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Practice Techniques: Chaining

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One of the most effective ways to learn a piece is practicing small units at tempo, slowing building longer and longer chains of little units. Most of us think of practicing a measure or beat at time, but that is not the way. We need to practice through the beat, incorporating work on the transition between the units while practicing small events.

Take this brief passage from Carcassi’s Op. 60, No. 2.


Etude, Op. 60, No. 2

Each chord change happens on beats one and three. In order to work on the first unit, we’d practice the bracketed section below. To be sure the transition is smooth, as we play beat three we’d move to the upcoming chord on beat three (note: don’t actually play any more than the low A on beat three, merely prep the fingers for the chord).


Step 1

After that unit is mastered, we’d work from beat three to the downbeat of the next measure. On the downbeat we prepare the chord as we did on beat three in our last step.


Step 2

With both of the smaller sections mastered, we can reassemble them into a larger unit. If we can execute the bigger unit at tempo without an issue, the practice method worked. If not, more work on the small units may be needed. As with the last step, we’re going to prepare the next chord on the downbeat of the second measure


Step 3

I’m using this method on Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy (first movement) to learn some big arpeggios.

Malcolm Arnold Fantasia

3 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 April 16

    Hi, great lesson. Really makes it easy to understand how to go about breaking a piece of music down and put the parts back together again. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. 2012 June 7
    Ethan permalink

    Thanks for this tip. My biggest issue is the transition, but this makes it much easier to swallow.

  3. 2014 December 20
    Ulysses Alves permalink

    Hi, Christopher Davis.

    First, thank you for the tips here in your blog. You are really helping me a lot in learning how to practice the guitar.

    I have a question about this chaining thing. Should I play always slowly while chaining and only speed up when I am ready to play the full song after I have done chaining all the measures of the song? Or should I play each new measure both slowly AND at full speed while I am chaining the song measure by measures?


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