The usual suspects for New Year’s resolutions are: to quit smoking, lose weight and make a career change. Also high on the list are to either improve some (dormant) skill or to add a completely new skill. Maybe even something like learning to play an instrument, which is a great resolution to have.
As popular as New Year’s resolutions are the majority of people don’t follow through. By the 2nd week of January most resolutions have been abandoned completely – which is kind of sad.
But fortunately there’s no need for an arbitrary date like January 1st to come around to decide to improve. You can make that decision at any time. Yes, even right now at the beginning of February (or whenever you are reading this post).
And while I don’t want to talk about quitting smoking or weight loss, I have a great solution for reviving or kickstarting your finger-style guitar chops.
Early December 2013 I got an e-mail from Chicago-based guitarist Brian Riggs. He asked if I would be interested in reviewing his new course on “Classical and Finger-style Guitar Techniques” that just came out on the online learning platform Udemy.
After quickly checking out 2 or 3 videos (and liking what I saw) I immediately e-mailed Brian back and agreed to feature his course.
What Took so Freaking Long?
Well, having my site hacked, the Christmas Holidays as well as a busy January schedule played a part in the delay of getting this review ready for publication.
It’s an extensive course with almost 5 hours of video – of course I had to watch everything and take lots of notes in order to write a thorough review. No quick skimming and a fluffy, superficial “buy this, it’s great” endorsement from me. I don’t run my site this way.
So get ready for a detailed overview.
What Is the Course About?
As the title “Guitar Techniques – Classical and Finger-style Approaches to Making Music” implies, this course is about Classical and Finger-style playing.
So, if you want to learn how to do 8-finger tapping, how to get your sweeping skills up to par with Frank Gambale or how to improvise over chord changes then this is NOT the right course for you.
If your favorite guitarists are the likes of Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, etc… I don’t need to twist your arm to continue reading. But in case you are a die-hard Rocker/Metal-head/Blueser/Jazzer or simply don’t give a damn about Classical music, I urge you to still read this review.
Because there’s an “and” in the course’s title. Classical AND Finger-style. Trust me, I don’t care what style of music you play, finger-style is not exclusively for Classical music. You definitely could use finger-style chops to spice things up in any style of music.
The Platform – Udemy
Before dissecting the course and talking about the content, let’s have a quick look at the platform the course is hosted on. Maybe you’ve heard about Udemy or have already taken a course from them. They are one of the major players in the online education arena.
I had heard of Udemy before, but had never taken a course, so this was a welcome opportunity for me to check them out.
And I’m glad I did, because the platform is quite impressive and makes learning new skills easy and fun. The main interface is well laid out with lots of bells and whistles without them getting in the way or distracting from the main purpose.
After joining a course and logging in you see your main dashboard with all your courses.
When you go to your chosen course you get a nice overview of all the lessons.
This overview is shown in a time-line style format with all the lessons neatly organized into chapters. You can easily see which lessons you’ve already watched or finished, which lessons are still in progress and where you’ve created a note for yourself.
On the right-hand side you have some helpful tabs where the accompanying download materials are available.
You can also switch to a tab where you can add notes to remind yourself of important points. If you want you can even download all your notes as a csv file.
And there’s also a tab for asking a question as well as viewing questions by other students – and seeing the instructor’s answers.
So, the platform gets the thumbs up – I’ve been really impressed. But the best platform does no good, if the actual course sucks or the teacher does not know what he’s talking about.
Fortunately, that’s not the case here.
Brian Riggs is an articulate presenter. The explanation videos are concise and to the point. You can tell that a lot of thought went into the structure of the course in general, the individual videos and what needs to be covered.
No useless meandering around – Brian values your time by keeping everything tightly focused. But without being scripted to death and feeling stiff and unnatural. Instead, it’s a very personal, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. You really do get the feeling of a personal one-on-one lesson with Brian.
The video length is between 1:46 and 12:33 – depending on the topic presented. Naturally, there are concepts that only require a quick explanation and other topics that need to be presented more thoroughly. But even the longer lessons are still easy to digest. And since it’s video, you can always break up your sessions, come back at a later time and review as often as wanted or needed.
In general, Brian first talks about the importance of a technique, what it is, why you need it and where you would use it. Then he solidifies that theoretical overview by demonstrating the technique.
He uses helpful analogies and examples that drive his points home and help you remember and implement the correct way yourself. I have to confess that I already “borrowed” and used his colorful analogy of letting the right hand fingers “hang like bananas off a tree” while plucking with the thumb in some of my own lessons that I teach. Especially my younger students got a good laugh out of it and really remembered to look after their bananas during their homework practice sessions. Mission accomplished.
I also like how he augments the basic techniques with inspiring musical examples. For instance, in the rest stroke demonstration video he doesn’t stop after playing a basic scale but also plays the hauntingly beautiful theme from the Concerto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo. This really drives home the point that it’s not just about a technique in itself, but that the technique is a means to an end to create beautiful music.
Especially convenient are the additional PDFs with the exact piece excerpts used as examples. This means that you don’t have to hunt for the measure Brian talks about in a long transcription, but rather have the relevant material right in front of you.
Speaking of right in front of you…
Excellent camera angles let you see all the details so you don’t miss anything and always see what you need to focus on.
Finally, at the end of each video Brian again quickly summarises the main content to help you remember the important bits.
What Exactly Are You Learning?
There’s the necessary initial videos like how to sit with a guitar in a correct position, tuning, etc… And of course the course covers the standard playing techniques.
Some of the things you’ll learn are:
- block chords
- free stroke
- rest stroke
- natural harmonics
- artificial harmonics
- position playing
- tone color
Since there are so many topics covered in this course a screenshot of the course outline would be way too large and all the topics presented as a list too long. If you want to get a detailed listing check out the course outline.
3 Great Repertoire Pieces
What I consider a great plus of this course is that Brian not only covers those techniques, but ties them in with 3 staples of the Classical repertoire. A “Pavan” (which is a Renaissance dance form) by Luis Milan, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach and the “Spanish Romance.”
3 pieces that – depending on your current skill level – are more or less challenging, yet manageable. What’s more important, they are inspiring and true classics. So you are not just practicing some isolated techniques which might get boring rather quickly. No, you get to apply the techniques to those great sounding pieces and put them into musical practice.
Nothing wrong with adding a Renaissance, Baroque and a Romantic style piece to your repertoire, right?
Just be aware that Brian does NOT go through the complete pieces – this would have been beyond the scope of the course. There’s already almost 5 hours of instructional videos included. But he picked relevant passages that are either representative for the whole piece or particularly challenging.
He breaks those segments down for both the left and the right hand and gives helpful tips on how to approach those passages to get them under your fingers.
So even without being spoon-fed the complete piece measure by measure, you have all the relevant information and demonstrations to learn the piece in its entirety… and play it well.
Anything Negative About the Course?
You know that every review has to feature something negative, otherwise it would come across as marketing hype.
The problem is that it’s really hard to find something negative that’s even worthwhile mentioning.
Mentioning a total of ca. 4 seconds of blurry auto-focus in close-ups with fast finger movements would be ridiculous, right? Especially when it’s not even distracting at all and when the overall video quality is really good, too.
I’ve already talked about the excellent angle positions. And you can watch in HD. There’s a selector at the low-right corner of the video player that let’s you choose the resolution.
Actually, even the low resolution is more than adequate – and could be convenient in case you are on a data plan or have a slow internet connection.
Minor quibble with Udemy – if you want to watch a video again, you can’t just simply skip towards the middle or end but need to wait until Udemy re-loads the whole video. This is slightly annoying for some of the longer videos because it makes you wait unnecessarily and is a waste of bandwidth.
Hopefully, Udemy re-thinks this approach and finds a more convenient technical solution.
If I had created this course (I wish) I probably would have changed the order of the initial videos after the introduction. I’d discuss the difference between nylon and steel string guitars first, followed by the sitting and hand position, finger notation and tuning track before diving into the right hand picking technique. This would have made a more logical progression to me. But this only boils down to personal teaching preference and doesn’t take anything away from the course’s value at all.
Finally, there’s minor formatting issues with some of the accompanying PDFs. In the tablature the right and left hand fingering information overlap slightly which makes it hard to read. But Brian is already aware of this issue and is going to fix this.
Who Is this Course for?
Video courses, especially when they are well produced like this one, have a lot of advantages. There’s the convenience factor. You don’t have to go somewhere for your lesson, which saves both time and money.
You can repeatedly watch the lesson until you really get it. You can review the material as often as needed.
Then there’s the cost savings factor. Depending on the teacher and location guitar lessons can cost you anything from $30-100+ per hour.
Thoroughly going through everything this course covers with a teacher would cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if you factor in the necessary repetitions to truly master the material.
Brian himself states that this course is not geared towards beginners. And I agree that the intricacies of Classical and Finger-style guitar require special attention, especially in the crucial beginning stages. You don’t want to ingrain bad habits and technical flaws into your playing, which could still happen if you just practice by yourself. Videos simply can’t correct you when (for whatever reason) you don’t implement what you are supposed to do – that’s what teachers are here for.
However, this course combined with the guidance of a qualified teacher to check up on you would provide tremendous amounts of long-term value. Especially during the time when you transition from beginner to intermediate guitarist this course would reveal lots of “wisdom nuggets” helping you to progress faster.
If you are an intermediate player then this course is perfect for you. You’ll be able to jump in and immediately benefit from the included information. Add those right hand arpeggio techniques, learn to separate individual voices via your right hand and implement some counterpoint-like material into your playing. You’ll have more tools in your guitaristic toolbox and with some experimentation you’ll be able to play with additional colors and depth – regardless of what you consider to be your preferred style.
If you are a truly advanced Classical or Finger-style guitarist you probably won’t learn anything new in this course. Still, you might value the re-assurance that you’ve learned your techniques correctly already and you could use the videos as helpful reference material.
Maybe there are technical flaws in your playing that have created some stumbling blocks for you. Working through this course and brushing up on the standard techniques could help you fine-tune your technique and push through. And in case you don’t know them already, you’d add up to 3 great pieces to your repertoire.
Personally, I don’t consider myself a Classical guitarist, even though I do teach this style. I’ve always liked to listen to Classical music, but as a guitarist I got started on electric playing Rock, before venturing more into Fusion and Jazz territory. However, during my time at GIT in the late 90’s I was fortunate enough to study with the great David Oakes who got me interested in playing Classical style.
In a way that’s kind of funny, considering that I went from Austria (lots of music students from all around the world move here to study Classical) to LA to improve my Fusion and Jazz skills and there started to get my feet wet in playing Classical.
Anyways, I’m really glad that Brian contacted me back in December, so that I got a chance to check out this excellent course and am able to recommend it to you.
100$ for almost 5 hours of high-quality instructional videos is a more than fair price. But it gets even better.
Brian has been generous enough to make a special offer. For the 1st 100 people ordering via the following link the cost will be slashed significantly. You get 60% off, making the course a steal at $40. Once 100 people have ordered this special offer will expire and the price will go up to the regular (still more than worth it) $100.
With the Udemy 30-day money-back guarantee, there’s absolutely no risk on your part. So don’t delay and take advantage of this great deal.