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?

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.


Left Hand Technical Workout – Part 3

To conclude the left hand base building stage, we’ll expand our practice routine to include three finger movements and some four finger movements. While developing four finger movements is beneficial for overall functionality of the left hand fingers, three finger movements occur with a lot more prevalence in repertoire so I would suggest focusing on those first.

As in the previous base building workouts for the left hand, proceed through the steps sequentially.

Three Finger Movements – 124, 421, 134, 431, 123, 321, 234, 432

Four Finger Movements – 1234, 4321 (obviously, there are many more possibilities but I would argue that these two are the most important)

Step 1 – Start movements without slurs (example using 124)

slur124 no slur.jpg

For the right hand, using im either free stroke or light rest stroke is fine. Using thumb (p) throughout is fine as well. Keep in mind the focus should be on the deliberate and precise placement of the left hand fingers. Do not complicate things with nifty right hand fingerings. The right hand technical workouts are coming soon!

Step 2 – Incorporate slurs (examples using 124 and 1234)

slur124.jpgslur 1234.jpg

Step 3 – Build endurance

slur124 endurance.jpg

Explore these movements in several positions and you should be on your way to building a strong technical foundation to back your interpretations.

In the next installment, we’ll work on methods to build on this foundation to develop speed, flexibility, and finger independence. Stay tuned!

Left Hand Technical Workout – Part 2

Assuming the previous workout has had positive effect on your control, accuracy, and finger strength, it’s time to go a bit further. Now we’re going to work on the following two-pair and compound finger movements following the same steps we took in Part 1.

Two Pair – 12 34, 43 21, 13 24, 42 31, 14 23, 32 41

Compound – 121, 212, 232, 323, 343, 434, 131, 313, 242, 424, 141, 414

Step 1 – Start all movements without slurs (example using 12 34 and 121)

slur1234 no slur.jpg

slur121 no slur.jpg

Step 2 – Incorporate slurs


Step 3 – Build endurance

slur 2121.jpg

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Left Hand Technical Workout – Part 1


I am currently working on a comprehensive technique manual ranging from base building to many advanced practice techniques. The theme for the next few posts will center around developing a strong technique base through a daily routine. We’ll start with some basic movements most students could stand to refine.

Complete steps 1-3 with all of the following left hand finger combinations. It is crucial during base building to focus on clarity, efficiency, and accuracy of both sound and movement.

Single Finger Movements: 01, 10, 02, 20, 03, 30, 04, 40

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

Step 1 – Perform all movements without slurs (example below using 01 and 10)

slur 10 a no slur.jpg

Step 2 – Perform all movements with slurs (example below using 01 and 10)

slur 10.jpg

Step 3 – Build endurance by extending the time on each string (example below using 12 and 21)

slur 12 p3.jpg

Go very slowly. Listen very carefully. Do several repetitions. Explore various positions.

Try going through this every day for 2-3 weeks. Part 2 coming soon.

Sloppy Left Hand Fingers

Hopefully, as an aspiring guitarist, the principle of precisely pinching frets with your fingertips has been engrained and you now know that it is very difficult to play well without putting this principle into practice. From slurs to counterpoint, training left hand fingers to place carefully insures the likelihood that our notes will emerge clearly from the guitar. But, as any investigative and intellectually-oriented student will discover, there are many cases where sloppy, finger pad pinching would prove the exception to the rule.

One such case would be when reaching for a bass note while playing or holding voices on the higher strings. If there are a few strings between the bass note and the voices being held, flattening the finger slightly while reaching will relax the hand more so than struggling to arch the fingertip into place.

Another case builds on this idea, what if you could use the flattened finger to silence a note on a neighboring string while simultaneously playing a note to achieve the correct musical intent of the composer or to maintain the integrity of a bass line? I’ve mentioned Bach’s Prelude in D Minor BWV999 before as a great piece to study many aspects of left hand technique so I will use a two measures from it as an example.

BWV999 Sloppy Left Hand.jpg

I’m hoping to post my edition of BWV999 soon with more pointers but for now, try to find places in your repertoire where it would be advantageous to not pinch so perfectly!

Left Hand Contrapuntal Exercise 2

Here is another one of my favorite left hand exercises. Practice it to develop more finger independence and to help stabilize your fixed fingers. The destabilizing element of the slur adds a challenge. Like in the first contrapuntal exercise, go slowly to insure the voices are being held their full duration. You can easily (or maybe with a lot of struggle) create a more challenging exercise by increasing the distance between the strings in use and by maintaining good form. Focus on the vertical movement of the fingers while the left hand remains stable. Use less hand tilting to get to the lower (or higher) strings.

contrapuntal 2

A Look at Guide Fingers

The great Cuban guitarist Marco Tamayo reminded me that all shifts should occur with guide fingers lightly gliding on the strings, preferably the treble strings to avoid unnecessary noise. If you observe any great guitarist’s left hand, like Marco’s, you will witness a great left hand choreography – smooth, soft, efficient, relaxed. One of the key elements in building an effective left hand choreography is a thorough understanding of how to use guide fingers to bridge and connect movements that may seem unrelated. Think of guide fingers as fingers that remain in passive contact with the string while shifting.

See if you can find guides in the next passage.

Excerpt from J. S. Bach’s Double from BWV997

Bach BWV997 Guides 1

Did you find them all?

Bach BWV997 Guides 2

Try to locate all and label all the guides in your repertoire. You’ll find that it not only improves left hand fluidity but it also deepens your physical understanding of the piece you are working on and in turn can help your memory.

Stay tuned for ghost guide fingers and changing guide fingers…