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From the Archives: Miracle Right Hand Warm Up Sequence

Here is a warm up sequence that I used to do every morning. It is useful for building right hand endurance, finger alternation, speed, pulse, rhythm, and legato. The idea behind it is simple. Set the metronome to a very slow beat, somewhere (50-70). Throughout the whole sequence, the beat remains constant but with very slight and precise increments we increase the number of notes between the beats.

I would go through all 13 steps (using free stroke) and then go through the whole thing two more times using different right hand fingerings am and ai. So, that’s 39 steps. I actually would go all the way up to fret 12 (3 cycles) and often would use a diminished 7th chord or some left hand variation to keep it interesting. Vary what you need. As you will notice, I’ve been more detailed in the first 3 steps and little by little have resorted to short hand as the basic sequence becomes evident.

Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Step 1

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 1.jpg

Step 2

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 2.jpg

Step 3

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 3.jpg

Step 4

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 4.jpg

Step 5

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 5.jpg

Step 6

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 6.jpg

Step 7

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 7.jpg

Step 8

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 8.jpg

Step 9

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 9.jpg

Step 10

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 10.jpg

Step 11

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 11.jpg

Step 12

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 12.jpg

Step 13

Right Hand Warm Up Sequence 13.jpg

Phew! Go back for more. You know it’s good for you.

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Featured

How to Improve Coordination – Chromatic Octaves

If Mauro Giuliani’s works are in your repertoire, or those of 340px-Mauro_Giulianiany classical period composer, you will know that interval runs of octaves, sixths, and thirds are used to great effect. Think the fourth variation of Giuliani’s Folias Variations (Op. 45) or the grand finale to his 1st Rossiniana (Op. 119)! Interval runs are everywhere in our repertoire and it’s worth studying them either through repertoire or through scale practice.

The two chromatic octave exercises below should get you started. They are useful for warming up, coordinating the hands, independence and opposing movement in the left hand fingers, and can even serve as a vehicle for right-hand development, too. Here are a few ways to focus on them:

  1. Start very slowly and pluck both notes with simultaneously. No rolling!
  2. Keep the wrist relatively still so that the fingers of the left hand are extending and contracting vertically (i.e. often moving in opposite directions from each other).
  3. Keep the left hand fingers soft and close to the fretboard.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpapm pipi pm, pa pm, pm papa piand pi pa.

Chromatic Octave.jpg

Once this feels comfortable and in control, explore some variations like the one below.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpa, pm pipipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.

Chromatic Octave 2.jpg

Let me know if you find this helpful. Part 2 coming soon!

 

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Featured

Problem Solving in Pernambuco’s Interrogando

I was working on Joao Pernambuco’s groovy Interrogando with an extremely young and bright student yesterday. Despite his ability to absorb new material at a pace that inspires me, he was having a difficult time making this little part sound fluid.

Interrogando 1.jpg

After a bit of analysis, we agreed that it was due to the lack of clarity in the right hand. So, instead of playing it over and over, which is often default behavior for most students confronting a tricky passage, we decided to break it down and come up with a list of steps to once and for all solve the problem. Here are the steps.

Step 1 – Write out strings.

Interrogando 2.jpg

Writing out the strings as numbers also helps see patterns if you process information better that way (i.e. 5232 5423 1232 ).

Step 2 – Choose the best right hand fingering options. See this post for more about choosing the best options: Conde Claros, Scales, and String-Crossing.

Interrogando 3.jpg

We came up with two solutions. The top one was chosen by the student because his technique was more suited to it. I preferred the second solution given to my preference for aipi instead of amim.

Step 3 – Analyze where the right hand position change happens (if at all).

Interrogando 4.jpg

Step 4 – Practice the last box from Step 3 using right hand alone with a focus on rhythm.

Step 5 – Bring left hand into the game for that box only (right hand now does it correctly and proficiently and left hand has to catch up is a much better option than both hands struggling and doing it somewhat incorrectly).

Step 6 – Check in with the right hand alone again.

Step 7 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the second to last box. Add to last box.

Step 8 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the first box. Add to both boxes.

Step 9 – Do a few minutes of focus, take a mental rest, and go back for several more sets (building mental muscle!).

Step 10 – Check tempo and set tempo goals.

Not only could the student whip through the passage after doing this, his skills at identifying any confusion improved. Lots of “Oh!” and “Now that feels easy!”.

Problem solved!

Featured

Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 Part 1

I love getting to the point when a student is ready to tackle Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. There are so many angles to explore and it takes a lot of dedication to master it. There was a time when I was preparing to perform all 12 etudes that I decided the best use of my warm up time was to spend at least 30 minutes on Etude Nº1, 30 minutes on Etude Nº2, and 30 minutes on Etude Nº3. After which my hands always seemed to work well as I worked on other material.

Over the course of months I may have played those etudes at least a thousand times in many, many different ways. I tried everything I could think of to make them better.

The first step in this great journey is to develop the right hand’s ability to play the entire arpeggio comfortably. The great Andrés Segovia suggested a solution that is still used by the majority of students and the one I used for years. However, as we develop our abilities we find that our hands have an easier time with certain movements and we find ways to use those movements to harness our strengths.

So, I always suggest putting in your time with Segovia’s solution until you can perform the Etude with that pattern. I find that the weakest part of the solution is moving from to a making the 3rd quarter note beat (half note of the measure) sound articulate which helps to delineate the rhythmic structure of the Etude, so I have come to prefer substituting with i. However, it wasn’t until working on the piece for many years that I slowly came to prefer it. Explore the possibilities in the practice room by adding in a few alternate fingerings to start the exploratory process. I’ve watched my mentor, Eliot Fisk, play it through in hundreds of ways just as an exercise to develop string crossing – I think I remember him even doing the whole arpeggio with m and pinky!

Here are some important ways to practice it. Stay tuned for Part 2 and we’ll go deeper.

right hand villa lobos fingering 1

How to Improve your Tremolo

Happy New Year! If your New Year’s resolution is to improve your tremolo, you are in luck!

The Bolton Guitar Series just posted its workshop on tremolo with David Russell. Before summarizing it for those of you who like to see the main points listed as a reference, I thought I’d repeat what I expressed in the recent post about David Russell’s ornamentation workshop: the generosity in sharing absolutely everything he knows about his journey with guitar in such an enthusiastic and articulate way is extremely inspiring. David Russell is a great teacher, even through zoom!

Here is the video of the tremolo workshop:

David Russell Tremolo Workshop Main Points

  1. Each finger/nail should feel and sound the same.
  2. Tremolo is a good diagnostic technique for other technical issues.
  3. Maintain a regular rhythm.
  4. Bass should be balanced. Gentle bass/medium or strong treble.
  5. Stiffness in the right hand fingers makes noise. Looseness in the right hand equals a less “clickly” sound. Straighter fingers also help with lessening the “clicky” sound of nails.
  6. The a finger introduces a new tremolo/melodic note and requires attention.
  7. Sympathetic motion between a and m can lead to rhythmic irregularities. Lengthen a finger duration to insure full value of note.
  8. Shift metronome beats to each finger when practicing to “think” with each finger and especially a.
  9. What you do musically with tremolo is at least as important as mechanical perfection.
  10. Practice contrasting Slow/fast, dark/bright, soft/loud practice.
  11. Certain pieces require slow tremolo, some require faster tremolo.

Tremolo pieces:

  1. Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Sueño (Francisco Tárrega)
  2. Zafra and Simancas from Castillos de España (Federico Moreno Torroba)
  3. Una limosna por el amor de Diós, Un sueño en la floresta, Contemplación, Canción de la Hilandera (Agustín Barrios Mangoré)
  4. Invocación y danza and Junto al Generalife (Joaquín Rodrigo)
  5. Reverie and Air Varié (Giulio Regondi)
  6. Now and Ever (Bejamin Verdery)
  7. Shenandoah (Robert Beaser)
  8. Capricho Diabolico (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
  9. Variations on Las Folias (Manuel Maria Ponce)
  10. Campanas del Alba (Regino Sainz de la Maza)

Tips from Questions and Answers:

  1. Play with energy and the necessary tension but more than that is wasted energy and effort. Poise and posture to maximize energy.
  2. Practice tremolo with two fingers (pimi, pmim, pama, pmam, etc…)
  3. Do not bounce hand!
  4. Planting a stops the tremolo. Join all the notes for a better tremolo.
  5. Try playing paaa tremolo to assess tone, movement of a.
  6. Finger movement remains mostly within the span of string space (i.e for tremolo on string 2, a, m and i do not extend beyond strings 1 or 3).
  7. Raise your expectations of yourself. Do not accept bad playing!

For more learning resources:

Mastering Tremolo for Classical Guitar

How to Visualize Your Pieces

Very early on my guitar adventure, my teacher at the time said that he would never perform anything unless he could see it physically happen in his head. He had me read a few articles on visualizing and, because I tried to be a good student and wanted to be a good guitarist, tried his advice. It was hard work. I SO much preferred to “do”. Close my eyes and sweat mentally to “see” my fingers on the fretboard? No thank you.

But, I persisted. And, from reading enough about it, am convinced it has helped me in many ways. For one, I feel more secure if I can imagine everything. Two, it inevitably builds your ability to focus. Three, I’m not sure to what degree it helps but I like to think of it as a memory safety net, one of many safety nets (mental and physical) that come with mastering pieces and eventually performing them.

At this point in my playing, I enjoy doing it. When I close my eyes, it is nice to play and hear a piece unfold in my head. Visualizing frees my musical imagination in ways that are not confined by the physical struggles of the early stages of learning new music and cold fingers.

Here is a list of visualizing techniques that I have found helpful at some point or another, some are easier than others and can be used as training wheels until you get the hang of it. Or, you’ll find the ones that work well for you and that you enjoy doing. Like exercise, the best visualizing is the visualizing you’ll actually do. From easier to more difficult:

  1. Read through the score of your piece without the guitar in hand. Try to hear it all in your head and imagine your hands playing it as your eyes scan the music.
  2. Watch a video of your favorite player and play along in your head. This is light visualization.
  3. Listen to your favorite player or a good recording of yourself and play along in your head trying to stay with it. No backtracking. If there are spots or large chunks that are blurry, work on those carefully next time you physically practice.
  4. Close your eyes, imagine a stage and where you would sit. Perform the piece in as much detail as possible with extra attention to your left hand choreography as the piece unfolds. Try the same but with the right hand.
  5. Try doing the previous step with a metronome set to an ultra slow tempo and see the piece unfold, matrix-like. Try with an ultra fast tempo. How much can you keep up? What goes blurry?

Don’t forget to smile, breathe calmly, and to remain optimistic. Happy visualizing.

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How to Play Cross-Stringed Ornaments

A renewed Scarlatti obsession, hearing French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, and a recent David Russell workshop posted by the Bolton Guitar Series have me thinking about ornamentation on the guitar more than usual.

It’s been about 25 years since I took several masterclasses with David Russell in a tiny Andean village in Venezuela. Besides being a tremendously talented guitarist, David is a wonderful teacher: clear, patient, and able to make you sound better almost instantly. I learned a lot from him there and fortunately have continued to learn from him over the years thanks to videos of him working with students throughout the world. In the video (linked below), David explains his approach to ornamentation very clearly and demonstrates every example with his guitar. If you have lots of time, watch it and extract as much as you can! Here I’ll summarize the points I took away after watching it this morning.

Here is a summary of the basic cross-stringed ornaments and the common (and maybe not so common) ways to execute them (the repeated right hand finger is a sweep):

And here are some of the points David mentions in the workshop:

  1. Most baroque trills begin on the upper neighbor.
  2. A brighter sound is better for ornaments. This can be achieved by attacking the string with less of a right-hand angle or by angling the right hand to a more perpendicular angle to the strings.
  3. Cadential trills are important but ornaments within the piece are more personal as to their inclusion, length, etc…
  4. Practice the entrances and exits of ornaments with turns.
  5. Mute the dissonance after the trill. This is usually done with a right-hand finger.
  6. Dynamics are important within the ornament and the musical line.
  7. A shorter trill is better than a longer out of rhythm trill unless it is cadential (where time is suspended to a greater degree)
  8. Cross-string ornaments allow baroque interpretations to vary stylistically from other periods of music.
  9. Have a higher wrist for trills.

Here are a few additional points that I cannot remember whether they are in the workshop but that I think about:

  1. The ornamented note should be in time. In order to achieve this a slight acceleration into the ornament or starting the ornament before the beat helps to achieve the correct feel.
  2. Play ornaments slower in slower melodic lines.

Check out the post I did a while ago: Cross-Stringed Ornaments, Part 1

Bolton Guitar Series: Ornament Workshop with David Russell

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Marco Tamayo plays Schubert

The brilliant guitar virtuoso, Marco Tamayo, just posted a definitive performance of Johann Kaspar Mertz’s arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Lob Der Thränen (In Praise of Tears).

From the video post, Marco writes that he has modified small details in the arrangement to achieve certain resonances and more continuity in the melodic line. There are so many beautiful moments in this performance: seamless phrasing, the natural ebb and flow of pulse, and above all the purity of Marco’s magical interpretation. There is a reason La Stampa has dubbed Marco Il re de la chitarra (The king of the guitar). Enjoy!

For those looking for the music, here is the facsimile of the score:

Leo García plays Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Here is a recent home recording I did at the end of a practice day last week. The songs I have been revisiting these last six months all have the theme of conjuring places far away – in both geography and time. The great Spanish guitarist, Francisco Tárrega’s (1852-1909) wonderful tremolo piece, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, is magical in so many ways. It conjures the great fortress overlooking Granada with the illusion of a sung melody and it reminds me of its infinite mosaics, fountains, streams, and trickles of water echoing everywhere throughout.

Enjoy.

Resources:

Recuerdos Study Score

Mastering Tremolo for Classical Guitar


Drew Henderson playing Domenico Scarlatti

Canadian guitar virtuoso, Drew Henderson, plays his six transcriptions of Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas in these two videos. The first video has three often played Sonatas (K.490, K.213, K146) and the second video has two more seldom played (K.99, K408) and a guitar favorite, K.1. Though I’ve heard masterful interpretations of these by other guitar greats, Drew’s elegant playing captures the magic of these sonatas particularly well. His playing is crisp, crystal clear, and fluid. The quality of the production, the playing, the interpretations, and Drew’s brilliance come together in true art here. Enjoy.

The scores to all of these Sonatas are available on his website!

Artist Spotlight and Interview with Julia Lange

Young German crossover guitar star, Julia Lange appears equally at ease playing classical, steel string, and funk. Versatile is perhaps an understatement. As a D’Addario sponsored artist, Julia has been seen on stages across Europe and China playing her wonderful arrangements, with her funk band, with other great musicians, and performing standard classical repertoire. With an enviable command of the guitar and guitar styles, her virtuosic technique comes across in a wonderfully relaxed and musical manner. Fortunately, Julia had some time to share a bit about her guitar journey with Six String Journal. Enjoy!

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 
I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old. My older brother used to take guitar lessons and he wanted to quit at that time so it was my chance to get his guitar. He gave me the very first lessons but in return I had to give him all my pocket money… soon we started fighting and I went to a proper guitar teacher.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 
I enjoy playing all kinds of music from classical guitar to Fingerstyle and electric guitar with my band mates. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I perform with my “Jakob Lebisch” classical guitar and my “Battiston” Steelstring guitar. I use D’Addario strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you? There were many guitarists that influenced me but the ones who also changed my life in a certain aspect were for example Tatyana Ryzhkova, because her wonderful YouTube channel inspired me to start my own YouTube channel that opened so many doors for me. Tommy Emmanuel and Andy McKee were the first artists that inspired me to do my own thing, to make my own arrangements and start a new chapter. Later on I started composing and arranging for classical guitar as well. Last year was again a changing point when I discovered the Funk band Vulfpeck and I totally fell in love with Cory Wong’s awesome rhythm guitar playing and that made me pick up my electric guitar and start a Funk band with friends. 

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd? Right now I just have my YouTube videos but I hope to publish an album soon. But I’m right now working on my Funk band’s first EP that we’ll publish probably at the end of the year.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Since the beginning of Covid there are many cancelled concerts and hardly any new concert requests, I hope to be on stage soon again and perform the concerts I was supposed to have in China this year or my prize winners concert for the “Lichtenberger Musikpreis” at Schloss Lichtenberg. The online living-room concert I made for the German TV channel ZDF & ARTE was one of the highlights of the lockdown time.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way? I almost always start with some warming up exercises before I play but I can’t say exactly how much I “practice” per day because it makes a big difference for me whether I arrange something new, improvise or really practice and prepare for concerts but I spend pretty much all my free time with my guitar. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
I think I still find myself working and will always find myself working on all kinds of things. No matter how good you are, no matter how much you work there is no end. It could simply always be better. Which might sound terrifying but it’s awesome, because it never gets boring. Where I’d like to put more focus on the next years is improvising and composing music. And of course on electric guitar I still feel like a beginner, it’s a long way to go. 

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I enjoy using the technique of “mental practice” to memorize things better and I think that analysing the piece is a big help for a solid memory.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?  I have some warming-up exercises that I really love and I’m sharing little tutorials about them on my Patreon page, feel free to check it out: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not really.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
As my nails have to survive not only classical guitar nylon strings but also steel strings, I use a gel layer that I harden with a UV-light lamp. Just the way the ladies are doing it in those fancy nail studios but I make the layer rather thin.

Advice to Younger Players


What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?Set yourself specific goals. For example take part in competitions, get concerts, make videos and work towards a specific aim that motivates you! I found for myself that this is the only way to really get yourself out of your comfort-zone and improve.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? I think the most important repertoire is the repertoire and the pieces that you really want to play from the bottom of your heart and not the repertoire that someone else tells you to play. What I’d love to see more in conservatories are teachers encouraging their students to write their own tunes based on what they’ve learned for example from the classical pieces they play. Exploring the endless possibilities of making music and the freedom we have in expressing ourselves.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Getting things done” by David Allen is a book that I really highly recommend to all kinds of independently working artists and people.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
I do some sports, sometimes, could be more if I’m honest but I think I eat quite healthy although my cake consumption is pretty high. I don’t follow any diet and my favorite pre-concert food is bananas.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I love being outside in nature and spending time with family and friends.

_____

More about Julia:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg2K_7mrkygu0xmCQ6v9Chg

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julia.lange.guitar/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Lessonface: https://www.lessonface.com/instructor/julia-lange

Anabel Montesinos playing Giuliani’s Grand Overture

Brilliant Spanish guitarist, Anabel Montesinos, performs a dazzling interpretation of Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture, Op. 61. All the operatic excitement, virtuosity, and fanfare required for this piece permeate her interpretation from the roll of the very first chord. The excitement builds from there. Anabel’s command of the guitar is exceptional on so many levels and this performance captures the dynamic quality of her playing. Hope this inspires everyone!

Yuri Liberzon – New recording of Bach’s Violin Sonatas

Internationally acclaimed guitar virtuoso Yuri Liberzon is poised to release his third and most ambitious recording yet – Johann Sebastian Bach’s 3 Violin Sonatas (BWV 1001, 1003, 1005).

Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo violin works are familiar to most classical guitarist as transcriptions. In this instance, Yuri has chosen to record Manuel Barrueco’s transcriptions of the sonatas. These works pose countless complex challenges both interpretively and technically for the artist brave enough to tackle them. The slow movements require extremely refined technique to ornament and distill the beauty of the implied lines, the fugues demand the utmost skill in maintaining the subjects, countersubjects, and counterpoint, and the allegros and prestos push the interpreter to technical limits. All this while communicating Johann Sebastian Bach’s singular and perfect command of form, harmony, and lyricism.

Yuri meets every one of the demands with elegance and finesse, two aspects I admire in his playing. From the opening lushness of the first track, the adagio from the G Minor Sonata, Yuri sets the stage for the entire recording by slowly and calculatedly pulling the listener into a world rich with introspection and beauty. The strengths of this release are many but what perhaps stands out as a theme is how grounded Yuri’s playing is while moving you with a subtle forward momentum. For instance, the allegro from the A Minor Sonata was not taken at a blistering pace but somehow managed to convey a strong, steady energy, much like a tidal wave and the inevitability of its arrival. Another highlight was the monumental Fuga from the C Major Sonata. Again, it is Yuri’s calming but steady sense of structure that moves this movement forward and manages to bring out the overall arc of the piece. The counterpoint is crystalline and phrased beautifully. This does not happen unless it is intentional and that is what is fascinating about Yuri’s playing. It’s like magic – the sum is far greater than the parts. To achieve the effect of such a long line requires an architecturally gifted mind.

I’ve always enjoyed Yuri’s playing. It is similar to Manuel Barrueco’s for all of the perfection but Yuri’s caring and elegant sensibilities, and understated virtuosity, mark his interpretations as none other than his very own.

Overall, this ambitious project is wonderfully produced by both Yuri and Grammy Award-winning producer Nahuel Bronzini. The warmth and crispness that Yuri extracts from his Ruck and is captured in this recording are absolutely delightful to sink into. It may be his best recording yet.

Check out a great interview and technique talk with Yuri from the early days of Six String Journal.

Technique Focus – Boost Left Hand Efficiency

When working out the choreography to a new interpretation there are a few aspects of left hand technique that can dramatically improve efficiency. One of those aspects involves a similar idea often referred to as ‘planting’ for the right hand. For example, when playing a rapid and repeated pim arpeggio (like in Asturias), it is common practice to place all three fingers down in a group to stabilize the right hand and to create one efficient gesture instead of three separate actions. The basic rule is that as we move away from p and towards a across string we plant fingers down so the right hand fingers are prepared. Essentially, we stabilize the right hand as we move away from the grounding of p and i.

Applying this concept to the left hand is equally important but the ‘planting’ occurs as we move from finger 4 (pinky) towards finger 1. Theoretically, if only finger 4 is down on the fingerboard, the left hand is not as stable as it would be if another supporting finger were to place somewhere nearby. For example, if we had to play a descending group of chromatic notes 4321 on a string, placing all four fingers before playing reduces the motion to a relaxed gesture of releasing fingers away. If we were to place 4321 down in a sequential fashion, it is not necessarily ‘wrong’, but it would augment the motion of the left hand into many placements and releases, rendering it less efficient. A bit of a mess.

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Some related posts:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique Course