How to consolidate with two fingers/2

July 2nd, 2019

Once you learn to play short four-note bursts of speed, the next step is to connect them into longer lines.

Connect two bursts first:

i m i m, i m i m

The comma above is to separate the two bursts visually, but when you play them, there should be no break between them. It would sound like a continuous line.

It’s important that you don’t try to play them in one long burst of eight notes.

Instead play them in two bursts of four notes and focus on the beginning of each burst and let the other three notes occur as if they’re echoes of the first note.

When you focus on the first note of each burst, it should sound louder than the other three notes. That’s a good sign.

At this point, getting the right mechanics in your fingers is more crucial than evenness. (Getting evenness in your strokes is relatively simple. All you need to do is apply more tip power to each stroke.)

After you can do two speed bursts comfortably, go to three bursts, then to four bursts, and then to longer scales.

How to consolidate with two fingers

June 30th, 2019

Years ago, I read an article by George Clinton in Guitar magazine about how Paco de Lucia’s scales seem to be based on the nervous twitch.

I did not understand what it meant until recently.

According to Google, the definition of twitch is “short, sudden jerking or convulsive movement.”

This describes the basic principle on how to consolidate a series of quick actions into one.

If you have to play a series of ‘i m i m’ movements, play them in one quick motion (almost like a twitch) instead of in four movements.

Here’s a short exercise to develop this action.

Start with ‘m i.’

Play ‘m i’ on one string (I recommend the B string) in one motion. To do this, bring the two fingers to the string together, but don’t play them together. Let the ‘m’ finger hit the string first and then the ‘i’ finger.

So you’re going to hear a rather uneven ‘blam, blam, blam’ sequence of notes.

Practice this until it becomes easy and natural.

Next, add the ‘i’ to the mix. (Yes I know the ‘i’ finger is already in the mix, but we’re adding it to the beginning.)

Now you’re playing ‘i m i.’

The instant you play the first ‘i’, play the ‘m i’ that you had practiced before in that quick one motion.

In other words, you’re playing three notes in one motion now.

There’s no sense of control. Everything has to happen like a quick twitching motion.

Now, we’ll add another ‘m’ to the figure.

We’re going to play ‘i m i m’ on one string.

The instant you play the first ‘i’ play the ‘m i’ and then the ‘m’.

All in one quick motion, in one uncontrollable action, again like a twitch.

Practice this over and over until you can get it to happen on cue.

One motion that produces four actions.

This is the key to consolidation with two fingers.

There is one additional component to all this, which is the direction of your rest-strokes.

To do this efficiently, your strokes must be horizontal to the strings, meaning you must go ‘across’ the strings rather than ‘into’ the strings.

The ability to consolidate your finger movements is the first step to developing an efficient two-finger rest-stroke technique. I’ll be describing the other factors in an upcoming book on playing two-finger scales.

The classic position

June 28th, 2019

Physiology is important when determining hand positions.

The last thing you want to do is force your hand into a contorted shape simply because you saw your favorite player holding his hand that way.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different right hand positions but in the end, I always come back to the ‘classic position.’

What’s the classic position?

You can call it the John Williams or the Segovia position.

A slight digression.

It may be my Asian background, and the ‘it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice’ approach to life.

I’ve always believed that the best way to learn anything is to study from the doers, the people who actually do it, rather than those who only talk about it.

Imagine if you’re going to climb a difficult mountain. Would you hire a guide who’s never actually been up to the mountain top (but who can tell you in so many fancy words how to get there)?

Or would you hire someone who’s actually been up to that mountain top.

The classic position is one that’s optimized for the hand.

Its main feature is the slight leaning to the left with the thumb and index finger forming the famous ‘Segovia triangle’ with the string.

The famous ‘Segovia triangle’ from V Bobri’s book

There’s one main reason why this hand position is so efficient.

If you were to hold your right fist in a loose fist and bring it to your eyes, you’ll see that all the fingers are gently sloping to the left.

This has one crucial ramification.

It means that the most efficient and natural way to play is with the fingers positioned at an angle to the strings, which means that the fingers will be plucking with the left side of the fingernails.

And this is an essential part of the classic position.

You hold your hand so that the fingers are at an angle (from your vantage view) and the index finger and thumb forming a little triangle with the string.

There’s another reason why this is so efficient.

When you pluck the strings with the fingers at an angle, with the left side of the nail, you’re not attacking the string face on. (‘Attack’ here simply means pluck.)

Instead you’re delivering a glancing blow to the string. This minimizes resistance in the string and it’s amazing how effortless the stroke becomes when you don’t pluck the string face on.

But there’s an even greater benefit to the classic position.

When you lean the hand to the left, you’re creating space for the thumb to move naturally.

The thumb is always a problem especially if you were to hold the fingers vertically (to the strings). The classic position solves that problem. With the fingers leaning (or sloping) away, the thumb has room to move.

Interestingly enough, if you were to watch harpists, you will find that they also pluck with the corner of their fingertips.

if you’re having problems with speed, accuracy and security, you might want to re evaluate your right hand position.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve tried different positions and although I could play in all of them, I find the classic position is the best for speed and accuracy mainly because it’s based on our natural hand physiology.

In my last guitar camp, I showed students how to understand this position by holding the guitar upright and pretending it’s a harp and positioning the hand like a harpist on the strings. It seemed to work. Students were able to acclimate themselves quickly to the position.

The best way to understand the classic position is to watch the great John Williams.

Watch the extreme economy in his strokes, the relaxation in his hands, and the ease with which he plays.

No, you don’t want to force your hand to look like his, but it’s definitely useful to try to understand the basic principles underlying that incredible technique.

1st Del Mar Summer Guitar Camp

May 27th, 2019

This year is a first. We will be hosting the 1st Del Mar Summer Guitar Camp. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time but other commitments had prevented me from doing it before.

The camp is more appropriately described as a boot camp with the emphasis on developing technique and sight reading.

There’re three areas of technique that we will be focusing on.

The first area is developing free-stroke technique. The basic strategy is to help students find the most natural right hand position (or left hand position if the student is left handed) for themselves and develop an efficient free-stroke technique through a regimen of exercises.

The second area is developing tremolo technique. The tremolo is an important technique to help players learn how to produce an even consistent sound. Students will practice a series of exercises to develop the muscle memory required to achieve a consistent tone.

The third area is developing rest-stroke scale technique. An efficient rest-stroke technique is based on a good free-stroke technique. The student will be taught how to transition from the free-stroke to the rest-stroke.

Since the camp is over the course of three days, each morning is devoted to a specific area.

In the afternoon, students will be divided into small ensembles where the emphasis is on sight-reading. Sight-reading is a skill and students will learn the strategies and techniques needed in sight reading.

During the camp, I will be sharing a special cheat-sheet of guitar tricks and techniques.

For me, playing the guitar well has always meant two things.

First, a persistent results-driven never-give-up approach, based on practice—hours of practice. There is no substitute for doing it over and over to master something.

Second, knowledge of specific skills to achieve specific techniques.

This is where the cheat sheet comes in. How do you develop speed effortlessly? How do you develop power and dynamic range without having to force the fingers? How do you get an even tremolo by positioning your fingers so all the fingers have equal access to the strings? All these are in the cheat sheet.

The camp will take place from June 18-20, 2019 and is designed specially for students from the Corpus Christi Independent School District. We have an incredible guitar scene in the city and the camp will make it even more special.

Del Mar/CCISD Guitar Orchestra

Del Mar/CCISD Guitar Orchestra with guest conductor Mr. Paul Fuentes

Ongoing project 2

March 15th, 2019

You might have guessed that I’ve been busy working on my ongoing project.

Here is a little scale study I learned from a Paco de Lucia interview. While the interview was going on, he was twiddling his fingers with this scale and saying something to this effect, that he had to practice because he was “not very fast.” That last part has to be the understatement of the year.

No, haven’t gotten to his speed yet but the basic fundamentals are there.


Etude No 2 (excerpt) by Juan Serrano

March 14th, 2019

Practice video of a short excerpt from Etude No 2 by Juan Serrano. I’ve been practicing this study mainly for the scale at the end.

Rest-stroke scale study

March 13th, 2019

A practice video of a scale study I learned from flamenco guitarist Vahagni in one of his videos. Not sure who wrote it but I assume it is Vahagni. I decided to take out the line played by the thumb at the end to make it strictly a two-finger scale exercise.

Guitar studies at Del Mar College

February 2nd, 2019

Del Mar College is a two year community college in Corpus Christi. I also teach upper level guitar as an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University/Corpus Christi, but Del Mar College is where I teach full time.

Del Mar College is not your typical community college. It was the first two-year school to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

The guitar is especially strong in Corpus Christi. We have six high schools and there’s a full-time guitar teacher in every one of these schools. All six, I am proud to say, are Del Mar alumni and former students of mine.

Although overseas recruitment has not been a top priority, over the years, I’ve had guitar students from Malaysia, France, Turkey, and Argentina come and study at Del Mar College.

If you’re interested in studying with me, please consider coming to Del Mar College. We’re working on online lessons but for now, there’re two main options.

Option 1. Study as a full time music student. You can either work towards an Associate degree or transfer to a four year university after completing the freshman and sophomore classes.

Option 2. Sign up only for elective guitar lessons. This option is useful if you’re not intending to pursue a degree or if you’ve already completed a degree and are looking only to enhance your skills and knowledge. These lessons are flexible and we can tailor them to your needs (for instance, if you want to work on the AOV). Each semester is about three and half months long. I don’t have the exact figures for tuition fees but they’re relatively inexpensive.

If you’re a citizen of another country, you’ll be limited to option 1 as you would have to be a full time student to get the visa.

But we do have a number of scholarships available. These scholarships are open to all students, local or foreign. If you’re a foreign student, in some cases; these scholarships could qualify you for in-state tuition. This means you’ll be paying Texas resident fees. To my knowledge, Texas is the only state offering these special fees.

To find out more about the Del Mar Music department, click on this page.

If you’re planning to come for the 2019 fall semester, please start the application process now. Applications for guitar scholarships are currently open and will close by March 31, 2019.

If you would like to apply for a scholarship or have any questions, please contact me here.