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Right Hand Technique Starts In Your Head
Published: 22 November, 2014

– first get the sound right, and dexterity will follow on from that-

Right hand technique is about two things: sound and dexterity. Dexterity and speed can be achieved in different ways with widely different hand positions. Witness to that is the range of right hand positions employed by good players. It is clear, although maybe uncomfortably so for those who wish to turn technique into dogma, that there are many different ways of achieving them. More about dogma later on.

Sound can also be achieved in different ways but the scope is more limited. For example, any technique which includes a vertical release of the string is going to limit both the quality and quantity of sound. Good tone is all about how you can avoid the vertical release.

It requires some careful exploring but it is not difficult to achieve a good tone. What is more difficult is to achieve your tone. There is where you have to dig into your head, not into the strings! Small changes in how the fingers approach the strings produce big changes in sound. The election of free-stroke (tirando) or rest-stroke (apoyando) and how you decide to mix them will greatly colour the sound of your playing. You mean you don’t believe in rest-stroke? Oh dear, I think you have been dogmatised!

Here is a simple but telling exercise. Put the guitar down, and imagine yourself playing the guitar, and hear exactly the sound you wish to make. It may be beyond you. If so, work to achieve it. It may be there under the fingertips, in which case all you need do is find it by experimentation. That’s why right hand technique starts in your head.

First get the sound right, and dexterity will follow on from that. It is much more interesting and in the long term more productive to think of it that way round. Do all your practice in a room with the window open. There are two reasons for this. One, good ventilation encourages you to think with a clear head. Two, there should be a sufficient aperture to allow the discarding of waste material, including dogmatic thinking, directly into a non-recyclable bin whose final destiny is an incinerator! Thus, with an open mind, and in a spirit of enquiry, you will achieve your very own sound and right hand technique.

21st November 2014, London

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