Active Practice Techniques to Improve Tremolo, Part 2

Reduction

Playing through the “skeleton” of a tremolo piece helps reduce it in your mind’s ear to the essentials of what is happening on the musical front. Because we spend so much time developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique, often our attention is so myopically focused on the minutiae of technique that we ignore the larger question of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically.

There are various ways to mentally condense the way you perceive your pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them well hundreds of times. But because it takes time to develop the endurance and speed to perform a tremolo piece at tempo comfortably, play through them instead in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:

Limosna reduction 1.jpg

Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by guitarist Philip Hii in his insightful book, Art of Virtuosity. In this method, shown below, ami act as one and pluck at the same time. Think of plucking a chord, but on one string. It won’t sound pretty, but in addition to focusing your attention on the bigger picture, by putting all of your fingers down at once you discover what position will give you access to all the strings in the most efficient way.

Limosna reduction 2.jpg

For more active practice techniques, check out: Mastering Tremolo

Tremolo Practice Tip: Reduction

Here is a sneak peak of a page from my soon to be released book on mastering tremolo.

Reduction

Playing through the ‘skeleton’ of a tremolo piece helps to reduce it in our mind’s ear to what essentially is happening on the musical front. Spending a large amount of time on developing the fluidity, clarity, speed, and all that goes into a beautiful tremolo technique so often draws a majority of our attention into the micro-discovery world that the thought of the larger macro world of what a tremolo piece is trying to achieve musically is somewhat ignored.

There are various ways to enhance the way we psychologically perceive our pieces to make them seem less daunting. The most tried and true method is to play through them hundreds of times. For tremolo pieces, play through them in an abbreviated way, as illustrated below, at faster tempos:

Limosna reduction 1.jpg

Another method, which I have grown to like despite the substandard sonic quality, was recommended by Malaysian guitar virtuoso, Philip Hii, in his fantastic book, Art of Virtuosity. In the method below, ami act as one and pluck at the same time. Think of plucking a chord but on one string. It won’t sound pretty but in addition to focusing our attention on the bigger picture, it helps the right hand to discover the angle at which it best moves through one string for tremolo.

Limosna reduction 2.jpg

Hope this helps!

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.