Learning “Spanish Romance”

A couple years ago, I posted that I had taught myself how to play “Spanish Romance”.  In retrospect, I really should not have attempted learning it until about two years into guitar study.  After I started guitar lessons, I learned that my fingering patterns were inefficient, I paused at the wrong points in the piece, and that there were other problems.  I was also concerned that the tablature  I had used to learn the piece wasn’t entirely correct in some parts.  (Later, I discovered that the tablature was fine: there are multiple versions of this anonymous piece.  By that point, I was able to read sheet music for guitar.)

As the first full piece I tackled (it’s a classical guitar piece of moderate difficulty), I learned it coarsely, not knowing at the time how best to learn a new song.  I then abandoned it for several months, thinking I’d later return to a “correct version” of it after I had learned more about playing guitar.  That, too, was a mistake.

This is one of my earliest recordings of this piece, from Christmas, 2013:

Two months later, it sounded like this:

When I finally returned to the piece, I learned that my problems with it were as much about a multifactorial host of other inefficiencies as about learning the wrong fingerings:  I had to prevent the buildup of hand tension (especially during stretches and barres) in the difficult second half, increase my left hand strength, figure out how to barre reliably, play with better dynamics/musicality, and start using a metronome to eliminate unwanted pauses between fingerings.  I’m now significantly more sophisticated in my approach to guitar and in learning new songs.

The saying among classical guitar students, according to my instructor, goes: “I chose classical guitar because of ‘Spanish Romance’.  I quit classical guitar because of ‘Spanish Romance’.”

It’s a deceptively difficult piece, “a ‘trap’ for beginners.”  Frederick Noad writes, “From its sound this is always supposed to be a fairly easy piece.  In fact, it needs considerable practice…”

I practiced it about three days a week for about ten minutes each time.  Later, I became more serious about smoothing out the second half and worked on specific issues in that section for several minutes every day.  (I practice/play guitar 30-60 minutes a day, most days.  If I practiced with a professional’s schedule of many hours a day, I’d be orders of magnitude better than I am now, of course.  Guitar is just a hobby for me.)

I noticed that when I don’t try to resolve specific problems during practice (and instead just play the whole piece or large segments of it), and when I don’t record myself regularly, I don’t improve.  (Of course, deliberate practice is much more effective. By not working on specific problems and not getting feedback, improvement slows down.)

This is how the piece (the version found in Parkening’s book) sounded on November 2, 2016 (no segments repeated):

I still have a lot of work left on “Spanish Romance”.  It will probably be at least six more months until I can play it significantly better than I play it now.  (I’m learning several other pieces concurrently, as I always do.)

Here are a few other recent recordings:

This one, from September 28, 2016, is at a faster tempo and with repeated segments (the way it’s supposed to be played):

Finally, these two recordings, from October 20, 2016, have been the most popular of my “Spanish Romance” recordings on SoundCloud during the past half-day that all of these recordings have been online:

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2 thoughts on “Learning “Spanish Romance”

    1. Best of luck with both! My improvement with Romance has been gradual, but recording myself has helped me see that I’m getting better over time, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

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