THE SAKARI METHOD For Classical Guitar                              
  

             "Perfect Your Passion"                                                  

 

K. Sakari Heikkila helps his students perfect
 their technique by eliminating wasted practice
    time using his method with consistent results.


Publicity Photo in the 70's

30 years ago, a young K. Sakari Heikkila went from being a largely self taught player....  
to being  accepted as a finalist in the Guitar '81 International Classical Guitar Competition in less than a year and a half .  How did he do it ? 

Since the Guitar, at the time, was not offered by most Music Schools as a degree instrument,  he double majored on Classical Guitar and Cello in order to receive a degree in Music Performance and then developed his own Method of Classical Guitar Technique so he could enter the International Competition circuit for Classical Guitarists in the shortest amount of time.  Therein lies how "The Sakari Method", as it now is called, came to be.   

Now semi retired from the Recital stage, he has been spending most of his
time teaching his "Trilogy Method" online and is currently writing two forthcoming books,

            "Classical Guitar Technique - The Critical Path to Success"  
and
" The Soul Subconscious - One Classical Guitarist's Guide to the Universe"

"Learning to Play With an Open Soul,
Expressing Your Thoughts and Feelings While
Spontaneously Reacting to the Composer's Writing
and Becoming Lost in the Moment is What My
Classical Guitar Technique Method Really Teaches."


He teaches Classical Guitarists of all abilities from Beginners  who want to  start out correctly,  to Concert Artists who wish to refine their skills and go to their next personal level of play. 

Pioneering a method of Mastering the Micro-Movements of Classical Guitar Technique, hundreds of Classical Guitarists all over the World are benefitting from his 30 Part, thorough and revolutionary e-Course.

His lessons teach that learning and perfecting the skills needed to play Classical Guitar have very little to do with the printed note and playing music but rather more to do with practicing physical skill techniques in a very counter intuitive manner of self discovery.

"Technique is not about speed ...it's about control.  The slower the piece,
the more one needs more control." 

Sakari is also a regularly featured expert e-zine author on learning Classical Guitar.  To read
an radio station interview with Sakari, go here: 
The Interview

For those who wish to invest in one on one coaching with Sakari,
he offers a Personal Mentorship Coaching Program.

Learn about the details.  Just go to:

Mentorship

********************************************
 

Born in the United States shortly after his parents emigrated from
Finland, Sakari grew up in the country with nothing but nature to occupy his time.

Pronounced 'Sa-ka-ree, translated, the name means "God Remembers" or
"The Prophet" in some contexts. His years of upbringing  were in a very Finnish household where Finnish was spoken conversationally and traditional Finnish foods were staples.

Always a  private person,  his career was more introspective than outgoing and as a result, he would use the Recital Stage to test out his theories about technique and his stances of musical interpretation rather than aspiring to become a recording and touring Concert Artist as did many of his contemporaries.

The basic principals in his method began to take shape in 1969 while still studying with his first Guitar mentor, Stanley Watson,  who taught him his greatest lesson. That the real job of a teacher is to teach the student how to teach him or herself . Stanley’s job was accomplished because the next ten years were largely spent independently learning Classical Guitar Technique and composing pieces and studies as well as transcribing music for the Classical Guitar from various sources. 

The next few decades after that were spent performing and taking part in Master Classes with some of the great Guitarists and Lutenists of the day such as Narciso Yepes, John Mills, Sergio Abreuto, Turibio Santos, Paul O'Dette and Toyohiko Satoh to gain comparison understandings of technique and interpretation.
 
  After gaining his Performance Degree on Classical guitar  (rare in those days), Sakari commissioned luthier Craig Stapley, a coverted graduate of the famed Violin Making  International School of Cremona,  to build him a custom Eight String classical guitar so that he could also play Lute literature with two lower courses.  The instrument took almost a year to complete as there were many discussions about tap tones and dimensions taken of Sakari's hands so that string spacings were ideal and neck width and thickness were correct.

The guitar was built using German white spruce for the top, which was aged at the time for over 100 years and originally destined for a Viola and the rest of the body from book matched Brazilian Rosewood. The neck is Mahogany and hollowed out underneath the Ebony fret board  to give the guitar’s sound added dimension.  The entire guitar and neck vibrates when played. Even the center of the tuning head is hollow to increase sympathetic vibration.  Shaved to paper thin dimensions around the edges, the spruce top actually allows light to penetrate it and Mr. Stapley’s fear at the time was that the guitar might someday implode under the tension of the strings.  So far, it hasn’t. 

In addition to assisting Classical Guitarists all over the world with his Technique Builder and his Method,   Sakari is an award winning Shoreline Bird Photographer ( some of his photos are featured in this web site ) and a Gourmet Cook. 

Currently, he is focusing on recording some of his favorite literature.

self portrait on sanibel island

"HERE ARE SOME OF MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WORLD OF CLASSICAL GUITAR"
       
The Classical Guitar, I believe, is still struggling for recognition a bit and with the passing of Andres Segovia, who saved it from total extinction, and the recent retirement of Julian Bream, whose individually unique mastery of the instrument, inspired all Guitarists, it seems to me that there aren’t many  “Light Houses”currently on the concert planks. There are, however many fine players sprinkled about but I think one or two truly great interpreters are all Humanity will give us per Century.  My humble opinion and feel free to disagree .   

A great misconception that I struggled with myself in the early days, is the idea that the closer we get to technical perfection on our instrument, the further we move away from the aesthetic spirit of spontaneity and expression. I saw this amongst many artists that I associated with in the early days and although this phenomenon may not be universal in scope, it did, nonetheless exist amongst amateur guitarists and perhaps still does today. Hence the absence of the guitar from the Accepted Classical Music World, at least to the degree to which the violin and piano exist and the reason there are so many amateur guitarists forever “stuck” on one playing level. The other half to this equation is “The Fear of Success” syndrome is a greater force than “The Fear of Failure”. This one is a killer because when one starts really practicing and then sees real progress, to continue inevitably means real, long term commitment to the craft. Commitment to anything has many powerful implications, the least of which is time spent daily or weekly so one of the first real goals as you set out is to decide, “What kind of time and commitment level am I going to agree to ?” 

Of course, the true value of any art form is the uniquely different way each artist handles interpretation, for instance, and after all it is the human spirit that pushes ordinary events into miraculous happenings. One need only to listen to one particular piece of music performed by several dozen players to have the one or two true Masters revealed.  

The purpose of this little discourse is not to convince the Non-Artist Musician to support the Music world, although that would be a worthy cause, but rather to urge all Musicians to personally pursue the path of rigorous technical methodology in order to unlock, and give voice to, one’s interpretive expressions through the vast array of music literature out there waiting to be learned. 

Now the repetition of technique exercises week in and week out is perhaps the single least rewarding aspect of musicianship so I developed this Method, for Classical Guitarists of all levels and abilities , to hopefully put Classical Guitar Technique into perspective. 

 Advice I would give Beginners is to not put any music on your stand until your hands are ready for it. Much preliminary work must be done before one is prepared to play pieces and this will undoubtedly be a sobering thought for many of you. Take, for example,  what the flute or trumpet student at a Conservatory has to endure upon entrance to the School. Play only into the mouthpiece, without the rest of the instrument attached, for six months, then we’ll let you attach the rest of the instrument and play music. Always remember that the mind will naturally create clever obstacles plus multiple reasons not to overcome them so a large degree of determination and discipline will be required when tackling a musical instrument properly. 

One great obstacle for the Classical Guitar Student, if he or she is considering serious study, eventually comes in the form of the question, “ Am I being narrow minded by devoting so much time and energy to one thing when there are so many other valuable things in the world to pursue ?” 

To answer that question one first has to answer the following question: “Am I open minded enough to not think that there is only one way to play a given piece?” If the answer is Yes, then you would also need to possess the quality which would allow you to work at each piece in such a way as to discover the “universality” of that piece. 

Where does all this lead us ?

I think to the question of directed talent. If the mind drops hints at us to follow something that is in our nature, then we must accept the sacrifices. So, in order to create a physical change in our routine, our mental routines must change as well, if we are to make decisions about our attitude and pursuits.

THE ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHER 
 
One might take a moment to think of how methodology employed in other fields relates to Classical Guitar Methodology. It does seem to me that the human mind works at a higher potential when a technically oriented system is under its control. Take the sciences, for example. If a person wanted to explore the science of genetics, then that person must first become familiar with what is known factually about that field before the brain can analyze new information, interpret it and advance the field of genetics.     

The musician is in a very similar position as the scientist, although the material with which the scientist must become familiarized with perhaps is more defined than for the Musician. The real question for me is “ What merit does the work of a musician or a scientist have if both are completely self taught with little or no exposure to an historical perspective of their respective crafts ?” 

To put this in another way, the real goal of the performing arts is to create an “in between the lines” message to the sub-conscious, or the way that the audience is “affected” by a performance. I have certainly noticed, through the years of attending Classical Guitar Recitals, that there is a certain quality about the way that many performers, even great ones, come off. One can almost hear them reflecting within themselves about their technical ability, good or bad, as they play. The result is a performance of “their” psyche rather than the intent of the composer. (Don’t ever forget the Composer ! Without him or her, you would not be playing anything)

I attended a recital by one the greats in the mid 70's and was very much looking forward to it, never having heard this player or owned one of his recordings. But my teacher at the time was a former student of his so I was excited . He opened the Recital with two of the Bach Lute Suites, difficult stuff, to be sure, alone in a practice room, let alone to a packed audience.  

By the end of the first Lute Suite, This man was wringing wet, to the point of the audience’s distraction and I’m sure his own. You could literally hear his inner voice screaming, “I can’t make a single mistake during these pieces !” I don’t believe anyone enjoyed the recital because we were all rooting for him silently, in our seats, hoping upon hope that he wouldn’t make a single mistake because he was trying so hard not to. Well, he never did make even a little mistake and I have to say it was the most flawless, emotionally void recital I have ever heard. The only thing that would have made it worse would have been if he had a metronome ticking away on a chair next to him during the performance. I certainly heard it even though it wasn’t physically there. 

The performing arts MUST have a quality of vulnerability rather than feeling that each performance is a safe one, free of error and probably of greatness as well. In a word, boring. True, musicians and scientists have technical languages that must be mastered but the musician embarks on journey number two, the world of creativity and profundity, weaving magical lines one within the other all to create audible imagery so the composer’s thoughts are captured and presented.

But isn’t this what the scientist does ?  Conscientiously advance mankind on many levels ? 

So in the end, what is the real difference between a great musician and a great scientist ?

KAIZEN, MY FAVORITE WORD, IN ANY LANGUAGE

Kaizen is the Japanese term for “gradual but continual improvement by taking something apart and putting it back together in a better way”.

As a young student of the Guitar, I would often find myself sitting, very properly, guitar at the ready, frustrated as to what to practice first. There were many skills to develop and if the concept of “purpose” was not identified, one easily became lost, aimlessly searching for that “right” piece to play, shouldered with just the “right” exercises to practice. Experience has taught me that one’s self proclaimed idea of self as it relates to abilities and the lack of ability can greatly confuse the progression of both musical and technical awareness. 

First, technique is not an end to itself; nor, ironically, is it a means to an end. This may sound paradoxical and even contradictory but let’s examine how a very “human” quality is revealed here. There is a fine line between the musician who is capable of feeling the expressions of a fellow musician’s playing and the musician who is capable of going a step beyond and is able to blend the mind, heart and soul with discipline so that the true accomplishment of an ideal occurs rather than simply having the “desire” to actualize that ideal. The latter is when one is inspired by the efforts of another rather than the efforts of oneself.  

Although it is very comforting to have a “model” to work from, an artist of the very highest caliber to, in fact, “copy”. The example of “How to play like Julian Bream”, with his trademark tone and nuance of interpretation is actually taught by some Players, and very well, I might add, but since one cannot truly copy the inner thoughts and processes of another, one merely becomes a “Player Piano”, put in the roll and let it rip, guitarist. 

During the development phase of learning to play Classical guitar, one’s mind will go through almost any system of thought patterns necessary in order to convince itself that true reasons exist for the pursuit of self expression on a musical instrument. So how does this relate to the statement “technique is not a means to an end?”. Technique, that very element that opens the gate to artistic expression, can also hinder artistic expression, if not thought of properly. Few can transcend the lure of feeling real technical accomplishment as the only goal, leave that world behind and enter the world of true self expression. 

Second, it must be realized with all due sobriety that this path of which I speak entails years of study and honest refinement. Mastery, both technical and musical, rarely takes place early in life, when the “illusion” of accomplishment is common place.

AWARENESS

What is it that one feels exactly when one has an awareness of technique on the Guitar and how does the mind conceive the physical aspects of playing ? The answers might not seem as obvious as one thinks. Unless a visualization occurs, not only in the mind’s eye but also in the degree of concentration while playing, then justice is not being done to the demands of the Guitar by its very existence.
 
If one can manage to have a sort of projection of self onto the Guitar itself, through time and care, one can actually begin to “feel” what it must be like to be a Guitar being played. I don’t intend this idea to be Zen-like but perhaps it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if one doesn’t abuse the privilege of playing, then playing takes on a life of its own and we become caretaker’s of its sounds. For me this came about through slow daily practice, trying to be aware of even the slightest movements while playing. 

I don’t believe any of this is possible without the necessary technique and tone production work required to hear the full potential of one’s Guitar. Speaking of potential, when I first brought home my Eight String guitar from the Luthier’s shop, I noticed great tone potential but it was new and needed a little breaking in. The maker suggested placing the instrument facing one of my stereo system’s speakers, just a few inches away, and play classical music into it, for hours. So I did that, using Bach Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, as loud as the neighbor’s could stand. After several “treatments” like this, I began to notice the Guitar opening up. I continued with the treatments for weeks and it was very successful.  

The word “potential” is very important when describing attitudes in the study of Musical Instruments. Given that musicians have ( or should have ) feelings that need to be expressed through music, how can they be expressed without a good understanding of the factors and variables available as to the full potential of one’s instrument ? If the instrument’s potential isn’t fully realized, then neither is the Musician’s expressive potential. What other reason than this is there to practice ? To merely reproduce the written notes on the page and act out through them rather than living through them ?

The danger here is that to “feel” musical involvement does not automatically mean that actual involvement is taking place. Personal commitment to playing is where the distinction exists and it is this very commitment that turns the amateur into the artist where freedom from worry regarding purpose occurs, a factor which I believe is the factor that drives the student out of the practice room, especially if there isn’t some deadline to meet, such as a performance. This should be the goal of every teacher: To bring the student to the point where a teacher is no longer required. The sooner the better, I say ! 

PRACTICE

Practicing is what I call a process whereby results occur on a long term basis and muscles are atoned accordingly. Scale work must be done slowly, with round tone and sufficient volume. Unless the resistance of the strings is felt, the fingers will not respond properly during certain passages in the literature. Believe it or not, the goal of practicing scales, for instance, is NOT to hear the notes of the scale, it’s to feel the fingers controlling the notes. Remember this concept, because it will carry you throughout my entire method. 

Efficient practice is a difficult concept to fully grasp on one’s own, what and when to practice this or that, what are the strengths and how do they influence work on the weaknesses, etc.. A certain amount of exposure to powerful influences should definitely be a large part of any musician’s growth, various teachers, (never just one !), pouring over treatises on technique, etc., but for me, I found that after the initial contact with these aforementioned influences, keeping my eyes and ears open to lessons offered by classical guitar recordings were by far the greatest of my influences. Learning to “feel” the players fingers as I listened became my greatest learning tool.

How one goes about discerning these lessons through recordings, of course, comes from an initial interest in the subject to begin with, but by listening to my rather extensive collection of Classical Guitar Recordings, I was able to gain a knowledge of the repertoire, which pieces really excited me, how I agreed with or disagreed with their interpretations and why, and how sometimes interpretive understatement suited a particular piece. A very important point to consider sometimes. 

One of the greatest endorsements I received about how I approached practicing was revealed to me when I purchased the EMI recordings of Segovia, done in his early years, and listened to his recording of “Sevilla” by Albeniz, from the Suite Espanola. 

One notices two things immediately. One, every note is not only audibly clear and full, but also full with individual dynamic control. Two, the continuity of motion during the piece is created by the way he intensely felt the music. Without self-expression and style, music remains lifeless and boring, in fact, pointless. History proves this out over and over. Performers who have something to say with their craft are remembered, forever. 

Pinchas Zukerman ( famous Violist / Conductor ) explains it this way, Each time I pick up my viola, it is like a man who has spent three days and three nights in the desert and goes to take a drink of water. It is a need”. Let your inborn need to play create its own system designed to handle answers to questions and doubts. Many amateur musicians never allow this to happen and they quit, never allowing the self a fighting chance to prevail during the difficult formative years of study.

 
A WORD TO THE WISE 

Classical Guitar Amateurism on a local community level can be very depressing. You may come across Guitarists who, because they are big fish in a little pond, take a public position without any real right or earning. Although they play a role where they wouldn’t normally be one, for the absolute beginner, they often are merely feeding their own egos at the expense of the student who deludes him or herself while the Teacher is deluding him or herself. 

My humble conclusion to this centuries old problem ?   Lack of contact with truly accomplished players, either in person or via recordings, can turn the student psyche into a kind of laboratory Petrie dish that will grow as many kinds of mold as there are people.

thanks for listening !


A TRIBUTE TO STANLEY WATSON

Stanley was my first real Classical Guitar teacher back in the 60's but I still wonder about what exactly his influence was, because in many ways, he was more a composer for the Guitar more than a "Standard Repertoire" player.  Maybe that's where I got my love for playing just the pieces  I want to and simply ignoring the rest.

Although reputed to have studied with Segovia,  my recollection is that he in fact did take a lesson or two but that he wasn't the right teacher for him.  Stanley was however, the perfect teacher for me, imparting a real love for the instrument and a real support system for my potential.  His wife used to sit at their Kitchen table as I left often saying I had a look on my face, "Like I never wanted to leave".  She was right.  Stanley was infectious with his enthousiasm for the Guitar and all that life had to offer.

Before my lessons with him, as he was always running long with the previous student,  I would play chess with his pre-teenage son who was very skilled at the game and I always lost.  By the time my lesson came around, I wasn't thinking Guitar any longer but he would listen to me play a bit and then tell me, "For next week, I want you to compose a piece for me and play it from memory.  This weekly assignment occurred for many weeks, and then he gently encouraged me to give up my Guild D-35 steel string guitar and trade it in for a Classical Guitar and Oh, I had to hold it differently than what I was used to .  It was a magical time for me, having this Englishman point me in a direction so convincingly.  He made all his students feel as if they were going to be the greatest guitar player ever.

Stanley was a gypsy at heart and no doubt enjoyed the color of his travels more than just about anything.

One of my favorite pieces of his is the simple but elegiac "Echoes", which he composed while sitting in front of Rodin's famous statue, "The Thinker". The piece evokes the imagery of what it would be like if "The Thinker" could break from his frozen state and dance freely around the gardens of the Louvre.  A  few examples of his playing can be heard on Chuck Mangione's  "Friends And Love," and "Together" albums.

The last time I saw him, I was taking a four hour lesson from him.   It was about composition, life, playing and lengthy explanations about how everyone has a talent that should be vigorously pursued, even if it is sweeping floors.  He energetically proclaimed,  "If that is your talent, then you should become  the best floor sweeper in the world and society should embrace your desire to achieve it."

In my last lesson with him, I played several of my transcriptions I was working on at the time.   He stared at me, as if he was examining my soul like a surgeon looking at an X-ray,  and said, "Sakari, you should take the next two years, pitch a tent on some beach somewhere where its warm year 'round and master your technique because someday you will offer the Guitar world a very unique insight."

I left his house that day and never looked back.


A TRIBUTE TO CRAIG STAPLEY 

Craig Stapley was a remarkable instrument maker, genius level in my opinion.  I say "was"  because as the second person that has contributed the most to my Guitar life,  Craig also is no longer with us.

He had a photographic memory, was versed in the sciences and chemistry, developed an understanding of the
varnishes of Stradivarius through painstaking research and in general understood the stringed instument family like no other.

My guitar took almost a year for Craig to build mainly because I was such a pain, what with wanting a certain tone
quality, specific string spacing, specific string length, neck width, neck thickness, etc, but he never complained.  He merely took my instructions to a much higher level of understanding and execution.



Taking delivery on it, on my birthday, no less, was to say the least,  exciting !  He said my new Guitar comes with an owner's manual and my bristled response was, " I'm the only owner that has its manual."

He smiled and replied, "You'll have to play this instrument for several years before it opens up for you, so here's what you do.  Place the instrument directly in front of one of your stereo system's speakers, with the sound hole just inches from the speaker.

Put on a solo Violin record and play it as loudly as the neighbors can bear and do this for one hour every day.  Continue
for several weeks and you should notice a huge improvement in the ring tones and clarity."

I was simply astounded.  His instructions accomplished exacly what he predicted and I was at least two years further along the road to inspiration that if he hadn't have suggested this unique approach to breaking in an instrument.

Now I realize that there are world stage Guitarists that say when you're in an inspiration rut, change Guitars.

I disagree.   Your job, as a player,  is to use the Guitar you have and find how it can improve upon your inspiration's strengths and weaknesses.  Mine has been with me for over 30 years and never ceases to amaze me !

Craig, Thank you, wherever you are, and thank you for your advice, " Never cast your pearls before swine".