Developing Arpeggio Speed

There are some basic principles that I think most guitar students should know to develop speed and flexibility when practicing right hand arpeggio patterns. These principles are applicable to other areas of technical development, so once you become familiar with them, you can try to apply them to your scales and to difficult passages in your repertoire.

Assuming you have a decent base, a clear stroke, and you’ve logged sufficient hours of basic arpeggio practice, the next step is to explore them to uncover weaknesses and discover your own limitations and strengths.

For all of the following ideas, spend time on each one as if were the only one to master, stick with them for longer than you may have the patience for because careful and consistent repetition really helps. I’ll illustrate the principles using pima across strings 4, 3, 2, and 1. This is a default position for your right hand that should used ALL the time in arpeggio practice and through ridiculous amounts of practice, it should start to feel like home. Once pima is mastered try the other combinations of four fingers across four strings: piam, pmia, pmai, paim, pami.

Accents

Simply play through each trying to accent the note indicated. You can exaggerate the follow-through of the stroke to achieve this or turn the exercise on its head by playing all unaccented notes in a more relaxed fashion.

right hand pima accents.jpg

Downbeat Rotation

Though related to accents, I swear that when I start this arpeggio on m it feels out of balance. I guess I’ll go work on that right now.

right hand pima rotate downbeat.jpg

Active Preparation

I like to think that if my finger is on the string it will pluck that there is no way José that I will miss that note. So, guess what I try to do all the time? I try to simultaneously pluck and prepare the next pluck so that I’m theoretically always prepared and waiting on the string. Practice landing on the x but do not pluck.

right hand pima prep focus.jpg

Meter

I love doing this. Take a 4-note arpeggio and play it through as a continuous triplet until the first plucked note (p) cycles back into the downbeat.

right hand pima asymmetrical 2.jpg

or try this one:

right hand pima asymmetrical.jpg

Bursts

Set the metronome to a tempo that is near your limit or beyond. Think of it like a mini-sprint. Exert hyper-control when you go slow so that the bursts remain as accurate as possible.

right hand pima bursts.jpg

Rhythm

Related to bursts but meant more to develop rhythmic flexibility, here are the basic six rhythms I use (there are MANY more) all the time when warming up.

right hand pima rhythms.jpg

Good luck!

 

Resting the Right Hand

Apoyando, the word used to describe rest-stroke in Spanish literally means to lend support to and whether it’s rest-stroke with the fingers or thumb, the strings should support inactive or transient fingers while others pluck out pretty passages. Between you and me, my right hand needs all the support it can get. So with that in mind, there are moments while playing where you should search for opportune moments to provide support for your right hand by resting the fingers on strings as you play. Resting right hand fingers during play imparts many technical and musical benefits:

  1. STABILITY – Fingers in motion gain stability as they are moving against a fixed object (i.e. try kicking a soccer ball with both feet in the air vs. kicking the soccer ball with a solidly planted foot).
  2. FINGER INDEPENDENCE – Though this takes more time to develop, it is fundamentally important to develop the skill of moving a finger without exerting influence on the movement of an adjacent (or distant) finger.
  3. REFERENCE POINT – Wouldn’t it be nice for the right hand fingers to know where they are in relation to the strings?
  4. REST – Fingers recently held in motion can release tension by waiting on a string.
  5. MUSICAL TOOL – A resting right hand finger can inadvertently or intentionally silence sympathetic resonance or a note bleeding into another note. We can harness this new found super power to control voice ringing more accurately to reflect the intentions and articulations of our interpretation or, heaven forbid, the indications of the composer while benefitting from the above points.

For example if you are playing a p i m arpeggio, could a find a string to rest on? Could you plant all fingers before executing the first note? Or in playing Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1, could a rest on string 1 until it is necessary for engagement and then re-plant a quarter note or half-note later? When strumming with or m, could p rest on a lower string? Think of the analogous situation to the left hand principle of connecting two pinches. While playing an arpeggio can we both play and plant the next finger to insure that our right hand is not floating? Is an arpeggio an opportunity to plant all the fingers before execution or to sequentially plant as the fingers play?

Be on the lookout for right hand’s absolute lack of contact with the strings while playing and you will likely find many opportunities for improving your right hand’s technique.

 

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.

Right Hand Technical Workout Part 1

Just like in our Left Hand Technical Workout, I’m going to break this post into a few parts. This first part focuses on developing the macro movement of the hand as a unit.

Right Hand Movements

For all of the following movements, begin with the right hand positioned over strings 4, 3, 2, 1 with fingers p, i, m, a, respectively. Later, to expand into tremolo movements, p can remain on a different string and i, m, a can be used on the same string.

This part of the workout for the right hand involvies larger gross-motor skill requiring movements: chords and rasgueados.

Go through all fingerings for each movement.

Step 1

Chordal Movements – pima, pim a, pi ma, pma i, pm ia, pia m, pa im

Groups of fingers that are underlined move together and alternate with the next finger/fingers. Below is an example of pim a. I tend to use a simple scale of thirds or if you are craving dissonance, a diminished 7th chord (think Villa Lobos) as I ascend and descend the fretboard.

right hand chord 1.jpg

Focus on keeping the right hand relaxed but still. All movement must originate from the knuckles as if lightly closing your fist. I really have to get some short videos demos of this stuff…

Step 2

Rasgueado movements – cami, amii, pai, camii, im mi

For the movements below, rest the thumb (p) on string 5 when not using it in the pattern. Movement should originate from the knuckles outwards. Time to develop those flexors. Don’t overdo it though!

right hand rasgueado.jpg

Stay tuned for part 2!

New Editions of Bach and Nárvaez

Little by little, I’ll be posting new editions of pieces I’ve played over the years. From Bach to Barrios to Technical Workouts and a Technique Book, stay tuned. The first two are finally up…

BWV999 Graphic.jpgGuardame Vacas graphic.jpg

https://sixstringjournal.com/music/

 

 

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

slur1234.jpgslur121.jpg

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.