Three Steps to a Balanced Right Hand

by Leonardo Garcia

I wrote this for the Tonebase blog a while ago and thought I’d share it here. Hope it helps!

A crucial aspect of right-hand technique is the ability to control the stroke of each finger when it interacts with the string. During this interaction, the energy of the stroke determines the volume of the note and, if well done, does not displace the other right-hand fingers in the process. This requires right-hand finger independence. To this end, I like to walk students through a series of activities utilizing a fixed right-hand finger with the focus of keeping the hand and inactive finger calm.

During the sequence and patterns, watch the right hand as carefully as possible for any extraneous or micro movements. Ask yourself whether it is possible to pare these movements down to stillness. Does the thumb stroke overwhelm the hand? Are there any fingers or combinations that are more uncomfortable or weak? Is the stroke efficient?

To start, place all right-hand fingers (p, i, m ,a) on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings respectively. I recommend using a metronome (quarter note = 60).

Step 1

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Go slowly and spend enough time on each pattern (a minute or two) before moving to the next one. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: a should remain fixed on string 1

Repeat Step 1 but impose the metrical accent. Think: 1 and 2 and 1 and 2 and, etc. Weak beats (the ands) should be slightly softer. For fun, drop the strong beats to the background and play the weaker beats with more energy. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make deliberate adjustments until it feels groovy, balanced, and comfortable. Experiment with volume. Experiment with tempo.

Step 2

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: m should remain fixed on string 2

Repeat Step 2 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

Step 3

You know the drill. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: i should remain fixed on string 3.

Repeat Step 3 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

It is nice to follow these three steps with some arpeggio etudes. 

Hope this helps you reach your musical goals!

Great Exercise for Building Your Right Hand Skills

by Leo Garcia, © 2022

If you’ve been working on right hand arpeggios or etudes and find that alternation between m and a is not as comfortable as i and m (or i and a) then you’ve come to the right place. The exercises below will help remedy this problem. Simply because of our hand anatomy, independence between m and a is more difficult to develop, so I often suggest adding a bit of extra mama to the basic patterns most students use to develop their right hand position and their arpeggios. Adding a little bit extra mama consistently will pay off over the course of weeks, so keep at it.

Here are the six patterns I encourage students to practice regularly:

Here is pima with extra mama (I like to add some activity in the left hand but it is not necessary):

pima + mama

Continue through the other patterns in a similar way. As always, use a metronome, strive for a consistent sound, and relax your right hand.

piam + amam

pmia + mama

piam + amam

pami + mama or amam

paim + amam

Good luck!

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The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing

The Best Right Hand Exercise You are Not Doing by Leo Garcia

If you’ve worked through both Part 1 and Part 2 to improve your right hand confidence, you can add this exercise to the bunch. I teach this one to students who are working on developing tremolo. But, it’s very useful for mastering the subtlety of string crossing with other right-hand fingerings. Use it to develop your basic right-hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Then try the basic pattern for tremolo pami or even go nutty with ami and ima. : )

Don’t forget to start slowly, with a metronome, and enjoy discovering which right-hand fingerings are your strongest and which ones need work.

Creeping Tremolo Exercise

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Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2

Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 2 by Leo Garcia

The most important movements to confident right hand technique include alternation between pairs and groups of fingers and how these fingers move across strings. Now we’ll take the idea a bit further than we did in Part 1. Remember to use these exercises consistently as part of your daily warm-up. Try the next several exercises using various speeds and the most common right hand fingerings: im, mi, am, ma in both rest stroke and free stroke. If you have extra time, add in the following fingerings in free stroke: ia, ai, ami, pi, pm, pa.

Here are several key practice points:

  1. Strive to play with a sense of pulse, resisting the urge to play every note with the same intensity.
  2. Focus on the quality of sound and whether it is consistent from finger to finger.
  3. When not using thumb (p), rest it lightly on the lower string adjacent to the string that is played. Experiment with resting it two or three strings away and sense the subtlety of how it influences the alternating fingers.
  4. Stay close to the strings.
  5. Use a metronome. Record your progress in terms of tempo.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

The following exercises shift the downbeat after the crossing. Maintaining a sense of pulse for the quarter note is essential to reap the benefits of this exercise. Keep focus on the downbeat. Again, use a metronome and work on basic right hand fingerings im, mi, am, ma, ia, ai in both rest and free stroke, and pi, pm, pa for free stroke. Push your tempo only after you are secure and solid.

Exercise 3a

Exercise 3b

And now we’ll take the idea into sixteenths. Speed is not the goal. Instead focus on groove and the subtlety of crossing at different moments in the beat.

Exercise 4

Exercise 4a

Exercise 4b

Exercise 4c

Hope this helps.

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Improve Your Right Hand Confidence, Part 1

The most important movements to confident right hand technique include alternation between pairs and groups of fingers and how these fingers move across strings. To that end, as part of your daily warm-up, try the next several exercises using various speeds and the most common right hand fingerings: im, mi, am, ma in both rest stroke and free stroke. If you have extra time, add in the following fingerings in free stroke: ia, ai, ami, pi, pm, pa.

Here are several key practice points:

  1. Strive to play with a sense of pulse, resisting the urge to play every note with the same intensity.
  2. Focus on the quality of sound and whether it is consistent from finger to finger.
  3. When not using thumb (p), rest it lightly on the lower string adjacent to the string that is played. Experiment with resting it two or three strings away and sense the subtlety of how it influences the alternating fingers.
  4. Stay close to the strings.
  5. Use a metronome. Record your progress in terms of tempo.

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

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Identifying Problems in Your Tremolo with Thomas Viloteau

This is a guest post from tonebase.


In Thomas Viloteau’s lesson on tremolo, he describes his method for working on and identifying irregularities in your tremolo. Your tremolo must serve the music you are playing and go beyond a technique. Otherwise, what should sound like beautiful music will instead sound like an exercise.

“The music is the most important thing. If you practice your tremolo as a technical thing, when you go to an actual piece it’s either not going to work or it’s going to make your music completely flat and lifeless.” – Thomas Viloteau

What is a good tremolo?

A good tremolo allows for three things:

  1. A wide range of dynamics (pianissimo to fortissimo)
  2. Different articulations
  3. A range of different tempos (accelerando, ritardando, rubato…)

How to spot problems in your tremolo?

Get a smartphone or device that can film video at a high frame rate and play it back in slow motion. It’s the only way to SEE what your fingers are doing at such a high speed and HEAR if you are actually picking as regularly as the beat of the metronome. This will help you learn what you are doing wrong.

Once you know what to fix, practice on open strings with a metronome. Make sure the technique you are practicing at a slow speed is not just “good enough” to pass at a slow tempo – it needs to work at full speed. Try experimenting with expressive variations to test your control over the technique. As soon as your technique is ready, start practicing your tremolo within the piece and NOT in isolation, as just a tremolo exercise. It will only be great if it is MUSICAL and works within the piece!

What are the different types of tremolo?

These three approaches offer different qualities and fit different musical contexts. Experiment to find more. For all the exercises below, use a p-a-m-i plucking pattern, though in some situations a two-finger tremolo may be preferable.

  1. Basic – Resting (a) ring finger on the string before plucking it to create stability for the hand and tell your fingers where the string is. Free stroke all the way through the string.
  2. Legato – Never resting (a) ring finger on the string. Works well for piano sections and when the accompaniment is on the top. It also works well for portamento because it doesn’t silence the string.
  3. Detached – Planting each finger firmly on the string before it plays. Mostly for use on the second or third strings. The finger comes more from ABOVE the string, in this technique, and may jump a little rather than remaining totally steady.

Bonus Tips

  1. Tremolo is much easier on the first string than the second because there is more range of motion for your fingers. Take advantage of this when you make your fingering
  2. Your forearm must be super relaxed and your hand very stable.
  3. To minimize the sound of your nail hitting the string, you must make sure that your flesh is hitting the string before the nail.
  4. It is easy for the middle finger to fall out of time. If this is happening, accent the middle finger’s plucking.

Watch Thomas Viloteau’s lessons and more on tonebase Guitar.

NEWS! Complete Technique Video Course Launch!

Six String Journal just seconds ago launched the online video course Complete Technique for Classical Guitar! To celebrate the launch I’ve discounted the course for Six String Journal readers by 25% discount for the next 30 days. If you are looking for a way to up your guitar game, want a massive project for the summer (seriously, what else are you going to do?!), and want to support our site, this is for you.

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About the course:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique for Classical Guitar Course was developed for the advancing beginner with some experience, the advancing intermediate guitarist, and will even benefit those with lots of playing experience. Though music theory isn’t necessary, a rudimentary understanding of rhythm is helpful.

The course consists of primary movement videos where I will teach the foundational movements that you’ll need in order to master classical guitar. These videos cover topics such as free-stroke, rest-stroke, arpeggios, alternation, scales, hand coordination, slurs, and shifts. These are followed by several series of secondary videos where I’ll apply the techniques and movements in various ways to help you engrain them into your own practice. Stringing the secondary videos into a sequence will teach you how to form an effective practice routine that will maximize your results and get you closer to your musical goals.

Course Includes
  • Hours of focused technique lessons with an award-winning classical guitarist, the founder of Six String Journal, and sought-after educator.
  • Over 50 extensively detailed but digestible videos demonstrating essential foundational movements, technique tips, exercises, routines, and how to implement them into your practice, carefully edited in small bite size videos for easy assimilation and viewing.
  • Printable PDF summarizing the entire course with a condensed visual of the material presented.
  • Loads of bonus content from Six String Journal’s Mastering Diatonic Scales.

 

 

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Katarzyna Smolarek

The brilliant Polish concert guitarist, Katarzyna Smolarek is becoming known for both her breathtaking virtuosity and her magnificent interpretations. In addition to studying at the Mozarteum in Austria and concertizing throughout Europe, Katarzyna has been awarded over 20 international competition prizes over a very short period of time. The silver lining to sheltering in place in Europe is that she was able to find time to sit down and share her experience, philosophies, and wise advise with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

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Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My parents just signed me up for a music school and I think at the time no one was expecting that I would become a professional musician in the future. With time, I developed a love for playing music and I decided to dedicate my life to it.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing all kinds of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music. I think every style has its own proper charm, and I always seek to discover the beauty in each new piece that I learn.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings?

At the moment I perform on a guitar built by Jacek Łozak from 2010. My favourite strings are Savarez Alliance Premium medium tension. Since last year I’m proud to be a part of the Savarez artists family.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you?

Definitely all of my teachers. Lidia Przyłęcka, Ryszard Bałauszko and Marco Tamayo – they have had a huge influence on my progress, for which I will always be grateful. I consider all of them amazing musicians, dedicated teachers and wonderful people. I was extremely lucky to have them along the way.

What recordings are you most proud of?

I actually haven’t done a lot of recordings in my life (but I’m working on it!). I’m certainly most proud of my recent videos made in Siccas Guitars. They are my most professionally done recordings so far.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of coronavirus a lot of my events have been cancelled. If everything is back to normal soon, I will be able to go to Portugal in June to perform a concert with an orchestra as a part of the International Guitar Festival in Amarante. I am sure I will enjoy it a lot after having such a long break from traveling.

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Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

The duration of my practice varies depending on many factors. I usually practice around four hours per day, but this amount increases before concerts or competitions (or now, because of the quarantine). On the other hand I practice less when I spend time with my family or when traveling. I’m also no stranger to taking days off to relax and reset. I don’t think I structure my routine in some special way.

Usually after I have finished practicing in the evening, I make a plan for the next day so that my practice sessions are balanced and I don’t neglect anything. When I have a whole day for myself I like to break it out into two sessions: morning and afternoon, 2-3 hours each, with a break for lunch and some other activity.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

I think there is always room for progress, so in that sense I can say I’m working on every aspect of the guitar performance. I don’t imagine that I will ever have a feeling that there is nothing else to work on and I think it’s a good thing. The constant pursuit of artistic excellence is what brings innovation and life to art.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

It depends on the piece and the situation. I usually try to learn a piece by memory as soon as possible, so that I can entirely focus on the music. Sometimes the music demands deliberate memorization, and other times the memorization comes naturally after just a few days of playing it. Nevertheless, every now and then I would revise the score, because with time some details might slip away. I also make sure that it’s not only my fingers that remember the piece, but also my brain, in other words that I remember the notes and not only the movements. In order to do that, I play it extremely slowly focusing on every note, or I go through the piece in my mind without touching the guitar at all.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

I like to play through a couple of slur and scale exercises before I start practicing pieces. However, I’m not a fan of spending a lot of time warming-up, as for me the ultimate goal is to be ready to perform without having to go through a series of technique exercises. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we do not have the possibility to warm up before a concert, and I believe the quality of our performance should not be compromised in those situations.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not at all. Obviously, it’s important to have a good rest and a good meal, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual. Again, I feel like it’s dangerous to have specific pre-concert routines. In situations when we are not able to perform the routines, we might then lose our confidence on stage as a result.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Solve the problems instead of getting discouraged! I get the impression that a lot of young players don’t really know how to practice. They think that repetition is key and when a passage still doesn’t work after having played it 100 times they start thinking things like, “this piece is too difficult”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I need months/years to play it well”. There is nothing worse than having this sort of approach. Practicing should be all about constructive problem-solving. If something doesn’t work we should be able to exactly tell why and the more precise our answer, the better. We should be extremely conscious of our movements and of our choices. This way we can make progress way faster than by mindlessly repeating.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?

I wouldn’t say that there are any specific pieces that one really must play during his education, although I think that it is essential for a student to be familiar with the concepts of all the historical styles. The more repertoire we already know, the more tools we have for our next interpretations. I would also say that it is important to play the standard guitar repertoire; such as Villa-Lobos’ studies, suites by Bach, sonatas by Ponce, pieces by Barrios, Tárrega, Rodrigo, Turina and so on and so on. Nowadays we tend to look for unknown pieces, we make our own transcriptions and we commission new music. I find it wonderful, however as students we need to familiarize ourselves with traditional repertoire first. This will properly facilitate our lives as performers and teachers.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I think all recordings, no matter good or bad, have their value. Exactly what we listen to is not so important; the crucial part is that we are able to develop an informed opinion and discern what is of high quality and what’s not. What I find extremely useful is listening to a lot of recordings of the same piece and focusing on the differences between them. This helps me understand many possible ways of thinking about the same piece of music.

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Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

The last one would be Fahrenheit 451. I love Márquez, Llosa and Murakami for their out-of-this world storytelling.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I really like learning new languages. Currently I’m working on my Portuguese. Apart from that I enjoy cooking, reading, dancing salsa and just recently I got terribly hooked on the series “Breaking Bad”.

Mastering Scales, Part 5: Fragments

Mastering Scales, Part 5: Fragments

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

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

Practicing and developing the ability to play fast or expressive fragments is arguably as important as practicing long scale forms primarily because most repertoire contains small melodic fragments consisting of groups of three to seven notes. Spanish repertoire, in particular the music of Joaquín Rodrigo, is an example of where long scale practice pays off but among the music by every other composer, from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to Heitor Villa-Lobos, it is difficult to find many instances of scale runs beyond two octaves.

Using  familiar scale forms, work on small extracts of 3-7 notes in various ways to discover which right-hand fingerings feel most comfortable and which present challenges to overcome.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Short Fragments

Step 1

Extract a group of notes from a familiar scale form

Scale Fragment 1.jpgStep 2

Develop all possibilities with incremental addition of notes.

Three notes: 134, 341, 413, 431, 314, 143.

Four notes: 1341, 3413, 4134, 1343, 3431, 4313, 1434, 4341, 3414, 4143, 4314, 3143, 1431

Five Notes* (my favorite):  13431, 34313, 43134, 31343, 14341, 43413, 34143, etc…

* not all possibilities listed

 Longer Fragments

 Step 1

Box off a larger group of notes and play in various combinations.

Fragment 2.png

Step 2

Fiddle with the order of notes to yield and practice melodic fragments:

Fragments 3.png

Further Development

To both the shorter and longer fragments, add slurs, articulations, accents, and character to experiment with expressivity.

Mastering Scales, Part 3: Scale Patterns

Mastering Scales, Part 3: Scale Patterns

There are infinite ways to develop more speed, accuracy, and fluidity in your scale practice. Using rhythmic manipulation, extensor training, patterns, repeated notes, fragments, and phrasing are favorite devices. They will all explained in the next several posts. Once you are familiar with the various techniques, apply them to scales (or even troublesome spots) in your repertoire to either problem solve or build a stronger foundation.

Throughout the following series of posts use the following fingerings (basic patterns in bold) focus on efficient and relaxed alternation, tone, consistency, and rhythmic pulse. More advanced students could expand them with articulations such as staccato and legato, dynamics, and tempo. Practice the material between repeats more than twice when necessary.

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

Though by no means extensive, use the following three and four-note scale patterns to develop coordination and to combat awkward string-crossing moments. Combining alternating right-hand fingerings with triplets or three finger patterns with sixteenths will further develop fluidity in your right-hand technique.

For scale sources and further study: Mastering Diatonic Scales.

Three Note Patterns

Step 1im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa

Pattern 1

Scale 3 pattern 2.jpg

Pattern 2

Scale 3 pattern 3.jpg

 Step 2ami, ima, pmi

 Pattern 1

Scale 3 pattern 2.jpg

Pattern 2

Scale 3 pattern 3.jpg

 

Four Note Paterrns

Step 1im, mi, ma, am, ia, ai, pi, pm, pa

Pattern 1Scale 3 pattern 4.jpg

Pattern 2Scale 3 pattern 5.jpg

Step 2ami, ima, pmi

Pattern 1Scale 3 pattern 4.jpg

Pattern 2Scale 3 pattern 5.jpg