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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Six String Journal just seconds ago launched the online video course Complete Technique for Classical Guitar! To celebrate the launch I’ve discounted the course for Six String Journal readers by 25% discount for the next 30 days. If you are looking for a way to up your guitar game, want a massive project for the summer (seriously, what else are you going to do?!), and want to support our site, this is for you.
About the course:
Six String Journal’s Complete Technique for Classical Guitar Course was developed for the advancing beginner with some experience, the advancing intermediate guitarist, and will even benefit those with lots of playing experience. Though music theory isn’t necessary, a rudimentary understanding of rhythm is helpful.
The course consists of primary movement videos where I will teach the foundational movements that you’ll need in order to master classical guitar. These videos cover topics such as free-stroke, rest-stroke, arpeggios, alternation, scales, hand coordination, slurs, and shifts. These are followed by several series of secondaryvideos where I’ll apply the techniques and movements in various ways to help you engrain them into your own practice. Stringing the secondary videos into a sequence will teach you how to form an effective practice routine that will maximize your results and get you closer to your musical goals.
Hours of focused technique lessons with an award-winning classical guitarist, the founder of Six String Journal, and sought-after educator.
Over 50 extensively detailed but digestible videos demonstrating essential foundational movements, technique tips, exercises, routines, and how to implement them into your practice, carefully edited in small bite size videos for easy assimilation and viewing.
Printable PDF summarizing the entire course with a condensed visual of the material presented.
Loads of bonus content from Six String Journal’s Mastering Diatonic Scales.
Need something new to add to your slur studies? Try this series of advanced exercises for the left hand that combine compound slurs and accents. Use them to build endurance, control, and precision. For each of the three levels illustrated keep the following points in mind:
Practice on various strings in various positions.
Practice slowly with great rhythmic intent.
Keep movements efficient and clean.
Play accents clearly.
Keep left hand wrist and fingers as relaxed as possible.
If at any point your hand and fingers feel like they are going to fall off, consider stopping.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14. The example below uses 12.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 123, 321, 134, 431, 124, 421, 234, 432. The example below uses 124.
For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 1234, 4321, 1324, 4231, 1423, 4132. The example below uses 1234.
If your left hand has not been challenged or you’d like to expand the exercises a bit or you DO want your hand and fingers to fall off, use a bar or fix a left hand finger that is not in use to another string and nearby fret.
If there ever was an argument for practicing rest stroke scales, I think Marco Tamayo would settle it. Though the video below is casually shot by a student asking about fingering solutions to Joaquín Rodrigo’s Aranjuez and Joaquín Turina’s Soleares, there is gold in it. Just observing the complete ease and extreme mastery of Marco’s approach reveals how much care and thought has gone into every single action.
Here is another valuable video where Marco gives us details on nail shaping and filing. Again, probably one of a handful of videos that are worth watching on the subject.
The ability to place the left hand in a position to give equal opportunity for each and every finger to fret precisely is essential for playing well. Pinching a fret precisely means pinching a fret while avoiding contact with any adjacent string/s.
There are many instances where the ringing of adjacent strings is necessary. Think of your Bach fugues!
So here are two exercises I like to show students who are struggling with placing left hand fingers precisely. Some things to keep in mind:
Listen! Keep your ear on the open string to make sure it rings continuously while you play the chromatic notes around it.
Play really slowly to insure absolute legato.
Keep right hand fingerings simple. Try using p and i or m for the open string.
Pay attention to your wrist placement. It should remain relatively flat. Do not push your wrist out in front of the guitar. To create a tunnel for the open string take the bend across the joints in the finger. Think of creating a semi-circle with the finger.
Hope this helps clean up those sloppy pinches! : )
If Mauro Giuliani’s works are in your repertoire, or those of any 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:
Start very slowly and pluck both notes with simultaneously. No rolling!
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).
Keep the left hand fingers soft and close to the fretboard.
Use right-hand fingerings: pi, pm, pa, pmpi, pipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.
Once this feels comfortable and in control, explore some variations like the one below.
Use right-hand fingerings: pi, pm, pa, pm pi, pipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.
Let me know if you find this helpful. Part 2 coming soon!
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.
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!
Explore your arpeggio pieces to see if you can apply this concept and let me know if it helps!
My usual morning consists of a good warm-up (a combination of left hand movements and slurs, right hand alternation movements and arpeggios, and scales), before moving on to practicing spots in pieces, and finally playing through pieces and working on new pieces. However, there are periods of the year where I have more time to extend my technique practice and to learn new pieces. I’m approaching that period now (yeah!) so I’m experimenting with new finger gymnastics to address weaknesses in my technique and building a hearty list of new repertoire to absorb over the summer.
To this end, I was rummaging through my boxes and shelves of music and found a well-worn copy of Francisco Tárrega’s Complete Technical Studies. I pulled it out and went through it again for fun. If you’re looking to shake up your routine, I highly recommend some of his studies.
Below are two of Tárrega’s left-hand exercises that will surely make your left hand sweat. Tárrega notates using im alternation for the right hand but I prefer to simply assign i, m, and a, to strings 3, 2, and 1, and have p play all the bass strings to preserve my nails.
Try going from 1st position all the way to 9th and back. Also, try the same concept with other sets of left hand pairs: 14 and 23 or 13 and 24.
David Russell is a guitar hero for many reasons but one of them is for his ability to make everything he plays look effortless. Here is another masterclass snippet where he provides insightful guidance on the importance of a proper warm-up routine. He makes the analogy to sports, where warming up the muscles for practice helps to refine the motion and muscles necessary to perform efficiently. If muscles are not warmed up, larger muscles take over causing imbalance and tension.
Even if you do not speak Spanish, you can follow David’s crystal clear and carefully conceived approach to warming up. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize a few key points:
Start with very simple movements in the left hand like ascending slurs with all the pairs of fingers (12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14).
Move on to the right hand and work on perfecting a single finger free-stroke with each finger (i, m, a, p)
Go back to the left hand and work on descending slurs (21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41).
Back to the right hand to work on alternation between pairs of fingers (im, mi, ma, am, etc.). During this time, focus on the effort and resistance it takes each finger to pull through the string. Adjust nails as necessary to create equal resistance. Otherwise, there is imbalance and this will compromise your fluidity. Also, moving from i to m may be easier than moving from m to i. Your job is to make both directions feel as equal as possible.
Move on to imi, mim, ama, mam, etc., then incorporate slight accents imi, imi, ama, ama, etc…
Back to the left hand to try compound movements (121, 212, 232, 323, 343, 434, etc…)
Back to right hand to work on imim, mimi, amam, mama, etc… then try doing these movements cross-string.
Then bring the warm-up to a close by spending 10+ minutes coordinating both hands with scale fragments: im with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, mi with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, etc…