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Sympathetic Motion

This stuff is definitely not my idea. Aaron Shearer talks about it in Mel Bay Learning the Classic Guitar: Part 1, and Christopher Berg also talks about it in Mastering Guitar Technique: Process & Essence.

Cliff Notes:

  • Sympathetic motion is the idea that as one RH finger moves, it pulls the others along with.
  • The best way to get a sense of what that’s like is to just roll a chord: it feels like one big movement
  • We use m a together as a compound or composite stroke
    • play m a together.
    • Put a little tension on a, play, a hangs behind a bit and separates. Two separate sounds, one motion.
    • same thing works if you put a bit of tension on m
  • You can use sympathetic motion on arpeggios as well
  • Arpeggios like p i m i or p i a i use sympathetic motion followed by a return by another finger (opposing motion).
  • Sympathetic motion is easy at fast tempos, harder at moderate tempos, and doesn’t really work so great at slower tempos.
  • For another explanation, check out this video from Lutemann

Here are some common arpeggios from the view of using sympathetic motion. Really using this is just like sequential planting on steroids. I did not practice sympathetic motion specifically to develop it, but found that it developed on its own from practicing all arpeggios with sequential planting. The key is to extend the fingers, i m a as one unit.

p i m: p plays; i and m extend, i plants; i plays, pulls m onto the string; m plays, p extends and plants.

p m i: p plays; i and m extend, m plants; m plays, pulls i onto the string; i plays, p plants.

p i a: p plays, i and a extend, i plants; i plants, pulls a onto the string; a plays, p plants.

p a i: p plays, i and ma extend, a plants; a plays, pulls i onto the string; i plays, p plants.

p m a: p plays, m and a extend, both plant; m plays, put a little tension in a; a plays, p plants (this is the compound stroke motion).

p a m: p plays, m and a extend, both plant; a plays, put a little tension in m; m plays, p plants (compound stroke).

You can then develop the compound stroke into sequentially planting by letting the second finger sit out from the string a bit, and gets pull in by the motion of the first finger–just like p i m works!

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