Technique Focus – Boost Left Hand Efficiency

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’s Complete Technique Course

NEWS! Complete Technique Video Course Launch!

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.

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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 secondary videos 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.

Course Includes
  • 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.

 

 

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 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

Mastering Scales, Part 1 – Rhythmic Manipulation

Mastering Scales, Part 1: Rhythmic Manipulation

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami

Applying rhythms to scales is an essential tool for developing speed, reflexes, mental agility, and rhythmic flexibility. Though there are many rhythms, here are the most useful ones to develop.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Two-Note Rhythms

Two-Note Rhythms.jpgExample of the application of rhythm 1.

Scale 3 rhythm 1.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 2.

Scale 3 rhythm 1b.jpg

Three-Note RhythmsThree=Note Rhythms.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 1.Scale 3 rhtyhm 2.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 2.

Scale 3 rhythm 2b.jpg

Four-Note Rhythms

Four-Note Rhythms.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 1

Scale 3 rhtyhm 3.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 5Scale 3 rhythm 3c.jpg

Example of the application of rhythm 6.Scale 3 rhtyhm 3b.jpg

 Stay tuned for Part 2!

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Rhythms

To continue with our video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use various rhythms to develop rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.

Hope this helps!

Advanced Left Hand Training, Part 1

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:

  1. Practice on various strings in various positions.
  2. Practice slowly with great rhythmic intent.
  3. Keep movements efficient and clean.
  4. Play accents clearly.
  5. Keep left hand wrist and fingers as relaxed as possible.
  6. If at any point your hand and fingers feel like they are going to fall off, consider stopping.

 

Level 1

For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14. The example below uses 12.

Exercise 1

slur12 accent 1 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 2

slur12 accent 2 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 3

slur12 accent 3 August 2018.jpg

 

Level 2

For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 123, 321, 134, 431, 124, 421, 234, 432. The example below uses 124.

Exercise 1

slur124 accent 1 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 2

slur124 accent 2 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 3

slur124 accent 2a August 2018.jpg

Exercise 4

slur124 accent 3 August 2018.jpg

 

Level 3

For these exercises use the following left hand finger patterns: 1234, 4321, 1324, 4231, 1423, 4132. The example below uses 1234.

Exercise 1

slur1234 accent 1 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 2

slur1234 accent 2 August 2018.jpg

Exercise 3

slur1234 accent 3 August 2018.jpg

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.

L

Do you do these ten things?

I came across this wonderful video of Steinway Artist and Professor of Piano, Dr. John Mortensen. Watch his video if you want his reasoning behind the list below. And, while I don’t think it’s possible to all of these ten things every day, he really makes a good point about composing and improvising. This is something I rarely do. : (

  1. Listen and study scores.
  2. Sight read every day. Shoot for 20 minutes a day.
  3. Read about music. Biographies, histories, etc…
  4. Go to concerts.
  5. Record yourself and critique.
  6. Guard your practice time.
  7. Practice scales and arpeggios in all keys.
  8. Improvise and compose all the time.
  9. Attack your weaknesses.
  10. Discuss music with other musicians.

 

To work!

Technique Practice on Albéniz’s Sevilla

So you’ve practiced the passages using the tried and true metronome crawl up to tempo, you’ve done your visualizing, you’ve done your right hand and left hand alone, and you’re searching for yet another way to work on a troublesome passage or to give yourself an iron-clad safety net? Search no further! El_atardecer_sobre_Santa_María-1

I’m going to use a passage from Isaac Albéniz’s Sevilla to illustrate a very effective way to break down a trouble spot. This method is particularly great for passages with rhythmically equal notes. In the following example, you have a continuous string of 16th notes.

Scale Sevilla Example 1.jpg

STEP 1 – PAUSE, PREPARE, VISUALIZE, REPEAT

Provided you have arrived at your fingering of choice for both hands, practice the passage by playing the first group of 4 16ths, then pause AND prepare/plant the next right and left hand fingers on the upcoming note. Enjoy the notion that theoretically it will be impossible to miss this next note if both left and right hand fingers are prepared.

Scale Sevilla Example 2.jpg

Play the same group of notes with the same pause and preparation. When your fingers feel confident (I aim for 3-5 well executed and focused repetitions), proceed to the next group of four notes. During the pause, visualize the group of notes you are about to perform before playing them.

Scale Sevilla Example 3.jpg

Play the same group of notes with the same pause and preparation. When your fingers feel confident, proceed to the next group of four notes until you have gone through the entire passage.

STEP 2 – PAUSE, PREPARE, VISUALIZE

Now go through the passage in the same manner with the pause and preparation. Visualize the next group of 4 16th and play them. Pause, prepare, visualize though the passage. Move forward without repetitions.

Scale Sevilla Example 4.jpg

STEP 3 – PLAY

Now play through the passage without pause to assess your work. It has to feel good. Now that you are pumped, the fun can begin.

REPEAT STEPS 1-3 DISPLACED BY ONE NOTE

This time notice we are working with a new group of sixteenths displaced by one note.

Scale Sevilla Example 5.jpg

REPEAT STEPS 1-3 DISPLACED BY TWO NOTES

Scale Sevilla Example 6.jpg

REPEAT STEPS 1-3 DISPLACED BY THREE NOTES…

Hope this helps. Challenge yourself with groupings of 6 or 8 16ths or if you really have a lot of time and the passage is particularly troublesome, groups of 3 or 5 16ths. If you listen with focus and observe the behavior of your fingers with curiosity you will improve!