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Balance in Guitar Practice

David Raleigh Arnold

The First Weeks

Do not decide that you want to be a “lead” or “rhythm” guitarist. Work on both chords and melody equally. Chord work helps to develop strength in the hand and helps to get the feel of the instrument more quickly. Melody playing does more to develop better tone and musicianship.

The Beginner or Niche[1] Guitarist

For the beginner, the most desirable approach is to work at both single string melody playing and chord playing in somewhat, not obsessively, equal proportion. That recommendation stems from the reality that each of those two subjects of practice yields somewhat different benefits.

The principal benefit to single string melody pracice lies in coordinating the actions of the right and left arms. This proves to be the most demanding aspect of guitar playing, because the mental effort involved in coordinating right and left is many times that required to coordinate musculature within either whole arm.

The principal benefit of chord playing is to build dexterity with the right hand and accuracy and strength with the left at the same time.

If you do not begin to practice some solo guitar playing, in which you have both single string melody and chord playing, there is the danger of developing two different right hand positions, techniques, or attacks for each situation. This is extremely detrimental to becoming an accomplished and versatile guitarist, whether you are interested in jazz, pop, rock, flamenco, “classical”, or any and all styles of playing any and all styles of guitar.

Therefore, do not choose between melody and chord playing.

Intermediate to Advanced “Classical” Players

Any player to which this does not apply specifically will be able to find parallels.

The late Andres Segovia projected a series of teaching works. His works on slurs and tremolo are completely worthless, negative contributions rather than simply no good. The remaining two fulcra on which his project rests are his book of scales and twenty etudes selected from the works of Fernando Sor. The following applies even if you replace Segovia’s scales with DGT, which you certainly should do.

todo: List PD on line sources of each of the 20.

By scale-arpeggio is meant passages which require coordinated right and left fingers to pass from single note to single note.

By chord-pattern is meant passages which consist in notes fretted at the same time which are sounded simultaneously or in sequence by the right hand. A book of scales consists entirely of the scale-arpeggio type of work. The Twenty consists almost entirely of the chord-pattern type.

Segovia: Twenty Studies of Sor

chord-pattern: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

scale-arpeggio: 7. (and that’s a stretch) Ratio: 19:1.

The problem is that if you follow the Maestro’s path without extensive supplementation, you might develop techniques for scale playing without adequate training in applying those skills to your music playing. You might even develop different hand positions, attacks, etc. for scale playing in an exercise session and in your music. It would have been better if the twenty had included more scale-arpeggio material, but this is probably largely the fault of Sor, not just Segovia.

Nothing could be easier than to resolve this problem. Simply play more scale-arpeggio music, either by expanding your repertoire or by playing more repetitions of scale-arpeggio material you already have, to achieve balance. I do not mean to badmouth the “Twenty”. It’s good stuff, but not balanced, so you must balance it.

The Carcassi Etudes

Ida Presti recommended Carcassi Op. 60 as daily practice, not Segovia’s scales. I don’t pretend to be a mind reader, but the same sort of analysis may give some indication why:

chord-pattern: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21.

scale-arpeggio: 1, 6, 9, 11, 14, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25. Ratio: 14:11

Again, do not conclude too much from the comparison. It says nothing about the value of any particular etude in instruction. Consider this article to be more about questions than answers, and the topic was balance, nothing more –David Raleigh Arnold Oct. 10, 2008

End Notes:

§1 Most players who use picks, and some who never do, have chosen a particular type or style of music. That may make the comparisons to follow considerably less interesting.

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©2008 David Raleigh Arnold - http://www.openguitar.com