Want Speedy Scales?

Want to feel more accurate when playing through your pieces? Want speedy scales? Want fluid arpeggios? Want to be a guitar superhero? Work on basic movements. Hard work on the very basic movements of technique allows an inner exploration of our limits and abilities while giving us a bit of a roadmap for quantifiable and steady improvement.

Below are some very basic right hand drills that find their way back into my warm-up and finger routines often. It’s not that I need to practice them much anymore but rather they allow me to continually refine the most important movements necessary for pleasurable music making. They also allow me to set both short and long term tempo and endurance goals.

Try going through each of these three drills with the suggested fingerings. If you are more of a beginner, spend time on the bold faced fingerings, if you are more advanced, go through all fingerings in search for what does not work well, then focus your energy there. Don’t neglect the basics, though!

Follow these guidelines:

  1. Use a metronome and start slowly (quarter = 50-60).
  2. Go through each drill at least 3 times (I do 5 if I have time) with each fingering. Increase tempo slightly for each one.
  3. Do not sacrifice clarity and movement efficiency.
  4. Focus on the quality of the movements and the sound.

Fingerings

Rest-stroke fingerings: immi, amma, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam

Free-stroke fingerings: immi, ammapipm, ai, ia, ami, ima, imam, pa, pami, pmi

For patterns involving three fingers play three repeats to hit all permutations.

Exercise 1

Technique Cheat Sheet 1.jpg

Exercise 2

Technique Cheat Sheet 2.jpg

Fingerings

Play the following drills using free-stroke and by relegating each right hand finger group across the three strings (for example, with ima, place i on string 3, m on string 2, and a on string 1).

Play each of the seven movements for at least 4+ repetitions or set a timer for 30-45 seconds.

All free-stroke: ima, pim, pma, pia

Exercise 3

Technique Cheat Sheet 3.jpg

Try dedicating 60 days in a row (or with as much consistency as possible) to these movements and you will see results. Also, if you want a simple goal. Try to get each movement up to quarter = 126 over the course of the 60 days. Or, shoot higher! Why not?

David Russell Technique Talk

David Russell is a guitar hero for many reasons but one of them is for his ability to make everything he plays look effortless. Here is another masterclass snippet where he provides insightful guidance on the importance of a proper warm-up routine. He makes the analogy to sports, where warming up the muscles for practice helps to refine the motion and muscles necessary to perform efficiently. If muscles are not warmed up, larger muscles take over causing imbalance and tension.


Even if you do not speak Spanish, you can follow David’s crystal clear and carefully conceived approach to warming up. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize a few key points:

  1. Start with very simple movements in the left hand like ascending slurs with all the pairs of fingers (12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14).
  2. Move on to the right hand and work on perfecting a single finger free-stroke with each finger (i, m, a, p)
  3. Go back to the left hand and work on descending slurs (21, 32, 43, 31, 42, 41).
  4. Back to the right hand to work on alternation between pairs of fingers (im, mi, ma, am, etc.). During this time, focus on the effort and resistance it takes each finger to pull through the string. Adjust nails as necessary to create equal resistance. Otherwise, there is imbalance and this will compromise your fluidity. Also, moving from i to m may be easier than moving from m to i. Your job is to make both directions feel as equal as possible.
  5. Move on to imimim, ama, mam, etc., then incorporate slight accents imi, imiama, ama, etc…
  6. Back to the left hand to try compound movements (121, 212, 232, 323, 343, 434, etc…)
  7. Back to right hand to work on imim, mimi, amam, mama, etc… then try doing these movements cross-string.
  8. Then bring the warm-up to a close by spending 10+ minutes coordinating both hands with scale fragments: im with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, mi with 12, 23, 34, 13, 24, 14, etc…

If you’d like a bit more detail and a program that follows this approach please check out my recent publication, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar.

A Way of Thinking of Tremolo

…or should I say, a way of thinking about tremolo? (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Another point Pepe Romero makes in his masterclass is to think of the tremolo pattern originating from a instead of p. This, he explains, is because the first note of the melody coincides with a.

Pepe Tremolo amip 1.jpg

…from my new book, Mastering Tremolo.

Left Hand Warmup: Slurs, Fixed Fingers, Open Strings, and Tunnels

Lately, when starting my practice I will start with an assortment of left hand movements. I go slowly with attention to the fluidity of the movements. While I do this, my ear starts to focus. The easy pace is ideal for adjusting tone and exploring left hand movement before moving on to arpeggios, scale fragments, and spots in pieces.

Here is a slur sequence I really enjoyed focusing on yesterday. It involves playing slurs with a pair of fingers, slurs to and from open strings, all while requiring the precise placement of the fingers to create tunnels so that adjacent strings remain unobstructed. Fun!

I immediately thought: BLOG POST!

Here’s the outline of the movement using fingers 12 but you should try all pairs (23, 34, 13, 24, 14). You’ll get more out of the exercises by repeated each slur many times and of course, play them across all strings and positions.

Method of Practice

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 2.jpg

Exercise 1 – Ascending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise.jpg

Exercise 2 – Ascending Slurs 2

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 3.jpg

Exercise 3 – Ascending and Descending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 2a.jpg

Exercise 4 – Descending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 4.jpg

Exercise 5 – Descending and Ascending Slurs

Fixed Finger Slur Exercise 5.jpg

Go give that left hand a workout!

 

Slow Practice

I often try to convince students to practice ultra slowly by using various metaphors. How much more would you notice if you were to admire a great piece of art for an hour instead of a minute? How would your thoughts change if you read a complex paragraph quickly versus reading it slowly and contemplating the meaning of each word and sentence as it related to the whole? If metaphors don’t convince them they can go read this fabulous article for pianists written by pianist Graham Fitch about the slow practice that I think is spot on!

Enjoying Ultra Slow Practice

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

 

Right Hand String Crossing Technique Tip

One aspect of Ángel Romero‘s edition of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is that every single scale is fingered optimally for string crossing so that almost always reaches towards a higher string when blazing through the scale passages (i.e. when going from string 2 to 1, it is fingered i m and not m i). And while you could employ slurs or shifts to maintain optimum string-crossing, if those solutions are not musically in the cards there is a finger standing on the sidelines waiting eagerly to help: a. Using a to switch from im alternation to mi alternation without skipping a beat is an important skill to develop for situations where you would want to maintain optimum string-crossing for the right hand. Here are a few exercises using a to develop this technique.

Keep the following points in mind when going through these.

  1. Maintain a steady metric pulse.
  2. Keep your tone consistent.
  3. Practice rest-stroke and free-stroke.

Exercise 1

Using a to switch direction.jpg

Exercise 2 and 3

Using a to switch direction 2.jpg

Exercise 4 and 5

Using a to switch direction 3.jpg

Go a!

Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 1 – Base Building, Part 2 (video)

Here is the second of Six String Journal’s series of technique videos to accompany my recent workbook, A Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 1 – Base Building. This video corresponds to Left Hand Movements, Part 2.

This workbook is designed to help late beginners and intermediate guitarists develop a daily routine of movements to strengthen their technical base so that fingers can do their job properly when assimilating new repertoire. Always go slowly with the most control possible. Think of it as writing a program for your brain with no bugs.

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.

Problem Solving in Pernambuco’s Interrogando

I was working on Joao Pernambuco’s groovy Interrogando with an extremely young and bright student yesterday. Despite his ability to absorb new material at a pace that inspires me, he was having a difficult time making this little part sound fluid.

Interrogando 1.jpg

After a bit of analysis, we agreed that it was due to the lack of clarity in the right hand. So, instead of playing it over and over, which is often default behavior for most students confronting a tricky passage, we decided to break it down and come up with a list of steps to once and for all solve the problem. Here are the steps.

Step 1 – Write out strings.

Interrogando 2.jpg

Writing out the strings as numbers also helps see patterns if you process information better that way (i.e. 5232 5423 1232 ).

Step 2 – Choose the best right hand fingering options. See this post for more about choosing the best options: Conde Claros, Scales, and String-Crossing.

Interrogando 3.jpg

We came up with two solutions. The top one was chosen by the student because his technique was more suited to it. I preferred the second solution given to my preference for aipi instead of amim.

Step 3 – Analyze where the right hand position change happens (if at all).

Interrogando 4.jpg

Step 4 – Practice the last box from Step 3 using right hand alone with a focus on rhythm.

Step 5 – Bring left hand into the game for that box only (right hand now does it correctly and proficiently and left hand has to catch up is a much better option than both hands struggling and doing it somewhat incorrectly).

Step 6 – Check in with the right hand alone again.

Step 7 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the second to last box. Add to last box.

Step 8 – Go back to Step 4 and Step 6 with the first box. Add to both boxes.

Step 9 – Do a few minutes of focus, take a mental rest, and go back for several more sets (building mental muscle!).

Step 10 – Check tempo and set tempo goals.

Not only could the student whip through the passage after doing this, his skills at identifying any confusion improved. Lots of “Oh!” and “Now that feels easy!”.

Problem solved!

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.