This blog will look at good technique and an approach that has its foundation in classical playing. Good technique is always good technique though, no matter what the style of playing; so, everything can be adapted to the steel string guitar.
I will not attempt to repeat the approaches found in the plethora of teaching videos online, but rather, I will seek to explain the little things that can make a huge difference to an approach to playing - things that I have developed and adopted from various leading teachers in the contemporary guitar world.
I’ll be sharing my thoughts on: Holding the guitar; tuning the guitar; hand positions; nails; finger exercises for synchronisation, finger independence and legato; stretching; melody playing; tasto and ponticello; harmonics; rest stroke, especially on the ring finger; barré chords; vibrato...
Here's a useful technique we can throw into our improvisations to add a flourish or emphasis. It's also a great exercise to get the RH fingers moving fluidly.
More rasgueado techniques to follow!
Vibrato helps fretted notes sustain longer and gives them more presence. Why should the technique be reserved for the violin or cello? It's a great technique for the guitarist to add a bit of sparkle to the music.
Hopefully this video will give you a few pointers to make sight reading, and learning notes in the high positions, less scary.
Stopping notes and playing rests
Articulation and clarity are always a concern when playing the guitar as notes ring on. Here are some tips to avoid the music sounding muddy... not just stopping the notes at a rest, but stopping the open strings ringing beyond their written duration.
Tasto and ponticello
It is essential to add colour to the sound made on the guitar - the most straightforward way is to vary where along the string the right hand plucks. This variety creates interesting contrasts and brings the music to life. Julian Bream is a great inspiration to this approach.
Here's something we're all experts at!
Hopefully the tips in this video will help hide mistakes but, more importantly, perhaps reduce the risk of them ever happening.
Just as a painter needs to add tonal variety to a painting, so too must a musician add dynamic variety to a piece of music, it would be very dull otherwise.
In this video I look at a simple device to add these dynamics. It is not just about playing a crescendo or diminuendo though, it's also about tension and release.
The video doesn't tell the whole story... it is a very basic introduction to dynamics. Playing louder as the notes climb in pitch can be useful and, for example bring scales to life, but one extra thing I should mention is that when the volume increases as the notes climb, it can be very pleasing to the ear to hold back the volume on the highest note.
A simple exercise to develop your use of dynamics would be to play i and m alternating on the open top string, start softly and gradually build the volume and then relax it. The next stage would be to apply this to a scale and then to a phrase from a piece of music you are working on.
Fingering descending notes
Here's a handy hint that minimises left hand finger movements, two for the price of one. Using this technique helps the left hand become more efficient resulting in smoother playing.
Left Hand finger preparation
A huge contributing factor to smooth playing is preparing the LH fingers early... Perhaps difficult to adjust to at first (focusing on fingers that aren't fretting), but if you scribble reminders on the music, eventually control will become more straightforward.
Rest and Free Strokes
Time for another exercise.
This one is pretty essential and it breaks down the movements of the fingers as they strike the strings. As with all the exercises, slow and methodical repetition will speed up progress.
Repertoire to be inspired
Choosing the right pieces to play will speed up development on the guitar...
Playing a piece: interpretation
What should we strive to convey when we are playing a piece of music? A good place to start would be to be sympathetic to the composer's original intentions. Ultimately though, the music should be about communication and we should aim to move the listener in some way.
In this video the example I use is 'Angel's Chant' by Bertrand Groeger.
Practising a piece 2: melody
The melodic line, the tune, is what we remember about a piece of music - locating and separating it out from the harmony and bass in a guitar score can be a challenge, but essential.
Once the rhythm has been established, we must isolate the melody and if the music is played without making connections between the notes of the melody, the music will lack form and coherence.
Our time is precious and ideally we need to perfect a piece without wasting any time. This video looks at a very useful way to approach problem passages.
The examples are sections from 'Un Día De Noviembre' by Leo Brouwer.
"...more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules!"