The Career of a Guitarist
One theory which is very trendy nowadays states that it takes 10.000 hours of intelligent practice (approximately 10 years) to excel in any chosen discipline. Yes, 10.000 hours. It is very likely that every great musician you know had to go through this 10 years incubation period and you are no exception. Yes, Mozart was being tutored by his father Leopold from a very early age, and composed his first great works at the age of 21... he had already accumulated 18 years of work by the time he became a star. Therefore, the myth that talent was the only ingredient in the Mozart success story, is just that, a myth. He had a spark of talent that the right teachers, surroundings and hard work sculpted in the colossal figure we know today. A very similar example of this type of growth is golfer Tiger Wood. His father Earl coached him from the tender age of 4 months, had his first official golf lessons at 4 and by the time he was 21 he was wearing his first green jacket at the Augusta Golf Master. He too had accumulated 17 years of practice by the time he was 21. Yes, no miracle stories dear friend...just the right circumstances, coaches and a lot of hard work. Below, Glenn Gould, Bach greatest piano interpreter ever, talks about why he said NO to a concert career.
To begin studying guitar at a young age is always an advantage because parts of the brain that are assigned to coordination, muscular activity in general etc. become active very soon and the brain is forever wired for instrumental playing (or any other discipline).
Talent on the other hand, is really misleading because we think that the great achievers in life were "gifted". False ! The process goes something like this: A good teacher (good is the keyword) immediately spots talent and works more intensely with a given student and, subsequently, the student becomes motivated and the effect works itself like a multiplier, it feeds on the talent and growth on all fronts is faster... the wheel is turning and, a few thousand hours later, a great player will be born.
For the non talented player, the end result can still be the same only he will have to work harder and will seldom have the road ahead paved... One thing is sure though. Of all the ingredients necessary to make it to success, the most valuable one is a predisposition to hard work. Talent is a bonus but talent alone will not suffice. I am sure you have noticed by now how Oriental players are progressively and steadily becoming the best at several musical disciplines. It is not genetic... I assure you, all humans have the same number and type of chromosomes. It is cultural. It comes from hundreds of years back. Orientals were always dealt a difficult hand and they had to work much harder to survive. When my ancestors were planting and harvesting corn in Europe, the Chinese were doing the same with rice. Rice is much harder to plant, maintain and to harvest. My European ancestors could lay back and look at the stars much longer than the Chinese counterpart. Oriental players can practice much harder and for longer stretches of time and will have the necessary patience to wait for the results. They developed a skill that makes them enjoy the journey as much or more than the ultimate goal in and by itself.
DO I HAVE IT?
You must have asked yourself this question many times. Especially if you are working hard at the guitar. My students' parents ask me this question as soon as the first class is over. I know that parents want the best for their children, and I believe a teacher has to be a parent as well as a teacher. Eventually, we all want to make sure that we are doing what we were designed to do. Doing that, is the only way we will really be happy and parents want us to be happy. Who are we asking the question to ? or, who do we think has the answer to the question?
Before you venture in answering this question, let me give you an insight into some very important "guitar matters" that you have the right and obligation to know, matters which I' ve matured throughout my life experience and education. All these matters point in one direction: Find out exactly what role you and your music will be "playing" and make sure you know yourself very well because the better you know yourself, the more likely it is that you will be happy or, even better, at peace.
I would not be writing this and we would not know a classical guitar world if it were not for Andres Segovia. We are not just talking about "a" guitarist, we are talking about a man who lived the whole twentieth Century (Segovia died in 1987), the one century that has seen more changes than any other century before or since. If you were born anywhere between 1893 and 1987, you can say with all certainty that you were a Segovia contemporary.
For most of the 1990s, the classical guitar world was pretty much divided like this: those who "dared" to criticize the maestro, those who wanted the man "beatified" (the step prior to becoming a Saint), and those who used the Segovia name to get somewhere.
I know Spaniards very well. For one thing, a good percentage of my blood is Spanish (My grandmother was De Niquesa Bellucci).
Segovia was Andalusian and a Spaniard. That translates into incredibly stubborn and poetic. Then, of course, he was also a man.
From age 7 to 16, the only guitarists I knew were: Segovia and my teacher Vincenzo Calsolaro. The only guitarist my teacher Vincenzo seemed to know was Segovia (at least that seemed to be the case..."Segovia this, Segovia that.."). The only concert I attended was...of course ! a Segovia concert in Bari ! No need to say that by the time I was 17, my life's goal was to meet the maestro! I did, 5 years later in Madrid. This was the heavyweight sentence in all my resumes. "Renato studied with Segovia !!". After all, who knew Calsolaro - or Carlevaro for that matter - to even bother including them in the resume? How could you possibly dream to make it as a guitarist without Segovia's approval?
Time and a great musicianship have made Segovia a really gigantic figure and it is under this light that I will continue writing. Justice has to be made and justice must be blindfolded.
I met Andres Segovia in his nineties! He was soft and gentle, and everything I can say concerning my personal experience with him is good. I certainly got the best from him: words of wisdom and a clear idea of what I did not want for a life. But there are many not so happy student-teacher anecdotes that almost never make it to the guitar magazines and are as real as the ones that do make it to the magazines or guitar books. It seems that most of my colleagues are still afraid that the maestro might hear them from "beyond" and disapprove.
In Graham Wade's book Maestro Segovia you read the following anecdote on page 72.
Now ask yourself: Is this the "Maestro" I want to become? The "Mexican guitarist" had a name and a dream, which were probably shattered that day, beyond the amusement that it may cause to you or me when reading the anecdote..
In the past two centuries the music profession has undergone some of its most dramatic changes. Musicians in turn, have had to cope with some almost inhuman situation, or to be more precise, unmusical situations both instrumentally and in their lifestyles in order to cope with these changes. There are some historical facts that have certainly played a key part in reshaping musical life. The always more diminished role of the Church, and spiritual life in general, in secular matters is definitely one of the most influential. The one thing that has not changed is human vanity. Vanity, ego, moi etc., are in a way, survival instruments. When these are untamed or out of control, then the result is a monster. This is so much true that I spent my first 14 years as a guitarist thinking that success or personal achievement and prestige were to be measured according to the amount of "fame" or public recognition that the profession carried with it. What an horror !
The following are some of the most important considerations to be made by the aspiring guitarist.
- If you want to be a famous guitarist, remember that there is no such thing as a "school for famous guitarists". If you want to be famous, then you are probably in your teens or twenties at most. If you are in your thirties or forties I suggest you see a priest or psychiatrist.
- Remember that Segovia is dead and recording a CD with his mediocre compositions today will not give a "push" to your career but a kick good bye.
- If you think John Williams is famous, then you ought to know that people attending his concerts often think that they will hear John T Williams, the film score composer. Hear the short clip below of John Williams himself clarifying the issue at a concert in Japan:
Segovia too will be forgotten and his name will only survive in guitar circles for as long as there will be guitar circles ( I am 40 and I am still not sure what a guitar circle is, if it is what I think it is, I am glad I don't belong to any).
You might reconsider the whole matter in the light of what I wrote before, fame brings a whole package along with it and selling your soul to the devil will only get you to hell (or where do you think selfish people, Hitler or Stalin go?). The market that makes famous musicians is exactly that: a market. Rap and rock will probably get you there but you will probably end up in a rehab center if you are lucky or die from an overdose of something. The key is to remember this: What is born big is a monster, Virtue on the other hand, is the reassurance that what we are doing is pleasant to God. Virtue, from Latin virtus (“manliness, bravery, worth, moral excellence”)
- Every serious career demands years of dedication and the music profession ought to be exactly that: a profession made of countless hours of silent dedication. Sudden stardom is a human being's doom, the monster. Think in terms of your parents, your, brothers and sisters, your friends, your classmates, your neighborhood or community, your country, small or big, and you will realize that you are already famous in that world, the only world that really matters because it is the world that God wants you to work in. Do not disappoint these people because they are the only ones that really matter and they count on you because they see you as their hero and, if you ought to make it passed your county or country it will be thanks to them.
- Maestro Segovia even made fun of the fact that he broke the heart and lives of 3 women (his wives) -again in the Graham Wade's Book Maestro Segovia- and quite a few children and many times literally used evil means to get to his goals. He was arrogant and had no guitarist friends of his generation. He saw Barrios Mangoré as a threat and did nothing to help the man. Can you believe that he admired his composition secretly but never played a single Mangore piece? (I have my reliable sources). He literally destroyed the competition. His work for the guitar world ended when he died, the classical guitar world is presently undergoing a huge crisis, he is responsible for that as well. But as I learned many years ago, even the devil will eventually end up working for God, (after all, the evil one has demonstrated that he is quite stupid for having chosen hell). God can write poetry using the leg of a table...God's plan will come about no matter what.
- Do you plan to be on tour for months at a time? Although the possibility of travel and the novelty that new places have to offer is undoubtedly very tempting it is also true that just as anything else we do in our lives, the novelty aspect is due to end before the first 2 years on tour have ended. Besides, with a concert coming up, you will not have much time or peace of mind left for excursions etc. When we are single, it is definitely the best moment to face this stage in our career. If you live outside Europe, the US and Japan, you ought to consider the possibility of moving to these places because anywhere else, your chances of making a living playing concerts will dramatically decrease. Sponsors and agents prefer to have "handy" musicians in their portfolios and living in some secluded island in the Pacific is definitely not the place to be if you want to be found. Simply getting you to the place to play costs thousands of dollars that will definitely influence the agents' decisions.
- Agents: most times they will exploit you, for sure ! If a relative or close friend manages your career you are blessed, musicians and artists in general make poor businessman, somebody to represent you will definitely boost your career..
- Take advantage of our present times and forget those lousy paper dreams. With technology being what it is, you can make your own recordings and CDs with a small budget. You do not need a 10,000 dollars microphone. Some great guitar recordings were made in bathrooms -because they often have great acoustics- and a 50 bucks mike. If you can afford the expensive technology, good for you, if you cannot, believe me, I still cannot tell the difference between a cheap 100 bucks mike and a super expensive Neumann mike. Aim at the real people around you because they love you and they will really help you. If you cannot conquer the hearts of the people around you, forget about the possibility of conquering the hearts of unknowns.
- Do not compare the career of a guitarist with that of a violinist or a pianist. The only thing we share with them is the fact that we do music. A career in piano or violin is designed to make music for huge audiences and their instruments have to be heard from a distance. The competition there is huge. Our piano-violin colleagues grow musically in a different way then we guitarists. The guitar has its roots in the common people, and trying to bring up its "status" is to go against its very nature.
I have attended guitar concerts in famous great concert halls...I could barely hear the music. Pianists an violinists have literally thousands of gorgeous pieces written by incredible composers in unrepeatable human-historical times for extremely loud instruments. Examples? ok: They have Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Tchaikowsky, Listz, ...Who do we have? let me think....ah yes! Sor (1 decent piece), Tárrega (2 pieces), Mangore (enough). The rest is great transcriptions and a few mediocre composers trying to make up for the centuries lost -what a waste of energy !! -. The sad part about this is that music schools around the world are missing the point completely. They think that the problem is the guitar repertoire. No! The problem is the guitarists' lack of personality,
- I recently received this mail by a guitar lover and student and a good friend who was happily growing as a guitarist (a true one at that) and one day wrote to me. I quote :
" I had my lesson this weekend and came away very sad. My teacher has written out a list of scales and arpeggios I have to learn majors 2 and 3 octaves harmonic and melodic minor scales dominant 7th... maybe I should be thankful he didn't include Chinese and Eskimo scales .. If I really have to learn all this to play well I am wondering if I am up to it. Did you have to go through this torture when you were learning". What is the problem with some teaches!?
Many of these teachers are still trying to figure out why is it that they make so much noise with their left hand but torture their students with pointless studies. Boy, I was mad when I received this mail !! The guitar will not be in any better place than it is at present if the guitar school does not change dramatically. Guitarists are not great sight readers. They are readers at best. The only ones talking about sight reading are the few ones who were locked in a room by their parent with a music sheet and a guitar for hours. They sight read... wow !! Any 3rd year violin player sight reads better than 20 guitarists put together. But he better !! He has a zillion masterpieces to chose from and if he does not progress fast at sight reading he will miss his life achievement !! We guitarists want to play: Recuerdos, Cavatina, Asturias ....uhm...what else....La Catedral.... You do not need to be more than a reader to achieve that. Or why do you think that tablature web sites receive so many visitors a day !?!? Then again, do not forget that we are not even great music writers, our music writing is not representing what we play...we miss by an octave for crying outloud !!
- Results of this kind of approach: Lines and lines of great souls with a true dream, finally ready to participate in the Giuliani competition or the Whatever competition where they impose mediocre pieces to see how fast you can play through them !! Or ask you to play the new composition by Joe d' Loser - whose music is certainly to be discarded - to finally win and join the over 1,000 competition winners who are still fighting drug and/or alcohol abuse. Tell you what, get yourself a decent down to earth teacher, with a great soul, and all the books you can get your hands on, and then sit down and make a life plan.
What we have is a non intimidating instrument that can reach the very soul of the people around us. Musically speaking we guitarists are not even close to our piano/violin colleagues because we do not need to and we ought to take full advantage of that because it is our strongest asset. This of course, does not mean that we have to stay ignorant, all the contrary actually, but our challenge is a different one. We must make art music available to our fellow human beings. When you know that guitarists hardly get 500 people in a concert hall -when they have a name that rings a bell- you see that we are basically failing at the main goal. If we focus on our assets, we will cherish the fact that a guitar is always welcome at a wedding, barbecue, classmate meeting and other every day places. When the crowds get huge, we have the technology to back us up.
- A great investment for the aspiring guitarist: a portable PA (power amplifier), wireless mike or an onboard pickup/equalizer system. Below I display a portable PA system by Fender that I have used for over 15 years. It is called Passport and I can only start enumerating the countless goodies of this portable PA. (I am not sponsored by Fender and this is my sincere recomendation to my students)
We often misuse the word professional. It is often associated with "making a living", or doing some kind of work that needs a degree of skill and education. For one thing I believe with all my heart that every job needs some kind of preparation and skill. Mediocrity is an abomination and the world would be better off without mediocres altogether. Professional-ity and mediocrity are attitudes. The first thing I tell my students is that the minute they enter my studio they are professionals and they will be welcome as long as their approach to playing is such. There are two ways to play a 2 notes sequence: 1: The professional way: play the two notes putting our whole self, talent, intelligence and soul to work. 2: The mediocre way: play the 2 notes.
Professional-ity is an attitude towards work, certainly not the amount of money we make. Prestige, "the respect and importance a professional acquires because of the quality of his work", is the sister word of professional-ity and the two are basically intertwined. Prestige is the sweetest human reward of life because it is the one attachment to our curricula that is simply unwritten though it spreads from mouth to mouth like fire through an eucalyptus forest. It precedes us wherever we are going. The most amazing thing about it is that it has nothing to do with fame.
LEARN THE SKILL
For the past 500 years, the musicians we admire, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart... have demonstrated that ours is a profession where the odds are that we will have to know frustration, pain, misunderstanding and economical need...The Cross. If you still have some doubts, read these great composers' biographies. When these musicians were given the right conditions and environment to simply make music, they considered themselves blessed. I truly understand that. I have learned to give thanks to Heaven for having had the family support and the necessary Faith to keep believing. As the circumstances surrounding me changed, I believed, and my family helped me to keep believing. Since I started mangore.com in 1997, I did not know that people whom I never met before were going to be inspired and benefited by my work and life experience. Nowadays, I have students coming to Asuncion to study with me from all over the world. They stay for 7-10 days and learn. Their whole playing changes for the better and I thank God. Mine is the story of a professional guitarist who loves what he does and wants his fellow colleagues to do the same.
- No matter how old or young you are, or what your playing level is, I tell you: If you still hear that subtle calling, do not think for a minute that it is too late. For music it is never too late
- If you can take the economic burden away from your artistry, you are blessed. With the right technique and a well settled practice schedule, you need 1 to 2 hours a day to be a top player. Yes, a professional.
A musician needs a certain surrounding in order to be productive. The life you will be leading when you are away from your guitar will have an impact on your playing. The time away from the guitar is just as important, and even more so, than the life spent practicing. You need to have an inner silence, a very intimate peace that allows for true musicianship to blossom. This peace and silence I am referring to have less to do with the often hectic surroundings of a modern city than with the little, though only real important world, we all carry within. This world is made of family, friends, work and the more or less solved issues in our lives.
For different reasons and at very unique times, every talented guitarist will eventually feel that familiar urge to go back to his playing.
Talent is one of those words that carry a heavy dose of depth & mysticism. Jesus told the Parable of the talents and this in and by itself gained a lot of "prestige" to the word because depending on how we used our talent(s) we would enter the Kingdom of Heaven or miss it altogether. What is beautiful about the Parable of the Talents is that Jesus talks of men with 1, 2 or more or more talents but none is "talent-less". By definition, a talent is a special natural ability or skill . What this means is that although our world may often make us think and act otherwise -for social, economical or educational reasons- our talent(s) will always be latent waiting for the right time to knock on our front door. The astonishing beauty and complexity that the human creation represents, can make up for many years of dormant talent and experience. The lessons that life teaches us, will provide the extra ingredient which is often missing when we are young. The opposite is also true. A talent put to work for the wrong reasons and at the wrong times can all too often be our very doom.
I see this every day and my role in life as a guitar teacher has reinforced my beliefs over and over again...the 24 years old medicine school student who discovers that calling at a college musical festival... or the 65 years old land developer who comes to my studio and says: "40 years have been a long journey without my guitar", the 32 years old architect that chose architecture for all the wrong reasons.... It is never too late. Never !.
GUITAR PLUS ANOTHER CAREER
The one thing I can affirm with all certainty is that the guitar is fully compatible with whatever other activity or activities we have to pursue in order to make a living. I once took a friend of mine to Buenos Aires to attend a series of masterclasses with Carlevaro at the San Martin cultural center. My friend who is an architect by profession has always had a passion for the guitar and I must stress that I was often surprised to see that his musical ear was developed beyond "normality". At the end of one of the masterclasses he asked me to introduce him to Carlevaro. I did and as the two were getting acquainted with each other, my friend says : "Don't get me wrong maestro I simply like the guitar but I am an architect..." Carlevaro stopped him right there and with his right hand on my friend's shoulder told him "Good, it is always wise to have more than one profession.. plus, it would be great if you learned a second language...as for the guitar, feel free to contact me anytime". You can only imagine my friend's astonishment.
We have all heard at one time or another that in order to play a musical instrument you have to practice 8 hours a day. Carlevaro told me that after 2 hours with the guitar he was exhausted plus, he liked to do other things (write his books, music and teach).
Family: Are you married? Do you have children? Do you live with your parents? Where do you live? These are key questions to be answered and that will have to take a major role in your career endeavors. I take as "default" that if you are married you want to stay married, if you have children you are blessed, if you live with your parents it is out of need (reciprocal) and that if you live anywhere on planet Earth there are great advantages and great disadvantages no matter what the name of your town is.
The famous, misused phrase "to sell one's soul to the devil" is a much easier misfortune to get caught into than often thought. One might think of it literally as a fellow signing a contract and pronouncing a formal statement. Let alone that I can barely imagine that anyone can be so stupid to actually go ahead and do it, the truth is that the devil is not interested in people wanting to sell their souls because for one thing, they have already sold it by the time they decide to and because what the evil one is interested in is the other fellows...those that want to stay as far from him as possible. These are normal people like you and me that have a life and that are struggling against all the weird currents of the world to stay afloat. Currents whispering "nah...you do not want to stick with this lady/man anymore, she/he is like an anchor to your foot"... "kids... nah... they are trouble...".
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