Four stages: Beginner

October 18th, 2017

Over the years, I’ve devised a basic strategy to get a student from beginner to virtuoso in 4 years.

That might sound like a tall order but it is completely doable and I’ve done it with a number of students.

The secret is to free up the student and help them find their natural virtuosity.

Its success, however, hinges directly on one critical element—the student.

You need a highly motivated student, a student who will be practicing all the time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been blessed with quite a few of these students. If you were to walk the halls of Del Mar College, you will see their faces on the walls, winners of the annual competitions.

So what is this four stage plan?

The first stage is to build the fundamentals.

This is the most critical stage—to develop a free and uninhibited natural technique in the student.

To do this, I focus on the free stroke technique and arpeggio playing.

I start students off with children songs arranged with simple accompaniment figures which get them to alternate their fingers on different strings.

From there, they soon progress to simple Carulli and Carcassi pieces.

Carulli and Carcassi studies are ideal as they are easy for the left hand and involve mostly pattern-based right-hand finger exercises.

But you can give them anything that is simple, do not require reading in the higher positions, and have plenty of finger alternation between strings.

In these early stages, the focus is on light playing.

Light playing is the basis of virtuosity and it’s important to instill it in the student at this point.

This means absolutely no concern with tone at this point.

Because working on tone usually means trying to get a full bodied sound which is not conducive to the light touch.

It usually involves trying to micromanage the student’s hand and finger movements which will interfere with the student’s natural learning instincts.

Finding your true authentic technique requires listening to your body.

If you have to make your fingers follow precise rules on how to pluck, how much follow-through to achieve, and which joint to move, you’ve effectively shut down your body’s natural self teaching mechanism.

Tone is a natural product of sophistication and it will come when the student gains in mastery and sophistication.

So minimal rules, and only very gentle guidance. (I do have one rule and that is to keep the thumb outside the fingers.)

The job of the teacher at this stage is to provide an open and free environment for the student to grow and thrive.

Here is a point by point summary of the first phase:



  • Learn basic seating and hand positions.
  • Learn basic right and left hand techniques.
  • Learn note reading in first position.
  • Develop right hand facility.


  • Learn simple right hand arpeggios.
  • Only free-strokes.
  • No finger alternation in right hand.
  • Right hand rule: ‘i’ finger plays third string, ‘m’ finger plays second string, ‘a’ finger plays first string.
  • Left hand rule: ‘1’ finger plays first fret, ‘2’ finger plays second fret, ‘3’ finger plays third fret.


Simple folk songs arranged arpeggio style and arpeggio pieces from Carcassi, Carulli, and Giuliani.

Next, the second stage.

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