Left Hand Choreography

Developing a well-crafted, clear, and effortless left hand choreography requires a high level of experience, attention to extreme detail, and a deep understanding of your own hands. Over the years, cultivating these components through the learning process of new repertoire helps us assimilate more music in a more meaningful way and, importantly, retain it when there are limitations to our practice time.

I wrote about attention to detail in an earlier post but thought I would elaborate on one point in particular that many students overlook: when to lift a finger that has been holding down an important voice or serving as an anchor to prepare it for the next activity. I’d venture to say that most students would not know how to answer and those who did would answer, “When you need it.” I’d argue that it would be better to plan it out and take it a step further:  plan it out to align the movement with your inner pulse or at the very least, to align it with a specific beat in the music. Awareness of every detail, after all, is what we are after.

Here is a another passage from Bach’s Prelude in E Major. Notice that at beat 2, thumb silences the 5th string at which point finger 1 can relax. At anytime after that moment, we would want to lift 1 to prepare for the shift. Too early would conflict with the act of silencing the bass note, too late would cause a panic preceding the shift. So, in order to make it feel like the movement is weaved into the choreography, lift at the third beat. Now we have a specific moment that also happens to be in line with a pulse that our bodies should be naturally feeling. This translates into a movement that feels more like a natural occurrence than a movement that augments the challenge of the moment.

Bach Left Hand choreography.jpg

Though this Prelude provides countless moments to exercise this awareness, a more concise piece that I think is great for students in which to practice this concept is Bach’s Prelude BWV999. There are moments in every single measure where timing the left hand finger releases would aid the right hand in maintaining a rhythmic continuity versus introducing some of the manifestations of an erratic left hand choreography: unwanted accents, slightly uneven rhythm, etc…I’m hoping to have an edition of this to post in a few days. Stay tuned and in the meantime, start incorporating the concept of timed left hand finger releases into your repertoire.

Right Hand Alone

At a certain point, every aspiring guitarist tackling difficult repertoire discovers the value of practicing the right hand of a musical passage, phrase, or entire piece entirely by itself. Understanding exactly what the right hand is doing in terms of musical inflection, rhythm, and string crossing is an absolute must for mastering challenging repertoire.

The most compelling argument is that most guitarists tend to fret over the left hand and often let the right hand only play up to the left hand’s standard. Essentially, the process dumbs down the right hand, which under little practice could probably out-execute the left hand. So instead of dumbing down the right hand, enable the right hand to exceed itself by practicing its part alone and eventually the left hand will rise to the occasion of matching the right hand’s ability.

Another argument for practicing the right hand alone is that by writing out the passage as open strings, we can better see  where the string crossing happens and as a result can insure that the right hand remains efficient (crossing to higher strings with m instead of i, for example) and if there is an inefficiency, that it is a conscious decision to have it that way.

Practice writing out several difficult passages of your repertoire as open strings, investigate whether or not the right hand fingering decisions make sense to optimize string crossing, and then practice the right hand alone on open strings striving to make it musical, rhythmic, and automatic. Then, invite the left hand back into the game to assess the difference.

At some point, after having practiced enough material in this fashion, you’ll find yourself able to visualize the best choice for the right hand without writing it out and you’ll even be able to play the right hand alone by looking at your score.

Here is an example of a passage and what it looks like after writing it out on open strings. Notice the rhythm is different to account for slurs. Also, notice all of the string crossing situations are efficient except for one situation which I’ve left for consistency in the right hand.

Excerpt from J. S. Bach’s Prelude in E Major, BWV 1006a

Bach Right Hand Example 1

Passage in open strings (string crossing in boxes):

Bach Right Hand Example 2.jpg