Pinky rest #2

As we’ve said in the 1st part of this article, resting your pinky is a quick way to stabilize your hand. So let’s look at what to pay attention to when playing that way.

There is really not much to it position-wise. The point of contact will change depending on your hand size and angle at which you pluck the strings with your fingers. Best advice I could give here is to look for what works for you.

As for what is the actual role of the anchor, it’s important to note that you don’t put weight of your hand on it. When I first started playing, I put some serious weight on my pinky. And I had a reason! If i didn’t, my hand (and pinky) would just jump on and off the soundboard. But with time, especially after some longer practice sessions my pinky would start to hurt. Something had to be done. Only when I understood that the proper function of this tool, I could find the right way to use it. Here is what I learned:

There should be little to no weight on your rested pinky. Instead think of it just as some sort of a probe telling you how far the soundboard is. Check this video:

and notice how Tommy’s pinky freely moves on the soundboard. It’s especially visible in pieces like this one or Tall Fiddler. So once I started working on my hand stability and lifted some weight from my pinky everything went back to order. It stopped hurting, the rest of my hand relaxed and my overall technique moved forward.

The secret to playing with pinky support but not straining it is practicing also without it. Start by playing very easy things without pinky support (pinky should move together with 3rd finger. If you’re not sure, just watch some classical guitar videos). Then play the same things with pinky laid very gently on the soundboard. Let it move a little as your hand moves while switching strings etc. You should be able to brush the soundboard with pinky effortlessly at all times. As you play more and more difficult things without the support try to implement this gentle touch as you play with the anchor as well. Try some strumming with pinky support. Again, while strumming, pinky should brush the soundboard up and down. It shouldn’t impair your hand movement. Soon you’ll get used to new way and your hand will gain new level of freedom.


Pinky rest #1

Virtually unknown to classical guitar, resting right hand pinky right under the sound hole is rather common in fingerstyle world. What are pros and cons of it?

When you start to learn classical guitar you’ll often have some trouble with right hand stability. At this stage individual fingers aren’t properly mobilised yet. There is then a strong tendency to use bigger segments of your upper limb to produce a sound. It might be a move from your wrist or even from your elbow. Of course it’s impossible to play that way and a lot of effort has to be put into stabilising your hand and moving just the individual fingers.

Pinky rest resolves this problem almost instantly and that’s its main purpose. This comes at a cost however.

Pinky and ring finger having some tendon connections tend to move together. Anchoring your pinky on the face of the guitar makes it much harder to play with the 3rd finger (“a” finger). It’s inhibited and it’s more difficult to perform techniques like rolls or classical tremolo in even and steady manner.

It’s hard to say whether it’s worth it. Also depending on your target repertoire pros can outweigh cons and vice versa. For me, given that I was always interested in Tommy Emmanuel style music, it was easy choice. But now I have to pay for it when I’m trying to tackle classical guitar songs.

To sum up, if songs that you’d like to play are being played with pinky rest then it’s probably good idea to implement it in your playing or to at least check it out. Otherwise maybe it’s better to work more in the beginning but later to have more choices in your repertoire (especially if you see yourself playing difficult classical stuff at some point).

In second part of this article (coming soon) I’ll try to point out what to pay attention to when anchoring your pinky.

Problem in a song. What now?

You learn a new song and there is this place that gives you so much more trouble than all the rest. First thing that usually comes to our minds is: “practise the hell out of this bugger!”. But now is not the time for mindless repetition. Actually it’s probably the most inefficient thing you could do. Instead it’s time for some mental work. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Isolate the difficult part. Find last easy (comparatively) notes and where the difficult part ends.
  2. Is the difficulty of the part in technique? Or maybe you don’t understand the rhythm?
  3. Is the problem in your right hand, left hand? Maybe both hands are difficult or rather it’s not a problem of each hand separately or synchronization between two hands?
  4. Can you play it correctly very slow? If you can, notice what happens when you speed up? What is the core of your problem? Tension, slow movement, precision, stretch?
  5. Once you have the problem pinned down you might be ready to go rest of the road with brute force approach. But if you have any doubts keep going to the next point.
  6. Try isolating just the troublesome movement. The more you narrow it down the easier it’ll be.
  7. Cut out all that is irrelevant for your problem. If problem is just in one hand, cut the other. Divide the movement into segments (for example if it’s arpeggio practise just two-three fingers at a time. If it’s a chord change, learn just the vertical movement and then horizontal separately).
  8. If you see that difficulty would be much better addressed in some kind of technical exercise that you know or can come up with, go for it.
  9. Once you know the fundamental part, “dress it up” progressively with more and more of what you cut before until you’re back where you started.

With time and experience you’ll be able to skip steps and arrive at conclusions almost intuitively. For that to develop, however: you’ll have to do those steps consciously for some time.

Tommy E’s slide turn

In this post I’m going to write about an ornament that Tommy uses quiet often, especially in his soulful ballads. To be able to learn it you should have prior experience with barre, slides and hammer-ons. Without further ado let’s take a look at our little bugger:

So here it is. Notice the pinky doing it’s dance at around 51 s into the clip. What is actually happening there is a consecutive hammer-on, slide up and then slide down. Let’s take a closer look and try to refine the pinky move. By the way, Tommy’s guitar is tuned down a whole tone so he starts with barre on 7th fret. We’ll start with barre on the 5th to sound like him.

slide-turn-1Here our main note is the B on the 7th fret. It means that we could simplify all those hammer-ons and slides to just this one note. We start with the 5th fret and hammer-on the 7th with our pinky. Now we rapidly slide our pinky to the next fret and return to the 7th. I noted an accent on the final 7th note as it is most important in this lick and it should be well spelled (even if it’s just slided).

The hammer-on is pretty straightforward. The slide on the other hand might be a little tricky. First of all I don’t recommend using your whole hand movement to achieve it even if that is the initial temptation. It should be performed with muscles that distance your pinky from your 3rd finger. To locate those muscles lay your left hand on a table palm down with fingers slightly bent (there should be some air between your hand and the surface). Than try to move your pinky left (away from the rest of the fingers) with as little overall hand movement as possible. If you understand the correct movement you can isolate just the slide part and practice it while holding the 5th fret barre like that:

slide-turn-2 There are two key aspects of successful execution of this double slide. First of all muscles of your metacarpus (the main part of your hand) should be relaxed. It will ensure effortless sideways movement of your pinky. The pressure that you put on the string with your pinky should also be as tiny as possible. The less pressure – the less friction while sliding. Once the sliding part is no more a problem for you, try to add the initial hammer-on (5th to 7th fret).

Here are some modifications of this pattern that I stumbled upon the way (I’ll use our initial example as a base)

slide-turn-3In this example you remain on the first 7th a little longer. It sort of breaks the lick into two two-notes parts.

slide-turn-4Similar to the previous one but here you don’t slide 7-8. Instead you pluck the 8th fret and then slide back to 7th.

So this is a basic concept. Try doing it with different chords (open CAGED chords work very well for this). The other thing you could try is reversing the slides direction (as in making your main note the 8th fret and doing slide to 7th and back to 8th. Do you have any other ideas for this pattern? As for some homework for you, check Tommy’s Stay close to me and Angelina videos and try to spot patterns similar to what we’ve been discussing here.

Have fun!

Quick beginner tip on left hand

The good way to think about pressing single strings (not applicable for barre though). Just think about it like driving your nail into the fingerboard. Your nail and the fingerboard should be at 90 degree angle to each other. That way you’ll make much more space for strings below.

Another way to approach this: when you look down on your left hand you should see whole the nail of a fretting finger. If you see just the fingertip then your finger is too flat.

In general you should try to maintain the arch-like (or claw-like) shape of your left hand fingers. Arch is the best way to transmit movement of your muscles into your fingertips (look at architecture).

One last thing: if your nail is too long it will hit the fingerboard before the string is pressed to the fret. Keep them short.