Tremolo, Part 2

Happy 2017!

Any guitar related New Year’s resolutions? If one of them was to improve your tremolo technique, then this post is for you.

As we all know, tremolo is tricky. As I mentioned a while ago in the Tremolo, Part 1 post, the elements in place necessary for tremolo to achieve musical expressivity, and come across as fluid and natural, are rhythm precision, consistent intensity from note to note, uniform tone, and speed. Here are several tried and true ways of working on tremolo that always make my fingers feel more confident with tremolo.

Training for Finger Return and Speed

We can work on speed indirectly by changing the right hand pattern. This demands the return of each finger to prepare for its next stroke. Choose a large section of a tremolo piece you are working on and play it with the following fingerings:

  1. To develop the return of i practice pimi and piai.
  2. To develop the return of practice pmim and pmam.
  3. To develop the return of practice pama and paia. I would argue that pama is the most beneficial as a usually has a developmental deficiency.

After a masterclass at Antonio Lauro Festival in Venezuela 20+ years ago, phenomenal guitarist David Russell was fielding questions about technique. I think someone asked him how he did tremolo if he broke a nail. With his usual enthusiastic demeanor, he sat down and demonstrated, “If I break a, I play tremolo like this [pimi]. If I break m, I play tremolo like this [piai]. And, if I break i, I’m screwed!”

Training for Improved Rhythm

Another technique to improve pulse, rhythmic consistency, and control from note to note is a bit more difficult to master but well worth exploring. Set your metronome to a slow tempo at first and then practice a section of a piece or the tremolo pattern (pami) on open strings by setting the click to coincide with a. 

Limosna Example metro on a.jpg

Then apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with m.

Limosna Example metro on m.jpg

And, finally, apply the same technique by setting the click to coincide with i.

Limosna Example metro on i.jpg

Here is a masterclass where David Russell demonstrates the technique with his foot instead of the metronome (15:41), and, incidentally, talks about a whole variety of relevant guitar issues – practicing technique, memorizing effectively, etc… You’re in luck if you speak Spanish.

Training for Improved Finger Placement

And, once you’ve practiced the techniques above, try playing expanded bits repeatedly focusing on planting the finger next in line after playing what’s in the brackets.

Play what is in the brackets. Plant a. Rest. Repeat 3x or more.

Limosna Example burst 1.jpg

Proceed to the next group.

Limosna Example burst 1 part 2.jpg

Continue with emphasis on the next finger for planting.

Play what is in the brackets. Plant m. Rest. Repeat 3x or more.

Limosna Example burst 1 part 3.jpg

Proceed to apply the same to i

Hope this helps!

Post #50 – Learning Resources


Santa Ana, Táchira

One afternoon after a long day of masterclasses in the little Andean town of Santa Ana in the state of Táchira, Venezuela, Maestro Alirio Díaz emphatically shared a list of what he considered essential reading for all of us young, bright, and bushy-tailed guitarists. I thought it was an odd list because the first book, Psycho-Cybernetics,  was written by plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz (1889-1975). In it, he discusses creating and developing an ideal self-image and he recommends many visualization ideas to achieve this. Alirio mentioned how he used it to visualize himself in front of audiences before performances.

Another book from his list, Piano Technique, was written by Karl Leimer (1920-1974), a concert pianist and pedagogue much admired by Richard Strauss. Leimer was drafted into Germany’s Wehrmacht during the end of World War II and subsequently imprisoned in Italy. He composed a Piano Concerto for Left Hand after he learned of a college friend who had lost his right arm to an explosion during the war. This book talks mostly to pianists and is written in a charming old school voice but it has very compelling chapters on slow practice and visualizing.

This next book was not recommended by Alirio. It is a personal favorite and since I’m recommending recommended books on learning, I will recommend it to top off the list. This one was introduced to me by “the Superman of Silicon Valley” Tim Ferriss whose books and podcasts are outstanding for dissecting high level performers across every discipline. This book in particular, The Art of Learning, is written by the great American chess player and martial arts master, Josh Waitzkin. There is so much great information in this book that we can apply to our pursuit of musical excellence, from beginners mind to visualizing to inner peace.

I’ll be back with more soon…