My usual morning consists of a good warm-up (a combination of left hand movements and slurs, right hand alternation movements and arpeggios, and scales), before moving on to practicing spots in pieces, and finally playing… More
Want to feel more accurate when playing through your pieces? Want speedy scales? Want fluid arpeggios? Want to be a guitar superhero? Work on basic movements. Hard work on the very basic movements of technique allows an inner exploration of our limits and abilities while giving us a bit of a roadmap for quantifiable and steady improvement.
Below are some very basic right hand drills that find their way back into my warm-up and finger routines often. It’s not that I need to practice them much anymore but rather they allow me to continually refine the most important movements necessary for pleasurable music making. They also allow me to set both short and long term tempo and endurance goals.
Try going through each of these three drills with the suggested fingerings. If you are more of a beginner, spend time on the bold faced fingerings, if you are more advanced, go through all fingerings in search for what does not work well, then focus your energy there. Don’t neglect the basics, though!
Follow these guidelines:
- Use a metronome and start slowly (quarter = 50-60).
- Go through each drill at least 3 times (I do 5 if I have time) with each fingering. Increase tempo slightly for each one.
- Do not sacrifice clarity and movement efficiency.
- Focus on the quality of the movements and the sound.
Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, am, ma, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam
Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, am, ma, pi, pm, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam, pa, pami, pmi
For patterns involving three fingers play three repeats to hit all permutations.
Play the following drills using free-stroke and by relegating each right hand finger group across the three strings (for example, with ima, place i on string 3, m on string 2, and a on string 1).
Play each of the seven movements for at least 4+ repetitions or set a timer for 30-45 seconds.
All free-stroke: ima, pim, pma, pia
Try dedicating 60 days in a row (or with as much consistency as possible) to these movements and you will see results. Also, if you want a simple goal. Try to get each movement up to quarter = 126 over the course of the 60 days. Or, shoot higher! Why not?
Though the following video is in Spanish, David Russell offers a bit of an intimate motivational talk after a festival in Ecuador.
What I love hearing from him and what I hope students take away from this is the key and central point of hard work. As David says, “There are no shortcuts.”
Other bits of wisdom from the talk:
“Demand the most from yourself without losing sight of why you started in the first place.”
“Like compound interest, the hard work you do now will pay you back many times over in the future.”
And, this is where dedicated hard work gets you:
David Russell is a guitar hero for many reasons but one of them is for his ability to make everything he plays look effortless. Here is another masterclass snippet where he provides insightful guidance on the importance of a proper warm-up routine. He makes the analogy to sports, where warming up the muscles for practice helps to refine the motion and muscles necessary to perform efficiently. If muscles are not warmed up, larger muscles take over causing imbalance and tension.
Even if you do not speak Spanish, you can follow David’s crystal clear and carefully conceived approach to warming up. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize a few key points:
- Start with very simple movements in the left hand like ascending slurs with all the pairs of fingers (12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14).
- Move on to the right hand and work on perfecting a single finger free-stroke with each finger (i, m, a, p)
- Go back to the left hand and work on descending slurs (21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41).
- Back to the right hand to work on alternation between pairs of fingers (im, mi, ma, am, etc.). During this time, focus on the effort and resistance it takes each finger to pull through the string. Adjust nails as necessary to create equal resistance. Otherwise, there is imbalance and this will compromise your fluidity. Also, moving from i to m may be easier than moving from m to i. Your job is to make both directions feel as equal as possible.
- Move on to imi, mim, ama, mam, etc., then incorporate slight accents imi, imi, ama, ama, etc…
- Back to the left hand to try compound movements (121, 212, 232, 323, 343, 434, etc…)
- Back to right hand to work on imim, mimi, amam, mama, etc… then try doing these movements cross-string.
- Then bring the warm-up to a close by spending 10+ minutes coordinating both hands with scale fragments: im with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, mi with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, etc…
If you’d like a bit more detail and a program that follows this approach please check out my recent publication, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar.
I think I’ve now scoured most of Pavel Steidl‘s masterclasses on youtube. What a treasure trove of advice. I absolutely love him, his creativity, and his masterful ability to teach in such a fun way.
Here is a left hand technique progression that roughly matches what he demonstrates in one of his masterclasses. Pavel recommends at least 30 minutes a day of work for the fingers. Among his bits of advice and reflections, there is a moment in a masterclass where he talks about left hand choreography and how it is connected to the part of our brain that is responsible for, as he puts it, “fantasy and imagination.”
Here is the sequence to explore:
Play the top voice as a continuous slur.
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns:
02/1343, 03/1242, 04/1232 (slur/counterpoint)
Now slur the counterpoint or fixed note as well.
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).
Add in a coordinating movement in the right hand (try something simple first).
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).
Explore a more challenging coordinating movement in the right hand (try pami on string 5).
Be creative and have fun just like Pavel!
We are in an era where from the comfort of your own living room you can watch hours and hours of the greatest guitarists on the planet conduct masterclasses. When I was in music school, masterclasses were always a treat because not only would you receive guidance about your repertoire, you could watch others receive guidance and insight on pieces you may have played or were perhaps on your bucket list of pieces.
If you have not heard Czech guitar virtuoso Pavel Steidl perform, you should. He embodies the pieces he is playing in a supernatural way and it is always clear from the first note of the concert that his music comes from a deep place. And, if you have not seen him teach a masterclass, you should. His ideas are wonderful and ear opening. Here is one where he talks about feeling intervals, displays some finger bending exercises, and even shows how he shapes his nails. True gold for those seeking inspiration and guidance.
Off to practice!
One of the practice techniques I write about in Mastering Tremolo is practicing your preferred four-note tremolo pattern (or a variety of them) with the following two cross-rhythmic manipulations as another great method for developing evenness because the finger performing the main beat is always rotating.
When practicing the following four exercises try the following practice approaches:
- Use the metronome and start very slowly. Set the metronome to one click per note but try to retain the feel of the overall beat as you play.
- When playing slowly focus on the quality of the space between the notes. Is it even or erratic? Are you consciously planting to prepare and thus silencing the note? If so, make sure that the plant is timed evenly for each space.
- Try spending an intense 2 minutes on one exercise and then deliberately resting your mind (take some deep breaths, look out a window for a change in scenery, stand up, etc…) for 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise. Focus for 2 minutes, rest for 30 seconds. Move on in this fashion until you’ve completed all 4 exercises. Then push the metronome beat up a few clicks, and go for another set. Complete 3 more sets for a total of 4, each with a slightly higher click rate on the metronome.
“Denis Azabagic demonstrated his unbelievable guitar playing skills, sincere love for music, professionalism and passion…” – CHICAGOTRIBUNE.COM
A GFA winner, seasoned concert artist, accomplished chamber musician and recording artist, Bosnian guitar great Denis Azabagic, needs no introduction to the classical guitar world. But, what often escapes even the most devoted afficionados may be the hidden gems among the pile of guitar videos on youtube.
I recently came across Denis’ Mastering Guitar Technique Series [scroll down a bit after linking]. Though you have to pay for each video, the lessons range from slurs to tremolo to scales and in my opinion are worth hundreds time what he is charging ($1.99!). Each video has a tremendous amount of insight and practical advice. If you’ve not heard Denis play, check out the video below of him playing brilliant renditions of standards by Sor, Bach, and Asencio, and then check out his technique series!