A few notes about technique

June 24th, 2015

Technique to me has always been more about skill than pure ability.

What is the difference between the two, you may ask.

Let’s take the example of playing arpeggios.

Many people think that to play fast arpeggios, they’ll have to have fast fingers. So they work on increasing the speed of their fingers.

In other words, they’re working on the ability of their fingers to move fast.

To me, however, fast fingers are not that important in playing fast arpeggios.

Much more important is grouping the notes of the arpeggio so that you play them in one motion rather than in many small motions.

This is skill, skill in knowing how to group the notes and how to time their releases so that they occur at a regular even rate.

Knowing the difference between skill and ability is crucial.

I hear of players who focus on ability, they’re under the impression that to play fast, they’ll have to move their fingers fast.

So they theorize, probably inspired by athletes who have to get out of the block in an explosive motion, that they have to work on explosive (sometimes called ballistic) motions in their fingers.

But this is really barking up the wrong tree.

In many ways, the situation is analogous to using brute force and using leverage.

Skill is leveraging your ability. If you depend purely on your physical prowess, you’re using brute force, or as the case is here, brute speed.

As we all know, brute force can only get you so far.

The same is true of other techniques like the tremolo and scales.

Each one of these techniques have specific skills (or tricks) associated with them.

And the key to mastering them is to learn these tricks and internalize them.

Tricks is a good word to describe these skills. But this is not trickery of course. It’s more like special knowledge to achieve what you want to achieve.

Another word might be cheats (as in cheat sheet). You know the routine; cheats enable you to move almost miraculously from one level to another. In the same way, skills enable you to produce technical effects almost miraculously, with almost no effort.

So where do you learn these skills?

Through practice. You practice and practice and over time, these skills will reveal themselves to you. That’s where I have derived most of my techniques.

You can learn them from teachers.

This is really one of the reasons we go to teachers so that they will show us all these shortcuts to techniques.

You can learn them from books, and I have learned my share of skills from different books and magazine articles too.

Where you learn your skills is immaterial.

The important thing is that once you learn them, you’ll have to practice them until they become second nature, until they occur automatically.

The more skills you learn, the more you will realize that playing the guitar is really very simple and easy

It’s all a question of knowing ‘how’ to do it.

Tags: , ,

5 Responses to “A few notes about technique”

  1. steve c Says:

    Philip, It is always a joy when I check your blog and find you have shared a valuable piece of knowledge with those who are trying to improve our guitar playing skills. This one is one that I need to remind myself to apply as I practice\play arpeggios and scales. It does make sense to think about these elements in groups rather than individual notes when trying to increase speed. Thanks for sharing.
    Steve c

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Thanks, Steve. Glad to hear that you find these articles useful! All the best.

  3. MdM Says:

    Hey Philip,
    the rarest “trick” seems to be fast scales. It requires such a finer degree of coordination than most other techniques. Tremolo has never been that big of a deal to me, but fast scales has always been a struggle.

    Another word you might consider is “hack”. That’s a current word that could be synonymous with “trick” or “cheat”.

  4. Philip Hii Says:

    Hi Michael, you’re right. Scale playing seems to be the most problematic in terms of ‘tricks.’ I have been postponing my book on the subject but will get to it soon. There’re actually a few tricks one can employ, including that of note grouping which becomes speed bursts in scale playing. When we play bursts of notes, we’re essentially trying to do them in one motion. I have a rough draft of the book and will post it soon as an article soon. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Carlos Galvan Says:

    Master Hii, what a pleasure it is to see the consistency of technic rather than speed emphasized by the Great Classical Players/Teachers. One regret I have lived with is not accepting Master Javier Calderon’s invitation for private lesson through the local college. 37 years later, technic, which he himself also emphasize, is what I recall more than all else. Thanks for the information you dispense, it is invaluable for anone who wishes to continue improving in this art.

Leave a Reply