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Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 2

Reduction

Playing through the “skeleton” of a tremolo piece helps reduce it in your mind’s ear to the essentials of what is happening on the musical front. Because we spend so much time developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique, often our attention is so myopically focused on the minutiae of technique that we ignore the larger question of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically.

There are various ways to mentally condense the way you perceive your pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them well hundreds of times. But because it takes time to develop the endurance and speed to perform a tremolo piece at tempo comfortably, play through them instead in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:

Limosna reduction 1.jpg

Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by guitarist Philip Hii in his insightful book, Art of Virtuosity. In this method, shown below, ami act as one and pluck at the same time. Think of plucking a chord, but on one string. It won’t sound pretty, but in addition to focusing your attention on the bigger picture, by putting all of your fingers down at once you discover what position will give you access to all the strings in the most efficient way.

Limosna reduction 2.jpg

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo 

 

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Featured

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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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

Three Fingering Tips for Villa Lobos’s Etude Nº2

If you all were inspired (or recovered) from watching Ekachai Jearakul whip off Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2, you may find this post helpful. While I was a student at the New England Conservatory, the second half of one of my degree recitals was simply Villa-Lobos’ Twelve Etudes. While some of the etudes are manageable, others require relentless and careful practice, and they all have moments that can fill endless practice hours with frustration. To add to the matter, I was studying with the great Eliot Fisk and despite all of his valuable advice and help, watching him display what was possible on a regular basis conjured both extreme inspiration and a sense of hopelessness at achieving such a level of comfort with these pieces. Needless to say, the year preceding that recital, I was immersed in a figurative amazonian finger jungle and found my own way of surviving.

For those working on this particular etude, there are a few spots where I found less obvious fingerings less problematic. These solutions are personal but if the spots have been frustrating for any of you, give the following solutions a try.

Measure 3 (repeats not counted)

In order to increase the resonance, I like having the 3rd and 2nd strings open on this one so I shift to 5th position to enable this. There are a few alternate right hand fingerings to explore but I prefer the 1st.

villa-lobos-2-alt-fingerings

Measures 10-12

In this solution, guide fingers are highlighted in red. While the right hand solution is personal, I like switching to rest-stroke on the highest note of the run. If you prefer to play free-stroke, you might choose to switch to 1st position by playing the first note of measure 12 on the 1st string open and using that to shift. The second finger would still work as a great guide in this situation.villa lobos 2 alt fingerings 2.jpg

Measures 21-22

In this example, ending the repeat with a slight alteration makes a noticeable difference in playing measure 22. Again, I’ve included some alternate right hand fingerings for exploration but I prefer the 1st.

villa lobos 2 alt fingerings 3.jpg

Hope this helps!

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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

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The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing

The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing by Leo Garcia

If you’ve worked through both Part 1 and Part 2 to improve your right hand confidence, you can add this exercise to the bunch. I teach this one to students who are working on developing tremolo. But, it’s very useful for mastering the subtlety of string crossing with other right-hand fingerings. Use it to develop your basic right-hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Then try the basic pattern for tremolo pami or even go nutty with ami and ima. : )

Don’t forget to start slowly, with a metronome, and enjoy discovering which right-hand fingerings are your strongest and which ones need work.

Creeping Tremolo Exercise

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Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2

Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2 by Leo Garcia

The most important movements to confident right hand technique include alternation between pairs and groups of fingers and how these fingers move across strings. Now we’ll take the idea a bit further than we did in Part 1. Remember to use these exercises consistently as part of your daily warm-up. Try the next several exercises using various speeds and the most common right hand fingerings: im, mi, am, ma in both rest stroke and free stroke. If you have extra time, add in the following fingerings in free stroke: ia, ai, ami, pi, pm, pa.

Here are several key practice points:

  1. Strive to play with a sense of pulse, resisting the urge to play every note with the same intensity.
  2. Focus on the quality of sound and whether it is consistent from finger to finger.
  3. When not using thumb (p), rest it lightly on the lower string adjacent to the string that is played. Experiment with resting it two or three strings away and sense the subtlety of how it influences the alternating fingers.
  4. Stay close to the strings.
  5. Use a metronome. Record your progress in terms of tempo.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

The following exercises shift the downbeat after the crossing. Maintaining a sense of pulse for the quarter note is essential to reap the benefits of this exercise. Keep focus on the downbeat. Again, use a metronome and work on basic right hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Push your tempo only after you are secure and solid.

Exercise 3a

Exercise 3b

And now we’ll take the idea into sixteenths. Speed is not the goal. Instead focus on groove and the subtlety of crossing at different moments in the beat.

Exercise 4

Exercise 4a

Exercise 4b

Exercise 4c

Hope this helps.

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Andrea González Caballero premieres Triptych by Clarice Assad through Proyecto Identidade

I came across a wonderful project that Spanish virtuosa Andrea González Caballero has been immersed in recently. Proyecto Identidade is a project centered around women from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds, united to create new works. Proyecto Identidade was founded by Andrea, flutist Amalia Tortajada, and Celia Ruiz Artacho as the producer. The project is premiering four new projects by internationally acclaimed composers, like Clarice Assad, Elisenda Fábregas, Johanny Navarro, among a total of eleven women. And, this week, Andrea and flutist, Amalia Tortajada Zanón, premiered a piece by Clarice Assad titled Triptych.

Besides the playing which is always world class when Andrea is involved, Clarice Assad’s new piece is a wonderful and serious contribution to the flute and guitar repertoire. Triptych is composed in three movements, I. Spirals, II. A Quiet Place, III. Rio, 1991. Flanked by a talented team of videographers, a stellar producer, and designers, the project so far has produced real and important new music for the world.

Read Andrea’s Six String Journal interview, here.

photo credits: Anna Tena

Leo Garcia plays Etude Nº1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos

Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Twelve Etudes form part of the foundational pillars of modern guitar technique. Etude Nº1 in E Minor begins the cycle by setting an impressionistic harmonic stage for the evolution of the remaining eleven.

This particular etude has right-hand fingerings suggested by Segovia which over the years I’ve used but I like experimenting and have recently found that I like a different pattern. Each pattern yields a slightly different feel. Here I am using p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i but also warm up using many others. I love working on this etude and come back to it often when I have lots of time to practice. Try these patterns to see if any work or to simply improve your command of the instrument.

p i p i

p m p m

p a p a

p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i – I use this one in the video above.

p m p i p m i a i a i m p i p i – I find this one to help with the transition into each measure. Honestly, I think it is the best one for me but I need to be warmed up for it to feel great.

p m i a p m i a p i p i p i p i – I think this one is nuts but I saw someone do it really well.

p m p m p m p m p i p i p i p i – This one retains the natural right hand finger position in relation to the thumb.

Any others that you all use?

I’ll try to get a video post of chaining to show how you can practice at tempo. It’s a valuable practice technique for a piece like this.

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Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 1

The most important movements to confident right hand technique include alternation between pairs and groups of fingers and how these fingers move across strings. To that end, as part of your daily warm-up, try the next several exercises using various speeds and the most common right hand fingerings: im, mi, am, ma in both rest stroke and free stroke. If you have extra time, add in the following fingerings in free stroke: ia, ai, ami, pi, pm, pa.

Here are several key practice points:

  1. Strive to play with a sense of pulse, resisting the urge to play every note with the same intensity.
  2. Focus on the quality of sound and whether it is consistent from finger to finger.
  3. When not using thumb (p), rest it lightly on the lower string adjacent to the string that is played. Experiment with resting it two or three strings away and sense the subtlety of how it influences the alternating fingers.
  4. Stay close to the strings.
  5. Use a metronome. Record your progress in terms of tempo.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Miss the last posts?

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El Gallo y La Perdiz – 23 Venezuelan Airs arranged by Alirio Diaz

For a limited time, my CD of Alirio Diaz’s wonderful arrangements of Venezuelan folksongs is reduced to $7.99 on Amazon. Here is the link:

El Gallo Y La Perdiz

Here is a list of the tracks. If you’re not familiar with these arrangements, they are beautiful, rich, and showcase Alirio’s magical creativity. Each one is a small masterpiece.

Sanel Redzic plays J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite Nº1, BWV996

Another masterful performance by guitar virtuoso Sanel Redzic of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Lute Suite Nº1 in E Minor, BWV996. From the exquisite touch to the elegantly executed ornaments, Sanel’s interpretation reflects a deep understanding and connection to what Bach penned centuries ago. There is magic in how the music propels itself forward despite the grand space of calm Sanel seems to exist in when he plays.

Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion played by Leo Garcia

This haunting milonga is one of my favorite pieces by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1982). Though there are plenty of arrangements of this for guitar (and two guitars and other instrumental combinations), I stumbled upon Ryuhi Kunimatsu’s arrangement very recently and loved how he captured the essence of the song so well.

Hope you enjoy it.

Identifying Problems in Your Tremolo with Thomas Viloteau

This is a guest post from tonebase.


In Thomas Viloteau’s lesson on tremolo, he describes his method for working on and identifying irregularities in your tremolo. Your tremolo must serve the music you are playing and go beyond a technique. Otherwise, what should sound like beautiful music will instead sound like an exercise.

“The music is the most important thing. If you practice your tremolo as a technical thing, when you go to an actual piece it’s either not going to work or it’s going to make your music completely flat and lifeless.” – Thomas Viloteau

What is a good tremolo?

A good tremolo allows for three things:

  1. A wide range of dynamics (pianissimo to fortissimo)
  2. Different articulations
  3. A range of different tempos (accelerando, ritardando, rubato…)

How to spot problems in your tremolo?

Get a smartphone or device that can film video at a high frame rate and play it back in slow motion. It’s the only way to SEE what your fingers are doing at such a high speed and HEAR if you are actually picking as regularly as the beat of the metronome. This will help you learn what you are doing wrong.

Once you know what to fix, practice on open strings with a metronome. Make sure the technique you are practicing at a slow speed is not just “good enough” to pass at a slow tempo – it needs to work at full speed. Try experimenting with expressive variations to test your control over the technique. As soon as your technique is ready, start practicing your tremolo within the piece and NOT in isolation, as just a tremolo exercise. It will only be great if it is MUSICAL and works within the piece!

What are the different types of tremolo?

These three approaches offer different qualities and fit different musical contexts. Experiment to find more. For all the exercises below, use a p-a-m-i plucking pattern, though in some situations a two-finger tremolo may be preferable.

  1. Basic – Resting (a) ring finger on the string before plucking it to create stability for the hand and tell your fingers where the string is. Free stroke all the way through the string.
  2. Legato – Never resting (a) ring finger on the string. Works well for piano sections and when the accompaniment is on the top. It also works well for portamento because it doesn’t silence the string.
  3. Detached – Planting each finger firmly on the string before it plays. Mostly for use on the second or third strings. The finger comes more from ABOVE the string, in this technique, and may jump a little rather than remaining totally steady.

Bonus Tips

  1. Tremolo is much easier on the first string than the second because there is more range of motion for your fingers. Take advantage of this when you make your fingering
  2. Your forearm must be super relaxed and your hand very stable.
  3. To minimize the sound of your nail hitting the string, you must make sure that your flesh is hitting the string before the nail.
  4. It is easy for the middle finger to fall out of time. If this is happening, accent the middle finger’s plucking.

Watch Thomas Viloteau’s lessons and more on tonebase Guitar.