The tremolo and the AOV

March 5th, 2011

The tremolo is a particularly tricky technique to master.

To play it well, you have to play a perfectly even stream of notes with three different fingers on one string. Add to this the gap caused by the thumb-stroke and the problem of masking it, and you’ll see why the tremolo has often been called the true test of a guitarist.

In a sense, the AOV was written for the tremolo. Everyone of the principles contained within it is essential to mastering the tremolo.

There’re several problems associated with playing the tremolo.

The first is that of speed. To create the illusion of a smooth continuous tone in the tremolo, you’ll have to play those notes extremely fast.

You achieve it with the principles of looseness, lightness, fluidity and economy. Each one of these principles is crucial to attaining speed.

First, looseness. To get the relaxation needed, you need to be extremely loose in your fingers, hand and body. There must be no sign of tension anywhere. A loose body is like a well-oiled machine that’s operating with minimum drag and resistance.

Second, lightness. You must move so lightly it feels almost as if you’re not exerting any effort. Again, pure common sense – the less effort you exert, the faster you can move.

Third, fluidity. Your movements must be smooth and continuous. There must be no break in the flow of your finger movements. This enables you to maintain the momentum you need to create that self-propelled engine I wrote about in the AOV for Guitar.

Fourth, economy. There must be no wasted motion in your finger actions. Wasted motion means wasted effort means wasted time.

When you have these conditions in place, you’ll find that speed will automatically result.

But speed is only half the picture. You’ll have to play with enough force to make the notes speak clearly and audibly.

The key to doing this is in the principle of release. This enables you to effortlessly capture the power inherent in the string. I’ve written about this earlier in my post on power.

To briefly recap the technique, first pull the string lightly, feel the springiness in the string and then release the string. Let the release be a complete letting go. The finger should relax completely as it releases the string.

It’s important to mention that because the notes in the tremolo are occurring so fast, the pull and the release will occur almost simultaneously, they will feel as if they’re part of the same motion.

There is one more crucial element to the tremolo and that’s rhythm, another key component of the AOV.

To play the tremolo evenly, you’ll have to produce a steady stream of notes all evenly spaced apart. This is a rhythmic problem but unlike the other more common rhythmic problems of keeping time, this is something you can’t control consciously. The speed at which the notes are occurring precludes that. What you have to do is develop reflexive control in the fingers, make them play at perfectly timed intervals unconsciously.

The only way to achieve this is through practice, doing the tremolo over and over until the fingers learn how to do it automatically.

I’ve included a few exercises in the AOV for guitar to help you develop this unconscious control but any tremolo exercise will work. Just keep on doing it over and over until you feel the fingers relaxing and beginning to adapt themselves to the strokes.

For your practice to be effective, however, you’ll first have to put in those basic conditions described in the AOV first – looseness, lightness, economy, rhythm, release and fluidity.

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