Thumb and fingers: Block Chords

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Thumb and fingers: Block Chords

Its time to get the thumb and fingers working together, but they may not play along with each other just yet…

At this stage in your development you may not have control over each digit, this will come with time and practice. For now our goal is to play a clear block chord with several notes played at the same time. The same principles of the free stroke will apply to all the digits when playing the block chords, but not you will need to co-ordinate them together.

Preparation

To make sure you have your right hand in a good position you can re-set your hand as described in Fundamentals F105 Right Hand Position. You will need to make sure that your thumb is out in front of the fingers so when it releases it will not bump into the fingers, but rather form a cross (X) with the index finger.

Tension

Just as with a single free stroke press the strings inwards towards the soundboard.

Release

This is going to be the key to block chords, you need to release all the digits at the same time so you get one single sound for the chord. What you do not want is to hear individual notes sounding one at a time. If you are getting this sound you will need to work at the positioning each finger so that it releases quickly and easily. If a finger is catching, perhaps a nail is too long, or perhaps you are gripping the string from underneath. Experiment with your fingers until you can get a clean release.

Reset

Once again the principles of the free stroke remain: Use your reflexes to let the fingers spring back into position ready to prepare the next notes.

We can play up to four notes together as a block chord, and later you will learn how to play five and six note chords with an extra movement of the thumb. Practice playing combinations of fingers 2, 3 and 4 note chords as well as variations of fingers.

 

Repertoire practice

Aguado – Wals, Carulli – Waltz, Carulli – Andantino from from: 10 Progressive Pieces for Classical Guitar

Waltz – F Carulli

Shall we dance? The waltz is a dance and its most characteristic feature is the 3/4 time signature. This means that there are three quarter notes per measure (or three crotchets per bar for all you Aussies/English out there).

This piece starts to integrate the thumb and fingers together and we also get several small chords in the B section (mm. 9 – 16). Your goal is to get the chord notes sounding exactly at the same time, and at the same volume.

Wals – D. Aguado

A waltz by any other name would sound as sweet. This is yet another waltz, just spelled differently. Hold on to your seat, because we are getting out of first position! Well, we are still staying in the same area, but we are going to break the one-finger-per-fret rule. In measure 2 you will see the numbers in circles, this is telling you which string to play the note on. Up till now we have played the b on the second string, but here we are going to play it on the third string so you can let it ring over the d on the second string. This is still technically in first position, because we are using the fourth finger on the fourth fret. It is in measure 12 that we have some shady business…

Measure 12 has a descending chromatic passage, and so make this as smooth as possible we are going to shift with 1 and 2 on beats two and three. This shift is notated with two lines, this isn’t always written in on scores, but when the composer wants to make it clear that there is a shift or a glissando they will put these lines in.

Andantino – Carcassi

Its time to get serious about developing the thumb and fingers. Up till now the thumb has often played by itself, but throughout this piece by Mateo Carcassi the thumb is playing chords with the fingers. The thumb is naturally stronger so your goal in this piece is to balance the two notes so that the melody sings clearly on top and the thumb is supporting underneath.

 

These techniques are covered in-depth as part of the Level 1 Technique & Musicianship Video Course in our membership packages!

 

2016-10-24T00:20:14+00:00 5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Douglas Robinson September 23, 2014 at 6:26 am - Reply

    I am having a problem with the concept of plucking the strings. You have said to push the strings downwards towards the body of the guitar and let them go to make them ring, but as I grow my nails longer it is much more natural to lift the strings as opposed to putting them down, I presume I must work on pushing the strings .

    Pam I correct in this, or is it natural to lift the strings?

    • Profile photo of Simon
      Simon September 28, 2014 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Doug, yes you should persist in learning to bring the nail back along the string towards the palm of your hand. In this motion, with a nail shaped in a curve or ramp it will push the string towards the soundboard of the guitar. You do not want to pull the strings up from the guitar, almost like hooking the string with the nail. This will create a bright and thin sound.

      It is very normal to lift the strings in the beginning, it is sort of the default movement that students make, but you need to persevere with pushing the strings towards the soundboard.

  2. Mark March 10, 2015 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    The biggest problem I have is keeping the base note from overpowering the trebles, regardless of if I am playing two notes together or a four note chord. Are there specific exercises to practice so that the melody that I am playing is not overshadowed by the base notes?

  3. Profile photo of Simon
    Simon March 10, 2015 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    H Mark,

    Great question, often I find that it is the other way around, with students accenting the treble note when they want to play the bass. However, both come down to finger independence in the right hand and being able to balance voices. Here is a video I made to answer a similar question, hope you find it useful!
    http://www.classicalguitarcorner.com/voice-independence-in-the-right-hand/961/
    Simon

    • Mark March 11, 2015 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Thanks. I’ll give it a try (until my wife screams at me, at least…).

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