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Is Tremolo Worth the Time?

Pete asks

Considering the amount of practice/drilling required to develop the technique and the amount of tremolo pieces available to play, do you think it is a worthwhile investment of practice time?

Apologies if I am oversimplifying or just being lazy:) but this is the main reason I haven’t spent more time on it honestly. Let me know your thoughts.

The answer is not very clear cut. Learning tremolo helps out with other things, mainly accuracy and precision in arpeggios. Tremolo is also sympathetic motion on steroids and is the most intense use of the a m compound stroke I talk about in the linked video and in the Giuliani Book. For those reasons, tremolo is a great addition to practice time.

Pete brings up the valid point, however, that not many pieces make use of tremolo. And even fewer use it through the entire thing. Around the net in in books various books, you see ridiculous tremolo routines that could take hours.

Technique practice should take up a small percentage of your practice time. 25% is a good number to shoot for. Adding tremolo to your technique routine is not a bad thing, but be careful. Don’t let it take up too much time, and always evaluate. If you feel the addition of tremolo is helping you progress, keep it up. Otherwise, drop it.

Classical guitar has been a part of my life for around six years now. Before that I was a metal head. During those six years I’ve made a lot of improvement without really practicing tremolo seriously. Don’t feel like your missing out because you’re not practicing it. Let’s be clear: just because you’re learning tremolo doesn’t man you should attempt Recuerdos straight away (please don’t).

Cliff Notes

  1. Tremolo has far reaching technical effects beyond just learning tremolo
  2. It’s a worthwhile addition to a technical routine
  3. Limit the time you spend on tremolo, find a few effective exercises and stick with them
  4. Don’t learn Recuerdos first thing
10 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 July 28

    IMO, tremolo is a fundamental RH skill. If you can’t do it you have missed something important about how the RH works. When I teach tremolo I also introduce 3 notes per string scales that use ami for RH and can be played very fast. Students (especially teenage boys) get a kick out of learning techniques that look and sound “magical”. It seems to keep them motivated trying to copy what I demonstrate for them.

    I also teach rasqueados and arpeggios stressing that tremolo, scales, rasqueado and arpeggios can all be done using sympathetic RH motion where getting the “feel” is the key. These RH techniques are not just sympathetic but also synergistic.

    It’s not hard to teach one on one but students tend to get away from the “feel” on their own and bog down. Direct imitation with immediate feedback from me seems to work really well but all the abstract instruction on the web seems to make students over analyze it and forget that sympathetic motion is ultimately a feeling. Teaching it is much like teaching someone to roll their Rs – the technical information can actually get in the way of “getting it”.

  2. 2010 July 28

    Yes it’s worth it! Once you get it, it’s a little like learning how to ride a bicycle, you don’t lose the ability. And, it’s a special technique and sound that’s rather unique to guitar. It’s always good to flaunt what the guitar can do and other instruments can’t. And, tremolo appears in a surprising number of places, including in chamber music. It’s an essential tool in one’s toolbox. To anyone just getting started: don’t tackle it too soon (consult your teacher); when you do work on it, don’t obsess, just keep at it and have patience. It will come, and you’ll be glad you have it.

  3. 2010 July 28
    John E permalink

    Setting the technical implications aside for a moment, I wonder how many others feel the same way about tremolo that I do. I have avoided it in my guitar playing not because it’s hard (I don’t doubt that), or that it’s relatively rare, but purely because I *hate* the sound of tremolo. I think it’s incredibly cheesy sounding. I know guitarists are supposed to feel reverential toward Recuerdos, but dear God I just cannot. My wife now even reaches for the Next Track button on either the car CD player or the mp3 player when a tremolo piece comes on. Whenever I hear a tremolo piece, I can only picture one image: an incredibly sketchy and cartoonish Italian guy with a thin moustache playing a tiny mandolin in an effort to seduce a woman in a red dress who is looking in the other direction. Seriously, that’s no way to live. Unless or until I get that image out of my head, tremolo is dead to me.

  4. 2010 July 29

    This post got me thinking about tremolo, which has always struck me as a pretty weird aspect of technique. I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that practicing tremolo necessarily makes one’s overall right-hand technique better. I figured I’d try to lay out some justification for that, and although that took a whole lotta words (and still isn’t complete), I hope it might be of interest: http://www.brianbarone.com/2010/07/29/on-tremolo/

  5. 2010 August 1
    Connor Milstead permalink

    Saying that tremolo is not worth learning is like saying that exercising before you practice or warming up before a performance doesn’t make you play or practice better. It’s not as useless as some people think. It is actually a very good warm up for right hand endurance and it can make you play faster and better all around since there are certain pieces that require fast (and accurate) scales which, if played improperly, sound really choppy and displeasing. There are plenty of benfits to learning tremolo and what I’ve said only scratches the surface.

  6. 2010 August 12

    Tremolo is not that hard and it’s related to other basic RH tech. I have teens who can play decent tremolo after just a few lessons.

    I also teach 3 note per string scales that use ami at the same time as I teach tremolo. I have one SVG file (won’t open in IE) with 5 of the 7 patterns for speed scales:

    http://www.larrydeack.com/cmajor.svg

    Using speed bursts a student can learn to play these patterns at continuous tremolo speeds in a relatively short time. If you can’t do tremolo you can’t do these scales at tempo.

    What is remarkable to see is how many CG college students avoid the foundational work needed to play at a level where they can present a program that is at least at the level of playing a Bach lute suite. Pulling out voices is a lot harder RH technique than playing a simple tremolo. It’s like someone trying to learn calculus who can’t do algebra but thinks they can squeak by without it.

    Bottom line, if you can’t play tremolo you are missing something important about basic RH technique.

  7. 2011 July 25

    I have been playing guitar for over 45 years I play out all the time and take a lot of videos and have noticed that i have developed some bad habits (that I did not even know I was doing) with my right hand most notably my right hand little finger sticks out I have over the past two monts been studdiing the top players playing tremolo I have been diligently watching their videos and teir right hand positions and came to realize that not only does my little finger stick straight out I use way to big movements with my right hand. I have also come to realize that with this right hand position(mine) I can’t do much on the guitar so I have for the last two months been practising diligently in front of a mirror and my hand has corrected almost 100%. Tremolo has always been one of those techniques that has eluded me. I have discovered that witjh the proper right hand position i can play almost anything up to tempo including the tremolo. What has helped me I think the most is practising scales ( The Segovia Edition) with tremolo. The Tremolo Book by Vladimer Bobri has also been very helpful also the discussion of tremolo In Scott Tenants firs “Pumping Nylon” Alan

    • 2012 May 16
      Ray Thompson permalink

      I have to admit I have always been crazy for trem!! Almost cannot get enough of it!

      I cannot over stress learning it very slowly and do not start with Recuerdos!! like I did !

      I played it very well pretty quickly and then after about 20 years it just fell apart!

      Playing too loud all the the time (and with the disfuctioal tension created) , really srewed up my RH and left hands

      Ive spent the last few years getting it back and under control

      Try Tremmolo with the suggested patterns in Pumping Nylon

      Do not over look spending some time playing staccotto very slowly and distinced

      And include pimi also..

      I saw Ana Vidovic play using only pimi.. it was beautiful!

      After the concert that she said she doesnt like using the a finger for trem!

      Get the Republished Sagreas Method He suggests using pimi and master getting it very even.Then add the a finger.

      I know the Sagreas method is a bit dated but like anything else take what you can from it!

      Theres some good stuff in there.

      He also said use the pimi on slower works and the pami on faster ones.

      All this balances the RH in ways that are almost uncanny

      In an article a few years back Doug Niet suggested practicing Reucredos for example one half hour per day starting dead slow with the metronome and setting it one notch per week for six months!! He said he was suprised at very accomplished guitarists that had a weak or near non existent trem. He challenged them to have the courage take the time to do it!

      Reminds me.In conversation at 1984 in Toronto with Scot Tennent He mentioned Pepe Romeros teaching style.”Pepe challenged his best students to have the courage to practice fast pieces(Brings the Grand Ove. Guillianni to mind) at HALF Speed or lower for long time.
      Thats what Scot does… Hes living proof it works.

      Ray T

  8. 2012 July 31
    Ted Konkel permalink

    Does anyone else find that playing tremolo requires a different right hand position and technique than they would normally use?

    I’ve tried to develop a strong right hand technique that allows me to play as loud as possible when needed, but I’ve never been happy with my tremolo. I’m trying to revisit the tremolo and it seems that my right hand fingers must use a lighter and slightly different motion than I normally use, in order to get the required speed. I find that the m finger is really what holds me back. It seems to have trouble finding the string at a decent tremolo speed if I use my normal technique, since it’s a bit longer than the other fingers. When I play Asturias I leave out the m altogether and play all the triplets with p i a and p a i.

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