Steve Marsh reviews “Essential Flamenco Guitar: Volume 1”
This book follows on in a seemingly ever-increasing line of flamenco-based educational publications and DVDs from Juan Martin, one of the best-known names in the world of flamenco. This first volume asserts that it is an in-depth course for absolute beginners to more advanced players, and a highly detailed, comprehensive analysis of this most exciting musical form.
The book is divided into three segments, the first of which examines many of the basic technical requirements needed for progression onto the later chapters. Therefore there are many exercises for training in tremolo, rasgueo, thumb technique, arpeggios, ligados, picado, and so on. Most of the musical examples used to practice the various techniques are interesting and entertaining, and within a few pages the student should be able to knock out an acceptable rumba.
The remaining two parts of the book deal with the Solea and the Alegrias, with more fine musical exercises provided, but this time with the addition of more extended guitar solos.
As for his demonstrations on the two, quite lengthy (nearly four hours) DVDs, this is a warts-and-all production, with the occasional fluffed word and times when Martin seems he has just thought of something else new to say. He even draws attention to his slightly dirty thumb (as the camera moves in close for a technique demonstration), but this candid informality gives it an air of genuineness and he comes across as a very sincere player who wants to share his knowledge. Martin talks clearly and expertly, explaining the various flamenco techniques very well and coming across as an amenable, friendly character.
His performances of the music from the book are excellent, with some examples being played at varying speeds—slow, then quicker—with the camera up close for more visual detail. There are also quite a few topics mentioned on the recordings which are not in the book: detailed posture, tone, advantages and disadvantages of peg heads, and nail maintenance, to name a few.
As good as Martin’s best-selling tutor book El Arte Flamenco de la Guitarra is, this latest offering is a better choice from several angles, especially for the beginner—particularly the slower progression of the “exercises”; the better and more thorough explanations of the techniques; the choice of material; and, most important, the superb visual presentation on the two discs.
In one of those quirky coincidences life throws at us, it turned out that Juan Martin’s book was on my pile the same day that my wife and I went to see him perform at Buxton Opera House. Having spent a large part of my day watching him on DVD and playing through his music, it was comforting to see him in excellent form the same evening.