— LESSONS: GUITAR —
As an assignment for the Conservatory of Rotterdam, I had to make a method book for flamenco
guitar. As I always like to think big, I decided to work for it so that it’ look like it could be
I started playing flamenco guitar somewhere in February 2006. I discovered the Flamenco department of the World Music Academy when I was visiting the Rotterdam Conservatory’s Open House, initially to check out the Jazz Academy, but some flamenco guitar students were performing, and they impressed me so much, that I went on to check out their department.
I started taking lessons by a student, later I attended the prepatory year, studied for the bachelor degree, and—almost five years later—I started writing this book about the technique and styles that I’ve learned, which I now publish on this site.
This book shows my experiences, my thoughts and ideas. You will often find me explaining why something is called like this, why something should be done like that (or better said, why it’s advised to be done like that). There are a lot of ‘whys’ because I’m skepical and hard-minded. I want to be convinced, to get to the bottom of things.
I’ll include exercises after explaining a technique, along with some hand-drawn images by me.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading this book as much as I have creating it. I would like to thank Paco Peña, Ricardo Mendeville, and Alexander Preuss for letting me discover the world of flamenco, and myself in the process.
Do’s, no Don’ts
In this book my methods will be described to what you should do to achieve it, not what you shouldn’t do. At times I catch myself describing or thinking what I shouldn’t do in order to get what I want. This is not a positive approach.
You’ll be better off thinking positively than negatively (or not positively). Imagine that a friend of yours came from a party, and you asked how it was. If he would point out every negative aspect of the concert, as it might’ve been rather disappointing, the whole mood would become dark and down. If, nevertheless, he would point out the few, but positive things, the mood stays light and uplifting. This doesn’t mean that one should be all cool, without ever expressing the troubled and disappointing things in life. Just when it’s not needed, like describing a technique, it’s better to keep it cool.
About the Body
It’s recommend to warm-up your whole body before you start playing the guitar. Stretch your muscles and tap on your whole body to let the blood flow. Shake your hands and rub them against each other to make them warm.
The Left Hand
A Relaxed Hand
Muscles work when they contract and rest when they don’t. Therefore a relaxed hand is shaped
with the fingers and thumb curved, as you can see on the following image.
If your hand is flat, your joints expand, which means that muscles are at work. The shown picture truly is a relaxed state of the hand. It’s about the same shape you make when you’re about to hold a bottle of beer (or coke, if you’re not drinking). Make that same shape when you’re holding the neck of the guitar.
Angle and Placement
When you want to fret the strings on the guitar, do so by stopping the string just before the fret as shown on the images below. Also make a very straight angle towards the fretboard when you stop a string—with each finger, also your pinky. Because of this, it’s recommended that the nails on your left hand are so short that your fingertips can perpendiculary rest on the fretboard. Stop the string with so much force that you can make a clean sound out of the string. It’s unnecessary if you use more force than is needed. And if you push too much, you may even raise the pitch very slightly.
Ascending Slurs and Descending Slurs
An ascending slur—in popular terms, a hammer-on—is a technique where after you’ve hit a note, you create a new one by hammering the corresponding note you want to create on the fretboard with one of your fingers of your left hand. It’s the reason why it’s also called a hammer-on.
A descending slur is the opposite of an ascending slur—also known as a pull-off. With this technique, you always already have made a note by a fretted string. By removing the finger of the fretted string by pulling it off the fretboard down (image 1), you create another note. If you remove the finger by lifting it (image 2), the sound that you’ll make won’t be so present, so it’s less efficient to do it that way.
The gap between both slurs is astronomically small because it’s a direct reaction to a made action. This means that the connection between the notes, both with a hammer-on and a pull-off, is very smooth. It’s as extreme as you can get when you want to play legato (smoothly connected, binded).
A barre is the shape you make with your index on the fretboard. You’re pressuring the strings with your flat index and you create a new beginning position to shape chords. It’s worth mentioning that it’s only necessary to stop the strings you’re not stopping with your other fingers. Check the following image, for instance.
Your middle finger, angular finger, and pinky are stopping the A-string, the d-string, and the g-string, respectively. That leaves you with only the E-string, the b-string, and e'-string for your index finger. So it will be unnecessary to put pressure on all the strings with your index. Also when pressuring the strings you need to with your index, you could use the weight of your hand, as if you were leaning your finger on the fretboard and let gravity do its thing. Now, the pressure comes from the weight, not from the pushing of your index.
The Right Hand
With the left hand, you have control over the pitch and sustainability of sound. You change the pitch by fretting to different positions of a string, and you affect the duration of sound by how long you keep fretting the fretted string.
Your right hand has control over creating sound, the clarity of that sound (tone), and the dynamics of that sound. Tone can be altered by either hand:
- with the left hand by the way you fret the strings (as mentioned earlier);
- with the right hand by the way you hit the note.
Your fingernails are part of your tone. Fingerpicking—at least in the flamenco world—is created by a balance of flesh of the fingertip and nail. Therefore file your nails so that you could make an angle when you put a ruler or something straight on it. There are several ways to shape the nail, and one I recommend is quite logarithmic. Whatever you do, keep the shape from having sharp edges, as that can hinder the movement when hitting a string.
I recommend the thumb to be filed in such a way so that when you have your hand in the basic position, the thumbnail’s shape is parallel to the strings.
With the four other fingers, file your nails so that you could make an angle when you put a ruler or something straight on it. If the angle is more than 45 degrees (where a horizontal line is 0 degrees) the nail is too long, and there will be an inbalance of nail and flesh. Remember, that the sound you create is part nail, part flesh. File your nails in such a way so that you can have control of both when hitting a string.