Three Steps to a Balanced Right Hand

by Leonardo Garcia

I wrote this for the Tonebase blog a while ago and thought I’d share it here. Hope it helps!

A crucial aspect of right-hand technique is the ability to control the stroke of each finger when it interacts with the string. During this interaction, the energy of the stroke determines the volume of the note and, if well done, does not displace the other right-hand fingers in the process. This requires right-hand finger independence. To this end, I like to walk students through a series of activities utilizing a fixed right-hand finger with the focus of keeping the hand and inactive finger calm.

During the sequence and patterns, watch the right hand as carefully as possible for any extraneous or micro movements. Ask yourself whether it is possible to pare these movements down to stillness. Does the thumb stroke overwhelm the hand? Are there any fingers or combinations that are more uncomfortable or weak? Is the stroke efficient?

To start, place all right-hand fingers (p, i, m ,a) on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings respectively. I recommend using a metronome (quarter note = 60).

Step 1

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Go slowly and spend enough time on each pattern (a minute or two) before moving to the next one. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: a should remain fixed on string 1

Repeat Step 1 but impose the metrical accent. Think: 1 and 2 and 1 and 2 and, etc. Weak beats (the ands) should be slightly softer. For fun, drop the strong beats to the background and play the weaker beats with more energy. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make deliberate adjustments until it feels groovy, balanced, and comfortable. Experiment with volume. Experiment with tempo.

Step 2

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: m should remain fixed on string 2

Repeat Step 2 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

Step 3

You know the drill. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: i should remain fixed on string 3.

Repeat Step 3 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

It is nice to follow these three steps with some arpeggio etudes. 

Hope this helps you reach your musical goals!

Rafael Elizondo’s Technique Videos

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.

More soon…

 

Comfort and Speed in Arpeggios

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 2right hand barrios rhythms.jpg

Rhythm 3                                                   Rhythm 4                                  Rhythm 5

right hand barrios rhythms 2.jpg

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.

right hand barrios rhythms 3 vals.jpg

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 4right hand barrios rhythms 4 vals.jpg

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.

right hand barrios rhythms 5 vals.jpg

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!