Secret Alternation Speed Weapon

Many people struggle with relaxed, right-hand alternation. i m alternation seems to be the preferred combination because that’s what everyone does right?

I’m here to tell you that i m alternation is overrated, and I want to introduce you to my friend, p i alternation. We don’t often have to play long, fast scales in a piece, but p i is a great tool with which to do so.

Biological Back-up

In my extremely over-simplified view of looking at the hands and how they function, our hands work in three units. The thumb, the index and the rest. Any combination of one of the independent digits (thumb, index) with one of the less independent (the rest) makes for an easily developed, relaxed alternation.

Combining the two independent digits, p i, is like magic. They work well separately and work equally well together.

Beware the Heaviness

Most of use use p exclusively for accompaniment and bass notes, as a result, p tends to be “heavy.” That is, we tend to accent it. The key to a nice p i alternation is lightness. Try to get the thumb sounding the same as the index. To me, it feels like consciously holding back the thumb.

Practice and Development

The easiest way to get a sense for what p i feels like is to practice is slow a couple times. Sometimes it’s a bit weird to start with. But, as I’ve mentioned before, playing slow to get fast is not as effective as people make it out to be. To develop some speed work with quick bursts. Like p i then p i p and p i p i, etc. Don’t forget to do those bursts starting with the index as well.

After some good bursts are going, you can work on string crossings and more scalar things.

p i alternation is saving my life this year because I suck at i m. Give p i a test run and let me know what you think.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Technique


  • Daniel

    I am a big fan of p-m-i alternation, always crossing strings with p-m (going up in pitch) or i-p (going down). I often feel deficient or like I’m “cheating” because I’m not playing i-m like I’m “supposed to”, but it works for me. Same issue with not letting the thumb play too loudly. It’s main drawback is that it just doesn’t have the same sound as what the i-m rest stroke flamenco speed demons achieve.

  • Chuck

    Yeah, I find I use i-m-a frequently, where most people would use i-m. Trick is getting an equally strong sound from a as i-m. Sounds thin if I’m not careful.. Then P is free to develop the bass, as you would like!

  • eccemarco

    Hi there. Nice the idea of having a blog specific for this! I am a long-time lover of classical guitar playing. After taking lessons for some 3years some long time ago (Yeah, I was a teenager!) Now I am going through a time of passion for the classical guitar, and I started again with some routine. I’d say my level is kind of 2nd-3rd year conservatory as per now..

    On the p-i alternation.. : I tend rather to gain more balance to the whole hand strenghtening the medium and ring fingers for they tend to be weaker.
    Or, when I feel that the thumb is too strong, on simple ‘arpeggi’ playing with three strings I start playing with the index the string supposed to be played by the thumb. So instead of a t-i-m alternation I do an i-m-r. ..if that makes any sense.

    I will keep an eye on your blog!
    PS: it’d be wicked to upload short videoclips on how our exercises are going 🙂
    Best, Marco.

  • Ernesto Schnack

    Interesting, I was trying it out, and it feels good…actually p-m feels better for me. I think I’ve used it before without putting much thought into it.

    But now that I think about it, it feels a lot like playing with a pick…which is a good thing for me.

  • Bobber

    I had a friend who worked a lot on p,m and really used that quit a bit for scales. I still am better at i,m but I also try to do p,i as it does come in handy on many occasions. I am convinced that the most important thing for velocity is small motions (or economy of motion). Especially with i,m, students are focusing on making a good full sound and they tend to lose economy of motion in the process.

  • Miguel

    I couldn’t agree more about the i,m combination being overrated. When I was working on a Piazzolla piece, I ended up developing a,m,i,m combination.. that seemed to work better. p,i is great when you don’t have a walking bass line to contend with.

    I worked up the a,m,i,m combo by practicing the chromatic scales, well a pseudo chromatic version anyhow.