary is an impeccable resource. Other treatises, too. I try not to be aurally influenced by listening too much to the same piece being performed by others, but sometimes I do value other music of the same composer being played by acclaimed groups and individuals.

Arranging Your Practice

How do you arrange your practices? Are there things you always do?

There are very few things I always do, but I am a fan of these small exercises:

  1. Practice rest and free stroke with ring and middle finger (a m combination).
  2. I love the Tennant/Romero approach with diversifying scale practice with legato/portato/staccato, where synchronization is key.
  3. Chromatic scale! Nothing better than utilizing as many notes as possible on the fretboard
  4. When I was a bit younger, I opted for many stretching exercises, which were good for building left hand stamina. Then I purchased a Jose Ramirez 1966, which is a gigantic guitar, which finalized left hand stretching for me (perhaps for life – joke).
  5. After all the warming up, I tackle my current repertoire.

How often do you practice guitar?

I sincerely try to practice daily, but that has proven to be more difficult than not lately.

How do you practice your musicianship?

By learning how to distance »me« from »myself« when playing. A bit philosophical, but I believe it works. When one takes a deep breath and tries to play for oneself sitting in the virtual audience rather than oneself sitting in the chair playing, it gives one more perspective. Phrases become more cohesive. There is less rushing. Things fall into place, so to speak.

Preparing for a Performance

How do you prepare for a rehearsal with other musicians?

I practice! Important to note is to always come to the rehearsal with the aim of being better prepared than others and with a big smile, conveying positive energy.

How do you prepare for a concert/performance/recording?

Hm, polishing a repertoire to the best of one’s ability is the obvious answer. Of course, this is not always possible (a poor excuse). Playing on one’s strengths and conveying musicianship rather than muscle pumping provides for a beautiful musical experience.

"There should be no restraint in delivering the most dazzling musical effort possible."

Recording I would say has its own set of rules. I am a big believer in the concept of ‘going for it’. One of the pros of recording is the multitude of takes one can do. This only means that there should be no restraint in delivering the most dazzling musical effort possible! The pianos should be most quiet, the fortes really loud, the pauses grand and the fast notes fast! The microphone catches even the slightest detail and playing to those advantages makes the end recording come alive!

 

While Mak is traveling throughout the world and performing, he takes time to make short videos with tips for practicing and playing the guitar. You can find them on his Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.

Read more about how professional musicians practice in our interview with concert pianist Robert Thies.

Photo by Harun Mehmedinović.

How Do Professional Guitarists Practice?

Mak Grgic

Mak Grgic is a classical guitarist and one of the founders of Eurostrings, the European Guitar Festival Collaborative. The expansiveness of Mak’s repertoire winds its way through a dizzying array of approaches, from music of the baroque and renaissance (for which he received praise from Washington Post) to music of a cinematic nature, ethnic music of his native Balkan Peninsula, and extreme avant-garde and microtonal music. His first solo release on Marquis Records entitled Cinema Verismo explores adept guitar arrangements of music from the movies. His latest recordings, Balkanisms for Naxos Music and MAKrotonal for MicroFest Records, an album produced by the Grammy Award winning producer John Schneider, explore a vast repertoire spanning ethnic music, microtonal newly-composed music and early music on re-fretted instruments.

In the recent past Mak has showcased an innate affection for entrepreneurial work. This has resulted in directorship roles at EuroStrings; Zagreb Guitar Festival and Roots & Notes Interactive Music Festival in Croatia; Music@RushHour in Los Angeles; and Acoustic Caffeine Concert Series in cooperation with Arts Brookfield.


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