First Lessons for Classic Guitar, by Richard Pick: Book I

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Matanya Ophee

This article is actually the handout I distributed during my lecture on the Chromatic Approach to Beginning Guitar Instruction which I delivered at the ASTA Guitar Symposium in New Orleans in 1977. At the time, I was actively teaching the guitar in my own studio in Nashua and then Concord, New Hampshire, and had some 15-20 students at all times. It was a difficult scheduling task to juggle the needs of students with my own unpredictable schedule as a full time air line pilot, and eventually I gave up the practice when I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. The lecture itself was a discussion of the advantages of a chromatic approach in which all the accidentals are taught from the very beginning, as opposed to a diatonic approach where the fingerboard is treated as if it was a piano, and where the “white keys” are taught first, and the “black keys” are introduced later following the circle of fifths. Since this idea derived from my studies with Richard Pick and from his books on guitar pedagogy, I arranged with the publisher, Miss. Eve White of the Forster Music Publishers of Chicago to have a quantity of Pick’s First Lessons for Classical Guitar available for free. Since I was limited in the time allowed for speaking, I inserted this handout in the Pick books as a continuation of my arguments. Pick’s First Lessons for Classical Guitar is no longer in print and many of the arguments made here can only be verified by those who are fortunate enough to own a copy. I will attempt to annotate this text with footnoted material in those places some elucidation is required.

The following is not designed to serve as a Teacher’s Manual, or in any way to explain and amplify the contents of this book. I have tried in the past to induce Mr. Pick to write such a Manual, but for reasons of his own, he always politely ignored me. It took me many years of exploring this material on my own, to understand Richard Pick’s unwillingness to spell out in plain language how this book should be used by the teacher. I must stress, that the observations I am about to make, are strictly my own, and were arrived at mostly by trial and error. I have no intentions to impute any responsibility whatsoever for these thoughts to Mr. Pick.

The easy explanation is that if you need a Manual to understand what this material means, then you have no business teaching the guitar. But my feeling is that pre-masticated manuals, Syllabuses, curriculae, Methods and the like are not very useful in the everyday process of teaching, since they are by necessity a rigid formulation of somebody’s idea what teaching should be like, and may, or may NOT, correspond to the uniqueness of the particular teacher-student combination and relationship. We are all different, our students are all different, and we must continually strive for a re-adaptation of our approach to every single teaching situation by reference to its uniqueness in time and space, and not by paying blind tribute to any fixed and unalterable dogmas, whatever their source or inspiration.

We change the system to suit the human beings who use it. We cannot even attempt to try and change human beings to fit the inflexible mold of a written page, a printed text. Reality does not exist in books, and teaching and learning music is a real life situation, and therefore, cannot be generalized into Golden Rules or Axioms.

Attempts to lay down strict rules for grading teaching methods, and consequently, teaching and performance material, without any compensation made for the differences in personality, apprehension, intellect and just plain talent between students on the one hand, and for the variety of inspiration, wisdom, craftsmanship, knowledge and human compassion of teachers on the other hand, will certainly result in limited and onerous usefulness in those instances when the subject does not fit the mold. What is easy for one person, may be excruciatingly difficult for another, and vice-versa!

Bearing all this in mind, we nevertheless do have the practical need for a general pattern upon which to base our approach. Every one of us, during the course of gathering the fruits of our experiences as teachers and performers, established for himself[1]This form of reference is considered today as sexist and highly offensive to some. In 1977 we were not yet exposed to the more virulent aspects of political correctness and no one one took offence. I … Continue reading a certain pattern, a certain attitude, which makes the formulation of basic communication with a new student so much easier to initiate. Those of us who are consciously aware of the limitations of applying a particular syllabus in a strict manner, and who manage to demonstrate the kind of flexibility which does not compromise one’s basic beliefs and attitudes, are usually able to maintain the interest and loyalty of the student for a longer period of time, and produce visible and audible results. But those teachers who insist on cutting the student down to their size, force him to adopt a rigid sequence or curriculum, without making allowances for the student’s variable capacity to absorb a given material at a pre-determined and fixed rate, may find that if the student learned to play the instrument at all, he did so not through the efforts of the teacher, but in spite of them. I have gone through that very same process, as a student, several times before I met Richard Pick.

I have stated in the spoken portion of this presentation that I do not use this book as a guitar method, but rather as a collection of musical pieces. This, to be perfectly honest, is not entirely true. Sometimes I am obliged to use the text to be found in these pages, when I encounter one of those inevitable skeptics who would not accept anything from anybody, unless it was printed black on white someplace.

But in general, I try to stick to my own verbal patterns, and to attempt as much as possible, to establish clear communications with the student as soon as we have agreed on the basic guidelines for our relationship.

Since I enjoy the freedom to dictate to my students what basic qualifications and attitudes I require of them in order to agree to undertake the task of informing them on how to learn to play the guitar, I am also free to indulge in my own pet philosophy, subject to no censure or penalty from anyone, except of course, the student himself. If he does not learn to play the instrument, soon enough he will find out that I have been taking him for a ride, and that is the last I shall see of him.

So what I propose to do here, is give you a brief outline on the basic thinking which guides me in using this book. Needless to say, this approach may be suitable for some of you, and may prove highly offensive to others. Chaqu’un a son Goût!

All I can say in my defense, is that this approach works for me very well, at least with those students who are willing to accept certain preconditions which I set out before them prior to the commencement of the course of instruction.

I require that:

  1. The student is indeed desirous of learning to play the instrument, for the purpose of making music.
  2. The student possesses a suitable instrument.
  3. The student has access to enough daily practice time and is willing to make a commitment to devote a certain amount of it, no matter what.
  4. The student is willing to pay my fee. My philosophy in establishing the value of my time, was always based on the principle of finding out what the going rate is, and to charge double. (With the condition that under no circumstances my price will be higher than that of psychiatrists.) Once a student agrees to pay double the going rate, I know that he will go home and practice like crazy. (Incidentally, I do have several students at all times, with a very low turn-over.)

One more thing: I make certain that the student understands that under no circumstances do I undertake to teach him how to play the guitar. All I promise to do, is to teach him how to learn to play the guitar. The actual learning, he will have to do on his own.

Once this is understood, and the basic ground rules are acceptable to both parties, we begin.

Lesson One.

I start with the seating position. Can’t get away from that. The picture on page 8 may or may not be to your liking, but it does serve the purpose. I much prefer the headless figure which portrays what the student might see if he sat against a mirror, to all the magnificent portraits one encounters in various guitar methods, usually of the Author In Person, and usually with impossibly intricate left hand fingering, the kind you need epoxy glue to secure the fingers long enough in place for picture taking, but which never occur in a musical composition. Of particular distaste to me, is those instances in which the Author, usually a man, does not find his own appearance attractive enough, so he surrounds himself with a bevy of pretty young female faces, in several varieties of the Seating Position which are supposed to be used by women, and which never are.

I refrain from reading the printed text to the student. This he can do on his own time. I always point out to him that if there are any questions about the text, please ask me next lesson. There are never any questions.

Then I teach him the names, letters, for the right hand fingers. Alas, we must start with the right hand, any which way we go! And then I teach him how to make sound with the fingers.

I realize that I am approaching the danger zone, in which tempers usually flare up, and people start smashing guitars on each other’s heads. So all that I will divulge about my own personal philosophy regarding right hand technique is this:

Richard Pick’s explanation of the Manner of Using the Fingers on page 9,[2]This was basically the same text which is now included in Richard Pick’s School of Guitar, published by Editions Orphée. seems clear enough and realistic enough, from any mechanical or physiological point of view. Of course, we have all read in various guitar methods, and in several scholarly articles lately, many different explanations of the process, usually by quoting books on the sciences of anatomy and physiology, which claim to explain what actually happens to the fingers when you move them, by reference to many different physiological phenomena that are not subject to observation by the teacher or student and are also of such esoteric and mysterious nature that the best manner in which they are described in the literature, is a nebulous “Kinesthetic Sixth Sense,” whatever that means.[3]This was a direct reference to Charles Duncan’s article on Tone Production in Soundboard IV/1, in which I read for the first time about the so-called “Prepared Attack” technique.

Well, I am not a physiologist and my understanding of human anatomy does not extend much further beyond the ability to tell the doctor where it hurts and how. I am a music teacher, and I am involved in making music for myself, and in enabling other souls to make music for themselves. So my point of departure is not how it is done, but what it sounds like.

So you go ahead and indulge in whatever fantasy suits your temper. This is what I ask my students to do:

Place the right arm over the guitar, as demonstrated in the picture on page 8. Let it drop freely, using the elbow as a pivot. Now raise the hand and place the thumb on the third string to the left side of the sound hole. Without moving the thumb, place all three fingers, I.M.A., on the first string, slightly to the right side of the sound hole. That’s it!

Now to the prepared attack: I ask the student to move all three fingers away from the first string forward, on the same plane of all the six strings and to imagine that there is another string up front there, on about the same distance as that which he can observe between the strings. I ask him to place all three fingers on that imaginary string. This sounds like kindergarten rubbish, but I dare say that from the point of view of transferring exact physical responses from me to the student, the use of visual imageries is a great deal more realistic and easily understood than any theoretically “correct” explanations. You can talk from now till doomsday about tension, about relaxation, about posture. But you must understand that these are physical phenomena that are so personal and so unique to each one of us, that trying to convey their exact meaning is like trying to convey to your dentist how your toothache actually feels. Visual imageries can be made up on the spur of the moment, and as long as you are aware that your function as a teacher is not to convince the student of the wisdom of your particular philosophy, but to make a musician out of him, then you will use any technique that will make the process direct and effective. The result of this particular image, is a stable hand, supported on one side by the thumb, and on the other side by the image of the three fingers resting on a non-existent string.

Now I ask him to hammer the index finger in one fell swoop all the way through the first string until it comes to rest on the second string. I wish to introduce at this juncture a term which is familiar to every pilot who ever flew the airways, and which I find very useful in understanding the function of the finger when it performs the Hammerstroke-Apoyando-Rest stroke or whatever else you want to call it. The term is VECTOR. In mathematical terms it is defined as a “Quantity completely defined by magnitude and direction.” In aviation vernacular, it means a line of flight in a given heading, at a constant speed, and for a predetermined measured distance. All this is much too complicated to use in verbal communications with a music student, but once the concept of the right-hand finger movement as a vector can be clearly understood by the teacher, he will be better able to demonstrate the particular motion to the student.

The following figure describes in geometric terms what is required of the particular motion of the index finger, as it moves from it’s resting place on the imaginary, nonexistent string, point X, until it comes to rest on the second string, point Y.

If we can accept the notion that the line X—Y is a vector, i.e., a line of motion in a given direction, at a constant speed and for a pre-determined and measured distance, then we are able to demonstrate that particular motion to the student without resorting to the geometric exposition and terminology used here. Of course, the variable factor will always be the speed at which the finger moves, since the direction and the distance are dictated by the structure of the instrument and by the manner in which we asked the student to place his hand. It must be borne in mind, that in actual physical fact, the finger never moves at a constant speed. There is a definite and obvious acceleration from a position of repose into a given velocity, a certain amount of deceleration caused by the resistance offered by the first string, another period of acceleration after the first string had been sounded and then a sudden stop when the finger comes to rest against the second string. This may be more scientifically accurate than the idea of a simple vector in which the finger is assumed to move at a constant speed, but since we are unable to measure all the precise variations in velocity of the finger movement, and since we are unable to actually demonstrate these variations in any degree of credibility, the idea of a simple vector seems useful and sufficient for our purposes. The term “Constant speed” used herewith, should then be taken to mean all the immeasurable variations discussed above. What I am trying to convey is the idea of one continuous motion which is not allowed to be stopped, or even slowed down by the resistance of the first string. In short, a “Hammer Stroke.”

Once the movement was accomplished, the first string will have been set in motion and sounded. It just happens to be in the way of the vector. Since there is no way for us to measure, or even estimate what actually happens to the student’s musculature, or to our own for that matter, due to the resistance offered by the first string, there is also no way for us to explain to the student, in any meaningful fashion, how to overcome the obstacle. Any such attempts to describe what happens, by various schools of guitar pedagogy, usually end up with pages and pages of verbiage that means very little in the actual practice of music teaching, and which have no relationship whatsoever to the actual process of tone production, and the resultant sound.

The only way to demonstrate what happens to the finger, is to ask the student to repeat the process with the middle finger. Since the first string had already been set in motion, if the vector described by the middle finger does not possess the quality of being at a “constant speed,” the finger will actually be stopped by the resistance offered by the first string, and that contact will suppress any sound vibrations that were set before. Of course, since both the student and I possess two different and unique nervous systems, we do not hear the same sound. But we are able to observe the FACT that whatever sound there was, had ceased. The absence of sound, is a measurable and observable physical phenomenon that can be used effectively to demonstrate the fact that the vector we were looking for has NOT, occurred.

We will repeat the same process of moving the index and middle alternately, until the student is able to observe that the fingers are moved at a “constant speed,” in spite of the resistance offered by the first string. His yard stick for judging this function, is the length of the period of silence between two consecutive soundings of the first string. When he is able to reduce this period of silence to the absolute minimum, he will have arrived at the kind of finger motion which produces the percussive impression of legato, the only kind of legato which is possible on our instrument.[4]In retrospect, I should have said: the kind of legato which is possible on our instrument when playing a melody on one string.

What happens to the fingers after they come to rest on the second string? That is a function that is best explained by the analogy of the alternating fingers to walking. The second string is the ground, upon which one foot always rests during the process of walking, (as opposed to running, which is a process in which both feet are off the ground altogether for a brief period . When the middle finger comes to rest upon the ground, the index finger is returned to it’s original resting place on the imaginary non-existent string at point X.

The advocates of the “Prepared Attack” technique, usually recommend that the finger is returned to rest upon the first string itself. And as Mr. Charles Duncan actually stated in his article on Tone Production in Soundboard IV/1, precisely for the purpose of suppressing any previous vibrations of the string. In his article, Mr. Duncan cites as authorities for his philosophy, a certain utterance by Segovia on the subject, without giving any specific references to where when and how Mr. Segovia spoke of the Prepared Attack in the manner described by Mr. Duncan, and [he also cited] the Parkening and Noad Methods.

I have more than certain reservations about the Parkening Method, and I cannot consider it, for reasons which space does not permit me to go into, as a useful text for the teaching of guitar playing, under any circumstances. But I know Frederick Noad personally, and I have a great deal of respect for his erudition as a scholar, for his success in producing viable results through his teaching on television years ago, and I am fully cognizant of his reputation as an educator of the first rank. But I never had the opportunity to see his guitar Method until recently. As a matter of fact, the first copy of the second edition that I have seen, the one cited by Duncan, was given to me by Fred in person, at the Carmel Guitar Festival last May.

Of course I looked up the reference to the “prepared attack” cited by Duncan, and there it was. But I also read further, and arrived at page 163, in which I found a chapter titled “Continuity of Sound.” in which there is a very accurate description of the audible results I have described above. Indeed, it is the best possible description of the “impression of Legato” which I found so far in the literature.

In all fairness to other authors, I must point out that the same kind of description is also used by Mr. Abel Carlevaro in his Cuaderno No. 3, Técnica de la Mano lzquierda, Buenos Aires, Barry, 1976. (Sold in this country by Boosey & Hawkes.) However, Mr. Carlevaro makes specific reference only to the impression of legato which must be maintained in shifting the left hand, and although I have no quarrel with his description, I find it insufficient to describe the same audible phenomenon in other instances, like the simple alternation of two r.h. fingers on an open string.

Back to Noad. Obviously, I felt that the description of the “Prepared Attack” as described in page 32 of the Noad book, and the discussion of the “Continuity of Sound” demonstrated on page 163 of the same book, seem to be two diametrically opposed notions. To resolve the confusion, I wrote Fred with an enquiry, and this is what he replied in private correspondence, dated May 16th 1977:

“In answer to your very pertinent question, my view is that even when playing a legato or trying for the maximum continuity of sound (my italics), the phases of the rest stroke are the same for most players, though of course much speeded up. This does not mean that there is a halt between preparation and completion, which, would of course produce a staccato effect, (my italics again!) but simply that the same controlled movement is made in preference to a random swipe from mid-air. Perhaps the crucial point is that millisecond touch of the pad which avoids the sizzle of pure nail approaching a vibrating string. It would be instructive sometimes to approach this with high-speed photography.”

Curious as it may sound, I couldn’t agree more. The only difference is that I am not advocating a random swipe from mid-air, but a controlled motion which begins from a specific point in front of the string, and NOT from the string itself.

So much for right hand technique. The process described above, including the seating position and the alternation of index and middle on an open string, usually takes between 15 to 20 minutes with an average student, and up to thirty minutes with the slower ones. So far, we have only considered pages 8 and 9 of the book.

Once the student is able to “walk” his fingers across the first string and produce an imitation, or impression of LEGATO, at whatever speed or rhythm, the slower the better, I turn the page and direct the student’s attention to the first exercise. If possible, I try to cover the musical staff, and leave only the finger alternations visible. Otherwise, I advise the student to ignore the staff, and consider the letters by themselves. With a pencil, I transfer the accent marks from above the staff, down to above the first line of letters. So far, we have dealt with tone production only, and there is no need for me to overload the student’s attention and concentration with musical notation. There will be time enough for that at the proper stage.

I believe that symbology of any sort, should be taught only in direct reference to the reality to which it pertains. I see little value in making the student parroting silly little ditties like Every Good Boy Does Fine, and F.A.C.E., without making this process tied directly to the actual experience of producing sound. Although this book starts out, like most guitar methods, with a complete section on the rudiments of musical notation, I draw the student’s attention to the proper paragraphs thereof, only at such times that the particular symbol is used in actual practice, and can be directly referred to the student’s tactile and aural experiences with the instrument.

Now, we practice the various formulas of right-hand alternations, with attention directed to the proper placement of accents, and to a regular and slow rhythm. This is also the student’s first assignment.

Next we go to the left hand. We start with placing all four fingers, one at a time, without lifting them, on the first string at the proper place in front of the frets. Use whatever manner you are accustomed to. The only point I make at this juncture, is that in order to facilitate the function of the left hand, the top of the guitar should be tilted forward, until the plane of the fingerboard is no longer visible to the student. This shortens considerably the arc required of the left arm and fingers, and makes the whole process a lot easier. The same point was advocated by Aguado in his instructions for the use of his Tripodison, and is still very much valid today, even when holding the guitar in the manner we do. Then we practice lifting the fingers one at a time, while maintaining the fingers in position above the string at a height roughly equivalent to the distance between two adjacent strings. This particular unit of measurement has no other significance besides the fact that it is one which is easily observable by the student, and it is close enough. Lifting the fourth finger presents no problem, but lifting the third, usually draws the fourth further away. Lifting the second draws the third and the fourth even further. My remedy to that is the suggestion to the student that when lifting the third finger, he should mentally try to push the fourth finger slightly down towards the string, and so fourth. An old trick of the trade. Sometimes, when I have a particularly slow student, I also go into various left hand silent exercises, like walking the fingers across the fingerboard, one at a time, using various sequences. You can easily invent any number of sequences as you go along until the student acquires a relative independence and control over his left hand fingers. With an average student it suffices to stay with the simple formula of placing the fingers on the first string, and lifting them one at a time. When the student is able to control this function, another 15 to 20 minutes down Lesson One, we try to do it in a given rhythm. Counting at a regular rhythm as follows: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4; (the count corresponds to fingering indications!) and then lifting by counting: 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, and repeat.

What remains now, is the combination of right-hand alternations with left hand finger placement and lifting. It is good to refresh the student’s memory by practicing a simple I.M. formula on the open first string for a while, and then try to combine both hands. What is of utmost significance here, is that after the sounding of the open string, left-hand fingers are placed on the string at the very same instance the string is struck by the right hand. Otherwise, the previous sound would be cut off by the left hand if placed too soon, or the open string sounded twice if placed too late. It is good to point out that instead of trying to coordinate one hand with the other, it is easier to coordinate both hands to a specific rhythm, and the value of the metronome at this juncture cannot be overemphasized!

Once the student is able to strike an alternating I.M. pattern while placing the left hand fingers in a


0 1 2 3 4

sequence, IN PERFECT COORDINATION, then we can try the same idea by coordinating the lifting of the fingers in a


0  1  2  3  4

sequence. Again, if the finger is lifted too soon, the sound will be cut off. If lifted too late, the previous sound will be sounded twice.

If the student seems to be catching on fast, I will also combine the placing and lifting sequences into one Basic Coordination Exercise,

I  M  I  M  I  M  I  M I

0  1  2  3  4  3  2  1  0

a term which I will continue to use later on. If my particular student is of the slower variety, this combination will be postponed to Lesson Two, or even to Lesson Three, if I am dealing with a much slower intellect.

Generally speaking, if by Lesson Three the student does not achieve the ability to perform the Basic Coordination Exercise, I usually bid him Good By and the best of luck in whatever other pursuit he wishes to indulge in, pottery, woodworking, photography or flying airplanes…[5]Computer programming was an esoteric profession in 1977, little known among the general populace.

On the other hand, I have been induced occasionally, by various factors, to wait much longer, and I found that some students are eventually able to pass this bottleneck, and to proceed further with their studies. I do not expect any specific rate of progress from the student, at whatever age. All I expect is that there is a positive progress forward, at any speed, that there is no staying in one place, and particularly that there is absolutely no retrogression.

You will have noticed that when I spoke of placing the four fingers on the first string, I did NOT specify any particular position on the finger board. Generally speaking, with people who possess average size hands, we naturally will do so in the first position, but since the sequence begins and ends on the open string, there is no reason why the Basic Coordination Exercise could not be practiced first in the higher positions, where it is much easier for people with smaller hands.

However, before we can begin to use the musical examples contained in this book, the student must acquire sufficient control over the B.C.E. so that he could do it within the first four frets of the fingerboard, i.e., the First Position.

When the student had arrived at a point that in our estimation he understands the idea of coordination between the hands, and is able to actually hear the sound produced, or lack of it, caused by this coordination, or lack of it, then we can proceed to page 14 and to the first encounter with musical notation. I am not very much concerned up to this point if the student is able to execute the B.C.E in absolute perfection. I am more interested in verifying that he is able to hear the sounds he is producing, and is able to understand the reasons why sound is being cut off by both hands, and how to overcome the problem. Perfect coordination is a long and arduous task, and it takes a long time to achieve the kind of coordination that makes for a polished and flawless performance.

The first thing that strikes the eye on page 14, is the diagram of the fingerboard with the depiction of the left-hand fingers placed on the first string. Aha, you would say, Tablature! Not so. All it is, in the context of the preceding sequence of lessons, is a visual presentation of what the student already knows by the practice of the B.C.E. I would have preferred that the diagram was not presented vertically, as it is in this book, but rather at the angle in which the student is more likely to view the fingerboard from his vantage point. However, this is of little significance, and most students are usually able to convert the visual image of the diagram to correspond to their actual view of the fingerboard itself.

We can repeat the B.C.E., while viewing the diagram, and also use the process to learn the names, or letters used for each of the sounds created by the B.C.E. sequence. We have five letters to learn, two of which possess an additional symbol, which we also learn to use at this point. It would be good to point out right now, the enharmonic (keep this word to yourself for the time being, don’t utter it!) relationship of the letters and symbols used by the 2nd and 4th fingers. Use the analogy to spelling!

Then we can go to the lines of notation to the right of the diagram, and briefly explain the idea of the pentagram. No need yet to go into the G clef, time signature, etc. They still do not relate to anything the student had experienced with the instrument. Then we can point out that the sound produced by the open string, and to which we assigned the letter E, is depicted on the staff by a round symbol, (never mind the stem, yet!) placed between the fourth and fifth lines, counting from the bottom up. The digit 0 above it, immediately establishes the relationship between the symbol and the open string. The same process is repeated for the sound produced by placing the first finger on the first fret, and so forth. The student learns the symbols on the two staves, the one with sharps ascending, and the one with flats descending, while actually sounding on the instrument an exercise with which he is very familiar by now. Symbols are learned by reference to tactile and audible sensations already well ingrained in the student’s nervous system. Not the other way around. The horses in FRONT of the wagon, please! (I did say that someplace else, didn’t I?)[6]I probably did, but for the life of me I cannot recall today where. Perhaps in my article on chamber music in Soundboard?

Then we go to the two exercises below.[7]They were single line melodies on the first string in the first position, using the notes produced on all four frets. It is important to find out if the student can name the letters and symbols of all the notes appearing in exercise 1. and 2., and if he can play the notes in the sequence given, without adding left hand fingering to these lines. As mentioned in the spoken portion of this presentation, left hand fingering is an insidious form of pseudo-tablature, practiced un-hesitatingly by many schools of guitar pedagogy, from Moretti to Sagreras to the Mock family,[8]They were the publishers of Creative Guitar International magazine, a rag devoted to the promotion of the teachings of Manuel Lopez Ramos. and is probably the number one reason why guitar players find sight-reading such an insurmountable task.

Once the student can actually read the notes directly, we can introduce the idea of the time signature, note value in relation to time, counting by reference to note values, etc.

If the second exercise seems to be more difficult than the first, the teacher can invent any number of similar exercises on the first string of a much simpler nature. If necessary, you can draw upon the wealth of folk and popular tunes with which the student is familiar. The attached musical page, is taken from Richard Pick’s “Introduction to Guitar Playing,” and it clearly demonstrates what can be done with one simple melody. Any teacher, with a modicum knowledge of harmony and counterpoint, should be able to construct similar exercises, and to give them to those students who find the restricted material in this book insufficient.

To download the music in PDF format for high quality printing, click here:

Personally, I find it almost unnecessary to do so, except possibly with the very young, or very slow adult.

In another matter: this page clearly demonstrates the enormous possibilities for using this material in class instruction, and the ability of the teacher to introduce his students to ensemble playing, as soon as he has at least two students who can play two different strings.

Once the process of relating the diagram of the B.C.E. to the staves of musical notation, the process becomes self explanatory, and in many instances, I found that students are able to learn, by themselves, all the rest of the strings, in the first position, without my incessant interferance at every single stage of the process.

Usually, I would like to complete the study of the first position in it’s entirety, and to learn the whole Chromatic Scale in the first position (page 17), before proceeding to the Duets. But sometimes, it is necessary to divide the strings into treble and bass sections, and to commence with one of the parts of the first duet, before the notes on both sections are learned. If you can maintain your student interest and concentration through the whole process of the complete first position, before giving him some simple tune to play, that’s fine. But if not, you have to be flexible. Once your student mastered the treble strings, you can go to the top line ofContra-punting, or to any material which uses the treble notes only, of which I am sure, you have several hundred dollars worth already invested in.

About the duets in general: contrary to other practices, there is no one part specifically designed for the student and another specifically designed for the teacher. Both have to be learned by the student, and the teacher might as well be prepared to play both parts himself.

As musical pieces, these duets, try to embrace, ( in the words of Bartok,) as far as possible, all problems met with during the first steps. There is a clear attempt to grade the material in some orderly sequence, but it must be again reiterated that strict grading is impossible, and the teacher may vary the sequence of the parts of each duet, the sequence of the duets themselves, to correspond to the personal attributes of the particular student at hand,

The complete book is designed to be played in the first position. But depending on the student’s rate of progress, I try to get him out of the first position and into the second, sometimes as early as measure 7 on the top part of the Andante on page 21. There are many similar instances through out the book, and the knowledgeable teacher will always use them to his advantage.

At some point you will have to introduce the student to the Escapement Stroke. (Free Stroke, Tirando etc.) This can be done as early as measure 4 in the same part mentioned above. See also the exercises on page 11.

At some point, You will have to introduce the student to the Diatonic Scales, Circle of Fifths etc. (Pages 50-57) When exactly to do that, depends entirely on your judgment. I always try to avoid overloading the student’s ability to retain information, and to take into account the practice time he has at his disposal. Too much material too soon, and nothing is retained.

I would have liked to give you here a precise analysis of the didactical purposes of each part in each of the duets, but I am afraid that such an exposition would amount to an attempt to spoon-feed you with pre-masticated fodder, which is all too common in guitar methods today. It was purposefully avoided by Richard Pick, and I am not about to commit the offense myself.

If you find that you are unable to understand the didactical purpose of the material, from the music itself, then you must be in the wrong business. Try shoeing horses instead.

© 1977 Matanya Ophee


1 This form of reference is considered today as sexist and highly offensive to some. In 1977 we were not yet exposed to the more virulent aspects of political correctness and no one one took offence. I will maintain here the original text as it was originally written.
2 This was basically the same text which is now included in Richard Pick’s School of Guitar, published by Editions Orphée.
3 This was a direct reference to Charles Duncan’s article on Tone Production in Soundboard IV/1, in which I read for the first time about the so-called “Prepared Attack” technique.
4 In retrospect, I should have said: the kind of legato which is possible on our instrument when playing a melody on one string.
5 Computer programming was an esoteric profession in 1977, little known among the general populace.
6 I probably did, but for the life of me I cannot recall today where. Perhaps in my article on chamber music in Soundboard?
7 They were single line melodies on the first string in the first position, using the notes produced on all four frets.
8 They were the publishers of Creative Guitar International magazine, a rag devoted to the promotion of the teachings of Manuel Lopez Ramos.


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