Cultivating Your Right Hand Technique – One Principle that Changes Everything!Classical Guitar Tips with James Rippingale I’ve been fascinated by the classical guitar, its technique, repertoire and players for most of my life, leading me to play and teach for a living and to study the greatest players on earth. As I have studied and played there are questions that have always intrigued me:
- What is it that the world class players do that the rest of us don’t?
- How do they think?
- How do they practise?
- What is their learning process?
- What do they think, believe and do that puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the world and how can we do the same?
We must know exactly what the right hand is doing at every point in a piece.This one idea, if applied, will make a huge difference in your playing. Now you might think this is obvious but my experience is that 80% of players have absolutely no clue what their right hand is doing even in pieces they have played for years. Here’s a true story to illustrate the point. The Master and His Amigo – A Guitar Story I recall sitting in on a masterclass where a talented young pupil had just flown through the third movement of Barrios’ The Cathedral. Master Guitarist: “Great, Well done! Now please play me the right hand on its own” Pupil: Huh? (A confused look passes over his face as he realises he has never done this before….) The student tries to play the right hand on its own and realises that he has no idea how to do it. He is completely unaware of what his hand is doing! The master explains that it is really important to know our right hand patterns. We tend to process the left hand in a very visual way, we see different positions on the neck, shapes and patterns etc. Around 60% of us are predominantly visual in the way we process information and therefore find it easy to learn the left hand patterns. The right hand, however is harder to grasp, with more abstract combinations. It lacks clear visual shapes and it can seem harder to master. Sadly most players ignore it and just hope that it will serve them. The student had mastered the left hand but left the right hand movements to chance and instinct. Master Guitarist: “How can you control something if you do not know what it is?” The student, obviously rattled by the question started to argue back giving all sorts of excuses like “Oh I just go with the flow”, “I just use my instinct” etc etc. The master guitarist looks him directly in the eye and said: “Amigo, either you can do it this way or you can practise it 1000 times and then maybe eventually you might get it right” What a valuable lesson for all of us! Here is another way of understanding the importance of knowing exactly what the right hand is doing: The General and His Troops Imagine that you, the player, are a General overseeing a mission (the piece). Your fingers are your troops and you must give them very clear precise instructions if they are to carry out their duties successfully. Without clear instructions they will do their best but they will be falling over each other like a rabble, unsure who should be doing what. It is so often like this for guitarists. Our fingers do their best but they fail due to the lack of clear instructions. This can cause great frustration for us! Thankfully by applying the above principle this problem is easy to solve. Applying the Principle Let’s apply this game changing principal with 7 simple steps. You will need to choose a small passage from one of your pieces and have a pencil to hand.
- First work out an effective right hand fingering, take your time with this. The planning stages are so important and diligence in the early stages will pay dividends later on
- Write it down! There is something magical about getting clear ideas onto the page. Remember the general and his troops. You must give your hands clear instructions
- Practice this slowly with the right hand on it’s own, in small manageable chunks
- Practise the pattern using the left hand to dampen the strings. This gives a percussive sound that helps us to develop really precise rhythmic control and accuracy
- Join the Chunks Together
- Visualise the patterns with and without the score away from the guitar
- Test It! – Play the passage of music first with both hands and then just the right hand on its own. If it is not clear yet remember that the process of memorisation is a gradual one from short term memory to long term memory and we must make gradual steps and respect the process. Repeat the above steps until successful. Remember repetition is the mother of skill