The basic stroke

"In instructing a beginner, a good tennis or golf coach first emphasizes the basic stroke or swing, coordinated thoughout the whole body.

A beginner practices this stroke again and again for two primary reasons:

  1. To ensure consistency in controlling the placement of the ball and
  2. To develop a fundamental sense of good coordination and timing.

Read more: The basic stroke

Freeing the Caged Bird

The principles of technique explained by Barbara Lister-Sink in her DVD Freeing the Caged Bird are also very relevant to guitar playing..

Alexander Technique approach to Classical Guitar Technique

Ethan Kind, an Alexander Technique teacher with extensive experience of the Classical Guitar.

Ethan Kind: "Between 1971 and 1974 I attended the Royal College of Music in London, where I studied guitar with John Williams and Carlos Bonell. I also studied the Alexander Technique privately with Jean Gibson, who is well known for being Sally Swift's teacher. Ms. Swift wrote Centered Riding, which is a beautiful book on Alexander Technique applied to dressage. In those three years I joined the technique of these extraordinary players with Alexander Technique to heal carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand and have never had wrist problems since."

Read more: Alexander Technique approach to Classical Guitar Technique

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a champion cha cha dancer, film star and the creator of Jeet Kune Do - the martial arts "style of no-style".

This book was released posthumously with the help of Linda Lee and Dan Inosanto. It contains Bruce Lee's own notes and drawings. Bruce Lee was one of the great virtuosi of the human body.

Buy it from Amazon.com

School of the Guitar by Abel Carlevaro

The first book to clearly explain how the arm position controls left hand fingering on the guitar. Carlevaro also advocated doing away with the 'rest stroke' as a system of right hand technique, substituting the idea of a continuum of "touches" (Spanish: toques).

School of the Guitar by Abel Carlevaro
School of the Guitar by Abel Carlevaro

Translated from the Spanish by Jihad Azkhoul and Bartolome Diaz, this volume "guide (s) us towards acquiring maximal results with minimal effort..." on the guitar.

When I first acquired this book it was like a breath of fresh air and it opened many doors for me in terms of technical development. One example of this was Carlevaro's approach to change of chords in the left hand.

Let's take a very personal trip through the book, with my take on Carlevaro's concepts.

The first issue Carlevaro addresses is how you sit. He emphasises operating from a position of "dynamic equilibrium", with the body free to move in any direction. The body determines the arm position and to regard the arm as a separate entity is inefficient.

"... the efficiency of the fingers is always dependent on the attitude of the arm and is never an isolated event."

So from the word go Carlevaro presents a startling perspective to those (like myself) who had focused on the finger mechanisms as the starting point for gaining dexterity.

Let me state it another way... technique is a totality.

There is no "problem" of the fingers which does not include the functioning of the ams and in fact the whole body.

A. FUNCTIONS.

Carlevaro lists two functions for the right arm:

  1. ...its role as a a contact point... any part of the (right) arm touching ... the guitar should be able to hold it in place.... the unit it creates with the hand.
  2. Note that the repositioning of the hand to change strings should be effected by movement of the arm... the hand and fingers are to remain passive during this.

B. CONTACT POINT

He stresses that the player should find a contact point which enables the displacement of the fingers around the soundhole area.

C. RIGHT HAND DISPLACEMENT.

He defines 3 basic types of displacement:

  1. (my diagram)
    Carlevaro- functions of the right arm
  2. The wrist bends to allow the fingers to cross the strings vertically, mainly to maintain an even timbre.
    Carlevaro- functions of the right arm
  3. No contact point.

D. RIGHT HAND ATTITUDE

"... one of repose, free from any stiffness .... slightly concave."

On this point I agree 100 % with Carlevaro. The "natural" hand position has varying degrees of curvature, depending on a individual's patterns of usage. Whatever that position is, it should be the starting point for all playing.

Let the hand sit in it's accustomed curve, and then the arm bringing the fingers to bear on the strings.

Simply use the arm to position the hand so that each finger has equal access to the strings.

A. TECHNIQUE AT THE SERVICE OF ART.

In this section Carlevaro advises us to study the music first, and let the technique be guided by the demands of the music. He warns against developing technique "for it's own sake".... for what is the point of technique if not to express musical thoughts?

B. WHAT IS SIMPLE DERIVES FROM AN INTELLIGENTLY COMBINED COMPLEX.

"Each activity of the fingers is made up of a number of different movements that work together in association and converge... in one precise action.

Speed and freedom of movements... are engendered in all that has been said."

C. MUSCULAR FATIGUE.

The isolated work of the fingers is the main cause of muscular fatigue.

D. FIJACION.

Fijacion is Carlevaro's term for the temporary immobilisation of a joint in order to convey force from the bigger body part. e.g. immobilising the wrist in order to communicate arm movements. I prefer to think of it as a "transmission of the gesture of expansion".

E. LOGICAL SOLUTIONS AND HARD WORK: MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE? THE NOTION OF RELAXATION

... the absurdity of repeating with inappropriate means, the same parts... of a piece.

Maximum efficiency through minimal effort.

F. SOME SITUATIONS THAT REQUIRE FIJACION.

(He provides a short list of situations where fijacion might be appropriate).

I have only scratched the surface of this book here, and hopefully stimulated you to think more critically about guitar technique.