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! : )
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!
I think I’ve now scoured most of Pavel Steidl‘s masterclasses on youtube. What a treasure trove of advice. I absolutely love him, his creativity, and his masterful ability to teach in such a fun way.
Here is a left hand technique progression that roughly matches what he demonstrates in one of his masterclasses. Pavel recommends at least 30 minutes a day of work for the fingers. Among his bits of advice and reflections, there is a moment in a masterclass where he talks about left hand choreography and how it is connected to the part of our brain that is responsible for, as he puts it, “fantasy and imagination.”
Here is the sequence to explore:
Play the top voice as a continuous slur.
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns:
02/1343, 03/1242, 04/1232 (slur/counterpoint)
Now slur the counterpoint or fixed note as well.
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).
Add in a coordinating movement in the right hand (try something simple first).
Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).
Explore a more challenging coordinating movement in the right hand (try pami on string 5).
Be creative and have fun just like Pavel!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
…or should I say, a way of thinking about tremolo? (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Another point Pepe Romero makes in his masterclass is to think of the tremolo pattern originating from a instead of p. This, he explains, is because the first note of the melody coincides with a.
…from my new book, Mastering Tremolo.
“You have to learn to do nothing.” —Pepe Romero
Watching legendary guitarist Pepe Romero teach tremolo was a revelation to me. One of his key points about finger movement in tremolo is timing the reload or return of a after m plucks (as if a and m were alternating) and not after i. As he explains the motion, the movement from a to the string is deliberate or active and from the instant after a plucks our attention moves to m while a unconsciously or passively relaxes. Essentially, the act of doing nothing releases a back to its place to ready for its next stroke. This is counterintuitive, as it would seem more natural to let a remain flexed after m due to the basic sympathetic motion of the fingers. But it is precisely in the case of tremolo that developing independence between a and m, and timing their return, can lead to a better sense of both rhythm and overall movement.
Of all the techniques in Mastering Tremolo, focusing on timing the return of a, even for a little bit, has been most helpful to me in evening out my tremolo and reining in the gallop that often occurs into the next beat when playing at high tempos.
After lots of hard work, I’m excited to announce to all of you the publication of my new book, Mastering Tremolo.
Here is a description: Leonardo Garcia’s Mastering Tremolo is an extensive guide for all aspiring guitarists wishing to develop solid tremolo technique. From a multitude of preliminary technical exercises and drills to develop a foundation for your tremolo and invigorate your technique, to more than a dozen active practice techniques detailed with musical examples to develop rhythmic precision, note consistency, tone, and speed, to the mental game of playing tremolo, this book will help improve your tremolo and playing regardless of your level.
It’s available in print and on Kindle.
Over the next few weeks I will post some content for Six String Journal readers!
Lately, when starting my practice I will start with an assortment of left hand movements. I go slowly with attention to the fluidity of the movements. While I do this, my ear starts to focus. The easy pace is ideal for adjusting tone and exploring left hand movement before moving on to arpeggios, scale fragments, and spots in pieces.
Here is a slur sequence I really enjoyed focusing on yesterday. It involves playing slurs with a pair of fingers, slurs to and from open strings, all while requiring the precise placement of the fingers to create tunnels so that adjacent strings remain unobstructed. Fun!
I immediately thought: BLOG POST!
Here’s the outline of the movement using fingers 12 but you should try all pairs (23, 34, 13, 24, 14). You’ll get more out of the exercises by repeated each slur many times and of course, play them across all strings and positions.
Method of Practice
Exercise 1 – Ascending Slurs
Exercise 2 – Ascending Slurs 2
Exercise 3 – Ascending and Descending Slurs
Exercise 4 – Descending Slurs
Exercise 5 – Descending and Ascending Slurs
Go give that left hand a workout!
Rafael Elizondo is a fabulous Mexican concert guitarist who has been making wonderful videos for his youtube channel. If you don’t speak Spanish, you may not be at too much of a disadvantage because he demonstrates everything very clearly. This instructional video below is a fine example of Rafael explaining how to use fixed fingers to establish stability and confidence in the right hand.
Here is another great one where he demonstrates 4 finger coordination patterns for the left hand:
Check out and subscribe to his channel. There are tons of great posts.
Here is the third of Six String Journal’s series of technique videos to accompany my recent workbook, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 1 – Base Building. This video corresponds to Left Hand Movements, Part 3.
This workbook is designed to help late beginners and intermediate guitarists develop a daily routine of movements to strengthen their technical base so that fingers can do their job properly when assimilating new repertoire. Always go slowly with the most control possible. Think of it as writing a program for your brain with no bugs.