The Secret to Better Hand Coordination

Excerpt from Mastering Diatonic Scales – Preparatory Exercises for Scales

Right- and left-hand finger coordination is ultimately developed through scale practice, but keep in mind that both hands already prefer to act together in a coordinated fashion. It is useful to develop this natural coordination further, but it is actually the counter-coordination that requires some practice to fully realize finger independence. Therefore, the construction of simple coordination exercises involves left-hand groups of 2, 3, and 4 finger movements with right-hand fingerings.

An example of a movement with natural coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers i and m. In other words, both index fingers act together, followed by a movement where both middle fingers act together. Or another way to think of it is that the finger movements in each hand are both directionally moving toward the finger 4 (pinky) side of the hand.

An example of a movement with counter-coordination would be a left-hand movement of finger 1 to finger 2 plucked with right-hand fingers m and i. Here, the finger movements in the hands are moving in the opposite direction: the left-hand fingers move toward finger 4 (pinky) while the right-hand fingers move toward the thumb.

Practice the following basic natural and counter-coordination movements starting on C on string 3 (fret 5). Explore these in various positions. I prefer to use the non-wound strings to minimize nail wear. Numbers correspond to left-hand fingers (1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky).

Exercise 1 Two Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14 paired with mi, am, ai (use rest and free stroke)        

21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41 paired with im, ma, ia (use rest and free stroke)

Exercise 2 Three Finger Movements

Natural Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

Counter-Coordination

123, 234, 134, 124 paired with ami (use rest and free stroke)

321, 432, 431, 421 paired with ima (use rest and free stroke)

For Exercises 3-7 check out Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Nine Tips for Better Playing

I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.

Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they are incorporated in the early stages of the learning process. Exploring the ideas on repertoire that is already baked into your brain will take some careful and deliberate work to incorporate. Think of it like cooking a complicated dish, if all is measured carefully and timed precisely, the end result is wonderful. On the other hand, if you have forgotten to include ingredients in the baking process and attempt to salvage it by throwing in missing ingredients after the dish is done, the end result may not be as wonderful.

When learning a new piece, there is information absent from the score that if written in reminds you to weave them into your hand choreography when you practice. Below is a list that will help make both the left and right hands more efficient and two shots of a Scarlatti Sonata I just learned to illustrate how I label these items in a score. Assuming your basic fingerings are decided upon, incorporate the following ideas into your slow practice (and label them) to build a strong and reliable visual memory and choreography:

Right Hand

  1. Know when the fingers can plant or are laid out as an arpeggio (even though it may be the beginning of a scale passage).
  2. Know where your stability points are at all times. There should always be a right hand anchor in contact with the strings (usually p or a but possibly a combination).
  3. Insure string crossing is optimized and know when there are exceptions. See this early article for reference.

img_4902-1.jpg

Left Hand

  1. Know when two fingers can place at once (usually in descending melodic fragments).
  2. Know when a finger can remain in place as an anchor and for how long.
  3. Know exactly what and why you are barring. Is it a hinge, partial, tip, cross, full, etc… (maybe there’s content for another post here!)?
  4. Know when a finger must lift from active duty to align or migrate to a new fret or to relieve tension. This sometimes means that theoretically a note may not last it’s full.
  5. Know when you are shifting and/or expanding or contracting out of a standard relaxed position and for how long.
  6. Know your guide fingers (never shift without a guide or ghost guide finger).

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Hope that helps you get to your musical goals sooner!

If you liked this article and would like more technique tips, check out Six String Journal’s publications! Please share, like, and comment!

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Bursts

To conclude our video series covering right-hand technique development in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use the concept of bursts (another rhythmic manipulation) to develop speed and further strengthen right-hand rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.

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!

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 – Right Hand Fingerings

After repeated requests for more videos, I’m eager to share this post and upcoming video series on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. In this first part I’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of the standard fingering that Andrés Segovia wrote in the published edition. I’ll then offer some options for practicing the Etude. In Part 2, I’ll go through some options to overcome the disadvantages and finally arrive at my preferred fingering.

For a reduction of this, check out my first post on Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1.

 

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

Heitor Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1, Part 2

images-1.jpgThe image I hold while playing Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1 is one where I am sailing above the canopy of the amazon rainforest as if it were an endless gentle green ocean. Putting this image into practice presents many challenges for the guitarist but simply having an image helps to move the fingers smoothly and with little resistance. Commanding the right-hand to execute the arpeggio to comfortably create the waves of this amazonian ocean, the crescendos and decrescendos, requires some persistence, though. And to truly master the image, it is equally important to investigate how the left hand moves from harmony to harmony, how softly we transition from chord to chord, and how the right hand waxes and wanes over the strings. Ocean waves have an inherent softness to them. To approach this quality in both hands, I’ve brainstormed a bit to list some key tips that I’ve focused on over the years:

LEFT HAND

  1. Release the finger responsible for the first note of the next harmony either at the fourth quarter note or last eighth note of the previous measure.
  2. Practice the transitions from the end of each measure into the following measure. For example, practice the last 4 sixteenth notes of a measure with the first four sixteenth notes of the following measure.
  3. Do not think block chords! Instead, imagine the left hand placing fingers more subtly. When possible, prioritize the left hand finger placement in the order that the notes are plucked.
  4. Work on avoiding finger noise in the second part of the etude by lifting slightly or shifting on the softer parts of the fingertips.
  5. Release pressure on inactive fingers to keep the left hand light.

RIGHT HAND

  1. In order to build endurance for the right hand, practice it alone while visualizing the left hand. What does it feel like to play the arpeggio with rhythmic precision 48 downloadtimes? This is the amount of times you would play it in the Etude before getting a break with the slurs.
  2. Once the right hand feels locked in, bring the left hand back. Are there pauses to adjust for the left hand?
  3. Think of the right hand in eighth notes, quarter notes, half-notes, and whole notes.
  4. Practice bringing out upbeats.
  5. Explore dynamic schemes to develop your own interpretation.
  6. Use aural refocus to think in larger gestures.
  7. Use rhythms to develop a thorough understanding of the patterns, transitional strengths, and transitional weaknesses.
  8. Practice planting from the beginning and then a quarter note after it is played for right hand stability.
  9. If you use the standard right hand fingering, try planting both and a.
  10. Use other right-hand fingerings to extract more insight from this wonderful etude!

Hope this helps.

 

 

New Publication

I’ve just released the first edition of my new book! Over the next few weeks, I will post a few excerpts or ideas from the book for Six String Journal readers. If you can’t wait, order a copy (and leave a review!). : )

Mastering Diatonic Scale Forms represents a book I wish I had had 35 years ago. Here is the description of the book from the inside cover:

MASTERING DIATONIC SCALE FORMS

Scale mastery is absolutely essential for the ambitious and serious guitarist. Touted as the single most effective way to solve technical problems by the most distinguished pedagogues and professionals, developing a scale practice and understanding the most useful way to develop it will lead to breakthroughs and improvement in your technique. Mastering Diatonic Scale Forms is geared towards the advancing guitarist and offers a practical approach for understanding the various necessary scale forms and some insightful methods to supercharge the results of your study.

 

Give Your Scales Purpose

You may enjoy playing scales as much as I do. The organizational aspect of it, the ear training, the mechanical and athletic component, and the results scale practice produces keeps them on the top of my technique practice log. All musicians know how important scale work is for their musical and technical development. So if you are in the habit of running through scales as part of your routine, one simple adjustment can help: giving your scales direction.

We augment results when musical intent is paired with technical practice. To this end, start adding simple phrasing to your scales:

Step 1

Know your scales!

Scale D major open.jpg

 

Step 2

Add simple pair phrasings or groupings. Give a certain hierarchy to the groupings like tension to resolution or strong to weak. Establish that the two (or three or four…) notes are related in some way.

 

Scale D major open Phrase 1.jpg

 

Scale D major open Phrase 2.jpg

Keep going: group 4, 5, 6 notes together!

Step 3

Start your phrases off of the perceived downbeat.

Scale D major open Phrase 3.jpg

Off to practice!

 

 

 

David Russell Interview

Marcelo Kayath’s project, The Guitar Coop, once again publishes a wonderful interview in two parts. This time with guitar hero, David Russell. They talk technique, transcriptions, interpretations, ornamentation, guitars, and more.

Have a good weekend!