Carlevaro Technique: Page 1/8
Maestro Renato Bellucci
In the following pictures, you can take a look at several great performers and their playing positions. I admire each and every one of them for their great talent . It is known though, that the amount of energy lost for playing in these positions is immense not to mention the amazing health risks and unbearable string squeaks.. (Make sure you read the special techniques page after you are done with this page). Most of the energy goes into compensating for the anatomical wrong postures. When examining these players, Carlevaro used to say:- "They would play much better and for longer with better, more natural postures"-
I would not dare to go that far, but he talked as one of the few who had taken the time to study the physics and anatomy involved in playing. Carlevaro's technique is among the few that has gone that far, and, he passed his knowledge to his students.
Segovia played well into his nineties, but it is true that the amount of strings squeaking was unbearable as his age increased and energies died out. The amount of strength needed to play with little left hand noise twisting the torso and an anchoring the left elbow against the waist is enormous ( In some of Parkening recordings you can actually hear the moans of pain here and there). Today's standards require more perfection and "recording strings" should be called handicapped performer strings. A good set of worn-out strings is better. Trying to play like the "dinosaurs", is prone to make us frustrated .
Talent can make up for a lot of defects, but I have known quite a few guitarists who had to abandon their careers due to serious injuries that originated in a faulty sitting position. And all for what? To try to play like a handicapped! For most of the XX century, the guitar was to be played like Segovia did. Nobody asked too much back then, because a word of admiration from the maestro opened many doors, a word of dislike ended or handicapped a whole musical career. Dictatorship years are finally over. Be brave and always ask your teacher "why?". "You will understand later" is a bad answer. It is true that Segovia contributed enormously to the growth of the guitar repertoire and took it to high levels of admiration, but it is also true that guitar technique got stalled for decades because of his stubbornness. He would bring hell on Earth if you changed the fingering to his "precious transcriptions". Players like Yepes, Barrios or Carlevaro who tried to introduce new ideas both in instrument design and technique, were dismissed a priori.
Perfection being the ultimate, unattainable goal, makes it understandable that concessions have to be made. But a whole generation of players was stuck on the same variation: To play with the outer part of the nails and twist the body around the guitar like a snake.-- Some of these players have changed somewhat throughout the years. They sold us the illusion and lie that speed was all that mattered and have burned this idea in everybody. When their years were coming to an end, they would start sounding wise and philosophical: "You are the general of your fingers and not vice versa" -Andres Segovia to Marcelo Kayath in his last masterclass at USC, LA 1986-. Competitions are the Cathedrals to this horror and you will always find one dinosaur or two behind the organization...there are a zillion better ways to build a career, so avoid most competitions, plus, a competition won, guarantees nothing. The few bucks evaporate fast and the concert tour is over even before it starts. It is believed that at least 400 "major guitar competitions" winners are still out there. How many do you know? How many visited your hometown? How many are still playing?.....
I do not think Carlevaro was the greatest anything, actually, if it were not for the dinosaurs, I would probably not have a CD or LP collection. So, it is not as personal as it seems. One thing is sure though, Carlevaro knew exactly what he was doing and that is what he wanted his students to learn: To know exactly what they were doing, --especially if that "something" may have caused health or career problems in the short, medium or long run.-- Music is for life, it is a calling, it is not like saying "well, if I can't make it, I can always do something else." It is healthy to do more than one thing in a world as rich and changing as the one we live in, but we will always need our music to feel that good and there is only one way to do music: well.
Fortunately, the silent work of several geniuses, has opened new doors for an instrument that has entered the "classical" status just over 100 years ago. Abel Carlevaro's technique has been discussed over and over and most times, I realize that it is totally misunderstood. In his book he introduces his technique as "...a testimony of an experience lived over the years". He describes himself perfectly when he says "Going through life as my own apprentice and teacher". Apprentice and teacher. I think that in these two words he is describing the master that he was. He concludes saying " I learned with my students and, faithful to the pupil and teacher in me, I shall go on learning".
In his book (picture to the left), Carlevaro describes this position as wrong.... In his book, Parkening (picture to the right) says its right. What do you say? Check the almost 90 degrees angle of the right wrist...it hurts by just looking long enough!
In all the images above, and the images following, the line that seems to indicate a fallen shoulder, is pointing out the twisting backwards of the lumbar area.
Same here...plus, everything from the elbow up is a "mistake of nature" . I can still recall one of my dinosaur-teachers saying --"Pretend you are holding a book between your elbow and your waist". -- I almost became a librarian thanks to that advice !(not that I have anything against librarians, I just did not dream with the life...)
Most of these players need a back-stool and a footstool. They all twist their lumbar area. Extreme tension!
Carlevaro masterclass in Switzerland,
Most of the master's concepts are universal. Of course, intelligence is universal. The degree or type of intelligence may differ but we all know what it is. When School of guitar was first published in Argentina in 1979, it presented Carlevaro's way of playing and why. When I worked with Carlevaro in the late 80s, he would often "edit" these concepts to make them applicable to me. What he achieved though, was a lot more. He planted the seed of search and curiosity in me which would set me on the right path. The one path that would lead me to my best playing. Therefore the following chapters can be classified as "Carlevaro's way of thinking revised by Bellucci".
Being close to him, I realized that some of the concepts that seem to be very rigid when taken from his books, are actually much more flexible and it is very important that the guitar player keeps in mind that every single rule has to be filtered by each individual's unique built and musical taste. This is exactly what I will do teaching masterclasses learning real pieces with you and solving the technical challenges using my brain, just like the master taught me.
Getting to know Montevideo and the Uruguayan musical scene is very important when one tries to understand how and why a musician of Carlevaro's stature approached guitar playing in such a scientific and universal way. At the beginning of the 20th Century Uruguay was often referred to as the South American Switzerland. A strong imperial English hand, left its marks in many of Uruguay's customs. Top European immigrants at the turn of the 19th Century gave Montevideo and Uruguay in general, a character that is simply non existent in neighboring Argentina or Brazil. The illiteracy levels in Uruguay are almost 0. That says a lot especially when in many countries there exists a generalized idea that all South America is the same...therefore third world classifiable.
...to be continued
The first objective to be achieved is: to hold the guitar perfectly still allowing for full freedom of movement for the player.
As opposed to the traditional school, Carlevaro states: "The guitar must adapt to the body, not the body to the guitar. "Each player must take into account his or her unique characteristics and the guitar must adapt to these.
Back pain is one of the most frequent complains of guitarists all over. Carlevaro centered the problem on "placing both feet forward", this unstable position requires the back to make an enormous effort to maintain the balance". By setting the feet properly, one in front and the other behind, the player will be able to move his whole body by simply pushing on one foot or another. Not applying pressure on either foot will mean stillness.
In order to be able to sit with the two feet as shown in the figure to the left, you will have to sit towards the front-right side of the chair (4 legged chair) in order for the right foot to be free to go behind.
In downtown Asuncion, they have this chair (image below) on sale which I and a few of my students have bought. It deals with the 4 leg issue of standard chairs, plus it is anatomically comfortable, light and is made of sturdy leather and wood. It can be folded really easily and carried everywhere. It allows to play with no footstool or with very low setting on the footstool (only 17 inches from the floor to the butt). Click on the button to the right if you would like me to purchase and airmail 1 to you.
Remember that when you are discovering your sitting position you must consider all the possibilities with great flexibility. A faulty sitting position is at the root of a faulty technique and poor musical expression. "The left arm must be totally free to move in order to help the hand and the fingers in every way." Carlevaro will never refer to fingers literally. To him fingers' movements will always include arm-wrist-hand movements and in a more indirect way the muscles of the upper torso and legs.
In order to attack the strings at the correct angle (the angle where the best sound is produced) "the wrist must be kept as straight as possible; raise or lower the guitar, rotate it between the legs, adjust it until the fingers can produce the most efficient stroke as naturally as possible."
When you are
playing, 5 points of contact are established between the player and the
Out of these
five, the left leg is the most important and the most stable. All the other
points will adjust according to the left leg. "Only
3 points of contact are necessary to keep the guitar stable".
the members area.