Canadian guitarist Drew Henderson recently released another stellar production on the video, sound, and playing fronts. In this one, he tackles Nicolo Paganini’s demanding 9th violin caprice entitled “The Hunt” in a supremely musical fashion;… More
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.
Phew! Go back for more. You know it’s good for you.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!”.
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 m 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 m 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 dear 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 to whole arpeggio with m and pinky!
Here are some important ways to practice it. Stay tuned for Part 2 and we’ll go deeper.
Here is a new video from Canadian guitar phenomenon, Drew Henderson, performing Isaac Albéniz’s Zambra Granadina. Drew’s playing is beautifully nuanced, crystal clear, and absolutely effortless. The production is wonderful at capturing both the sound of the Martin Blackwell guitar and the warmth of the room.
Before everyone rushes off to check out Drew’s other videos on his youtube channel, here is another great video of him playing Mertz’s arrangement of Schubert’s Lobder Tränen on a hauntingly beautiful romantic guitar by René Lacôte built in 1868.
Here is a video of acclaimed Spanish virtuoso, Rafael Aguirre, performing Issac Albéniz’s Torre Bermeja. This is one of the strongest performances of this piece I have ever seen. Aguirre’s sense of pulse, grounding, and time along with his crystal clear command of the instrument elevates his playing to some of the best piano renditions out there. Superb on so many levels. Enjoy!
Via Guitar Salon International’s stellar YouTube channel, here is 2017 GFA winner, Tengyue Zhang burning through Sergio Assad’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña. Tengyue plays with a great pulse, an extremely clear articulation, and the nimble fingers necessary to pull ff this difficult arrangement. The guitar featured is one by Zoran Kuvac.
French virtuoso, Thomas Viloteau just posted a new video of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Suite Populaire Brésilienne. As usual, the performance is strong and thoroughly enjoyable. Thomas plays with his precise and beautiful touch and manages a never-faltering lyricism and strong pulse throughout. Very inspiring!
Here is a link to an interview we did with Thomas a while ago! INTERVIEW
Chilean virtuoso, José Antonio Escobar just announced the birth of a new recording of the music of Spanish composer and guitarist, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, for release on February 8th. Mark those calendars!
Check it out here: Escobar plays Sainz de la Maza.
To listen to samples, check out Naxos’s link: NAXOS ESCOBAR.
Excerpt from Mastering Diatonic Scales – Preparatory Exercises for Scales
Right- and left-hand finger coordination is ultimately developed through scale practice, but keep in mind that both hands already prefer to act together in a coordinated fashion. It is useful to develop this natural coordination further, but it is actually the counter-coordination that requires some practice to fully realize finger independence. Therefore, the construction of simple coordination exercises involves left-hand groups of 2, 3, and 4 finger movements with right-hand fingerings.
An example of a movement with natural coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers i and m. In other words, both index fingers act together, followed by a movement where both middle fingers act together. Or another way to think of it is that the finger movements in each hand are both directionally moving toward the finger 4 (pinky) side of the hand.
An example of a movement with counter-coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers m and i. Here, the finger movements in the hands are moving in the opposite direction: the left-hand fingers move toward finger 4 (pinky) while the right-hand fingers move toward the thumb.
Practice the following basic natural and counter-coordination movements starting on C on string 3 (fret 5). Explore these in various positions. I prefer to use the non-wound strings to minimize nail wear. Numbers correspond to left-hand fingers (1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky).
Exercise 1 – Two Finger Movements
12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)
21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)
12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)
21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)
Exercise 2 – Three Finger Movements
123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)
321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)
123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)
321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)
For Exercises 3-7 check out Mastering Diatonic Scales.
I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.
Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they are incorporated in the early stages of the learning process. Exploring the ideas on repertoire that is already baked into your brain will take some careful and deliberate work to incorporate. Think of it like cooking a complicated dish, if all is measured carefully and timed precisely, the end result is wonderful. On the other hand, if you have forgotten to include ingredients in the baking process and attempt to salvage it by throwing in missing ingredients after the dish is done, the end result may not be as wonderful.
When learning a new piece, there is information absent from the score that if written in reminds you to weave them into your hand choreography when you practice. Below is a list that will help make both the left and right hands more efficient and two shots of a Scarlatti Sonata I just learned to illustrate how I label these items in a score. Assuming your basic fingerings are decided upon, incorporate the following ideas into your slow practice (and label them) to build a strong and reliable visual memory and choreography:
- Know when the fingers can plant or are laid out as an arpeggio (even though it may be the beginning of a scale passage).
- Know where your stability points are at all times. There should always be a right hand anchor in contact with the strings (usually p or a but possibly a combination).
- Insure string crossing is optimized and know when there are exceptions. See this early article for reference.
- Know when two fingers can place at once (usually in descending melodic fragments).
- Know when a finger can remain in place as an anchor and for how long.
- Know exactly what and why you are barring. Is it a hinge, partial, tip, cross, full, etc… (maybe there’s content for another post here!)?
- Know when a finger must lift from active duty to align or migrate to a new fret or to relieve tension. This sometimes means that theoretically a note may not last it’s full value.
- Know when you are shifting and/or expanding or contracting out of a standard relaxed position and for how long.
- Know your guide fingers (never shift without a guide or ghost guide finger).
Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!
If you liked this article and would like more technique tips, check out Six String Journal’s publications! Please share, like, and comment!
Happy New Year Six String Journal readers! Below is a link to all of our 2018 artist interviews. If you haven’t read them all, now is your chance. Please consider buying their cds, checking out their websites, and hitting that like button!
More great stuff coming for 2019! Thanks for all the good wishes.
To end the year of Six String Journal posts, here is Mexican virtuoso, Pablo Garibay’s deeply moving and serene interpretation of Simone Ianarelli‘s Un Atardecer (An Evening) from his collection of pieces Retratos de Colima.
Here’s to a new year of hope, happiness, and lots of music…