Classical Guitar

Eric Henderson - Early Memories of the Guitar - Part III

Eric Henderson with Antonia Morales and Andres Segovia

Eric Henderson with Antonia Morales and Andres Segovia

Antonia Morales and My Introduction to Spanish Guitar

At nine-years-old, the second half of fourth grade, I was to meet Antonia Morales who my parents had found to teach me Spanish guitar.  Antonia was to shape my life profoundly in ways that are too numerous to list.  She was a flamenco dancer, personal assistant and dance coach to such stars as Rita Hayworth and Tyrone Powers who remained close friends of Antonia’s for the rest of their lives.  Antonia toured for Columbia Artists’ Management as a Flamenco dancer as well as a flamenco guitarist.  She had studied guitar in Spain and was close friends and probably an intimate of Andres Segovia, to whom she was later to introduce me and to arrange for me to study with.

Antonia was my mentor, my teacher, facilitator, and guardian.  She taught me the foundations of technique and musicianship.  Her knowledge and familiarity with Spanish culture and her intellect were profound.  To this day I still find myself remembering and consequently applying insights and advice she gave me with such generosity and integrity that upon recalling these I have a sense of overwhelming gratefulness.  

My father introduced me to Antonia; here is the story of how we met, in his words:

When Eric was nine-years-old, we moved to Laguna Beach.  Eric had been showing some promise musically, having taken some lessons while in Claremont. His mother and I hoped we could find a guitar teacher in Laguna who would be interested in giving Eric lessons.  In the meantime, my youngest son, Chris, joined the Cub Scouts and at one of his meetings, I noticed a guitar leaning in the corner.  The hostess of the meeting was taking lessons from a teacher in Laguna named Antonia Morales, and she gave me Antonia’s phone number.  I called her and asked if she would be interested in hearing my son play and in giving us some advice.  Reluctantly, she agreed to see him that afternoon, informing me that she didn’t usually take students so young.  

After knocking several times, Antonia opened her door.  Eric, his guitar in hand, was hustled into the apartment, and as the door closed I hear Antonia say, “Come back in an hour.”  I was back in an hour, hoping my son was still in one piece, knocking on the door again.  I heard a loud voice say, “Come back in another hour.”  This time I sat on the steps for the hour, still concerned over what this lady was doing to my son.

Finally, the door opened and out came Eric, followed by Antonia.  Before I could speak, Antonia said, “Have him back here tomorrow at three o’clock, and he can’t learn anything on this awful thing,” pointing to his guitar.  Ultimately she was to procure an excellent Spanish guitar for Eric, and so began the many years of a remarkable experience for my son and for the whole family.


At nine-years-old, I had become frustrated with the situation I found myself in, musically.  The absence of other people to jam with and being so young that older skilled players would not consider me as a band member forced me to explore other types of music.  When my mother played some records of Andres Segovia and Flamenco guitarist, Sabicas, I head the other possibilities and capabilities of what a single guitar could do.  This period also coincided with the release and success of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”, and shortly after that the Doors’ song “Spanish Caravan;” both hits featuring Spanish guitar.  The instrumental hit, “Classical Gas,” made the guitar sound important and grant with its orchestration and crafted arrangements; a kind of pop guitar concerto.  “Spanish Caravan” brought my attention to the Spanish roots of the guitar with its thematic quote that I was later learn came from Isaac Albeniz’s “Asturias.”  I doubt that my interest in classical guitar could have been so intensely inspired without those songs bridging the genres.  Another thing that was taking placed at this time was the guitar solo, and the rise of rock guitar Gods like dick Dale, Eric Clapton and my own hero, Jimi Hendrix.  Antonia Morales came into my life and gave me a focus I was in need of to pull all of these impressions together.

Antonia could walk through any door, and engage with credibility, anyone she had a mind to. Her vast number of friends and connections to the prominent artists of the day was astounding.  She had exquisite taste and an enormous sense of propriety and discernment. She educated me in the arts, Spanish language, and literature, as well as in manners and etiquette.

Under her tutelage, by the time I was 12-years-old, I was able to play some Bach preludes, as well as “Twenty Studies” by Fernando Sor, several Giuliani pieces, music by Villa Lobos, Francisco Tarrega, Aguado and some preludes by Ponce.  She was strict and demanding but always with loving patience.  I currently have a student who is 10-years-old and talented.  He reminds me of myself at that age, as he is as stubborn as I was about conquering whatever difficulty presents itself in the music, approaching his task with a keen sense of melody and rhythm.  The privilege of teaching a gifted student who trusts and follows suggestion is an enormous responsibility.  As I look back to my time with Antonia I feel regret that at that age I didn’t have more capacity to cherish and appreciate the care and concern she had for me, for the same reasons.  Age and experience have taught me to be more aware of the generosity and faithfulness of those who shaped and edified my life.

Andres Segovia in 1962

Andres Segovia in 1962

When I was twelve years old, Andres Segovia was going to give a recital in LA.   This would be the third concert I saw him perform, and Antonia told me to write a short letter to him so that it would be sent backstage.  In the letter I told the maestro my age and that I had played guitar for over 6 years and was a student of Antonia’s.  Her teacher in Spain happened to be Aureo Herrero, who had studied for years, privately with Segovia as he had been taken under Segovia’s wing at a young age and went on to study Arco Bass and music theory at the conservatory in Madrid.  (Classical guitar was at that time not considered a legitimate instrument and therefore not offered at the conservatory.) The fact that Segovia was so familiar with Aureo Herrero, but also had a decades-long friendship with Antonia herself, may have been the reason he was inclined to let me come backstage and meet him after the concert.


When the concert ended, Antonia and I went to the backstage entrance and were received graciously.  I remember Segovia embracing Antonia and I was scooped up along with her to a more private room where the two of them talked briefly in Spanish.  Then turning towards me, he asked me to play for him.  I played Sor Estudio #12 and as soon as I finished he said to Antonia that if she could get me to Spain to Madrid, he would spend time with me and maybe teach me when he was not on tour.

Upon informing my mother and father of this extraordinary turn of events, my dad was overwhelmed with excitement and said: “We’ve got to go to Spain as soon as possible!”

The small town of Laguna Beach was a really supportive community for the arts.  The Soroptimist Club, the Rotary Club and various successful business people of the town banded together with a humbling show of support and pride when they became aware of the possibility of my studying with Segovia in Madrid.  There was no way my parents could afford to send me along with Antonia, who was willing to act as my legal guardian while I was in Spain.  The plan that my parents and the town of Laguna Beach came up with was this: Once a year I would perform a recital for the purpose of raising funds and awareness of the financial assistance necessary to pay for my travel expenses (as well as Antonia’s for acting as my guardian), living expenses and costs of education and lessons for 9 to 10 months every year.  The concert I provided was a way to show my progress and level of my performance abilities to the supporters and audience.  It was a good way to be accountable.  In addition, I was also asked to write regularly about my experiences and time spent with all of the people I studied under.  The community of Laguna Beach was truly a wonderful extended family, in a sense.

Plaza Mayor in Mardrid, Spain

Plaza Mayor in Mardrid, Spain

My first trip to Madrid was in June of 1971.  I was thirteen-years-old.  My father went with me and stayed for the first three months.  We flew on a World Airways plane that was the cheapest airfare possible.  It went to Spain via London and we arrived in Madrid in the morning.  Antonia had already left in May and was waiting for us to arrive.  I remember the taxi ride from the airport, our arrival in the oldest section of the city where I was to live for the better part of the next four years.  It was frightening to be entering into a massive, ancient cosmopolitan city with a past that spread over centuries.  There were large, imposing brown buildings and bustling streets, a real culture shock coming from a small southern California beach town. I remember my dad turning to me in the taxi and saying, “Well, this is where you’re going to be for the next few months.” Those months became years.

Stay tuned for more of my memoirs of the guitar. You can read Part I and Part II on my blog. Visit the store to listen and download my various works and ensembles.

Latin-grammy award-winning artist, William Sigismondi and I will be in concert for the first time together. I cannot begin to explain to you the synergies we have and the beautiful repertoire that comes out of our sessions. 

It will be great to see you all at the concert on the 24th of March at Bridge Hall in Laguna Beach. You can buy tickets here.

Also, make sure to sign up to get the latest news and updates.


How to Practice Classical Guitar Part II


Using your time efficiently

As a teacher of classical guitar, I had an opportunity to observe a young student of mine, 12-years-old, I’ll call him Nick.  Nick is a student of immense talent; he seemed from the beginning to possess a sense of phrasing and an ability to play with a beautiful and powerful tone.  He had grown up from early childhood listening to his father’s recordings of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia, which I believe imprinted him with an acute sense of tone and sound.  If you are accustomed to hearing only the best beautiful, round tone then you tend to want to imitate that standard in your own playing.

Unfortunately, Nick does not practice.  His classical guitar lessons average once a week, and during his lessons, I’ve had to ‘practice’ him and do the work that I hoped he would do on his own. Normally I would not put up with a student who doesn’t practice, but Nick has shown me so many things about how a young person learns and retains material that I feel he provides valuable information that I can pass on to others.  He inspires me continually to think outside of the box in conquering my own set of challenges.

I would like to share some insight into a technique of practice that I have found to be very efficient as a result of having to ‘practice’ Nick during his lessons.  Let’s start with how to best use your time to learn a piece of music that is brand new to you.  Let’s use Estudio No. 9 by Fernando Sor as an example; for reference, this is the one in chords that I recorded on my CD called ‘Homage’. During our guitar lesson, starting from the beginning of the piece, I would take Nick through a phrase, very slowly and deliberately.  In the case of the Sor piece, it would be about three measures. My original approach to practicing a section like this would be to play it 9 times.  Obviously, I could not employ this technique with Nick because we had too much material to cover in our hour-and-a-half lesson.  

To use the time most efficiently, we would start with the first three measures and only do three repetitions before continuing on to the next three bars, always being careful to back up a couple of chords so that we were not starting from a completely unfamiliar place.  For example, if the phrase that we had just practiced ended in the final chord of the third measure I would have him back up two chords or even start at the beginning of the third measure and do three measures from there. In a fifteen to twenty minute period, we would typically do 2 1/2  to 3 staves of music and then go on to another piece and take the same approach.  In about an hour and a half, we would have been able to ‘practice’ through parts of 3 to 4 pieces.  Bear in mind that I say an hour and a half but it is really 4 to 6 sets of fifteen to twenty minutes with short breaks between. 

I would see Nick again a week later and ask him “Did you practice?” and he would answer sheepishly, “No.”  In spite of this fact he would then proceed to play surprisingly well through the material that we had ‘practiced’ the previous lesson.  There were an obvious familiarity and muscle memory that had been established during the previous lesson.  This happened time after time, which made me re-think the necessity for repeating things nine times. 
I thought about it, reflecting on the fact that Nick is 12-years-old, very quick at learning things because of his youth and having no fear.  How could I begin to capture his ability to be so efficient?  These are the conclusions that I have been able to prove thus far:

  • When I sit down with my guitar and practice something with multiple repetitions, it is like telling myself that I don’t have to concentrate so hard to make each repetition count, because I could continue to repeat it until I conquered the passage.

  • When I put a limit on the amount of repetition and time I spend on each passage, my subconscious grabs on to every detail with a sense of urgency. 

  • If I tell myself that I can learn something very fast; demanding that I learn quickly challenges any sense of fear that I don’t learn as rapidly as I did when I was younger.

  • I have also found that it helps to follow this regime for the three repetitions: Play very slowly, exaggerating the left-hand pressure so that you are conscientiously memorizing the movements of the fingers on the first repetition.  After that silently read through the section you have just played – without playing it – and imagine that your fingers are going through each movement. Play it again, a tiny bit faster but still exaggerating the left-hand pressure as well as playing it loudly with a lot of power.  Stop and read the passage again, only imagining that you are playing it.  Then play the passage for the third and final time.

  • It is important to remember when starting the next section of a piece to back up a few notes or chords so that you are not starting a completely new section.  I call this ‘overlapping’.

  • I find it is best to limit the time that I practice on each piece of music.  I don’t leave it open-ended. This again makes me use my time with maximum efficiency.

  • I usually study five or six pieces at a time, averaging around 5 staves in each piece a day, unless the piece is very easy or repetitious in which case I try to cover more material. 

  • I write down my practice plan before I begin practicing, listing the pieces and how much time I plan to spend on each piece.  I have found it incredibly important not to play repeatedly at the same tempo because the same tempo tends to diminish the intensity of concentration.

  • I try to avoid being automatic.  Between each repetition I remove my left hand from the guitar, give what I have played a few seconds to sink in and then start again.  Just like when you are watering a plant it takes time for the water to soak into the soil, the information you garner from practicing needs to soak into your memory.

  • Even if I can only get through a small section of a piece because it is difficult and I can barely play it, I still limit myself to three repetitions.  I’ve discovered that your subconscious mind learns and automatically memorizes much more than we can imagine.  

  • I try to reinforce my ability to learn quickly and to memorize quickly by acting (or ‘pretending’ for lack of a better term) as if I do learn quickly when I doubt my own abilities.

This is a very successful method of practice that resulted from observing how young students learn and conquer classical guitar.  It is not ideal to have a student who does not practice, but once again, I am reminded how important it is to stay aware and observant of other players, students as well as pros. 

I have many things on the horizon, but in the meantime, check out my store, and make sure to subscribe to get the latest in news and updates. If you wish to contact me for a booking or for any other reason, you can contact me here.


How to Practice Classical Guitar

I had the honor to study under one of the world's greatest classical guitarists, Maestro Andres Segovia. In this series, I will be sharing with you how to practice classical guitar, giving you practical instruction that will improve your classical guitar playing.


How to Practice Classical Guitar

This is how I deal with practicing.  First of all, I would like to relate the words of the late Andres Segovia, the greatest classical guitarist ever, who if anyone would be the authority on the best method of practice.  This is what he taught me and told me was his method.  

Practice in sets of fifteen minutes, divided into two sets of seven to eight minutes with a short break between.  At the end of each fifteen minutes, take a 3 minute break, stand up, get a glass of water, stretch, etc. but be sure to take a moment to focus your eyes on something far away to relax your eyes from the close work of the page and the fretboard and to clear your mind. Start again and do three fifteen minute sets, totaling 45 minutes of intense practice.  This time at the end of the third set taking a real break of about fifteen minutes.  Repeat this 3-set practice routine for a total of five times.  At that point, you will have spent around five and a half hours.  

Eric Henderson pictured with Antonia Morales and Maestro Andres Segovia

Eric Henderson pictured with Antonia Morales and Maestro Andres Segovia

That is the morning session, in the afternoon you will do this entire routine again after you have had some lunch and a chance to rest.  In the years I was living in Madrid, between 1971 and 1975, the traditional schedule for the day was to start between 8 and 9 am, and have your main meal of the day around 2 pm; everything would then shut down for this meal and a siesta that followed.  At anywhere between 5 and 7 pm, everything would open back up and the evening meal would not be until 9 or even 10 pm. I would eat the midday meal, take a siesta and then practice from 5 to 10 pm, before eating dinner, the lighter meal of the day.  

This is what Segovia would do and what I was expected to do as his student.  Recently I heard somebody claim that he witnessed Segovia excusing himself after dinner, saying that he had to practice.  This was not the case in my experiences with him; he practiced in the mornings and in the late afternoons and early evenings.

The exact method as far as the content of my practice will be dealt with in a subsequent writing in the next article in this series. In the meantime, check out my store, and make sure to subscribe to get the latest in news and updates. If you wish to contact me for a booking or for any other reason, you can contact me here.

Eric Henderson - Early Memories of the Guitar - Part II

Eric Henderson - Early Memories of the Guitar - Part II

Part II of my early memories of the guitar, includes recollections of Laguna Beach, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and my beginnings as a child prodigy learning to play classical guitar in an environment full of early rock music and icons.

The History of Classical Guitar

The History of Classical Guitar

The evolutionary path of the classical guitar parallel's that of humanity. Join me on a journey through history and learn how this wondrous instrument came to be. It has inspired many throughout the ages and will continue to do so.  I have dedicated my entire life to perfecting my craft with the hope of invoking emotional states that are just as inspirational.