Expanding Fernando Sor’s Etudes

images-1.jpgI have to admit that I may be enjoying Fernando Sor’s etudes too much these days. Many of them conjure a nice summer walk in the countryside with the occasional mildly adventurous detour. A set of favorites that I’m editing will be published soon but I thought I’d post a lesson on one of them and how I have been using it to warm up and build technique. His etudes are ideal in many ways to integrate musicality into technique because listening to the subtleties and manipulations of Sor’s familiar but often charming harmonies is so pleasurable.

Once you master his etudes, there are many possibilities for expansion but I’m going to use Etude Op. 35, Nº9 to illustrate how I like to use it to develop right hand technique. Here is a read-through for those of you not familiar with it.

First Step

Try to build flexibility into your right hand by playing the etude as written with the following right hand patterns:

piai, pimi, piâi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 1.jpg

Variation 1

Once these are reliably developed, you’re ready for some fun. Use the following pattern to help develop the weaker alternation with these patterns:

piaiaiai, piamamam, pimimimi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 2.jpg

Variation 3

Or, another option could be to explore moving out of a right hand arpeggio position into a more right hand scalar position with:

piaiamim, piaiaimi, piaiamia, piaiamam

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 3.jpg

Variation 4

Or, if you are feeling musically creative, explore adding a note to complement the melody within the key:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 4.jpg

Variation 5

Change it up a bit to get in your triplets:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 6.jpg

Or, if you prefer:

pimamiamiami, piamipamiami, etc…

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 5.jpg

There are so many places to go with these little gems. Fun!

Download the edition of my score for free: Fernando Sor Etude Op. 35, Nº9

Intervals, Part 1 – 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!


Coordination and Right Hand Arpeggios

One of the easiest ways to improve right-hand arpeggio studies like Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Etude Nº1, Leo Brouwer’s Etude Nº6, or Francisco Tárrega’s Estudio Brillante, or the parts of pieces where arpeggios occur for an extended time is understanding when exactly the left-hand fingers must place or release to prepare for the next note or chord formation. Often, fingers are placed too early or too late, and both situations either overexert the fingers, the nerves, or worst of all, the musical intent. Arpeggios are, after all, broken chords. It is very rare that all fingers should place at once if they come in ‘broken’.

Sequential planting of the left-hand fingers is a skill that choreographs left hand movement to a deeper and more subtle level than simply grabbing at the next chord frantically at the start of a measure.

Here is a simple but effective exercise to help develop the principle of timely left-hand finger placement. The key is to time the placement of the new finger in relation to the meter and when it is due to enter and to avoid arbitrarily placing it at the beginning of the measure.

Go through each exercise a few times plucking every single note of the arpeggio. Once this feels comfortable and the timing is starting to feel synced with both hands, slur the entering note in time to develop a sense of pulse in the left hand, too.

Exercise 1

right hand ar[eggio coordination.jpg

Exercise 2

right hand ar[eggio coordination 2.jpg

Exercise 3

right hand ar[eggio coordination 3.jpg

Exercise 4

right hand ar[eggio coordination 4.jpg

There are infinite ways to expand this concept but one of my favorites is to move into cross-rhythms with accents. My idea of fun!

Exercise 5

right hand ar[eggio coordination 5.jpg

Explore your arpeggio pieces to see if you can apply this concept and let me know if it helps!

Want Speedy Scales?

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:

  1. Use a metronome and start slowly (quarter = 50-60).
  2. Go through each drill at least 3 times (I do 5 if I have time) with each fingering. Increase tempo slightly for each one.
  3. Do not sacrifice clarity and movement efficiency.
  4. Focus on the quality of the movements and the sound.


Rest-stroke fingerings: immi, amma, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam

Free-stroke fingerings: immi, ammapipm, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam, pa, pami, pmi

For patterns involving three fingers play three repeats to hit all permutations.

Exercise 1

Technique Cheat Sheet 1.jpg

Exercise 2

Technique Cheat Sheet 2.jpg


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

Exercise 3

Technique Cheat Sheet 3.jpg

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?

Cross-Rhythms and Tremolo

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Exercise 1

Rhythm 2 Tremolo 2.jpg

Exercise 2

Rhythm 2 Tremolo 3.jpg

Exercise 3

Rhythm 2 Tremolo 1.jpg

Exercise 4

Rhythm 2 Tremolo 4.jpg



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!

Tremolo, Part 2

Happy 2017!

Any guitar related New Year’s resolutions? If one of them was to improve your tremolo technique, then this post is for you.

As we all know, tremolo is tricky. As I mentioned a while ago in the Tremolo, Part 1 post, the elements in place necessary for tremolo to achieve musical expressivity, and come across as fluid and natural, are rhythm precision, consistent intensity from note to note, uniform tone, and speed. Here are several tried and true ways of working on tremolo that always make my fingers feel more confident with tremolo.

Training for Finger Return and Speed

We can work on speed indirectly by changing the right hand pattern. This demands the return of each finger to prepare for its next stroke. Choose a large section of a tremolo piece you are working on and play it with the following fingerings:

  1. To develop the return of i practice pimi and piai.
  2. To develop the return of practice pmim and pmam.
  3. To develop the return of practice pama and paia. I would argue that pama is the most beneficial as a usually has a developmental deficiency.

After a masterclass at Antonio Lauro Festival in Venezuela 20+ years ago, phenomenal guitarist David Russell was fielding questions about technique. I think someone asked him how he did tremolo if he broke a nail. With his usual enthusiastic demeanor, he sat down and demonstrated, “If I break a, I play tremolo like this [pimi]. If I break m, I play tremolo like this [piai]. And, if I break i, I’m screwed!”

Training for Improved Rhythm

Another technique to improve pulse, rhythmic consistency, and control from note to note is a bit more difficult to master but well worth exploring. Set your metronome to a slow tempo at first and then practice a section of a piece or the tremolo pattern (pami) on open strings by setting the click to coincide with a. 

Limosna Example metro on a.jpg

Then apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with m.

Limosna Example metro on m.jpg

And, finally, apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with i.

Limosna Example metro on i.jpg

Here is a masterclass where David Russell demonstrates the technique with his foot instead of the metronome (15:41), and, incidentally, talks about a whole variety of relevant guitar issues – practicing technique, memorizing effectively, etc… You’re in luck if you speak Spanish.

Training for Improved Finger Placement

And, once you’ve practiced the techniques above, try playing expanded bits repeatedly focusing on planting the finger next in line after playing what’s in the brackets.

Play what is in the brackets. Plant a. Rest. Repeat 3x or more.

Limosna Example burst 1.jpg

Proceed to the next group.

Limosna Example burst 1 part 2.jpg

Continue with emphasis on the next finger for planting.

Play what is in the brackets. Plant m. Rest. Repeat 3x or more.

Limosna Example burst 1 part 3.jpg

Proceed to apply the same to i

Hope this helps!