I’ve been working with a number of guitarists on arpeggios over the past few months. It has inspired me to pull up this text and video I created a few years ago that touch on many of the ideas I’ve been discussing in lessons. In this video and post I wanted to explore the construction of a right hand arpeggio warm-up. We will look at the fundamental elements of an efficient right hand technique: Positioning, Alignment, Contact Point, Follow-Through, and Relaxation. To support this discussion, we will examine various arpeggio patterns to get those fingers moving in a series of combinations to build coordination, fluidity, and speed—who doesn’t want that!?!?!
The Fundamental Elements of Right Hand Technique
Positioning-When you sit down to practice, take a moment to observe how you are seated with the guitar. You want to sit up straight, but not be rigid in your posture. Sitting at the edge of your chair can help with this aspect of positioning tremendously. Generally speaking, you want the guitar to contact the body at three specific points (at least in classical positioning) and those are: the center part of the chest (close to the sternum), the top of the left thigh, and the inner part of the right thigh.
Now that you have the positioning of your guitar secure, it’s time to look at your right hand alignment.
Alignment addresses where your knuckle joints are in relation to the strings they are contacting by your fingertips. We are working to keep our knuckles directly above the string that a finger is plucking. For example, if you are playing the first string with your “a” finger, you want to align that knuckle joint over that string. This alignment allows the finger or fingers to move freely without “bumping into” or “striking” adjacent strings. Should you find yourself plucking adjacent strings, check your alignment.
With our seating/positioning in order and our alignment in check, we can investigate our contact point.
The Contact Point can be explained simply as the part of the fingertip/fingernail that comes into contact with the guitar string. We are looking to find a position that allows the fingertip to connect with the string without getting “hung up” or “snapping” the string when plucked. Building a contact point also allows us to create a consistent tone from the string, which is so important in developing control over your sound.
The basic function of the contact point is to allow the finger to push the string and swing freely into the hand. Depending on whether or not your have fingernails will impact this process (as demonstrated in the video). The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not use too much fingertip or “flesh” on the string. If the fingertip is going below the string, you’re probably overdoing it.
Follow-Through is accomplished, when the three aforementioned elements are in order, by letting the finger(s) swing freely into the palm of the hand once the string has been plucked. The momentum generated by the finger to pluck the string is released and the finger is able to move towards the palm without resistance. It’s important to develop this type of movement as it allows your fingers to move in a relaxed manner. This follow-through offers your fingers a moment to recover from the energy used to push the finger through the string. You will discover that if you shorten your follow-through, the tone produced changes and the hand becomes tense.
The final stage of this process is relaxation.
Relaxation: After the finger moves towards the palm (follow-through) the finger should relax so that it may easily swing back out. Ideally, the finger should return to the string and land upon the contact point to prepare for the next note to be played. It’s important to note that the faster you are able to relax each finger, the more quickly and fluidly you will be able to play.
Planting (Full & Sequential)
I talk about the concepts of Full & Sequential Planting with students frequently in lessons because it is, to me, so important in creating a dependable right hand technique. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, Planting, it is achieved by placing a right hand finger or fingers on the string moments before the note is plucked.
Taking this a step further, there are two types of planting techniques that used when playing arpeggios: Full Plant and Sequential Plant
A Full Plant is accomplished when all the fingers involved in an ascending arpeggio (ex: p,i,m,a, on the 5th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings) are prepared simultaneously.
Sequential Planting changes this concept slightly by having fingers prepare individually upon the strings in a descending pattern (ex: p,a,m,i on the 5th,1st ,2nd , and 3rd strings)
In case all of this has you scratching your head, you can see me demonstrate all of these concepts featured in The Fundamental Elements of Right Hand Technique and Planting (Full & Sequential) in my Right Hand Arpeggio Essentials video.
Trying it All Out
I’ve put together a series of ascending, descending, and combination ascending/descending arpeggios patterns while utilizing an A-Major Harmonic Progression. This pattern utilizes the top 3 strings (G, B, E) of the guitar with the open fifth string. The Left Hand fingers are on the 3rd & 2nd strings exclusively. The first string is always open as indicated in the first measure. The subsequent measures give the pitches for the Left Hand with the open 5th string.
A Major Arpeggio Progression
- Take Your Time!
Some of these concepts and patterns may be new to you. As you work with them, go slowly so that the fingers of your right hand are not tense and can move easily. Speed and fluidity will develop as the movements become familiar to your hand with the condition that you take the time to establish clear, refined movements (positioning, alignment, contact point, etc).
2. Listen to Detail
Each of these arpeggios has a tricky finger exchange at some point and it’s important to listen to your sound as you work through each arpeggio. At times you may hear an accented note and this is an opportunity to explore why the note is accented and how to resolve it. Ask yourself:
- Is note/finger in question is tense?
- Am I out of alignment?
- Is my contact point consistent?
- Have I shortened my follow-through?
- Am I’m tightening my hand/wrist and this is causing the accent?
These arpeggios offer a great chance to explore your technique as long as you take your time and listen with open ears!
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