Three Steps to a Balanced Right Hand

by Leonardo Garcia

I wrote this for the Tonebase blog a while ago and thought I’d share it here. Hope it helps!

A crucial aspect of right-hand technique is the ability to control the stroke of each finger when it interacts with the string. During this interaction, the energy of the stroke determines the volume of the note and, if well done, does not displace the other right-hand fingers in the process. This requires right-hand finger independence. To this end, I like to walk students through a series of activities utilizing a fixed right-hand finger with the focus of keeping the hand and inactive finger calm.

During the sequence and patterns, watch the right hand as carefully as possible for any extraneous or micro movements. Ask yourself whether it is possible to pare these movements down to stillness. Does the thumb stroke overwhelm the hand? Are there any fingers or combinations that are more uncomfortable or weak? Is the stroke efficient?

To start, place all right-hand fingers (p, i, m ,a) on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings respectively. I recommend using a metronome (quarter note = 60).

Step 1

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Go slowly and spend enough time on each pattern (a minute or two) before moving to the next one. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: a should remain fixed on string 1

Repeat Step 1 but impose the metrical accent. Think: 1 and 2 and 1 and 2 and, etc. Weak beats (the ands) should be slightly softer. For fun, drop the strong beats to the background and play the weaker beats with more energy. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make deliberate adjustments until it feels groovy, balanced, and comfortable. Experiment with volume. Experiment with tempo.

Step 2

While keeping the inactive finger on its respective string, starting softly, play the following patterns. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: m should remain fixed on string 2

Repeat Step 2 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

Step 3

You know the drill. Take your time to feel. Focus on keeping the same volume in both the thumb and the fingers that are alternating or working together. Note: i should remain fixed on string 3.

Repeat Step 3 but impose the metrical accent. Keep weak beats softer. Watch your hand with curiosity to see how it behaves. Make adjustments until it feels right. Experiment with volume and tempo.

It is nice to follow these three steps with some arpeggio etudes. 

Hope this helps you reach your musical goals!

Featured Artist Interview – Bokyung Byun

Praised by Classical Guitar Magazine as “confident and quite extraordinary,” Korean guitarist, Bokyung Byun​ enjoys a reputation as one of the most sought-after guitarists of her generation. Notably, she is the first female winner of the prestigious JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. She has also taken first-prize finishes at the Frances Walton Competition, the Montreal International Classical Guitar Competition, and the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Competition. In recent seasons, Bokyung has performed as a soloist with orchestras, including the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Utah Symphony, West Los Angeles Symphony, among others. Bokyung’s debut recording has been praised as “a very beautiful disc. From the first notes of the “Gallarda” from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Escarraman, we are treated to extraordinary musicianship, technical assurance, and beauty of sound” (Soundboard Magazine). Fortunately for us, Bokyung recently sat down to share some of her experience with Six String Journal!


When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 

I started playing the guitar when I was six years old. One day I was watching tv with my mom, and a guitarist was performing on the tv. I was instantly fascinated by the instrument and loved the way it sounded. I told my mom I wanted to learn that instrument. We went to a local guitar school for lessons, and the teacher happened to be a classical guitarist so I began with the classical guitar.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

It keeps changing depending on what I’m working on at the moment. In general, I love and enjoy playing Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Dowland’s music. I feel closely related to the way their music speaks to me. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play the guitar made by Dieter Mueller paired with Paragon blue strings from Augustine. 

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?

I recently released a CD with my all-time favorites. It includes compositions by Ponce, Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Sierra. Each piece in this album is presented with a little bit of a twist. For example, I played one of Ponce’s most beloved pieces, Theme, Variations, and Finale, but I played the urtext version of it, which includes several movements that were not part of the Segovia edition, and all of the movements are presented in a completely different order. 

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

I co-founded a new music initiative called, the Sounding Board Project back in 2019. Our mission is to provide collaborative relationships between guitarists and composers to promote the creation of new music for the guitar. Each year we have produced and premiered innovative works for guitar in collaboration with a diverse group of guitarists and composers. This year we have invited guitarists, composers, and choreographers to collaborate and explore the inseparable bond between music and dance to create multidimensional works for guitar accompanied by choreographed dance. The premiere is set to be released in mid-August. I am very excited about this year’s project. If you would like to find more about the initiative, additional information and videos from the past projects can be found on our website (

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

I try to concentrate on the quality of practice rather than the quantity. I believe one hour of an organized and concentrated practice session is way more helpful than three hours of unfocused practice. I generally practice for about 3-4 hours a day. I prioritize the pieces that I have just started learning or will be performing soon. Then I practice the other pieces to maintain the general level of preparedness on them.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

For me, I think it depends on how much time I have to learn a piece. For example, if I am given only a short amount of time before I have to perform the piece, I will try to intentionally memorize as I learn. On the other hand, if I have plenty of time between learning and performing the piece, I will let my muscle memory do most of the work first. Then I train to deliberately memorize the whole piece in my head as well. I sit down without the guitar and try to visualize in my head where the fingers need to go from the beginning to the end of the piece to check how much of the piece I have actually memorized. 

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 

My go-to drills for warm-ups are Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 1 and Carcassi’s Etude No. 1. 

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not in particular, but I tend to wash my hands with warm water before going on stage to prevent them from getting sticky.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I wasn’t sure how to describe the shape of my nails clearly in words, so I’ve included photos which I hope will show the shape. Growing up I was very fortunate to have healthy, strong nails that I never had to use anything to help strengthen them. However, as time went on, and as I started practicing more vigorously for competitions and concerts, I realized my nails could no longer withstand hours and hours of strenuous practice sessions. I’ve tried different types of nail strengthening methods, but I settled on using gel nails. I find them to be soft enough that it doesn’t sound as harsh as artificial nails but strong enough to prevent the nails from breaking. 

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

I would like to emphasize the importance of mindful and organized practicing. I am also guilty of having unproductive practice sessions when I was young, playing a piece from the beginning to the end over and over again in hopes that it will eventually improve. Rember that the pace at which you will progress will be much faster if you practice more mindfully and in an organized manner. What I mean by that is to try to come up with a list of things you have to practice per session, set goals for each piece/exercise, and single out the sections that are troublesome for you. 

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I would recommend learning all of the “essential guitar repertoires,” such as Brouwer, Britten, Bach, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Tarrega, just to name a few.  They have been the favorites for a reason! They are great music that you can always program in your concerts, and through these pieces, you will become familiar with the idiomatic writing style of each composer. These pieces also have numerous masterful recordings that students can learn from by dissecting and comparing different interpretations. 

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

The Julian Bream collection! I grew up listening to and being inspired by his recordings as well. His recordings are full of his unique humor and expressive interpretations that we can learn from. His repertoire includes such a variety of music that it will also help young guitarists expose themselves to all kinds of music from different eras, genres, and styles.


Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 

I try to stay healthy. I find that I can focus better when I’m regularly working out. I love walking and yoga – it really helps relieve tension in my lower back and arms. 

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I am a foodie! I love trying different cuisines from different countries. I also love spending time with my husband and watching comedy shows together. 

website –

instagram –

sounding board project –

Davin-Levin Duo Playing Ravel and Glass

Music for 50+ strings? Virtuosos Colin Davin and Emily Levin, known together as the Davin-Levin harp and guitar duo, are about to release a new recording exploring repertoire and arrangements spanning at least that many strings. The recording will feature music by de Falla, Ravel, Glass, Stackpole, and Mattingly and is available for pre-order. Here are two absolutely beautiful videos of what to expect.

Ravel: Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête, from Ma Mère l’Oye

Philip Glass: Etude no. 6

If you missed Six String Journal’s interview with Colin check it out here: Colin Davin Interview.

Interviews and Insight from 2018

Happy New Year Six String Journal readers! Below is a link to all of our 2018 artist interviews. If you haven’t read them all, now is your chance. Please consider buying their cds, checking out their websites, and hitting that like button!

Koen Claeys

Leonora Spangenberger

Carlo Marchione

Colin Davin

Rebeca Oliveira

Tal Hurwitz

Andrea González Caballero

Edoardo Catemario

More great stuff coming for 2019! Thanks for all the good wishes.