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:


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!


David Russell’s nail shape.

Finding the right nail shape to express yourself on the guitar is an elusive science. To make the puzzle more complicated are the facts that nails are organic, are continuously growing, and are affected by variables like weather and diet. Because everyone attacks the strings with variable angles and tensions in the fingertips and because we all have an ideal sound we are after one shape may not be as effective as another. Some guitarists have a “sound” with little sonic variance while some use color and gradations of timbre to interpret their music. So, whether you are a beginner starting to experiment or an advanced player looking to expand your knowledge, the following videos are the best I’ve found so far to see exactly what the pros do and how they approach nail shape.

In french with subtitles, Six String Journal favorite Thomas Viloteau shows an ingenious method for adapting the shape of the nail to your stroke.

Here is a screen shot from a video of Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén checking his nails before his recording of the Bach lute works.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 4.45.14 PM
Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén checking nails before recording.

Last but not least, Cuban virtuoso Marco Tamayo details the steps he uses to shape his nails.

Years ago, when Marco was visiting he drew this diagram out when I asked about nails.

Marco Nail Shape
Marco Tamayo’s nail shaping diagram.

Go shape then pluck!

“Il re della chitarra” – L’Stampa

“The king of guitar.” – L’Stampa

If there ever was an argument for practicing rest stroke scales, I think Marco Tamayo would settle it. Though the video below is casually shot by a student asking about fingering solutions to Joaquín Rodrigo’s Aranjuez and Joaquín Turina’s Soleares, there is gold in it. Just observing the complete ease and extreme mastery of Marco’s approach reveals how much care and thought has gone into every single action.

Here is another valuable video where Marco gives us details on nail shaping and filing. Again, probably one of a handful of videos that are worth watching on the subject.

Check out his newly published Principles of Guitar Performance. Or, if you are looking for a start into building a technical routine check out the Technical Workout Workbooks on Six String Journal’s publications page!


Expanding Fernando Sor’s Etudes

images-1.jpgI have to admit that I may be enjoying Fernando Sor’s etudes too much these days. Many of them conjure a nice summer walk in the countryside with the occasional mildly adventurous detour. A set of favorites that I’m editing will be published soon but I thought I’d post a lesson on one of them and how I have been using it to warm up and build technique. His etudes are ideal in many ways to integrate musicality into technique because listening to the subtleties and manipulations of Sor’s familiar but often charming harmonies is so pleasurable.

Once you master his etudes, there are many possibilities for expansion but I’m going to use Etude Op. 35, Nº9 to illustrate how I like to use it to develop right hand technique. Here is a read-through for those of you not familiar with it.

First Step

Try to build flexibility into your right hand by playing the etude as written with the following right hand patterns:

piai, pimi, piâi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 1.jpg

Variation 1

Once these are reliably developed, you’re ready for some fun. Use the following pattern to help develop the weaker alternation with these patterns:

piaiaiai, piamamam, pimimimi

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 2.jpg

Variation 3

Or, another option could be to explore moving out of a right hand arpeggio position into a more right hand scalar position with:

piaiamim, piaiaimi, piaiamia, piaiamam

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 3.jpg

Variation 4

Or, if you are feeling musically creative, explore adding a note to complement the melody within the key:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 4.jpg

Variation 5

Change it up a bit to get in your triplets:

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 6.jpg

Or, if you prefer:

pimamiamiami, piamipamiami, etc…

Fernando Sor Etudes ex 5.jpg

There are so many places to go with these little gems. Fun!

Download the edition of my score for free: Fernando Sor Etude Op. 35, Nº9

Precise Left Hand Finger Placement

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:

  1. Listen! Keep your ear on the open string to make sure it rings continuously while you play the chromatic notes around it.
  2. Play really slowly to insure absolute legato.
  3. Keep right hand fingerings simple. Try using and or m for the open string.
  4. 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.

Exercise 1

Chromatic Linear Scale with open 1.jpg

Exercise 2

Chromatic Linear Scale with open 2.jpg

Hope this helps clean up those sloppy pinches! : )


Intervals, Part 1 – Chromatic Octaves

If Mauro Giuliani’s works are in your repertoire, or those of 340px-Mauro_Giulianiany classical period composer, you will know that interval runs of octaves, sixths, and thirds are used to great effect. Think the fourth variation of Giuliani’s Folias Variations (Op. 45) or the grand finale to his 1st Rossiniana (Op. 119)! Interval runs are everywhere in our repertoire and it’s worth studying them either through repertoire or through scale practice.

The two chromatic octave exercises below should get you started. They are useful for warming up, coordinating the hands, independence and opposing movement in the left hand fingers, and can even serve as a vehicle for right-hand development, too. Here are a few ways to focus on them:

  1. Start very slowly and pluck both notes with simultaneously. No rolling!
  2. Keep the wrist relatively still so that the fingers of the left hand are extending and contracting vertically (i.e. often moving in opposite directions from each other).
  3. Keep the left hand fingers soft and close to the fretboard.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpapm pipi pm, pa pm, pm papa piand pi pa.

Chromatic Octave.jpg

Once this feels comfortable and in control, explore some variations like the one below.

Use right-hand fingerings: pipmpa, pm pipipm, papm, pmpa, papi, and pipa.

Chromatic Octave 2.jpg

Let me know if you find this helpful. Part 2 coming soon!


Coordination and Right Hand Arpeggios

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.

Exercise 1

right hand ar[eggio coordination.jpg

Exercise 2

right hand ar[eggio coordination 2.jpg

Exercise 3

right hand ar[eggio coordination 3.jpg

Exercise 4

right hand ar[eggio coordination 4.jpg

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!

Exercise 5

right hand ar[eggio coordination 5.jpg

Explore your arpeggio pieces to see if you can apply this concept and let me know if it helps!

Francisco Tárrega’s Technical Studies

francisco-t-rrega-recording-artists-and-groups-photo-1My usual morning consists of a good warm-up (a combination of left hand movements and slurs, right hand alternation movements and arpeggios, and scales), before moving on to practicing spots in pieces, and finally playing through pieces and working on new pieces. However, there are periods of the year where I have more time to extend my technique practice and to learn new pieces. I’m approaching that period now (yeah!) so I’m experimenting with new finger gymnastics to address weaknesses in my technique and building a hearty list of new repertoire to absorb over the summer.

To this end, I was rummaging through my boxes and shelves of music and found a well-worn copy of Francisco Tárrega’s Complete Technical Studies. I pulled it out and went through it again for fun. If you’re looking to shake up your routine, I highly recommend some of his studies.

Below are two of Tárrega’s left-hand exercises that will surely make your left hand sweat. Tárrega notates using im alternation for the right hand but I prefer to simply assign i, m, and a, to strings 3, 2, and 1, and have p play all the bass strings to preserve my nails.

Exercise 1

Tarrega Exercise 33.jpg

Exercise 2

Tarrega exercise 34.jpg

Try going from 1st position all the way to 9th and back. Also, try the same concept with other sets of left hand pairs: 14 and 23 or 13 and 24.

Hope that gets your left hand going!