Economy of Motion in the Left Hand
Finger independence is important. It helps with speed, accuracy and control, all very integral to making music. To work on our finger independence this exercise, called Fixed Fingers, takes three fingers and locks them in place while the remaining finger jumps around, independently of the others. Starting out with 2,3 and 4 fixed down on the 6th 7th and 8th fret, your first finger can play from the first to the sixth string and back again, skipping the third string which has the fixed fingers. Then continue to swap fingers to allow the 2nd finger, 3rd and fourth do the movement. Once you have nailed that, you can start using two fingers at a time in contrary motion, more difficult but great practice. Especially when you get to the ever stubborn pairing of 3 and 4….
Rene’s Barre Exercise
One of the more difficult left-hand techniques on the classical guitar is the infamous barre technique. A tendency for many players when first learning the barre technique is to apply too much pressure in the left hand, adding tension by squeezing with the thumb on the back of the neck, which then accumulates and eventually leaves the whole hand very tired. In a piece with many barres this can obviously create some problems!
Over at CGC Academy we’ve been treated recently to some great masterclasses on the Brouwer Etudes Simples with Cuban virtuoso guitarist Rene Izquierdo. In his lesson on the first etude Rene offered a wonderful solution to the above problem with barres and we would like to share it with you — with many thanks to Rene. Check it out below. (We’ve also created a score of the exercise for you to download / print out and follow along.)
Downoad Score: CGC Rene Izquierdo Barre Exercise
Left Hand Warmup
This set of fingerings is a great template to use with left hand warm up exercises. I say template because there are tons of ways you can add extra difficulty and variation to them. Rhythm, dynamics, articulations and right hand fingerings will all change the workout you get.
The basics are fairly simple. By playing through the set of fingering as seen below, you will have exhausted every combination of fingers available to you. Unless you have an extra finger, in which case I am very jealous. The fingering follows a pattern and once you get used to it, you will be able to easily run through the exercise without notes in front of you.
When doing the left hand warm up, focus on your technique and your sound. Your left hand fingers should stay nice and close to the string and use the minimum amount of movement possible. I like to think of engine pistons, with their exact movements and controlled repetition. In your right hand you can focus on creating a consistent, full sound.
As you get more adventurous, you can start adding variety to the exercise to challenge yourself. Try dotted rhythms, accents, different right hand fingerings etc. A full set of variations can be found in: 5 Technical Routines for the Classical Guitar (Intermediate/Advanced)
Left Hand Stretch Exercise
This nifty left hand exercise stretches the left hand fingers as you creep down the fingerboard from the twelfth fret to the first. The stretch gets further apart as you descend downwards and contrary to many things on the guitar, the slower you play it, the more difficult it is!
To begin, place your fingers like this:
- 4th finger on the 12th fret – 4th string
- 3rd finger on the 11th fret – 3rd string
- 2nd finger on the 10th fret – 2nd string
- 1st finger on the 9th fret – 1st string
Your fingers should be in a diagonal line from the fourth to the first string and this is a major seventh chord (D major seventh when you are on the twelfth fret)
In the right hand you will be playing a simple arpeggio starting on the fourth string with the fingering p, i, m, a, m ,i and repeating it as the left hand changes. After each right hand arpeggio has finished you are going to shift one finger at a time down the fingerboard. The first finger will shift from the 9th fret to the 8th, then the second finger with shift from the 10th fret to the 9th, and so this crawling down of the fingers goes until you reach the first fret with your first finger.
If it hurts your hand to complete the whole exercise give it a rest and try it the next day, after a while you will be able to do it without any problems but you do need to give your hand time to develop the flexibility.
Goal: To stretch your left hand fingers and warm up the hand
Tempo: Slower the better!
Tips: Use a metronome to keep from speeding up and stop if your hand hurts.
This exercise appears in 5 Technical Routines for the Classical Guitar Level 3
Its possible to forget sometimes just how easy it is to hold down a guitar string. When our left hand is required to do many complex movements and move rapidly in synchronization with the right hand we can forget to relax and end up using much more pressure than we need. That pressure builds up and can cause aches and pains in the palm and forearm. It also makes playing more difficult than it needs to be.
This exercise is really wonderful at letting you know just how “easy” playing the guitar really is!
A great way to re-train the left hand to play with less pressure or to simply reinforce good technique is to practice with buzzing. When a string is pressed down very lightly so as to play a note but not enough to make a clear tone there is a buzzing sound that comes from the string. You can find this sound by pressing down very lightly on the string so it sounds dampened and then increase the pressure until you hear the note clearly. Experiment with the sensation of lightness and ease that it takes to play the note clearly and then find the half way point in between a dampened sound and a clear note where it buzzes.
Once you have found a good buzzing sound then you can use it to practice scales, exercises or whole pieces. Because the amount pressure needed to buzz the string well is quite exact you will start to gain more control over your finger pressure in the left hand. After buzzing for a while, go back to normal playing and you might find that the sensation of lightness is quite surprising. This exercise is really wonderful at letting you know just how “easy” playing the guitar really is!