Classical guitar technique is a tricky thing. Sometimes it’s presented as a complex series of exercises meant to develop virtuosic technique. But technique is not a set of exercises, it’s how you move while playing guitar. Theses are three common mistakes I see in all my beginning guitar students.
- The Mistake: many beginners pull their fingers out directly away from the guitar body, creating a sort of hook right hand finger. Their sound is thin, and they have a lot of trouble returning to the strings accurately.
The right way: All the finger joints move in the same direction.
Make a fist with the thumb along side of the hand. Now open it and close it again as if you’re wrapping your hand around something. That’s the basic motion of the right hand fingers for classical guitar playing. All the finger joints move in towards the palm. This is going to produce the most volume and the best tone.
This is the basic motion from which all other technique springs, so take some time to get it right!
The best way to get a sense for what this feels like is to use technical exercises for absolute beginners. Another option is to practice various arpeggios while paying close attention to the way the fingers are moving.
- The mistake: after playing a note, the right hand finger must return. Many beginners bicycle or use a circular motion to return the fingers to the strings. As in, the fingers go out away from the guitar then back in to rest on the strings.
The right way: The fingers return directly to the string.
Right hand fingers should return as directly as possible. Douglas Niedt, in his latest technique tip, explains this as a way to maximize velocity. This is true, but it’s really proper technique all the way around. It has to do with “economy of motion,” which is really another way of saying, “guitarists should be as lazy as possible; never waste movement or do unneccesary movements.”
This problem has to do with return, so practice returning! As in, play a scale, but practice i m, then return i as directly as possible. Practicing only the return allows you to focus on improving it. There’s too much going to work on this within the context of other exercises/pieces.
- The mistake: when moving one finger, the whole hand often comes with. This moves the entire hand out of position and it has to be returned after after right hand movement.
The right way: The right hand is a base.
This goes back to economy of motion (read: being lazy) again. The right hand should act as a base from which only the fingers move! It should not bounce around or jump away from the guitar; it should stay put in a state of dynamic relaxation.
Again, the technical exercise for absolute beginners are a good start for fixing this problem. After that, various arpeggio patterns should be done and scale work as well. Pay special attention to the right hand. If you have a friend around, try having them place a fingertip lightly on the back of your right hand. This is will keep you from jumping around so much, and it very quickly gives you a sense of what it feels like to play without moving the right hand.
Would you like a video of the mistakes vs. the right way? Let me know!