Classical Guitar – Life After Beginner



There’s something about the life of a beginner that is comforting. Steps are steady, building blocks are easily seen and the musical rewards progressively increase. Taking the tunnel vision approach, where it’s simply a case of learning a few chords or knowing the notes in the first position, ignoring scales and ear training, can still mean being introduced to a wide range of interesting and enjoyable songs/pieces. But after that, what then?

black and white keys music note

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Often in completing a Book 1, I’ll with enthusiasm move onto Book 2 only to discover I’m learning things that don’t have that same linear progressive approach. It becomes, here’s a technique to practise followed by the next chapter on, say, learning  notes in second position. While in itself this isn’t without it’s uses, there isn’t really a sense that I can see my repertoire building.

Lately, I’ve decided to take on Trinity and ABRSM graded books as a way of establishing for myself my own proficiency. Even though for me Trinity Grade 2 is very easy the dynamic markings, slurs, harmonics and even counting the note values has been a challenge. Again, all things that haven’t been covered in my Book 1. So, my approach has now become to build a repertoire that includes a greater range of guitar techniques and also require increasing theory knowledge. So, the theory I learn, again using these same organisations, links to the pieces. I’m strengthening everything and making progress. I’m not just learning pieces but feel I’m becoming better as a serious guitarist. Just because I’m teaching myself or have no intention of performing in front of others, doesn’t mean I don’t want to take it seriously. I have in mind the idea of being a ‘professional guitarist’. This idea is important to me. It gives me focus and makes me question what I do and why.

Self-teaching is tough. My blog for classical guitar will be tracking my progress but with a specific focus on how I’m tackling and, hopefully, overcoming difficulties.

Next post: issues involving counting note value and how I’ll try to overcome them.


Day 19 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

Well, I’m over half way of my month in Russian. In my last post, Day 9, I outlined my intentions:

5mins Memrise (alphabet)

20mins Russianpod vids on the alphabet (includes my own cursive writing)

20mins Duolingo – I’m gradually noticing the sounds in words so I’m keeping at this. I’m not doing any ‘Review’ as this is too hard at this stage – I can’t remember the spellings of some words whether there is audio or not.

10mins ‘Read and Write Russian Script’

10mins LingQ – making links and listening to the texts. I’m saving phrases but not doing a great deal of over studying yet until I’m secure with the writing system.

I have completed the alphabet podcasts, which were extremely useful, and tend now to dip into various parts of the website just for the exposure to the language. Still woWIN_20170819_14_20_22_Prorking with Duolingo. I wasn’t sure for awhile but the short phrases and sentences is supporting my character and sound recognition. I’ve also been staggering the ‘Read and Write Russian Script’ book – I haven’t done it everyday but like to leave it a day or so almost liked a spaced-recognition practice.

The biggest shift has been on LingQ. I’m working more here on the lessons both to hear the words, look at the phrases, notice things both in terms of structure and word endings, review vocabulary and finally to consider the text as a whole. I’m doing this a number of times with each text, coming at it from different perspectives. I certainly feel my prediction of how the word should sound often matches the record. Where my prediction isn’t spot on just alerts me to the things like ‘o’ when it is stressed and unstressed or reminding myself of pronouncing ‘e’ correctly. I’m certainly sticking with text-based resources and not getting involved in spoken-language courses (Pimsleur etc.). I want to be able to ‘see’ what I’m saying. I think this focused approach is really helping and slowly but surely my word recognition is getting there. In fact, I’m not worried that learning the language will take a great deal of time as I do think securing the very basics and not taking on too much is vital.

So, where do I want to be by the end of the month?

Be comfortable with the script – print and cursive. Ideally have all characters remembered in the cursive script.

Read at a 70% accuracy in terms of sounding the characters correctly when saying words (using Duo and LingQ for this).

Have some foundation in Russian grammar.


Goals and Methods

The Polyglot Conference will soon take place in October of this year in Reykjavík. I usually watch the lectures on the conference’s YouTube channel. So, whilst waiting for this I re-visited a few lectures from past sessions. A useful one for me today was by the highly-respected polyglot Judith Meyer. 

Her lecture was on methods and goals and so I thought I’d share her idea of ‘goal-focused learning’. This is largely to identify the resources that allow you to achieve your goal. Her example was that she was interested in the Japanese game Go and her approach to the language was focused on that. So whilst she argues that she is very much a climbing-the-mountain-coloring-pagebeginner in the language for, say, conversation, when it actually comes to watching TV shows or anime about Go! she is a master. This then, as she says, would allow (if she wanted to) to use that specific field to move onto something else in the language. So, as she again says, if your interest is in reading literature then why spend time doing Pimsleur? Not only is having a specific goal important but if you try to focus on reading, writing and speaking then progress in the language will be slower than if you simply narrow your field. Meyer isn’t saying don’t do all the other things, if you want to do something then do it, but she gives some great advice about how to help your goal. These are just two of the things she outlines. 

Goal: Conversation

In order to become confident at speaking you begin with Lang-8 (write what you would say and have it corrected), then move onto Self-Talk, Text Chat and then Skype (can still write things if having difficulties).  Next stage is to speak in person and finally phone conversations.


Goal: Reading 

Judith gave a number of resources to use for this. You can begin with books like ‘German for Reading’, ‘Spanish for Reading’ etc. Parallel texts can also be useful and when confronted by, say, difficult, descriptive passages not to feel frustrated but read the native language side. The point is to enjoy what you’re reading. Meyer also recommended the ‘Little Prince’ for its simplicity and nuances and writers such as Dan Brown where interesting things are always happening and you won’t get bogged down with difficulties. In fact, it’s useful even to have a variety of books by the same writer as you’re likely to come across the vocabulary again and therefore this provides great reinforcement, In non-fiction, autobiographies and travel writing can also be useful. In addition, Meyer added that she sometimes does a two hour grammar session before reading to get a sense of the language.

To see the full video for more ideas go to

APP/Website – ClozeMaster

Aim – ‘Learn Language in Context’

What is it?

I’ve only recently discovered this website/app and so far so good. It’s not really for beginners, as it’s own description says it’s more for those post-Duolingo or probably any comparative beginner practice. It also says it complements SRS vocabulary sites like Memrise which it obviously does do. However, I’ve recently started German and I found I can work through the listening option – I listen to a sentence, I’m then given the sentence but with a missing word which I then choose from four options.

The free version means that you only get one audio session and the Image result for words languagerest are simply multiple choice – fill in the gap with the correct word. This has worked fine for me for awhile now – I was able to review and learn new words both for my Italian and Japanese. I’ve even used it for Chinese. Though this does not have audio (which is a shame) it has been great to review the six months I actually spent on the language – surprisingly I remembered a great deal! So, it’s worth giving it a go for free

I’ve been enjoying it so much that I decided to take out a monthly subscription for $8. I must say that having the audio sentences really tests my aural comprehension and I’ve started to use the ‘Text’ option more often – listen then write the sentence. I think this is an invaluable tool to become more adept at listening and recognising the sounds of words and their corresponding spelling. Another advantage of the subscription is that you can click on any word in that sentences and see other examples of how it is used and even use the link to Google Translate. All examples/clarification are immediate and very useful. There are other benefits to the free and subscription membership including setting goals for the day, email reminders and a break down of stats (subscription only).

How I’m using ClozeMaster

Italian –  focused on verbs. I really want to have a clear awareness of conjugation so I’ve chosen the ‘Verbs – past tense’ to begin with to support my studies using books.

Japanese – brushing up on my knowledge. I’ve had a break from ‘studying’ the language but as I’m reading through my grammar books for gentle reminders the sentences on ClozeMaster are reinforcing that knowledge.

Chinese -dipping into HK1 but haven’t decided if I’m going to take it further. It’s been about a year since I’ve studied any Mandarin but it’s nice to see that I haven’t forgotten everything. However, it doesn’t have any audio at the minute and I’ll need that to take it further.

German – a new language for me so I’m mainly using it for listening but still get a great deal out of the sentences given

Russian – I’m not using it for this language until I’m confident with the writing system.


Go to:

Day 9 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

So, I’m at the stage now where I’m into a good solid routine with my studies. I do have other languages on the go (either new or maintaining) so it’s important that I can give a decent amount of time to Russian whilst not sacrificing my other languages. Now that I’ve found the materials I need I’m managing to organise my time better – it’s been so easy to be spending hours on the language but this isn’t something I can maintain in the long-term. It has to be do-able. So, this is the schedule I’ll be keeping for the rest of this week:

5mins Memrise (alphabet)

20mins Russianpod vids on the alphabet (includes my own cursive writing)

20mins Duolingo – I’m gradually noticing the sounds in words so I’m keeping at this. I’m not doing any ‘Review’ as this is too hard at this stage – I can’t remember the spellings of some words whether there is audio or not.

10mins ‘Read and Write Russian Script’ – again securing pronunciation and writing

10mins LingQ – making links and listening to the texts. I’m saving phrases but not doing a great deal of over studying yet until I’m secure with the writing system.

Keeping to time is going to be my goal – I want to study and focus but I find it mentally exSnoopy-wallpaper-snoopy-33124746-1024-768hausting at times figuring out the characters and the sounds  especially when this can be timed in Memrise and taxing in Duolingo. But I also want time away from it so it can sink in. Whilst I won’t be writing about Russian for a few days, not unless I discover something interesting or useful, my objective is to  maintain focus and aim high.

Day 8 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

Well, had another productive and perhaps intense few hours of Russian. After working through Memrise (alphabet lesson), Russainpod (cursive writing videos) and Duolingo (tough review session) I then had time to sit down with ‘Read and Write Russian Script’.

I was really happy to discover that this is exactly the sort of thing I wanted. The book gradually introduces characters and then adds some mini-tasks to develop vocabulary and pronunciation . The book will eventually work on cursive handwriting but as I’ve already covered the cursive form of those characters in the beginning chapters (via the Russianpod) I copied the vocabulary and completed hareexercises in printed and cursive writing just for the extra practice. So, the book is really working well so far and I’d highly recommend it for anyone in a similar position as myself. It’s not the cheapest book (£15.99) for less that 200 pages but its focused chapters on only a few characters easily allows a naturally and supportive build up of words.  So, whilst it seems short this won’t be a quick journey. In fact, it’s far better to take time imbed the characters than to rush and take it all in at once.

Day 7 Russian Snap Shot Challenge


The problem with ‘Hello’

I’m now at the end of my first week and my enthusiasm to learn Russian hasn’t wavered. In fact I’m even more interested in the language.

Today I had a look around a couple of large bookshops in the city in the hope of finding a book that would nurture my interest in Russian. By and large I discovered a number of books which promised either to get me ‘talking’ straight away or offered grammar explanations which only made my eyes glaze over. So, I ignored the less-inspiring resources and looked again at those which claimed I could be talking immediately. Well, that bothered me a bit. Looking further into these books I would often find the first task on the first page would get me to say everyday words and phrases (‘hello’ , ‘goodbye’, ‘how are you?’ etc.) but with very little explanation as to how the alphabet was working – it just simply offered an English phonetic transcript. I suppose in itself this is nice and helpful but there is a problem with this, though. I’m not really connecting these phonetics with the Cyrillic letters – one letter can have two English letters to make the sound. So, nice, practical vocabulary but a nightmare to breakdown the Russian characters. With too many different characters you end up reading the English phonetics and relying on this as the first step. I worry this can actual hinder progress.

With this in mind, for me a better approach is to make the Cyrillic alphabet the foundation to speaking. This is my goal.  So, rather than saying ‘hello’ a textbook should instead be asking me to say ‘cocoa’ (какао) or ‘theme’ (тема) as this narrows the alphabet to a few characters. Once these kinds of words are secure, knowing the pronunciation and easily recognising the characters, then my vocabulary can expand by gradually increasing new characters into the mix.

So, should I continue with Duolingo? Looking at the vocabulary in the next lessons  I’ll be learning things like привет, пока, спасибо, пожалуйста, извините. Now I might very well figure out what these words are, the context may readily hint at their meaning, but that feels a bit like luck rather than skill. Yet, maybe it’s too soon to give it up – maybe the russian scriptimmersion will work. We’ll see.  

In the mean time, for the next week all activities will be geared to securing a foundation in the alphabet (recognising them by sight and sound with the addition of regular cursive handwriting). One book I did managed to get hold of today seems exactly the sort of thing that will help me in this. It’s   ‘How to Read and Write Russian Script’ by Teach Yourself. Briefly looking through the pages seemed work gradually through the alphabet by focusing on the characters and then using vocab that included these characters. I’ll look at in more detail tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Day 6 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

Had another productive day with Russian. I’ve started to have a more regular approach to my studies. I begin with ten minutes on Memrise, then 10-15mins on Duolingo, go to Russianpod101 for pronunciation and also to extend my knowledge of cursive writing (again I’m writing new characters and words but also spend time reviewing past letters) and finally go to LingQ to listen, read and notice things with the language. I’ve been really enjoying the cursive writing and am looking to using this more with LingQ – to try to write out by hand some of the phrases that I have saved and then annotate them with the things I notice. I need to complete more videos first before I can do this but I think it will be a nice way to consolidate some of the things I’m learning.

In addition to this, I watched Steve Kaufman’s YouTube video on ‘Tips on Learning Russian’. This was both helpful but also gave me a real awareness of how tspeakhis difficult this language actually is. Steve mentioned that cases, verbs of motion and aspects of verbs are really difficult as the ending of words can change a great deal for a variety of reasons. In particular, this can prove quite demanding when learning to speak the language. Reading is easier naturally because you can get a sense of what is happening, that you know the meaning of the word. But actually speaking it is something else. I’m interested, then, how I will overcome this obstacle. Wonder if Apps or the likes of Pimsleur are the way to go for this. I’m going to do some research. It is early days yet, I have loads of input to do before I do any output but it’s still worth a look.

Day 5 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

So today I began with Duolingo and Memrise. As I’m completing the tasks I also have my Cyrillic alphabet at hand so that I can begin to notice the sounds to the words more. This is especially useful when just doing single words. I didn’t do it all the time but am trying to make sure that word recognition is sound as well as sight.


I also spent last night and today working on LingQ. Like I’ve said, I’ve used this successfully for other languages but was hesitant to start with Russian too soon. That said, after posting a few comments on the forum Steve Kaufman (founder of LingQ) responded both to my concerns and also gave helpful advice. So, now I’m using the ‘Stories’ on LingQ (Beginner2 level but Steve assured me this was doable). These stories are great as words are naturally repeated in different contexts and I’m only working on the present tense for the first twenty stories. I’m not only saving words for review, which is proving excellent in noticing things with the language, but also actual phrases as well. Again I’m not doing this to everything as I want to soak up as much of the language as I can but still I’m beginning to notice the structures.


In addition to this, I visited again today this time there were some videos on how to write the letters. So notebook and pen in hand, I worked through tnotebook-and-pen1wo videos attempting to perfect a cursive script both for single characters and for words. I’ll review them tomorrow and then take on the next two videos. So far so good. I keep on browsing for books as well but so far nothing is really appealing to me – all seem a bit dry and demotivating. I’ll keep looking as I would like a small grammar book at some point (there’s a ‘Teach Yourself’ one but some reviews say it has errors) but at the moment I’m sticking to keeping my costs at a minimum and making the most of the ample online resources at hand.

Day 4 Russian Snapshot Challenge

Today I worked through lessons on Duolingo but this time as I tried as much as I could to pronounce the words – breaking words down letter by letter. Well, my pronunciation really wasn’t matching the recorded voice but I think it’s helping me to memorise the letters. Still noticing the absent of the verb ‘to be’ in all examples and getting a bit antsy at finding out other details about Russian grammar. However, I’m going to stick with what I have and see if I can discover things for myself. Let the app ‘show’ me the grammar rather than have a grammar book ‘tell’ me what’s going on. Going to spend the rest of my Russian this evening with more work on the alphabet with Memrise. Still want to find something that will help in letter recognition – I’ll have a browse for thteaat. I’m also going to have a look on LingQ this evening to see what the lessons are like there – worried it may be rather de-motivating as the page will become yellow with me not knowing any words. Anyway, will give it a try and perhaps see where that takes me. Can I notice things with the language there?