If you have not heard Venezuelan composer Rodrigo Riera’s Preludio Criollo, you have missed out on one of the most beautiful pieces written for the guitar. The play between 6/8 and 3/4, the subtle baroque-like harmonic movement, the clever way in which the tune makes its appearance, all while evoking the spirit of Venezuela, create magic as they come together.
This said, it can be a tricky piece for students because many times, students approach it as a series of chord changes, i.e. preparing the entire harmony or chord before playing. This approach makes it infinitely more difficult to play in time and to maintain the rhythmic integrity of the piece. Further, it creates a sense of panic to quickly place fingers and as a result the right hand inevitably grabs the beginning of each chord change creating unintentional accents throughout the piece.
In studying this piece, as well as other pieces with perpetual movement and arpeggios like Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1 or Agustin Barrios’ Estudio de concierto, the main point to get across to students is that they have to prioritize what left hand fingers need to place first in a harmonic change in order to maintain rhythmic continuity as they play. It is important to realize that all fingers of the new harmony do not need to place before the right hand starts playing the arpeggio. Instead, prepare only what is necessary and then sequentially place the rest of the fingers as the notes are needed. It also works to understand this before arriving to a chord: certain fingers can begin to relax before the change in order to make a relaxed transition. Here are some examples from Preludio Criollo to explore these ideas.
When making harmonic changes try the following solutions to help make the transitions musical and smooth.
- Practice the transition without the shift first. This gives us a clear feeling of what is required if the shift component is removed from the equation. Most harmonic changes that involve shifts are actually two technical problems lumped into one moment. It helps to know which of the technical problems is creating the challenge. It may be only the shift or it may be the left hand finger placement. It is rarely both.
- A slight rallentando before the shift could provide just enough time to make the shift work. This also helps relax the hands so that the placement in the new position is calm.
- If there is a bass note to play along with a melodic note, roll them slightly by playing the bass note first. This creates the sense that you are in time even though the rest of the beat has not yet been heard. Don’t overdo this as it can start diffusing the rhythmic momentum of the piece.
- Practice the transition in the air above the frets. Sometimes this helps to soften the movement and to bring awareness as to how little is happening physically in the left hand and that the relative distance between the positions is smaller than we perceive.
- Beware of accenting the first notes after a shift that is too hasty. Accent ONLY if the music warrants it.
Hope this helps!