Thought I would share some of Guitar Salon International‘s beautifully produced videos of the young Polish virtuoso, Mateusz Kowalski. In the first video, Mateusz plays one of Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s less played tremolo pieces, Contemplación, with both a magical touch and an enviable ease of execution. In the second, he rips through the finale of Mauro Giuliani’s Rossiniana Nº1, Op. 119 with true operatic fanfare. Mateusz playing is hypnotizing on many levels. Musical and meticulous, it is no surprise that he is starting to receive recognition from various competitions across Europe. Enjoy!
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!
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:
- To develop the return of i practice pimi and piai.
- To develop the return of m practice pmim and pmam.
- To develop the return of a 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.
Then apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with m.
And, finally, apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with i.
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.
Proceed to the next group.
Continue with emphasis on the next finger for planting.
Play what is in the brackets. Plant m. Rest. Repeat 3x or more.
Proceed to apply the same to i.
Hope this helps!
Over the years, I have never regretted working on tremolo pieces and technique. From early recordings of John Williams playing Barrios’ Una limosna por el amor de Diós and Un Sueño en la floresta to Pepe Romero playing Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Sueño, these pieces are not only special but evocative in ways other instruments cannot replicate. The greatest players manage to give the illusion of an unbroken melodic line while maintaining a well-controlled accompaniment.
There are many skills that must come together to achieve a beautiful sounding tremolo. The most important ones are rhythm precision, consistent intensity from note to note, uniform tone, and speed. One of my favorite guitarists and dear friend, Marco Tamayo, once mentioned that the result of rhythmic regularity and precision created the illusion of speed. I’ll post various ways of working on some of these skills but we’ll look at rhythmic precision first.
The following set of exercises help develop rhythmic control by practicing the tremolo pattern (pami) precisely within the whole of the main beat. When going through the exercises try to remember the inherent hierarchy of the meter and aim to feel p as the main beat. Start slowly with your metronome set to the sixteenth or eighth note. One way to truly feel “in the pocket” with the rhythmic subdivisions is to say the rhythmic breakdown aloud as you play (tee-ka-tee-ka, one-ee-and-ah, etc…). Spend a lot more than one repetition on each pattern. Remember, even Steven!
After spending a lot of time on the above exercises, you can expand them by varying the string and displacing the thumb onto adjacent or distant strings.
The next set of exercises help develop uniform intensity by changing the initial finger of the tremolo so that every right hand finger within the pattern has a moment to shine in the downbeat spotlight. Think of it like shifting accents in a subtle way.
Again, vary the thumb’s string as you start to gain proficiency and spend lots of time on the weaker patterns. Good luck!
I thought I would take a moment to stress how important it is to know how to apply the principles from the last post to identify and problem solve mechanical weaknesses in repertoire you are working on. Because I am working on a lot of music by Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944), I thought I would use two examples of passages you all may be familiar with. I have played the music of the great Paraguayan virtuoso for decades and I still find it fun to work on. I especially enjoy his works with perpetual motion activity. Barrios’ Estudio de concierto, Las abejas, La catedral’s allegro, Danza paraguaya, and passages from his famous waltzes are perfect pieces to spend hours on. So, for this post, we’ll focus on using rhythms to strengthen our understanding and facility of the patterns in these pieces.
Estudio de Concierto
The following example illustrates 5 rhythms in which to work the arpeggio pattern for Barrios’ Estudio de Concierto. Begin by choosing the right hand fingering that most suits your technique. Whether you know the piece or not, practicing each measure in these rhythms will help develop the comfort of playing the arpeggio faster than if you were to only play in a straight rhythm, though it is necessary to do this as well (!).
Arpeggio Fingering Rhythm 1 Rhythm 2
Rhythm 3 Rhythm 4 Rhythm 5
Vals Op. 8, Nº4
Here is the campanella passage from one of my favorite pieces. This passage deserves more writing but for now I will limit myself to rhythms.
Because I know this piece well, I use rhythms to warm up and will often play through the entire section of the piece in as many as 16 rhythms. Here are four that I like to start with:
Rhythm 1 Rhythm 2 Rhythm 3 Rhythm 4
Do not feel obligated to go through the entire passage. Instead, spend some time repeating certain groupings in an attempt to make them feel natural and ultimately easy. You may find that you are better at some and that certain patterns remain sticky. Work on the sticky ones.
And, if you are not exhausted by this point, here are some additional groupings (notated in shorthand) rotating two eighth notes (represented by a space) through sixteenth notes:
pi am pi, pia mp i, pi ampi , p iamp i, pi a mpi
Or rotating a triplet of sixteenths with 3 eighth notes:
p i a mpi, p i ampi , p iamp i , piam p i
Or Using only one dotted eighth note (two spaces):
p iampi, pia mpi, piampi , pi ampi
I hope this helps. If there are any technical questions you are thinking about in your practice please leave a comment. I’m thinking about a post answering some common questions that I keep getting. And, in the future, I’m going to try to include a video to supplement the posts when I have the time. Until then!