This course is all about playing the classical guitar piece, "Alman" by the 16th century English composer Robert Johnson. By the end of this course, you will:
This is an intermediate course, so you should be able to play a simple, one-page piece and be able to more or less learn the notes to a piece from the sheet music (either standard music notes or guitar tab) on your own. If you're a beginner, this probably isn't the best piece for you.
Do you wonder how a concert guitarist thinks about a piece of music that he or she is preparing to perform? Were you ever curious about why one book has one fingering for a piece of music while another book has a completely different fingering for the same piece of music?
If so, you'll find the answers in this course. What's unique about this course is that in contrast to a lot of other online courses, this course reveals the process that guitar teachers and students go through in music conservatories and guitar festivals when they learn, teach, and perform a piece of music.
By the end of the piece you'll be able to play a piece of music all the way through to a high standard, but in addition you'll have tools that you can use in your guitar playing to take all of your pieces to the next level.
This is the introduction lecture, where you will get an overview of what you will be learning in the course, and how the information is layed out. There is a PDF file of the sheet music for "Alman" with the measures numbers marked that you can download included in this lecture, I recommend printing it out and keeping it somewhere close to your screen as you're watching the lecture videos.
The course starts with a more technical approach, starting with the left hand, then the right hand. Next you'll learn about musical concepts such as counterpoint, meter, and phrasing. Finally, you'll learn how to put it all together by using some principles of left-hand fingering Once you've got your guitar, the sheet music, and your computer or tablet ready and set up, go ahead and jump in.
This lecture explains let-hand position playing. You will be able to know what guitarists are talking about when they talk about position playing, and you will have a basic idea how to use your left hand as you're preparing to play a piece of music.
This lecture shows how to do a left-hand shift, looking at measure 3 of the Alman. By the end of he lecture you'll know how to think about shifts so you can playing securely and accurately.
This lecture looks at left hand shifting in measure 5 of "Alman." This is a little tricky, because you are going to shift right in the middle of a series of 8th notes, and this need to be done so that someone listening to you play isn't aware that you did a shift at all.
This lecture is going to show you how to shift, using an open string note to cover your tracks. This is something that makes my life a lot easier, and it will help you do a shift so that the listener isn't aware that you shifted at all.
In this lecture, you're going to take the concept of shifting further, and learn how to stay attached to the guitar. Basically, you want your hand to be relaxed and flexible, so you can "hand off" with your fingers. Handing off refers to the act of not letting go of one note until you are all set up for the next note. This allows you to keep a smooth and connected sound as you play.
In this lecture you'll learn about the basic principles of playing slurs on the guitar. Classical musicians refer to hammer-ons as "ascending slurs" and to pull-offs as "descending slurs." Different teachers and different books sometimes have slurs in different places so you'll learn some principles to keep you on track.
In this lecture, you're going to learn how to play a phrase that uses slurs early on in the piece, to give you an idea of how to put in slurs that make sense for the musical line. In music school, there were times where I felt like my teachers would randomly put in slurs to a piece or else tell me to take them out, and I was confused as to the reasoning. This lecture (and this whole course) will help you take some of the mystery away.
This lecture could arguably be titled differently, because it isn't something where you have to reach out of position (in other words you don't have move beyond your covering 4 frets position) but I've found that this section gives people trouble in private lessons, so you'll learn about keeping your hand nice and open so you can navigate this passage.
The hard thing about playing classical guitar is to be on top of all the ideas that are going on at the same time. In this lecture you'll learn how to set up in advance for bass notes. This will help you develop your finger independence and flexibility.
When I use the word "gear" I'm using it in the sense that a car or truck has to be put in a certain gear in order to go in a certain way, and it's the same with your right hand. In this lecture you'll learn how change gears depending on the musical texture and context. It may sound strange at first, but it'll help make things easier and give you a new way to think about your right hand.
It's important to crisply and cleanly articulate the notes when we're doing a dotted note figure, so in this lecture you'll learn how to do that with your right hand fingers. You'll also learn when you can practice slow and when it's necessary to practice a passage at full speed.
In this lecture you'll learn a very subtle yet important guitar technique, balance between the voices. The most important thing is to keep your right hand loose and positioned directly over the strings, so you'll see how to do that in this lecture.
This is another subtle but very important part of playing smoothly on the classical guitar. In this lecture you will learn how to think ahead with your right hand so that the right hand is set up and ready to play so there is no delay in the sound.
This lecture will feature a short, single-view video where you'll learn about counterpoint, and how the idea of multiple independent melodic lines intertwining eventually led to our modern idea of chords.
This lecture is going to have you jump right in and work on the trickiest part of the piece. In order to clearly present the idea of having multiple lines go on at the same time it's really important to make sure that you're holding each note in the line for it's full value, so the line doesn't have any broken links.
We'll look at another section in this lecture, and you'll continue to work on this idea of holding notes for their full value so that the line is nice and unbroken.
This lecture is going to help you think about some of the issues with notation that you need to keep in mind, particularly if you play by reading guitar tablature. You will learn how to read between the lines as it were to make sense of guitar tablature. It's worth pointing out that music like this that was originally written for the lute was written using a form of tablature, so it's not that tablature is completely bad, it's just that there are some pitfalls that the modern guitarist (in other words, you and me) need to avoid.
When I was in music school, I didn't take guitar ensemble class very seriously (none of us did, we were too busy practicing our solo pieces and flirting with the violin majors). I regret that now, so to make up for it I'm going to show how you can break up the voices of this piece starting at measure 21.
This lecture has a brief discussion of meter and how to find the strong beats in this piece. In music, you can think of pulse as being the regularly occurring intervals of time, kind of like your heartbeat. Meter refers to how you divide up those pulses. If you accent every 4th pulse, you're doing a 4 meter, if you accent every 3rd pulse, you're in a 3 meter. The "Alman" is in 4/4 meter, meaning that there are 4 beats per measure, and that the beat is kept track of with a quarter note (the quarter note gets the beat). The strong beats are on 1 and 3, with the weak beats being 2 and 4 (in pop music 2 and 4 is called the backbeat).
In this lecture you will learn how to use your right hand thumb to stop bass notes from ringing into the next passage. This is something that advanced guitarists do out of habit, but it's not really that difficult. You'll learn how to make your playing sound cleaner more polished by making sure that the bass notes don't bleed into the next phrase.
Classical pieces often have unfamiliar-sounding names, so in this lecture we'll take a look what 'Alman" means. Basically, it's the German form of the word of "Allemande," and believe it or not is was a very common form for a short, stand-alone instrumental piece in Elizabethan England, when this piece was written. An Allemande is a stately, moderate-speed dance where you usually feel 2 big beats per measure. Something I talk about in lessons is that this is a stylized dance, meaning that this is an idealized version, and people didn't actually literally dance to this piece. It's kind of like a Hollywood crime thriller movie, the scenes are stylized in the sense that there may be criminals in real life, but they're usually not as good looking and stylish as the ones in movies.
In this lecture you'll learn a little bit about phrasing, and how it can alter the sound of a piece. This is where things can get subjective, so for our purposes we'll keep things simple and concrete. As is the case with most music lessons/courses, this is a place not to be finished, but to start thinking about this issue.
In this lecture you will learn how to start a phrase on a pick-up. A Pick-up is when you begin a phrase on an incomplete measure, so in other words you don't start on beat 1. The fancy name for this is an "anacrusis." In pieces of music, the musical idea often begins on a pick-up, so in this lecture you will learn how to play a phrase in the Alman that begins on a pick-up.
In this lecture you'll learn how to use your left-hand fingers to hold on to notes for their full value and to use vibrato on the note that you're holding so that you can give the illusion of forward motion. This is one of those things that more advanced guitarists do out of habit, and it's something where it's not actually difficult, it's just that you have to be very on top of the music as you're playing.
In this lecture, you will learn about pattern recognition, specifically about something called a sequence. In music, a sequence refers to when there is an idea that ends up being re-stated at different levels. You'll learn how bring out this pattern so the piece sounds more interesting.
In the lecture, you'll learn how to play a phrase in a more interesting way by following the shape of the line. All this means is that when a group of notes all goes in one direction you can louder or softer depending on the shape of the line. It makes the piece sound better, and it is easier to play the piece if you can find ways to put notes together in groups, as opposed to just playing note after note after note....
The guitar presents some interesting different ways to play notes by allowing us to play the same exact pitch in different places. You'll learn how you can take advantage of this to help you when you're trying to solve a musical or a technical problem.
For the purposes of this course, we're not going to worry about the right-hand fingering for every single note, partly because there are so many notes, but also because the left-hand fingering is more changeable, and when you change where you play on the fretboard its going to change the right hand fingering.
In this previous lecture, you learned how you can use different options in terms of where to play a note or group of notes on the fretboard. In this lecture, you'll learn how to think about a phrase musically so that you don't go overboard and start jumping all over the fretboard without any kind of underlying logic.
In this lecture, you will learn how playing on the different parts of the fretboard will give you a different tone color, or timbre. This refers to the actual sound, if a melody was played on a violin, it would sound different that if it was played a saxophone. That's the idea here. You'll learn how to make this piece sound crisp and articulate by choosing your fingering based on the tone color that you want.
Something that bothers classical guitarists is that they will see 2 different books with the same piece, and it will have 2 different fingerings. Then, a teacher will tell you to use a 3rd fingering. So what gives? In this lecture you'll learn how to start thinking creatively to use fingering as a way to solve problems. In the previous lectures you learned about the options that you have in terms of left-hand fingering, so in this lecture you'll learn how to start putting that to use.
This lecture is just a video of me playing the "Alman" from beginning to end. You can use it as a reference as you're working through the course. I"m not claiming this is the definitive version of this piece, in 3 months maybe I would play it differently. As always, these courses and lessons are points of departure, not arrival. Feel free to add your personal touches and ideas as you play this piece.
To recap, you've learned about the technical issues of the left hand as well as the right hand. You've learned about musical concepts like counter-point, meter, and phrasing, and you've learned to put all these things together as you've worked on the principles of fingering musical passages on the guitar.
You should now be able to play "Alman" by Robert Johnson well, and you can also take what you've learned in this course and apply it your other pieces, taking your playing up several levels in the process. Feel free to revisit any lectures that you have questions about.
I've included a copy of the sheet music for "Alman" without guitar tablature. It can be distracting if you are only reading the notes (which is probably better anyway), but in any case use the version that helps you learn best.
My name is Brian Riggs and I am a classical guitarist and guitar teacher from Chicago, IL. I have a degree in classical guitar performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts, and I've played in master classes with some amazing guitarists, most notably Christopher Parkening at his class at Montana State University.
I want to share what I've learned from those experiences with as many people as possible; Some of my most satisfying musical experiences have been seeing students make progress and become musicians in their own right. I've taught thousands of lessons in person and I've had the great experience of helping people fulfill their musical goals and realizing their potential as guitarists.