Evolution of a Technique

After initial attraction to the pop music of the 1970's, particularly the guitar based groups, I expanded my musical horizons to jazz and classical. Taking as one role model the great Classical-Rock Artist Keith Emerson, I developed a 20 year plan to master performance in:

  1. Rock/Pop
  2. Jazz, and
  3. Classical styles

... with my ultimate aim being to forge a personal guitar style blending all these influences.

genres of music

Always performance based, I was fortunate enough to study martial arts with Greg Gillett (1954-2001), who was also a competent and practicing musical performer.

He educated me in the ways to discriminate between concepts of technique that worked well in the parlour, and the difference when those techniques were exposed to the stress and unpredictability of perfomance. This period also began my dialogue with the Alexander Technique.

During the 1970's performed in Rock and Pop Groups, amateur, semi-professionally then professionally. I composed and performed in Latin-Jazz-Rock Fusion ensembles.

During the 1980s continued composing and performing Latin-Jazz-Rock Fusion. I performed as Musical Director and ensemble member for many cabaret acts in Australia and overseas. Arranged and performed CD of pop music covers with Dorothy Cooper and band (rhythm section and 3 Horns).

In the late 1980's I began performing solo classical guitar.

Gaining an entrée into the world of chamber music was difficult, as I had at that stage no professional contacts in that area.

Peter Inglis string quartet, featuring guitar.

A chance (?) meeting with the then young violin virtuoso Ian Cooper led to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I would help him gain the basic skills for writing, arranging and performing in pop, and then jazz ensembles. He would impart his skill and experience at playing classical chamber music as well as insights into the virtuoso violin repertoire.

I introduced him to the work of Stephane Grapelli, Joe Venuti, et al, and wrote his first arrangements and patter, and then Musical Directed his first ever performance as a Jazz Violinist (at the American Club). This led my producing his first C.D. Soundpost, which launched his career, and is still selling well.

By the early 1990's I had developed my arranging and performing skills in this new idiom far enough to perform in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall (ironically enough, supporting Stephane Grapelli) with my own arrangement of Vivaldi's Concerto for Mandolin P.V. 134 and a reduction of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Fantasia para un Gentilhombre".from guitar and orchestra to Guitar, Violin and Cello.

At this point my future career path may have seemed clear. I had demonstrated in recordings and thousands of performances my competence at the three styles defined as goals back in the 1970's - Rock, Jazz and Classical. But there was an important gap in what I wanted of my classical guitar technique. That gap may be summed up by what keyboard pedagogists call "velocity" and "passage work".

It is possible to have a quite satisfactory career performing and recording as classical guitarist without ever reaching the dexterity in passage work that the professional string, wind player or keyboardist is expected to have. Naturally there are, and always have been, classical guitarists that could attain these velocities. But the achievements (by exceptional coordination) of few stellar artists do not make for a viable system of pedagogy! Where were the thousands of guitarists keeping up with their string, wind and keyboard colleagues?

Peter Inglis String Trio, featuring guitar.

I was not attaining anywhere near the velocities with the standard right hand classical guitar fingerings, which emphasise alternation mainly of the index and middle fingers in passagework.

Narciso Yepes had talked about his studies at the Conservatorio de Valencia with pianist/composer Vicente Asencio - which led him to develop a system of using 3 or four fingers, but unfortunately he never published this system. Others had spent decades proposing the use of all five fingers - but as I knew from my studies of martial arts and piano pedagogy, that any efficient approach had to respect the human anatomy. All fingers are not created equal, the thumb is the most agile, the thumb and forefinger are designed to manipulate objects, the middle finger can extend furthest, the ring finger balances held objects, and the small finger is actually very strong at gripping.

So it seemed that 3 of the five fingers were being under-utilised for a start.

Secondly, fingering in groups speeds up the mental processing and the physical action, as you play a scale passage by triggering a series of ballistic groups rather than individual notes. For example on the piano, C major in 2 octaves - 123, 1234, 123, 12345. Four groups are triggered rather than 15 notes. In time the four groups can become one ballistic impulse generated by the body and arm, with three nodes (thumb under).

This brings us to the third aspect - involvement of the entire body. My studies of Martial Arts, the Alexander Technique and piano had led me to conclude that there is no real viable system of technique in that does not include the whole body.

Article © 2008 Peter Inglis