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.


Villa-Lobos Etude Nº1 Part 1

I love getting to the point when a student is ready to tackle Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº1. There are so many angles to explore and it takes a lot of dedication to master it. There was a time when I was preparing to perform all 12 etudes that I decided the best use of my warm up time was to spend at least 30 minutes on Etude Nº1, 30 minutes on Etude Nº2, and 30 minutes on Etude Nº3. After which my hands always seemed to work well as I worked on other material.

Over the course of months I may have played those etudes at least a thousand times in many, many different ways. I tried everything I could think of to make them better.

The first step in this great journey is to develop the right hand’s ability to play the entire arpeggio comfortably. The great Andrés Segovia suggested a solution that is still used by the majority of students and the one I used for years. However, as we develop our abilities we find that our hands have an easier time with certain movements and we find ways to use those movements to harness our strengths.

So, I always suggest putting in your time with Segovia’s solution until you can perform the Etude with that pattern. I find that the weakest part of the solution is moving from to a making the 3rd quarter note beat (half note of the measure) sound articulate which helps to delineate the rhythmic structure of the Etude, so I have come to prefer substituting with i. However, it wasn’t until working on the piece for many years that I slowly came to prefer it. Explore the possibilities in the practice room by adding in a few alternate fingerings to start the exploratory process. I’ve watched my dear mentor, Eliot Fisk, play it through in hundreds of ways just as an exercise to develop string crossing – I think I remember him even doing to whole arpeggio with m and pinky!

Here are some important ways to practice it. Stay tuned for Part 2 and we’ll go deeper.

right hand villa lobos fingering 1