Technique gets a lot of talk in the classical guitar world. Beginners, especially self taught beginners, can often feel lost about the proper way to practice technique.
Technique is the way our fingers move when we play guitar. It’s not certain arpeggio exercises or scales; it’s not a specific routine. Technique is just the way our hands move, all the stuff we do with our hands (scales, arpeggios) are tools to be added to our technique tool box as we improve.
With that in mind, the real goal of technical practice is to establish good movement patterns. This is especially important for the beginner: bad habits persist for a long time.
The First Lesson: Right Hand
What I do with my students on the first lesson is take them through a series of exercises meant to work on good movement of the fingers with a free stroke. I owe a lot of what I do to my guitar pedagogy class.
- Set up a hand position (check out this video). Several cues are used, including looking for the x between the thumb and index finger. I usually have the student do this a few times with my help (I say some cues) and then a few times with out. If it’s a young student, I teach their parents the hand position as well.
- Fingers alone. After a good hand position is going, I have the student keep the thumb planted and play with i m a all together. The student should move their fingers all the way back into the hand, just like wrapping the fingers around an object. I encourage a quick movement with a big follow through.
- i, ma, m, a. After working with all the fingers we work with i alone. Same drill: quick motion, big follow through back into the hand. Then m a together. Then m and a separately. Whenever we use m or a the middle, ring and pinky finger all come along for the ride and go back into the hand together (this is why I work with m a together first, it encourages this kind of motion).
- The Thumb. The fingers stay planted, and we work the thumb on different strings. Again a big follow through is used. I encourage the student to “aim” for the side of the index finger near the tip.
These exercises become the students routine, to be done every practice session. These exercises don’t take long to perform, which is help for students with limited practice time. I’d rather have my students practicing music than exercises.
The First Lesson: Left Hand
Most of my beginning classical guitar students start with simple chords in the left hand. We work on strumming with the thumb to get a sense of rhythm and time down. We also talk about counting and the various note values.
In short, I don’t do a lot of stuff for the left hand right away. We talk about correct finger placement (generally: fingertips right behind the fret), and let it go at that. Later on, I incorporate more exercises for the left hand.