SIERRA VISTA — Nothing is lovelier than a musical instrument well played, and one way to play well is with Dante Palau at his Sierra Vista School of Classical Guitar.
In the front room of his family’s Hereford home, Palau patiently shows his students the pathway to creating beautiful classical guitar music. It’s harder than it looks.
“A good amount of your effort is going into just making the notes sound good,” Palau said. “With the guitar there’s a lot of stuff that fits in, like playing with the right part of your finger, applying the right amount of pressure, playing on the right part of the guitar between the bridge and the sound hole. There’s a lot that can go wrong.”
From Sierra Vista it is a short but beautiful drive to Palau’s studio, where he teaches children and adults, in fact, anyone, even rank beginners, how to play guitar in the classical style. What exactly is classical style? It’s hard to describe. It has to do with nylon strings on the guitar and fingering techniques.
“The sound is going to be pretty different; people tend to say it’s a lot more mellow and warm,” he said. “Technically speaking, you’re using all of the fingers on your right hand, except for your pinky, to produce a tone. It’s the combination of the fingertips and the nails, whereas with the acoustic you’re just picking. (Classical style) opens up the door to do a lot more technique that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
T.J. Sosa, the son of Tony and Lae Sosa of Hereford, has been a student of Palau’s for a year and what he can play is remarkable. T.J. plays with focus and relish and since studying with Palau, he has learned not only to play guitar, he has also learned to read music and is grasping music theory, part of what Palau teaches. It’s something T.J. really enjoys, judging by the amount of time he spends practicing: one to two hours every single day. He likes how the music takes him away from his everyday life. When he plays, he said, his world falls away.
“It’s just me and the music,” T.J. said.
“He’s exceeded my expectations about practicing,” Palau said.
Palau starts his students off easy by going over the parts of the guitar, how to hold it and how to correctly position the body. That includes how to use the footstool that raises the knee and keeps the guitar in place, pointing up at an angle. Then he demonstrates a song and asks his students to learn by watching and repeating what he does. All the while a beginning songbook is open, but it’s not for a couple of months before a student can make the connection between the notes he or she plays and those dots and lines on the page
“Usually what I’ll do is I’ll just get the music out, but I’ll play the song just to get the ball rolling and get the students playing something,” Palau said. “Usually around week three, week four we’ll start to look at note names, what the staff is and how to read it and what all the little different symbols mean ... It usually takes a couple of months before it starts to sink in.”
Palau, 23, is a student at Cochise College, where he is majoring in general studies, though he has been playing the guitar since he was 8 years old. He has five years of guitar lessons behind him and studied for a year at Berklee College of Music Online Campus, where he got a certificate in general music studies. Even an experienced teacher can get nervous, however, when asked by a nosy reporter to give a little recital, but T.J. doesn’t mind. He quickly unzips his gig bag, pulls out his gleaming guitar and with Palau tunes it up, adjusting the tuning pegs until he has just the right sound. Then, foot on his footstool, his guitar at just the right angle, the pair launch into a rather impressive short piece that highlights T.J.’s ability and finger dexterity.
When he finishes the piece, his parents beam with pride.
Although Palau is not accepting new students, you may get on a waiting list. Contact him and the Sierra Vista School of Classical Guitar at dantepalau.com.