Do you want to learn more about how to properly play Asturias by Isaac Albeniz? In this blog post, we’ll share more about how to play each section of Albeniz’s Asturias with proper technique and phrasing.
If you’d like to see the lesson this blog post is based on, click here to watch it for free — otherwise, read on!
Introduction and preparation
One of the most beloved pieces in classical guitar literature, “Asturias” was composed by Isaac Albéniz, a virtuoso pianist from Spain.
“Asturias” is heavily influenced by flamenco music, specifically that of the Andalusian tradition. Andrés Segovia’s arrangement is the most influential edition used today, but you can use any arrangement to complete this lesson.
As you prepare this piece, try putting the guitar away and studying only the score.
Take notes of the things that interest you.
Listen to several different recordings and study the history behind the piece.
Anytime you play a composition this well-known, it can be challenging to make it sound unique. While it takes time, you will begin to develop a unique approach the more you study the piece.
While it’s often tempting to jump straight into playing at full speed, it’s important to move slowly and work in sections.
Identify the technical issues and work through them. Make sure that twenty to thirty minutes of scales and warm-ups are a regular part of your practice. Keep your left wrist straight, and press with the tip of your fingers. Keep your right hand straight, as well (pictured below).
Working on technique is vital, otherwise, your muscles learn and memorize motions incorrectly. The longer you practice a bad habit, the harder it is to correct later!
Practice this piece with a metronome. Pick the tempo in advance, beginning very slow. Remember that this tempo should last through the entire A section. Don’t change the tone color or dynamics of any notes yet.
Even if you are using a score that contains fingerings, feel free to change them if they aren’t comfortable or if you find a better alternative.
Finally, don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t work today. It will work tomorrow, or in a few weeks, if you keep working on it!
Once you’ve selected a tempo on your metronome, keep it constant from beginning to end.
You may play measures 1-16 with the right-hand fingering ‘p m p i’, or ‘p i p i”. Make sure the right-hand fingers move independently from one another.
While practicing, you can accent the first beat slightly to help keep time. You can also practice with a dotted rhythm. This means elongating the first and third notes of every beat while shortening the second and fourth notes. Remember that the melody is in the bass line, so try to bring it out as you play.
Listen to the dynamics that Ana Vidović uses in the complementary lesson mentioned earlier. She will play a slight crescendo for one measure, followed by a decrescendo for one measure. Use any dynamics you’d like, as long as you have a clear direction.
Play a slight crescendo in measure 16 so the octaves in measure 17 are very clear.
Use the thumb for both strings to get the strongest sound with the least effort. Make sure you remain in tempo.
The triplet arpeggios that begin in measure 17 should be very well articulated! You can also use a dotted rhythm to practice (as we did on the previous page). Always think ahead to where the next finger is going to press. You can extend your elbow slightly if you need the extra space. Make sure you stop the sound of the sixth string.
Avoid grabbing the neck with too much pressure. The more relaxed your muscles are, the easier the music becomes. It’s essential to preserve your energy for the rest of the piece.
Try practicing in front of a mirror. This makes it much easier to see what your hands are doing.
The piece should get gradually louder up to measure 25. Maintain a sound that isn’t too harsh. We should hear every note clearly in the chord at measure 25.
Take your time here, but without losing the tempo or taking any pauses. Prepare the first-finger barre several notes before the chord.
There are two ways to play measures 25-32. You can play rasgueado (a-m-i), or you can use your i finger if it’s more comfortable and clear. The goal is to articulate every note without adding tension to the hands.
To prevent buzzing on the barre chord, check the angle of your left hand. Press as close as possible to the fret and be precise.
The strength and volume should come from your right hand, so there is room to relax with the left hand.
Measure 33 is the loudest point of the A section.
Emphasize this barre chord slightly more than the others, and then bring the dynamics down in the bars that follow.
Keep your left-hand as relaxed as possible, even during the tricky fourth-finger stretch in measure 37 (pictured below).
There’s no need to press very hard with the fourth finger or the barre chord. If you feel any tension in your hand, shake it out and start again. Apply the same practice tips from earlier.
As you transition from measure 39 to measure 40, the first finger must remain perfectly straight. Pause before shifting.
Measures 41-46 should come down in volume. Don’t be afraid to take practice breaks! If you use too much pressure in this piece, you risk injuring your hand. Remember to keep the triplets well-articulated and keep the melody steady.
Let’s finish up the A section!
Measure 49 is a repeat of the material at the very beginning. Measure 53 begins the final stretch towards the end. Push the elbow out a bit in measure 54. This helps you reach the sixth string.
Don’t forget to add soft dynamics in this section, getting softest at the end of measure 58.
It’s important to create a contrast between the virtuosity of the second page and the softer ending of the A section.
Of course, you may decide to end the piece loudly! Some transcriptions ask for measures 59 and 60 to be played pizzicato, but use whatever sound you prefer.
A gradual ritardando at the end is highly suggested. You can wait before playing the final chord.
The B Section is quite different from the A section.
Focus on enjoying the guitar’s sound and exploring as many expressive sounds as you can. Continue practicing with a metronome, however, there is no need to play fast! The more contrast you can create between the A and B sections, the better.
Ana suggests playing the octaves simultaneously (as written), rather than staggered, as some musicians do. Try to lift your fingers slightly above the strings while shifting to prevent string noise.
Ana prefers to arpeggiate the fermata in measure 66, rather than play all the notes together.
In measures where there are full chords, make sure you can hear every note evenly. Take your time with the grace notes in measures 64, 68, and 76.
Look for a soothing and warm color here. You may want to play sul tasto, where the fingers are over the lower part of the fretboard.
Experiment with many different colors, and then pick one for the entirety of the B section. You can use slight rubato, but keep most of the piece in tempo.
Bars 75, 76, and 77 feature a beautiful melody in octaves.
Try playing a little louder, and dig into the strings a bit more. Let the fermata in measure 78 ring a bit longer than usual before moving on. Begin measure 79 softly and play a crescendo into the melody that follows.
Feel free to take liberties with this section, as long as the changes you make are gradual. Start strong in measure 87, so that the bass melody in the next measure is clear and powerful. Try practicing each voice separately. Experiment with using rest strokes in measures 92-95 for added emphasis.
As more chords appear in the music, it’s more important to practice each voice separately.
Play the chords together, except for the second beat of measure 100, marked with an accent (here you can play the lower note a hair before the upper note).
As a rule of thumb for dynamics, crescendo as the notes go up and decrescendo as the notes go down. Always play with a consistent sound and tone.
Be sure to practice these triplets very slowly and articulate them clearly.
All the same practice techniques apply. Experiment with using open strings when possible, and continue avoiding string noise, especially during the soothing sections.
Take as much time as you can at 122 before the coda. This is a very emotional part of the music that can speak powerfully to an audience.
Arpeggiating in 124 can add a very nice touch!
Using sul tasto again is also very effective. The goal is to emphasize the beautiful chords.
In bars 127 and 128, bring out the bass and middle line, since the top note remains on F.
Don’t forget about dynamics and a light ritardando in bar 131! Try emphasizing the final chord to contrast the soft dynamic of the preceding measures.
Want to watch a FREE lesson on this topic from noted guitarist Ana Vidović? Just click here.
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