For many years I have admired Scott Tennant and have considered him to be one of the greatest guitarists of our time. He is the main reason why I pursued my education at the USC School of Music. Recently I had the great honor of asking Scott some questions about his playing, practicing, recording and his soon to be released guitar method.
Do you practice on a daily basis? and for how many hours? There was a time when I did practice every day, certainly during the developmental stages. As you progress and your time becomes more precious you have to become more organized with your practice. So no, I don’t get the chance to practice every day now. But actually the practicing that I do get now is much more valuable than it used to be. Now I practice when I practice. Before I would practice for a little bit and then play for a few hours and that’s not practicing. Playing is good and I think that you have to save some time for playing every day but when you practice you should really have a goal in mind and focus. When I do practice now it’s a lot more fruitful. Max, I practice for one and a half-hours at a time and then take a break to clear my head and then go back to it again. Sometimes I set a kitchen timer and time my sections of practice. I don’t have to worry about looking at the clock.
Does this mean more exercises dealing with technique? No, actually I get right to the music at hand. Sometimes this may be quartet parts. My life is divided with quartet and solo. When I am doing a lot of quartet activity I tend to let the solo stuff go a little bit.
Is there a preferred time of day that you prefer to practice? I have tried all different times of day to practice. Of course, when I was a kid in college, I used to practice late at night. I would get done with class, go to the library, have dinner and maybe get to practice around nine o’clock. I would practice until two in the morning, maybe later. Then my teacher at the time, Pepe Romero, told me that to get things done I should make my practice a workday. So I changed my practice schedule when I could and would practice from nine to five, for example, with some breaks in between. Afterwards I would put the guitar away and not touch it again for the rest of the day. I found that this way my hands felt better and I would get a lot more done. Nowadays I try to get all the annoying things out of the way first, like returning e-mails, making phone calls, and buying plane tickets. These things can take hours and hours. You know, all the stuff that a rock & roll star’s manager usually gets done. I have to get all that annoying stuff off my chest first before I can comfortably start practice.
If you had only two hours to practice on a particular day, how would you use that time? I can get a lot done in two hours. It depends on what my priorities are. Again, I would warm up a little bit and make sure that I have everything laid out that I need to do. For example, let’s say that I am working on one of the Rodrigo albums. I will cut and paste into a folder all the difficult passages, make sure that I have them fingered and that I understand what is going on musically and what I need to do technically. Then I drill them. I find that I get more done that way. Before I used to do much more technique; now once or twice a year I reserve a week or two for nothing but technique. I basically work myself out — like spring-cleaning. I would not advise it for everyone but it works really well for me.
When you say, “I am going to warm up a little bit”, what does this mean? Do you have the same warm up routine every time? No, my hands, like everyone else’s, feel different each day. Every day we have different challenges. If it is cold in the room I may just rub my hands together, shake them, do some stretching and that may be enough. Other times, my hands feel warm but my fingers just won’t do what I want them to, so I will warm up doing slow exercises. I always warm up slowly, but not for more than fifteen minutes or so. You see, if I spend too much time on technique it becomes technique practice and that is not the same.
What brought you to record the complete Rodrigo works? Well, it was a combination of two things. After I had done my Recital CD for GHA they had asked me what I wanted to do next. That, together with my love for Rodrigo’s music, made the project come about. I felt that it was something that needed to be done. We are almost all done now. We have one more solo CD that will include the “Elogio para la Guitarra”, “Dos Preludios”, “Triptico” and some other songs. Also to be recorded are two more concertos, the “Concierto para una Fiesta” and the “Fantasia para un Gentil Hombre”, and maybe one more obscure guitar and orchestra work that I am not sure if it is an arrangement or originally written this way by Rodrigo.
Who will be the conductor on the next Rodrigo CD? I don’t know yet. We did the “Concierto de Aranjuez” with Leo Brouwer and the Cordoba symphony. I think he has since withdrawn from that post.
How was it working with Leo Brouwer and was this your first time meeting him? I had met him before during my years as a student. He was a judge when I competed in Paris in 1988. I also met him at a festival in Toronto and again while working professionally with the LAGQ. Recording the “Aranjuez” was my first time working with him. It was just great, he was fantastic. He has this open creative aura about him. He is not at all your typical stiff Eastern European director. Music is his life and it shows. It really comes through in his work, so it was a great thrill to have worked with him.
Do you approach a piece the same way for recording as you do for performance? Not at all. I learned my biggest lesson when recording my first CD. I prepared for the CD as if I were preparing for a concert. So a few weeks before going to Belgium to record, I started recording myself and discovered all these clicks, hisses, scrapes and buzzes. I also noticed a heavy handedness, something very particular when recording, that I was not used to when performing. It’s like when you are looking at a painting from a distance. You look at a painting by Van Gogh up close and you see a lot of paintbrush strokes; the detail obstructs the picture. When you back up, you can’t see the detail anymore, you just see the picture. That’s what a performance is like. A recording is the other way around. Recordings, I like doing them, but they are weird. The microphone picks up the detail so the brush strokes can’t be broad. So I find that I have to refinger pieces so they don’t sound so thick. I have to make sure that my dynamics marked piano are really exaggerated. Sometimes when I am playing pianissimo the microphone picks it up as being piano. Recording loud through a microphone is not difficult, but recording the soft dynamics is very difficult. Playing soft is something that we usually do not exaggerate in concert but in a recording it is very important. After I have recorded a piece and I decide to put it back on a concert program I completely rework the pieces again.
When recording a piece, do you usually play it all the way through or do you record the piece in sections? I have done both. Ideally, you run a piece through once or twice and then you go back and start covering spots. You get a more continuous musical interpretation so it is not just piece meal. That’s the way I work with my producers and my recording. There have been a few instances, especially with the quartet, which we had to record in sections. This is usually because the piece is added at the last minute or it is very new. You have to plan where the page turns are going to be and then pause the recording. I prefer to play a piece all the way through as if I were performing it in concert and then have the producer say, “OK, here is what we need to look at.” That’s why it is great having a producer; he is that extra set of ears.
Do you have a preferred location to record? That usually depends on the label. The first two GHA CDs were recorded about an hour outside of Brussels in a small medieval chapel. We would normally start recording around 10 p.m. because there are no outside noises at that time, other than maybe a scooter or the settling of the ancient wood that would at times force us to do another take. For the Delos recordings we mainly recorded in downtown Los Angeles at 6th and Commonwealth. The last couple Quartet CDs have been in studios.
I know that you have a new book coming out soon. Please describe your new “Classical Guitar Method” and when it will be available. It should be out very soon, sometime in January 2003. It will be a total of five books. Volumes one through four will be the method itself. Each volume is about fifty pages and very progressive. Additionally, the first volume will eventually have a DVD along with it. The fifth volume will be more like a hundred pages and it is going to be called “Master of the Classical Guitar”. This will be an ongoing project and will probably take me the next couple of years. I do know that I have to have the second volume to the publisher by February.
Is the first volume for the complete beginner? It will tell you what a guitar is, for those of you who don’t know. You have to assume the student knows nothing. It will be an instructional manual from beginning to end, presenting the information the best way I can about the staff, the strings, rhythm, what the pitches are, from the very basics. I tried to make it as fun and friendly as possible. I have never liked drab books. I have also really tried to make the presentation very different from other guitar methods. I have added lessons along the way dealing with different technical issues that the student may encounter.
Are the methods intended to be used with or without an instructor? It can be used without an instructor. But ideally, and I will keep saying this through each book, you should really have a teacher. There is only so far that you can go without having a teacher. At some point you are going to need someone to guide you.
Is the new guitar method very different from the “Pumping Nylon” method? Totally different. The Pumping Nylon book is divided into left and right hand development and it is not a progressive method. Although anyone can get much out of it, it is intended mainly for the college level student. Many of the works and exercises in “Pumping Nylon” are difficult and very challenging and I do make that clear in the book.
What was your first guitar method? It was actually the Alfred Basic Guitar Method Volume 1. Weird, because now they are publishing my books.
lacg — Well, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us and I wish you the best of luck with your new Classical Guitar Method.