The classical guitar solo Cavatina was composed by Stanley Myers and became the musical theme in the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter played by the famous guitarist John Williams. The solo version has became a goal for many guitarists to learn but the composition is quite difficult to play and even more difficult to play well. Here are some useful tips on how to practice this beautiful piece of classical guitar sheet music for motivated students.
What guitar teachers will tell you
If you are a classical guitar student I assume that your guitar teacher would admonish you from trying to learn this piece before you are prepared musically and have the basic guitar skills necessary to play it.
For a start it is challenging to get the balance between the melody and harmony. There are also many barre chords throughout the piece difficult for an untrained left hand to execute in a relaxed way without fatigue. The chords also make it a challenge to play and sustain the melody smoothly and with legato.
The following suggestions are based on the challenge how to learn Cavatina if you are an inexperienced note reader but a classical guitar player with a lot of motivation!
Sight reading skills
Cavatina is usually executed in a slow tempo and to a listener it might sound like an easy piece to play. But the first challenge is to read the guitar sheet music score. It is quite complicated as you have the melody line interwoven with the harmony and you have to spot the melody line among all the music notes. You will also play the music in positions high up on the fretboard making note reading even more difficult.
To help you with the note reading challenge you can buy a version of Cavatina with both the sheet music and guitar tablature notation displayed. This way of notating guitar notes has become very common and there are some advantages with this type of notation as poor sight reading skills can prevent guitar students from playing pieces that they otherwise are prepared to play.
The disadvantage with guitar tablature is that you might never learn to read guitar sheets very well having this help below the notes. Another approach is to use only the sheet music version and solve the note reading problems one bar at a time as you practice learning Cavatina and memorizing the melody.
One bar at a time
If you learn each bar of the melody separately you will experience a visible progression that will create enthusiasm and help you hold out to the end. Sometimes you will come across note reading challenges and technical difficulties that will make it necessary to concentrate on even smaller segments than a bar.
It will speed up your progress tremendously to take small segments of Cavatina that you can memorize and master immediately. Practice slowly and try to play correctly as you memorize the notes. Mistakes has the tendency to slow down your progress!
I suggest that you commit the bars and the even shorter parts you practice to memory as you go along. You will probably not anyway be able to play this classical guitar solo with the guitar sheet music in front of you!
As you master the bars you will be able to connect them and gradually play longer segments of the composition by heart. As there are many barre chords to play in the piece I strongly advice you to be careful to rest your left hand when you experience fatigue in order to prevent injuries. Playing barre chords is not related to weight lifting but rather to the art of relaxation!
When you practice memorized bars together you should practice using both these methods:
1. Practice level. Practice with musical feeling but when you spot a mistake or a technical difficulty you will stop and concentrate on polishing these notes until you have mastered this musical passage.
2. Performance level. Play as you would do in front of real people trying to create enjoyable music. When performing you will not stop when you make a mistake but instead you will minimize the effect of a mistake and proceed with enthusiasm and self confidence.
Practicing using both these approaches will help you be more prepared to play in front of people and you will reduce stage fright having the confidence that you can master mistakes. This will help you play more relaxed and concentrate on creating music!
Cavatina is music
Cavatina is a very beautiful piece of classical music but it has to be performed musically otherwise it is just a row of notes. You have to create music when you play and in order to be prepared for this endeavor you need to listen to a good interpretation of the composition.
There are many recorded versions of Cavatina available and I suggest that you find a version you like yourself and listen to it many times first of all for you own enjoyment. Listening to the classical guitar sheet music interpreted by a good guitarist will also help you be aware of the musical context.
This consciousness will make it easier to practice music from the start which will make your practice sessions more enjoyable. You will constantly be reminded of your musical goal and will enjoy the journey as much as the accomplished goal!