What if there were a few things that you could practice that would make everything else you play sound better?
If you strip away all the complexity and variation from classical guitar technique right hand practice, you can arrive at a small, core group of patterns that most others are made of.
For instance, we only have 10 numbers. (1234567890). All other numbers are built from those 10. If you want to learn anything involving math, the best place to start is to know those numbers. If you don’t, nothing else will make sense. Same thing for classical guitar technique right hand movements.
Building From the Ground Up
In your practice, if you focus first on the core fundamental elements, and play them to integrity, your overall level of playing will rise, and you will be laying the foundation of great technique for all your future years of playing.
Of course, the main challenge is ingrain and habituate the fundamentals of good movement on the classical guitar. This takes time, attention and repetition.
The Primary Arpeggio Patterns
In the Free Arpeggio Course, I laid out a number of “primary arpeggio patterns”.
Just about all other arpeggio patterns are built from these. We can combine them into infinite variations.
These primary arpeggios are:
To this we add alternation, and we have the building blocks of our entire classical guitar technique right hand “vocabulary”.
Challenging the Fundamentals
Once you memorize and start to ingrain (through daily practice) these core patterns, you will inevitably crave some variety. We all like to change things up to keep guitar practice spicy and fresh.
Here is where a shift in thought is called for:
Instead of practicing different variations, exercises, etudes, pieces, arpeggio patterns, or anything else just for the sake of change and novelty, instead, use these things as a way to challenge your classical guitar technique right hand fundamentals.
It’s like adding weight to the barbells at the gym.
What this means is that you first set out to master these basic, primary patterns, then add complexity to it for the purpose of challenging it. It’s like adding weight to the barbells at the gym. It increases the challenge.
Adding the Left Hand
For instance, I recommend learning a practice chord progression to use with arpeggio practice. This makes practice sound beautiful, while also increasing the mental load.
As soon as you start focusing on your left hand, does your right hand slip at all (go back to old habits, etc)? Or does your right hand continue to close from the big knuckle? Stay aligned? Fully follow through?
Adding the left hand is way to challenge the right hand’s ability to maintain fundamentals.
More Complex Classical Guitar Technique Right Hand Patterns
Another way to challenge your classical guitar technique right hand fundamentals is to practice a more complex pattern in the right hand.
You can make up your own arpeggio patterns, play your primary arpeggios more musically (highly advised), or use existing resources, like Giuliani’s 120 Right Hand Studies.
Again, these are only useful and effective if your main focus is to keep your fundamental movements true and consistent.
Otherwise, they are just a distraction and you may be doing more harm than good by ingraining bad habits. Or, at the least, wasting time.
Playing Classical Guitar Pieces
You can also play actual music! This is, after all, the point of all this.
Pieces really ramp up the challenge to our classical guitar technique right hand fundamental movements.
We have to track:
- what notes to play
- what fingers to use in each hand
- the rhythm
- musical issues (accents, dynamics, etc)
- other considerations
Notes are the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”.
So often, the first thing to fall by the wayside is right hand technique. We just focus so much on playing the notes that the “how” of the process gets ignored. (In other words, notes are the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”.)
I am a big fan of playing simpler music as a tool to go deeper. One of the main reasons is that it allows the “mental bandwidth” to continue to focus on fundamentals of music and technique.
It’s Okay to Go Slow
Focusing in this way on fundamental movement and ingraining movement patterns seems like the slow road when we are just beginning the process.
It would seem like just jumping in and learning harder pieces would make us better players.
I used to feel that way as well, until I actually trusted a teacher, “drank the Kool-aid”, and spent the time to practice slowly with great intention and attention to these fundamental movements.
Through the process I found that the way we do anything is the way we do everything. I also found that I improved much more quickly because all my work served to enhance my overall skills.
I was no longer just getting faster at playing poorly. I was actually getting better, and I was more and more able to keep good fundamental movements as the music I played became more advanced.
We All Have These Experiences
Throughout life, we all have something that we have mastered that makes other things easier.
For some people, it’s the way they interact with other people, such as learning the ability to small talk or start conversations. For others it may involve physical movement (we all have to learn to walk well and balance before we can dance well or run.)
What parallels can you draw between practicing with a focus on the fundamentals of movement and another part of your life?
Leave your answer in the comments!