Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt


Last month I explained the pros and cons of cross-string ornaments and slurred ornaments. I played examples of both. I explained the "Fast-Practice Technique" method of learning cross-string ornaments.

This month I will demonstrate the "Slow-Practice Technique" and I will also explain the role of the left hand in executing cross-string ornaments.

Finally, next month in Part 3, I will explain how to use cross-string ornaments in real-life repertoire.

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CROSS-STRING ORNAMENTS, Part 2 of 3

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.



How to Learn to Play a Cross-String Ornament, continued

The Slow-Practice Technique

After one to three weeks, if the fast-practice methods detailed above do not seem to be working for you, try some of the four slow-practice methods listed below. They will help you gain the agility and finger independence needed to use the fast-practice methods already described. Start each one slowly and gradually increase the speed over a period of days or weeks.

If one of the exercises seems very easy and presents no difficulty, skip it. You can also combine them in different ways. You could use the altered rhythms of #4 on exercises #1-3. You could use the slow/fast practice technique of #1 on the others. You could use the patterns in #3 on the other exercises. You could do the open-string arpeggio patterns of #2 on the others. In other words, you could probably spend hours working on these. Try to hone it down to the ones that seem to help you the most.

1. Alternate slow and fast note groups:



(Ex. #1)




2. Practice the “aimp” trill pattern as an arpeggio on open strings, varying the accent:



(Ex. #2)




3. Practice the “aimp” trill pattern on two strings but start on different fingers:



(Ex. #3)




4. Practice the “aimp” trill pattern in altered rhythms:



(Ex. #4)




Guitarist Sharon Isbin's Exercises

Sharon Isbin recommends practicing three-string arpeggios using her "miai" cross-string ornament pattern. If you are using another four-note pattern that does not use the thumb (aimi, amim, miai, mimi, aiai) you can practice it as arpeggios on three strings as well. Isbin recommends beginning slowly and gradually speeding up with a metronome. She uses this next exercise as a starting point. Again, it can be adapted for the other patterns as well:



(Ex. #5)




Isbin also suggests practicing these exercises:



(Ex. #6)




Here are more variations:



(Ex. #7)




As you see, you could spend an incredible number of hours practicing these exercises. Every player has different technical strengths and weaknesses. An exercise may be a total waste of time for one person but very helpful for another. You must carefully choose which ones you think will benefit you the most.

The Left Hand

String Damping

When playing the final note of a cross-string ornament, it will usually be necessary to damp the previous note to prevent unwanted dissonance. There are three ways to damp the note.

1. Release the left-hand finger pressure off the note

Sometimes you can just lift a finger off the string to stop it from ringing. But lifting off the string suddenly will often produce the unwanted pitch of the open string or other noises. Releasing the finger pressure from the string first and then lifting the finger off the string will prevent that. Sometimes other unwanted pitches will sympathetically resonate requiring additional damping from the right hand.

Ex. #8




2. Lean a left-hand finger onto the string that you want to damp

This is easy and usually produces a very clean damp.

Ex. #9:




Sometimes when the last note of an ornament is played, unwanted sympathetic vibrations or harmonic resonances can be heard. The right hand thumb or a free left-hand finger can be used to damp those strings. In the example above you may hear harmonics ringing on the bass strings. The left-hand 1st or 2nd finger could be used to damp those strings. Or, if using Isbin's fingering, the right-hand thumb can be placed on the offending bass strings.

3. Use a right-hand finger to damp the string

This technique often produces the cleanest damp but is harder to do at first. Sometimes it is the only method available to damp a string. Any finger available at the end of the ornament can be used to damp the string.

Ex. #10:




Watch me demonstrate these techniques using the preceding three written examples.

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Left-Hand Fingerings

Sometimes a cross-string ornament can be fingered using an open string. For example, a trill on F to E can be fingered as two fretted notes or with the F fretted and the E played open. Look at these options:

Ex. #11:




A trill from C to B presents similar options. Both notes can be fretted or just the C fretted and the B played open:

Ex. #12:




In the context of a piece, sometimes only one option will be playable. Other times either may be used. It is simply a matter of which one you think sounds best or that you can execute most reliably.

End of Part 2

In Part 3, the conclusion of this technique tip, we will look at how cross-string ornaments can be used in actual pieces.

Download the PDF

The PDF Version

We have a PDF version of this article with the video embedded in the document so you can save the entire article to your computer, video included!

IMPORTANT:

The PDF version of this article contains embedded video. It will not play well unless you save this PDF to your computer first. Then, open the file you just saved and the video will play smoothly. The PDF is 345 MB so it may take a while to download.

Note: You must have Adobe Reader 10 or later installed on your computer to play the videos contained in the PDF. Download Adobe Reader here.