Developing Coordination and Stroke Control

Whatever your musical intentions, developing evenness from finger stroke to finger stroke across various pulse patterns is an essential component to good right hand technique. One tool to develop this through scales is to pair three-finger right hand patterns (ami, pmi, ima) to duple rhythms, such as eighth and sixteenth notes, or two-finger patterns (im, am, ai, pi, pm, pa) to triplet patterns. Sort of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

I’ll use the following Major scale form to illustrate.

Scale Warmup 1.jpg

Three Against Two

Step 1 – Play the following eighth notes using the following three-finger right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Focus on maintaining a clear duple pulse and a consistent tone quality from note to note.

Scale Warmup 2.jpg

Step 2 – Play the following sixteenth notes using the following right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Focus on maintaining a clear duple pulse and a consistent tone from note to note.

Scale Warmup 8.jpg

Step 3 – Once that is comfortable, you can further develop coordination between your hands by playing patterns that emphasize a duple feel continuing to use the right hand fingerings: ami, pmi, ima. Here are some of my favorites.

Pattern 1

Scale Warm Up 2a.jpg

Pattern 2Scale Warmup 2c.jpg

Pattern 3

Scale Warmup 2b.jpg

Pattern 4

Scale Warmup 8a.jpg

Pattern 5

Scale Warmup 8b.jpg

Two Against Three

Step 4 – Play the following triplets using the following right hand fingerings: im, am, ai, pi, pm, and pa. The most important fingerings to develop are im, am, and pi so prioritize there first. Like before, focus on maintaining a clear triple pulse and a consistent tone from note to note.

Scale Warmup 5.jpg

Step 5 – Time to coordinate those fingers. Challenge yourself to play patterns that emphasize a duple feel continuing to use the right hand fingerings: im, am, ai, pi, pm, and pa.

Pattern 1

Scale Warmup 5a.jpg

Pattern 2

Scale Warmup 5b.jpg

Pattern 3

Scale Warmup 5c.jpg

Good luck and go pluck.

Left Hand Speed Development, Part 1

I’m working on A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Speed and Flexibility, and I thought I would share a portion relating to extensor development in the left hand. I will try to post a video to support this but here is something to keep everyone busy.

Excerpt from up and coming book:

Speed in the left hand is determined by several factors but two of the most important ones are the time it takes the finger to achieve precise placement on the fret and the time it takes the finger to release and reload for the next placement. The former movement depends on the flexor muscles of the fingers which are constantly worked in an active fashion (we typically focus our attention on placement) and the latter movement depends on the extensor muscles of the finger (we typically do not focus on this aspect of the movement). In a way, descending slurs work the extensors but we can be a bit more specific and pro-active about developing extensors in our left hand.

In order to develop the extensor muscles, simply place the finger and then actively release the finger back as quickly as possible achieving a slightly sloppy staccato effect with the left hand. This work does not involve the right hand at all. This movement is more strenuous than it sounds. When done correctly it almost sounds like light slurring. Keep the left hand finger placement accurate and keep the left hand contained so that it’s not the hand that is moving away from the fretboard but the fingers.

Complete Exercise 1 below with all the following left hand finger combinations:

Single Pair Finger Movements: 12, 21, 23, 32, 34, 43, 13, 31, 24, 42, 14, 41

Exercise 1 – Focus on the instantaneous release and post relaxation after the placement of each finger (example below using 12 and 21)

slur 12 p4 extensor.jpg

Good luck!

Legato and Dissonance

Creating a beautiful melody on the guitar is challenging due to the fact that every note you pluck decays from that moment on. If you play two consecutive melodic notes on one string, the touch requires extreme precision to give the impression of legato. At certain times, it is easier to achieve a sense of legato by using cross string fingerings. But there is a fine timing line between achieving beautiful legato and dissonance with cross strings and it requires the use of controlled damping – sometimes with the left hand and sometimes with the right.

Here is a great example from Leo Brouwer’s beautiful piece Un dia de noviembre. For a benign light passage there is a lot to think about musically.

Dia de Noviembre Ex.1.jpg

Notice that in the example above muting occurs the moment after the new melodic note turns on. This is a great way to exploit the resonance of the guitar. Of course, there are many variations on this, including one where you would turn off the notes simultaneously with the entrance of the new note but this would achieve a less legato line.

Coming soon, I’m going to post a workout based on Leo Brouwer’s Axioms!

 

Leo Brouwer’s Axioms

Years ago, I came across an article on a Spanish site guitarra.artepulsado.com posted by Oscar López who had taken notes during a summer course with the great Cuban composer and guitarist, Leo Brouwer. The title of the post was Axiomas básicos de Leo Brouwer. I found the word file and thought I’d translate it for all non-Spanish speakers. It provides a wealth of advice. I’ve added a few commentaries below to expand the ideas a bit. Hope they are helpful.

Warm Up

Use chromatic octaves for the left hand and arpeggios and rasgueados for the right hand. Play close to the body in higher resonant positions upon starting your practice.

*I think this may mean to start your practice without having the left hand in an extended position. Starting in higher positions is less stressful for the left hand.

Speed and Scales

Use fixed, non-shifting positions in the left hand that are close to the body (i.e. higher positions) to play short bursts of notes. Play bursts in short crescendos (soft to loud or light to intense). Start on one string, then expand to two strings. Add one note at a time and pause between each mini-scale.

Add color and articulations to scales.

Left Hand Shifting

Left-hand notes should be played staccato (*perhaps he means before a shift). Focus on the arrival (not the departure) as you shift from 1st to 2nd, 1st to 3rd, 1st to 4th, etc., position.

Left Hand Independence

With a fixed first finger bar, play slurs and scales across all the strings with the rest of the fingers. Try all combinations possible.

Memory

To avoid embedding errors, do not start memorizing at the very beginning of learning a piece.

Fingerings

There are never definitive fingerings.

*What Brouwer most likely means to covey here is that fingerings evolve throughout the lifetime of learning a piece. Inevitably, we discover better, more efficient, more musical, more interesting ways to play passages and discard or change older fingerings as our familiarity with the piece increases.

Color

Exploit the three primary sonorous zones of the guitar: over the sound hole (resonant zone), over right part of the rosette (resonant and clarity zone), and near the bridge (clarity zone).

Harmonics

Do not pluck harmonics diagonally.

More Advice

  • The position of the guitar to your body should remain consistent.
  • Remember that the 2nd and 3rd strings tend to be the weakest so we must compensate when necessary.
  • Pluck consonant chords with no arpeggiation. Pluck rare (dissonant) chords with arpeggiation for clarity.
  • Velocity contains impulse and direction.
  • Cadential ornaments should be in time.
  • Resonance is at the heart of the guitar.
  • Vibrato is used for intensity not rest.
  • The thumb (left-hand) acts as a pivot during slurs.
  • Forte is found at the limit of a beautiful sound.
  • Breathe between phrases and project energy towards the end.
  • During rasgueados the energy is channeled towards the 1st string.
  • Anything that is repeated should be varied. Change either the color or the volume or the timbre.

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!

 

 

 

Grisha Goryachev

If given three wishes, I think one would be to play flamenco like Grisha.

I remember searching out Grisha’s posts when Eliot Fisk’s wife, and phenomenal guitarist in her own right, Zaira Meneses showed me a video of Grisha playing Enteban Sanlucar’s Panaderos. I was floored.

Lucky for us, here he is demonstrating some useful scale tips.

And, here is that video of him playing Sanlucar’s Panaderos:

Part 2 of Modes coming soon….

The Best of YouTube

YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. Among thousands of videos not worth watching, there are a few gems waiting for discovery. I’m hoping to add video tutorials on the elementary pieces that my students enjoy playing after they’ve finished the KinderGuitar curriculum. In the meantime, I’ll share some great videos I’ve discovered after being trapped in the YouTube world a few weeks ago. If you are still developing your technique, watch them over and over. If you are far along, there are still wonderful moments of insight to extract. I watched most of them in one sitting at 1.5x speed, taking notes, and sipping coffee. These videos come from Russian guitarist Andrey Parfinovich. He’s done the guitar world a great service when he decided to film his lessons with the masters!

Pepe Romero on left hand technique:

Pepe Romero on rest stroke technique:

Pepe Romero on tremolo:

Pepe Romero on rasgueado:


More soon….

 

Three Basic Scale Forms to Master

I just returned from a vacation that went by way too fast. As always, I was over ambitious when it came to planning out which pieces to learn but I did manage to re-work most of the Chaconne and will have many posts exploring what I’ve come across this time around.

In the meantime, the next post to help you develop a scale practice is here. Here are three moveable scale forms (major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor) covering three octaves starting on three different strings.

In general, focus on developing the skills you have worked on from the previous preparatory post in the more musical and sophisticated setting of scales: rest stroke, free stroke, string crossing, and very accurate transitioning from finger to finger. Use a metronome to track your progress and don’t be afraid to live in slow tempo world if it means you are becoming better and more consistent with your sound from note to note.

Rest-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, p, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi

Free-stroke fingerings: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa, ami, ima, imam, amim, aimi, pmi, pami.

C Major Scale 3rd string major dia.jpgScale 4th string major dia.jpgScale 5th string major dia.jpg

 

C Harmonic MinorScale 3rd string har minor dia.jpgScale 4th string har minor dia.jpgScale 5th string har minor dia.jpg

 

C Melodic MinorScale 3rd string mel minor dia.jpgScale 4th string mel minor dia.jpgScale 5th string mel minor dia.jpg

 

Stay tuned (!) for the 3rd installment related to developing your scale practice where I’ll go through other scale forms.

 

This is Classical Guitar and Aural Refocus

As I plan out the next stages/posts for the blog I thought I’d give a shout out to Canadian classical guitarist, Bradford Werner’s great site www.thisisclassicalguitar.com. He covers so much: from reviews to lessons to a great selection of videos. He published a recent article I wrote on a concept I’ve found to really help me break through practice plateaus. Check it out: Aural Refocus Article.

 

Right Hand Technical Workout Part 2

Here is the second installment of our right hand technique series. After a solid warmup of the larger muscle groups and gross motor skills in our right hand through chords and rasgueado (see Part 1), we’ll start building movements in the right hand from two finger movements up to four finger movements.

To start we’ll use movements involving the thumb with one other finger (pi, pm, pa) and movements involving the thumb with two other finger movements (pim, pmi, pma, pam, pia, pai). The primary goals with the following drills are to develop a strong sense of how the fingers fall across the strings which will reinforce our default right hand position and to develop a strong sense of independence from finger to finger (i.e. the movement of one finger or stroke should not displace the hand from this default position).

Step 1 – Thumb with one finger movements (pi, pm, pa)

The fingers of the right hand not involved in the movement should passively rest by very lightly touching their respective string. If this is too difficult at first, have them float as close as possible above their respective string (p=4, i=3, m=2, a=1).

right hand pi 2.jpg

right hand pm 2.jpg

right hand pa 2.jpg

Step 2 – Proceed to alternation

right hand pi 2.jpg

right hand pm 1.jpg

right hand pa 1.jpg

Step 3 – Proceed to work on the following thumb with two finger movements (pim, pmi, pma, pam, pia, pai). Note that each line contains six different movements to develop.

right hand pim 1.jpg

right hand pma 1.jpg

right hand pia 1.jpg

That should keep you all busy! Stay tuned to Part 3.