Artist Profile: Denis Azabagic

“Denis Azabagic demonstrated his unbelievable guitar playing skills, sincere love for music, professionalism and passion…” – CHICAGOTRIBUNE.COM

A GFA winner, seasoned concert artist, accomplished chamber musician and recording artist, Bosnian guitar great Denis Azabagic, needs no introduction to the classical guitar world. But, what often escapes even the most devoted afficionados may be the hidden gems among the pile of guitar videos on youtube.

I recently came across Denis’ Mastering Guitar Technique Series [scroll down a bit after linking]. Though you have to pay for each video, the lessons range from slurs to tremolo to scales and in my opinion are worth hundreds time what he is charging ($1.99!). Each video has a tremendous amount of insight and practical advice. If you’ve not heard Denis play, check out the video below of him playing brilliant renditions of standards by Sor, Bach, and Asencio, and then check out his technique series!

Building Scale Speed

I was warming up this morning and thought I’d post one of my favorite ways to work on scales to both warm up and build speed. I like this sequence because you can set the metronome conservatively and build up as you play. It’s much like the the sequence in this post but applied to scales. I’ll go through this with im (mi) and am (ma) both rest and free stroke but sometimes find myself working on other patterns like pi, ami, ai, and whatever else I feel is going to help my fingers get into the zone. Depending on what’s on my agenda, I may do this for 20-30 minutes or a lot longer pushing myself to build comfort at higher tempos. I like knowing I have a bit more than necessary.

The Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 2 – Speed and Flexibility workbook has a section very similar to this.

Here is the sequence:

Step 1


Step 2


Step 3

Scale Warmup 3.jpg

Step 4

Scale Warmup 4.jpg

Step 5

Scale Warmup 5.jpg

Step 6

Scale Warmup 6.jpg

Step 7

Scale Warmup 7.jpg

Step 8

Scale Warmup 8.jpg

Step 9

Scale Warmup 9.jpg

Step 10

Scale Warmup 10.jpg

Step 11

Scale Warmup 11.jpg

Good luck!

Technical Workout – Speed and Flexibility

I’ve just published another workbook entitled A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar: Level 2 – Speed and Flexibility.

Like A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar: Level 1 -Base Buildingit expands some basic building block movements to help the guitarist develop a strong technique through the use of rhythms, extensor movements, and fixed fingers.


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….

More Scales to Master – Modes Part 1

In the last post related to scale development, I provided closed (or moveable) scale forms for major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. In this post I’ll do the same except with modes. Though my understanding of modes is at best primitive, studying them to develop a better aural sense of what is happening both harmonically and melodically in the music we play, especially when the music has popular or folkloric roots (flamenco!), augments our musical knowledge. If you’ve been practicing only major and minor scales for years on end, your ear will welcome these forms to your practice. And, for those looking to gain a deeper understanding, there are bazillion jazz, improvisation, and composition sites to explore out there. But for the basics on modes go to wikipedia.

I’ve left out Ionian and Aeolian as their intervals correspond to major and natural minor.

C Dorian Scale 3rd string dorian diaScale 4th string dorian diaScale 5th string dorian dia.jpg

C PhrygianScale 3rd string phrygian diaScale 4th string phrygian diaScale 5th string phrygian dia

C LydianScale 3rd string lydian diaScale 4th string lydian diaScale 5th string lydian dia


Stay tuned for the remaining modes (mixolydian and locrian) and some other scale goodies…

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.


Preparatory Work for Scales

During the summer months when it seems like there are extra hours in the day, I like to augment my practice by spending a lot more time with some intensive technique exploration and then learning new repertoire where I can experience the fruits of my labor. I remember coming across a sentence in Philip Hii’s writings essentially claiming that break-throughs rarely occur in the first few hours of practice. I agree wholeheartedly! And, as many of you could probably attest after practicing between the hours of 11 PM to 4 AM when the world is silent, break-throughs are not so often sought as just magically appear. So in this spirit, set aside a chunk of hours, grab some tea or coffee, and explore the next sequence of preparatory movements for scales.

Focus on the following key points:

1) Practice perfect alternation – As the finger performing the stroke moves towards its resting point, the next finger should release from its resting point to prepare the next stroke.

2) Keep everything relaxed – The only energy used is in the stroke, once this is performed the finger should release all energy and tension. In the best case scenario, the tension of the finger is released as the alternating finger exerts energy on the next stroke.

3) If you are still developing a technical base, spend more time on the basics – im, ma, ia and finger alternation with p are the more important fingerings to develop as all the others contain these basic movements.

Spend as much time within each step or rhythm to achieve improved tone consistency, stroke efficiency, rhythmic precision, and perhaps, speed. Use the 3rd string as a starting point before exploring other strings. If your nails wear easily, protect them with packing tape or keep most of your practice relegated to the first three strings. And, don’t forget to use your friend the metronome!

Rest Stroke or Apoyando

Step 1

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

Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a small.jpg

Step 2

Develop string-crossing: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai.

a)Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a1small.jpg

b)Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a2small.jpg

Step 3

Apply fingerings to simple coordination movements.

Scale 3 rh scale prep 3 small.jpg

Free Stroke or Tirando

Step 1

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

Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a small.jpg

Step 2

Develop string crossing: im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa.

a)Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a1small.jpg

b)Scale 3 rh scale prep 1a2small.jpg

Step 3

Apply fingerings to simple coordination movements.

Scale 3 rh scale prep 3 small.jpg

Bring It All Together

 With a good chunk of time spent on the sequences above, you may be excited to test out the well-oiled machinery of your hands on scale forms and your repertoire. If you are looking for scale forms, stay tuned, as I plan to explore this in the next few posts.

Conde Claros, Scales, and String-Crossing

I’ve been reworking the music of the great Spanish composer Luys de Narváez. His Seis Libros del Delphín were published in the early 1500s in Granada. The six volumes contain music that is profoundly beautiful and exquisitely crafted while evoking a time that was ripe with wonder. After all, the music was published a few decades after Christopher Columbus’ great voyage to the New World. Narváez’s Diferencias are some of the earliest know sets of variations and his Canción del Emperador was possibly a favorite of King Charles V. Fortunately for guitarists, conjuring that time period is potentially within our grasp as the music translates well to the modern guitar. Because of the tuning of the vihuela, the slight adjustment of tuning the 3rd string to f-sharp makes the pieces more playable. I prefer placing a capo on the 2nd fret but placing it on the 3rd fret will transpose the piece to the original key.

This post is not a history lesson about the guitar, however. It’s another post about fingering for the right hand as this music is full of scale runs. So I thought I’d list a few rules every aspiring guitarist should use when working out right hand fingerings to perhaps help make conjuring your favorite time period easier. These rules assume you have a functioning technique. If that is not the case, they can still help, but you may want to spend extra hours in the tool shed working on developing a base for your technique (more on this coming!). This way you will get the most out of these rules when applying them.

Rule 1 

When crossing from a lower string to an adjacent higher string (i.e. string 3 to string 2):

  • im is preferable to mi
  • ia is likely preferable to ai
  • pi is preferable to ip
  • ma is preferable to am

conde claros ex. 2.jpgRule 2

When crossing from a lower string to a higher string with a string  or more between them (i.e. string 4 to string 2 or string 5 to string 1)

  • ia is preferable to ai and im
  • pm is likely preferable to pi
  • pa is likely preferable to pm

Rule 3

Try to maintain the rules 1 and 2 throughout scales and right hand cross-stringed fingerings. If you are unable to maintain efficient crossing you can use the following methods to insure rules 1 and 2 are maintained.

Method 1

When playing im scale runs, insert a (ring finger) to change the direction of the fingers. Notice the use of a in the first box to facilitate the string crossing in the next box/boxes.

conde claros ex. 1.jpg

conde claros ex. 3.jpg

Method 2

When playing im scale runs, insert a slur to change the direction of the fingers.

Rule 4

Do not use a slur if it is does not reflect your musical intent.