The central principle /5

November 3rd, 2019

So how does one go about developing a technique based on the central principle?

The same as what you would do with regular technique.

To be able to utilize the principle, you’ll have to develop the basic techniques first—arpeggios, scales, tremolo.

As you gain proficiency with these techniques, you can begin to integrate the hand by applying a slight pressure to your strokes from the hand.

As you play an arpeggio, pull the hand gently against the strings, feel the slight tension caused by the resistance of the strings, and then release the strings.

The plucking movement is more a consequence of your letting go the string than an actual plucking action.

Instead of four individual fingers plucking the strings, it’s one hand releasing the four fingers in an even sequence.

This may be hard to do at first, because we’ve gotten so used to applying strength in our playing, the idea of releasing power instead may be hard to do at first.

The same thing applies to the tremolo.

For example, an easy way to learn consolidation to gain speed in the tremolo is to place the three fingers, i, m, a, on one string.

Then, gently pulling the strings, feeling the resistance in the strings, and then releasing the fingers one by one in a quick sequence.

It’s the same technique as the arpeggio except that you do it on one string.

In scale playing, the central principle works especially well with descending scales for obvious reasons, but it’s also highly effective in ascending scales.

The key thing is to feel a slight pressure in every note, and then release the string. The release should be a complete letting go.

This is the crucial factor.

The central principle is based on releasing tension.

First, you generate tension by applying pressure to the string, you respond to the resistance in the string, and then you let go.

This goes back to the principle of release in the AOV.

To generate speed and power, concentrate on releasing tension, not applying force.

The central principle /4

October 27th, 2019

The central principle is a special tool, you might call it an advanced technique, but like all specialized tools, it’s not necessary to employ it all the time.

I find it’s most useful, in fact indispensable, in fast passages where precision and economy is critical.

One of the things that result from not engaging the fingers directly is extreme economy. All you have is the natural follow-through after the fingers clear the strings, nothing more.

In normal playing, I find that the standard ways of plucking is sufficient most of the time.

So how does one transition from one technique to the other?

It’s built into the technique.

When playing fast arpeggios, you’ll naturally use the technique to get the speed and effect you want.

The same thing with the tremolo technique.

To get to this level of automation, you’ll have to practice the technique consciously, and practice applying the slight hand pressure to get the power you need.

The central principle /3

October 26th, 2019

The question of energy has occupied me for the past few years.

In my explorations in two finger scales, I’ve found that certain things are extremely easy to do at high speeds while others were more difficult.

The difference lies in the production of energy.

Arpeggios, for instance, are easy to play at high speeds and at high dynamic levels.

I knew it has something to do with the technique of consolidation.

But consolidation in itself is more a speed thing.

Or so I thought.

Recently, I’ve began to understand that the technique of consolidation is tightly bound with the central principle.

When we play an arpeggio with, let’s say p, i, m, a, m, i, we play them all in one motion.

When you listen to each note, they’re not occurring all that fast, but combined, you can create a cascade of notes effortlessly.

The basic technique behind the speed is consolidation, performing the notes in one action rather than six separate actions.

But what’s behind the consolidation?

It’s the central principle.

When we consolidate, we’re really engaging the hand in playing the notes.

But here’s an important point.

In consolidating, the trick is not to engage (pluck the strings) the fingers actively. Rather, let them release the strings passively.

Feel the pull in the hand and then release the fingers by snapping them through the strings.

As you release the fingers, they’ll automatically close in a curling action (as if closing into a fist).

Because the whole finger is moving in that closing action, to the observer, it would appear that you’re actually plucking the string actively with the knuckle.

Therein lies the confusion with the obsession with the knuckle stroke.

Back to the subject of energy.

The act of consolidation engages the whole hand which means that the source of the energy is the hand.

Energy is always produced when there’s tension. By pulling at the strings slightly, you’re creating this tension. And this tension is the source of the effortless energy you need.

This is of course easier said than done. How do you pull at the strings?

The answer lies in my previous post.

You achieve it by carefully positioning your hand so that you’re able to generate this tension by simply moving the hand slightly against the strings.

Once you understand this principle, you can apply it across the board to scales and tremolo and achieve the same effortlessness that you get in arpeggios.

I have talked about the Holy Grail before in reference to another technique.

This is actually the real Holy Grail of technique.

The central principle /2

October 24th, 2019

One of the most efficient and easiest ways to generate energy is to create tension and then to release that tension. In the release of that tension, energy is also released.

A key principle in the AOV is the concept of release.

Release is integral to life. When we breathe, the inhalation is the movement into tension and the exhalation the release of that tension.

But release is also the source of effortless energy.

When you pluck, your finger meets the string; it encounters the resistance in the string.

This resistance creates tension. You can feel it in the fingertips.

Then you pluck, you pull the string slightly and then you let go.

That letting go releases effortless energy, energy that is the result of releasing tension.

But there’s something more, something that’s even more fundamental. And that’s the central principle I wrote about in the previous post.

The central principle is the role of the hand in plucking the strings.

Imagine a technique that is based on hand power rather than finger power.

All the heated discussions about which joint to move, how much follow-through to effect, all these touchy subjects become moot.

Because they all become secondary to the movement in the hand.

Try this exercise.

Place the first three fingers on the first three strings.

Pull at the strings slightly with the fingers. You will immediately feel the tension generated by that pulling action.

Now, let go.

You will find that the fingers will curl inwards as they clear the strings. All the joints will automatically move inwards as if the fingers are closing into a fist.

These movements are completely passive and reflexive, a direct result of your letting go the strings.

To the observer, it would appear as if your fingers are plucking the strings. And to the knuckle-movement proponents, it would even appear as if the knuckles are initiating the plucking actions.

But to the player, it’s very clear what’s behind the plucking movements.

It’s the hand.

Your pulling action originates in the hand. When you let go the strings, you’re also releasing tension created by the pulling action.

But how do you generate this tension in the hand?

Surely I’m not suggesting that every time you want to pluck the strings, you’ll have to move the hand? No, that would be very inefficient.

No, the trick lies in the hand position.

It’s a little hard to explain this.

The best way to understand how it works is to look at John Williams’ right hand. Especially in his older videos, and you’ll be able to see how he manages to generate that hand power by simply positioning his hand.

Or check out Segovia’s right hand.

The power in Segovia’s technique is undeniable. How does he generate all that power, and with such effortless ease and economy? When he plays, his fingers appear to be hardly moving at all.

It’s all in the central principle.

The Central Principle

October 14th, 2019

Years ago, I started teaching the tremolo by telling students to place all three fingers on one string and pulling them slightly, laterally across the strings, while playing the accompaniment with the thumb.

I believe this advice is still in my tremolo chapter in the AOV for Guitar.

The rational behind this is that if you play the notes with one entity (the hand) as opposed to three separate entities (the fingers with their different strengths and lengths), you’ll be able to produce a much more even tremolo.

I had a hard time trying to explain this at the time and came up with the idea of a ‘weight’ in the hand. Technically, this is not quite accurate, but the pulling action does create the sensation of a weight in the hand.

In the past year, I have been trying to figure out a good picado technique, and what I’ve discovered is exciting, particularly in regard to two specific techniques (which will be explained in my upcoming book on practicing rest-strokes).

One of these techniques is that of ‘playing without plucking the strings.’

Try this simple exercise.

Place your ‘m’ finger on the first string, curled up in playing position as if ready to pluck.

Now, drag the finger across the six strings with the finger.

You’ll find you’re able to play the strings one by one without moving the ‘m’ finger!

What’s playing the string is the hand as it moves across the strings.

As you drag the finger across, the hand is literally plucking each string.

From there, I have a series of exercises which go from playing one note to playing two notes, then four notes on each string, all based on the concept of getting the hand to play the notes whenever possible.

The increase in speed in regular scales, even with the few notes you can play this way, is amazing.

The other day, it occurred to me that this principle is actually the same one that I had used for the tremolo years ago.

And not just the tremolo, but in arpeggios too.

In fact, it’s the central principle behind every technique.

And the principle is this; to play with maximum efficiency, you have to incorporate the whole hand, and not just depend on individual finger strength and speed.

This principle is similar to one that martial artists have known for years.

That to throw a powerful punch, you have to punch with your whole body, not just with the fist and arm.

This is the same principle, to play with maximum speed and power; you must play with the hand, and not rely on individual finger strengths.

This principle is a powerful one and I hope to share a video soon with a better explanation for it.

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.