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! : )

 

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!

 

 

 

Pavel’s Left Hand Technique Fun

I think I’ve now scoured most of Pavel Steidl‘s masterclasses on youtube. What a treasure trove of advice. I absolutely love him, his creativity, and his masterful ability to teach in such a fun way.

Here is a left hand technique progression that roughly matches what he demonstrates in one of his masterclasses. Pavel recommends at least 30 minutes a day of work for the fingers. Among his bits of advice and reflections, there is a moment in a masterclass where he talks about left hand choreography and how it is connected to the part of our brain that is responsible for, as he puts it, “fantasy and imagination.”

Here is the sequence to explore:

Step 1

Play the top voice as a continuous slur.

Pavel's Fixed Finger Slurs.jpg

Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns:

02/1343, 03/1242, 04/1232 (slur/counterpoint)

Step 2

Now slur the counterpoint or fixed note as well.

Pavel's Fixed Finger Slurs 2.jpg

Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).

Step 3

Add in a coordinating movement in the right hand (try something simple first).

Pavel's Fixed Finger Slurs 3.jpg

Move on to the next step or repeat with the remaining patterns (see above).

Step 4

Explore a more challenging coordinating movement in the right hand (try pami on string 5).

Pavel's Fixed Finger Slurs 4.jpg

Be creative and have fun just like Pavel!

Rafael Elizondo’s Technique Videos

Rafael Elizondo is a fabulous Mexican concert guitarist who has been making wonderful videos for his youtube channel. If you don’t speak Spanish, you may not be at too much of a disadvantage because he demonstrates everything very clearly. This instructional video below is a fine example of Rafael explaining how to use fixed fingers to establish stability and confidence in the right hand.

Here is another great one where he demonstrates 4 finger coordination patterns for the left hand:

Check out and subscribe to his channel. There are tons of great posts.

More soon…

 

Technical Workout for Classical Guitar, Level 1 – Base Building, Part 3 (video)

Here is the third 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 3.

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.

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.

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.

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….

Finger Contraction Equals Tension

Yesterday I was working on Julio Sagreras’ super fun El Colibri (The Hummingbird) with my son which made it twice the super fun. He’s at the point where he can play through the entire piece, correct fingerings in both hands, smoothly. His lofty goal is 180bpm. Yikes! I explained to him that lofty goals are the best because he may get closer than if setting a lesser goal. And, who knows, maybe he will be the first : ).

In an effort to support this enthusiasm, we went through the piece again in an effort to discover ways to help him make both hands more efficient and relaxed. The one principle which really translated into faster and better looking hands almost immediately was shifting without finger contraction (or extension) and maintaining a relaxed left hand position.

If you are trying to squeeze every last drop of tension out of your hands in order to speed things up, do not contract the left hand fingers into each other (and, of course, do not extend the fingers away from each other).

The temptation to contract to prepare finger 4 is overwhelming but it is not the finger to focus on. Instead focus on using finger 1 to shift and as a result yank finger 4 into place. This reduces our mind’s focus to one movement: the shift. Otherwise, we focus our attention on placing finger 4 and then shifting. I don’t know about you all, but I’d rather have less to think of when playing quickly. It makes the piece feel slower.

And, now, for my first instructional video:

And, if you want to see the absolute finest and scariest rendition of this, check out the great Cuban guitarist Marco Tamayo:


By the way, he has a hyper-detailed edition of El colibri available from his website. Wait, is that 180bpm?