Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Twelve Etudes form part of the foundational pillars of modern guitar technique. Etude Nº1 in E Minor begins the cycle by setting an impressionistic harmonic stage for the evolution of the remaining eleven.
This particular etude has right-hand fingerings suggested by Segovia which over the years I’ve used but I like experimenting and have recently found that I like a different pattern. Each pattern yields a slightly different feel. Here I am using p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i but also warm up using many others. I love working on this etude and come back to it often when I have lots of time to practice. Try these patterns to see if any work or to simply improve your command of the instrument.
p i p i
p m p m
p a p a
p m p i p m p i p m p i p i p i – I use this one in the video above.
p m p i p m i a i a i m p i p i – I find this one to help with the transition into each measure. Honestly, I think it is the best one for me but I need to be warmed up for it to feel great.
p m i a p m i a p i p i p i p i – I think this one is nuts but I saw someone do it really well.
p m p m p m p m p i p i p i p i – This one retains the natural right hand finger position in relation to the thumb.
Any others that you all use?
I’ll try to get a video post of chaining to show how you can practice at tempo. It’s a valuable practice technique for a piece like this.
To conclude our video series covering right-hand technique development in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude N°1, I’ll explore how to use the concept of bursts (another rhythmic manipulation) to develop speed and further strengthen right-hand rhythmic precision, right-hand preparation, control, and clarity.
Here is a moving performance of Israeli guitarist, Tal Hurwitz magnificently interpreting Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s Un Sueño en la Floresta. The elements of this video are spectacular. From Tal, who seems to invoke Barrios’ spirit effortlessly, to the hall’s acoustics, to the rich sounding guitar (Friedrich?), to the production (Sanel Redzic), all the elements of the video come together into a piece of art.
While there is no doubt of Tal’s mastery, I’ve seen very few who so effortlessly and musically perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2.
And to contrast from the south American composers, we can step back into the delightful world of Dionisio Aguado’s Rondo, Op. 2, Nº2.
I was going to write about a warm up sequence that builds right hand endurance, speed, pulse, and legato. It was going to be a good one. But, I walked past my music stand and Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Etude Nº2 was taunting me.
So here are a few more thoughts and approaches I’ve found helpful while working on this over the last few weeks.
Right Hand Alone
We all know the value in practicing the right hand alone. It allows us to focus on what might be a potential lack of understanding as to where the trouble in a passage lies. Focusing on the right hand also allows us to feel the rhythm correctly without the hindrance of a faulty left hand or a left hand that cannot keep up. In this particular etude, there are two movements that recur often. Practice these movements or if necessary, build them up to comfortably play them at your target tempo (120+ bpm). .
Sweeping with p:
Cross-string arpeggio with various fingerings:
Slow and progressive warm up on these two movements helps develop a more ‘in the pocket’ feel and if you can retain the feel when incorporating the left hand, forces the left hand to behave more reliably. Remind yourself that if you cannot play those movements well at your target tempo, you will simply not be able to play the piece at that speed. So, set that metronome and get to work.
Left Hand Without Shifts
Though shifting in this piece does not present too many challenges, there are a few. Practicing a passage without a shift allows us to deconstruct a movement with two potential problems: the change in hand position and the shift. Try playing the first measure with no shift and focus on how it feels. Then, once that feels fluid, incorporate the shift while retaining the fluidity.
Resting the Right Hand Thumb
Do you know when and on what strings your thumb rests when not using it? Instead of randomly placing it for stability, find spots to rest it that coincide with the next note it will play. Not always possible but it certainly helps when you can get away with it.
Hope that helps. Stay tuned for the super warm up exercise and another Artist Spotlight…
If you all were inspired (or recovered) from watching Ekachai Jearakul whip off Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Etude Nº2, you may find this post helpful. While I was a student at the New England Conservatory, the second half of one of my degree recitals was simply Villa-Lobos’ Twelve Etudes. While some of the etudes are manageable, others require relentless and careful practice, and they all have moments that can fill endless practice hours with frustration. To add to the matter, I was studying with the great Eliot Fisk and despite all of his valuable advice and help, watching him display what was possible on a regular basis conjured both extreme inspiration and a sense of hopelessness at achieving such a level of comfort with these pieces. Needless to say, the year preceding that recital, I was immersed in a figurative amazonian finger jungle and found my own way of surviving.
For those working on this particular etude, there are a few spots where I found less obvious fingerings less problematic. These solutions are personal but if the spots have been frustrating for any of you, give the following solutions a try.
Measure 3 (repeats not counted)
In order to increase the resonance, I like having the 3rd and 2nd strings open on this one so I shift to 5th position to enable this. There are a few alternate right hand fingerings to explore but I prefer the 1st.
In this solution, guide fingers are highlighted in red. While the right hand solution is personal, I like switching to rest-stroke on the highest note of the run. If you prefer to play free-stroke, you might choose to switch to 1st position by playing the first note of measure 12 on the 1st string open and using that to shift. The second finger would still work as a great guide in this situation.
In this example, ending the repeat with a slight alteration makes a noticeable difference in playing measure 22. Again, I’ve included some alternate right hand fingerings for exploration but I prefer the 1st.
Hope this helps!
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