Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 4

Aural Refocus

This is an interesting technique that I have found truly helpful for developing speed and the correct rhythmic feel across whatever pattern you are practicing, and since I have not found any reference to it in the literature, I refer to it as aural refocus. Its purpose is to refocus your hearing on the larger beats within a pattern or movement, and then “feed in” the rest of the notes while retaining attention on the larger concept and rhythmic feel.

In theory, we want to perform the larger movements in time—but in practice we rarely do so because we feel limited by all the minutiae that a particular movement demands. With a lot of work, patterns that undergo the aural refocus treatment will get a boost in speed while retaining their rhythmic integrity and stability.

Here are three exercises for applying aural refocus to tremolo. Before you begin, set the metronome to an ambitious tempo (72–88+ bpm per half note) and keep it constant through each exercise. Play only the fingers indicated, do not play the small notes in the following exercises and feel the larger beat in the right hand. Play through each line for at least a minute. Then alternate freely between the lines, coming back to the first line often to reestablish the longer sense of pulse and technical ease.

Exercise 1

Aural Refocus Tremolo 1.jpg

Exercise 2

Aural Refocus Tremolo 2.jpg

Exercise 3

Aural Refocus Tremolo 3.jpg

There you have it!

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo.

Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 3

Percussion

By sticking a cloth or a soft sponge under the strings near the bridge, you can turn your guitar plucks into little thumping sounds. Limiting the resonance of the guitar to these not unpleasant thumps refocuses your attention on two very important qualities necessary for great tremolo technique: rhythmic evenness from thump to thump, and the quality of intensity of each thump.

So put a sock in it:

Limosna percussion 1.jpg

Hope that helps! Stay tuned for Part 4.

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo

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

Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 1

Deep Slow Practice

  “I wouldn’t be surprised if slow practice is the best technique to practice in.”

—Manuel Barrueco

The effectiveness of slow practice has been confirmed repeatedly by great musician after great musician, and the principle holds true for tremolo as well. Despite the fact that performing tremolo requires great speed, practicing passages or even entire pieces at very slow tempos has numerous benefits for both technique and musicality. As Barrueco says, “It allows one to look at technique very closely.”

Besides providing the opportunity to observe technique with a magnifying glass, ultra slow practice gives the brain and fingers a chance to coordinate movements with an awareness that cannot exist at concert tempo. Slow practice allows us to hear everything that is happening on the musical front as well—harmonies, counterpoint, melodic lines, articulations, and other components that may escape our awareness at faster tempos.

But practicing tremolo in a slow and deep state of study is not as straightforward as it sounds, and what you get out of it can vary widely depending on how you focus your efforts. To begin with, you’ll need to first accustom your fingers, ears, and mind to slow practice. Play through just a small passage of a tremolo piece you are working on, and slowly build up to the entire piece. The metronome should be set to one 32nd note (a single note of the tremolo) to 42–60 beats per minute (bpm). Once this becomes comfortable and you’ve reached a meditative state of mind, try focusing on the following approaches, one at a time, as you play.

1) Fluid Movement or Gesture Focus – Despite the very slow pace, imagine the movements of the fingers in the context of the whole gesture.

2) Planting Awareness – Regulate the amount each finger rests on the string before pulling through. Awareness of the space between notes is important. If the space between notes is not even, or if some fingers plant early or late, tremolo will sound erratic even though the notes are articulated in time.

3) Deliberate Dynamic Control – Even though you would not play the piece with no dynamic variation, the ability to scrutinize and equalize the volume of each note is a skill that leads to greater control. Observe the tendency for most thumb strokes to dominate, or for notes plucked with m to lose clarity in our focus to complete the gesture.

4) Deliberate Musicality – The other side of the coin would be to include dynamics and musicality. This is harder than it sounds at such dramatically slow tempos, but focusing on maintaining musicality during slow practice clarifies musical intention.

5) Banish the Gnome – Turn off the metronome and focus your attention on the space between the notes.

Listen acutely and concentrate intensely to reap the numerous benefits of this powerful technique.

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo

Best of YouTube: Tal Hurwitz playing Barrios, Villa-Lobos, and Aguado.

Here is a moving performance of Israeli guitarist, Tal Hurwitz magnificently interpreting Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s Un Sueño en la Floresta. The elements of this video are spectacular. From Tal, who seems to invoke Barrios’ spirit effortlessly, to the hall’s acoustics, to the rich sounding guitar (Friedrich?), to the production (Sanel Redzic), all the elements of the video come together into a piece of art.

While there is no doubt of Tal’s mastery, I’ve seen very few who so effortlessly and musically perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2.

And to contrast from the south American composers, we can step back into the delightful world of Dionisio Aguado’s Rondo, Op. 2, Nº2.

Very inspiring on so many levels!

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

 

 

Recuerdos de la Alhambra Study Score

Sometimes, one of the daunting things for many young guitarists working on Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra is that it is perceived as long because of the sheer amount of ink and pages it takes to notate that many 32nd notes. The phrases are split over too many lines and the page turns don’t make it a friendly score. I’m not saying the piece is easy but it helps to see the piece as a whole before working on it -a bit like seeing the plans of a new house before building it. Below is a downloadable pdf of a study score that I made a while ago to help students see the big picture.

Recuerdos Study Score

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For more on tremolo, check out my recent book Mastering Tremolo. There are tons of tips for improving your tremolo.

Also, if you feel like anything you’ve done has helped improve your tremolo, feel free to share it in the comments for other readers.