Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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HOW TO PLAY RHYTHMICALLY-EVEN SLURS
ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR

Douglas Niedt, guitarist

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Douglas Niedt is a successful concert and recording artist and highly respected master classical guitar teacher with 50 years of teaching experience. He is Associate Professor of Music (retired), at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City and a Fellow of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management—Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Doug studied with such diverse masters as Andrés Segovia, Pepe Romero, Christopher Parkening, Narciso Yepes, Oscar Ghiglia, and Jorge Morel. Therefore, Doug provides solutions for you from a variety of perspectives and schools of thought.

He gives accurate, reliable advice that has been tested in performance on the concert stage that will work for you at home.

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HOW TO PLAY RHYTHMICALLY EVEN SLURS
ON THE CLASSICAL GUITAR


By Douglas Niedt

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


This technique tip focuses specifically on learning to play rhythmically-even slurs. Go here for a comprehensive guide on how to play slurs in general.

In this technique tip, you will learn:

  1. How to play even descending slurs ("pull-offs") on an advanced piece (Capricho Árabe by Francisco Tárrega).
  2. How to play even descending slurs on an easy piece (Allegretto in E major by Fernando Sor).
  3. How to learn to play even ascending slurs ("hammer-ons") on an intermediate piece (Prélude No. 3 by Heitor Villa-Lobos).

I illustrate how it all works with a video for each piece.


THE QUICK SUMMARY: What to do if your slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs) are uneven

  1. Practice these four versions of the slurred passage:
    1. Usually, uneven slurs are caused by hammering on or pulling off too quickly. Therefore, practice the slurs in the opposite dotted rhythm.
    2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.
    3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.
    4. Even practice the wrong rhythm so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.
  2. If the passage is long or complex, break it down into smaller parts to practice with the four versions.
  3. To save practice time, focus your practice on the slurs only. Later, practice the passage in a larger context.
  4. If the fingers revert to the tendency to play the slurs unevenly, THINK the opposite rhythm to keep the slurs even.


DOUG'S DEEP DIVE (all the details)

Descending Slurs ("pull-offs") on an Advanced Piece

The opening passage of Capricho Árabe by Franciso Tárrega consists of descending slurs or pull-offs. Example #1a:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, original

Unfortunately, some guitarists mangle the passage, playing it like this with uneven slurs. Example #1b:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, uneven

To fix it, to keep your slurs even, intentionally practice the opposite rhythm. This type of practice is the most effective strategy to correct arhythmic or uneven slurs. Be certain to dot every slur. Sometimes, a player will not dot the slurs at shift points as much as the others. They must all be equally dotted. Example #1c:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, practice the opposite dotted rhythm

If the counting looks a little scary, think of it like this:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, how to count the opposite rhythm

If the counting doesn't work for you, I highly recommend the "bouncy, bouncy" method (see the video).

Also, practice the passage with no slurs, so you learn to recognize the sound of even notes. Get the sound of that rhythm into your ears. Rhythmically, the passage should sound the same, whether you are playing the slurs or not. Example #1d:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, no slurs

Practice these four versions of the slurs in random order:

  1. Play the slurs in the opposite rhythm.
  2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.
  3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.
  4. Even practice the wrong rhythm so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.

For Example:

  • You know that you pull-off too quickly. So, practice the opposite dotted rhythm several times.
  • Then, play the passage with no slurs to hear what the notes sound like when they are even.
  • Now, play the passage with the slurs. If it still doesn't sound right, practice the opposite rhythm again.
  • Alternate between playing the slurs with the opposite rhythm and trying to play them with the correct rhythm.
  • Throw in a few repetitions of the passage without slurs to remind yourself how even notes sound.
  • Alternate between playing the slurs with the opposite dotted rhythm and the wrong rhythm. That will help you hear and feel the difference between right and wrong.

NOTE: It may seem a little odd that I recommend you also practice the wrong rhythm. After all, that is what you are trying to expunge from your playing. But it is extremely helpful to the hands, ears, and brain to practice right and wrong, so they have a clear understanding of the difference between the two.

In a longer passage such as this, you may want to break it down into smaller units. Begin practicing only the first four 16th notes in all four versions. Example #1e:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Capricho Arabe opening slurs, the first four notes practiced four ways

To continue, we would:

  1. Practice the next group of four 16th notes and master those.
  2. Combine those with the first four 16th notes.
  3. Next, learn the third group of four 16th notes.
  4. Finally, combine the third group with the first two groups.

See my technique tip on Step Practice or "Chaining".


IMPORTANT NOTE: This practice method will develop the ability to control the speed of your fingers' pull-offs. But even so, at times, they may revert to pulling off too quickly. To prevent that, as you perform the passage, THINK the opposite dotted rhythm as you play. The fingers will play the slurs evenly.

Watch me demonstrate how to learn to play the descending slurs ("pull-offs") rhythmically evenly in Capricho Árabe in Video #1.

★ Also, if you prefer, you can read the transcript of the video (scroll to the very end of this article).

★ You can turn on closed captioning ("CC" at bottom right) if you find it is hard to understand my speech.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the far right:

How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Advanced Piece: Capricho Árabe by Francisco Tárrega

Descending Slurs ("pull-offs") on an Easier Piece

This practice strategy can be used with easier pieces too. Let's have a look at the Allegretto in E major, Lesson #8 from Opus 35, Book 1 by Fernando Sor. In measure #27 are two descending slurs or pull-offs. Example #2a:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Sor Allegretto slurs, original

Many students tend to pull-off too quickly on the two slurs in measure #27, mangling the rhythm. Example #2b:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Sor Allegretto slurs, incorrect rhythm

Once again, to fix it, intentionally practice the opposite rhythm. This type of practice is the most effective strategy to correct arhythmic or uneven slurs. Example #2c:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Sor Allegretto slurs, the opposite rhythm

If the counting looks a little scary, think of it like this:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Sor Allegretto slurs, how to count the opposite rhythm

If the counting doesn't work for you, I highly recommend the "bouncy, bouncy" method (see the video).

To save practice time, isolate measure #27 which contains the slurs, and practice these four versions of the measure in random order:

  1. Play the slurs in the opposite rhythm.
  2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.
  3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.
  4. Even practice the wrong rhythm so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Example #2d:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Sor Allegretto slurs, practice four versions

Remember, to save practice time, focus your practice on the slurs only. Later, practice the passage in its larger context.

If the fingers revert to the tendency to play the slurs unevenly, THINK the opposite rhythm to keep the slurs even.

Watch me demonstrate how to learn to play the descending slurs ("pull-offs") rhythmically evenly in this passage in Video #2.

★ Also, if you prefer, you can read the transcript of the video (scroll to the very end of this article).

★ You can turn on closed captioning ("CC" at bottom right) if you find it is hard to understand my speech.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the far right:

How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Easier Piece: Allegretto, by Fernando Sor

Ascending Slurs ("hammer-ons")

This practice strategy also works with ascending slurs or hammer-ons. Let's look at the beginning measures of Prélude No. 3 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Example #3a:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 slurs, original

Unfortunately, some guitarists play it like this. Example #3b:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 slurs, incorrect rhythm

To fix it, intentionally practice the opposite rhythm. This type of practice is the most effective strategy to correct arhythmic or uneven slurs. Example #3c:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 slurs, practice the opposite rhythm

If the counting looks a little scary, think of it like this:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 slurs, how to count the opposite rhythm

If the counting doesn't work for you, I highly recommend the "bouncy, bouncy" method (see the video).

Isolate the slurs in measure #3, and practice these four versions of the slurs in random order:

  1. Play the slurs in the opposite rhythm.
  2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.
  3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.
  4. Even practice the wrong rhythm so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Example #3d:

How to play rhythmically-even slurs on the classical guitar, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 slurs, practice four versions

To save practice time, focus your practice on the slurs only. Later, practice the passage in its larger context.

If the fingers revert to the tendency to play the slurs unevenly, THINK the opposite rhythm to keep the slurs even.

Watch me demonstrate how to learn to play the ascending slurs ("hammer-ons") rhythmically evenly in this passage from Villa-Lobos' Prélude No. 3 in Video #3.

★ Also, if you prefer, you can read the transcript of the video (scroll to the very end of this article).

★ You can turn on closed captioning ("CC" at bottom right) if you find it is hard to understand my speech.

★ BE SURE TO WATCH ON FULL SCREEN. Click on the icon at the bottom on the far right:

How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Easier Piece: Prélude No. 3, by Heitor Villa-Lobos

Summary: To Correct Uneven Slurs

  1. Practice these four versions of the slurred passage:
    1. Usually, uneven slurs are caused by hammering on or pulling off too quickly. Therefore, practice the slurs in the opposite dotted rhythm.
    2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.
    3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.
    4. Even practice the wrong rhythm so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.
  2. If the passage is long or complex, break it down into smaller parts to practice with the four versions.
  3. To save practice time, focus your practice on the slurs only. Later, practice the passage in a larger context.
  4. If the fingers revert to the tendency to play the slurs unevenly, THINK the opposite rhythm to keep the slurs even.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPTS

Transcript from Video #1: How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Advanced Piece: Capricho Árabe by Francisco Tárrega

[00:00:00] The opening passage of Capricho Árabe by Francisco Tárrega, consists of descending slurs or pull-offs like this. And, I'm going to play it a little slower than I normally would, so you can hear the rhythm of the slurs. (I play the passage) That's how it should sound. Unfortunately, some guitarists mangle the passage playing it like this with uneven slurs. (I play the passage wrong)

[00:00:38] No good. Right? Well, to fix it, to keep your slurs even, intentionally practice the opposite rhythm. So, the fingers want to do short-long, short-long, short-long. Right? So instead, we do the opposite: long-short, [00:01:00] long-short, long-short, long-short, long-short.

[00:01:02] This type of practice is the most effective strategy to correct uneven slurs. Be certain to dot every slur. In a passage like this where we have shifts, some of the slurs, you may not dot them as much as others. You want them all to be equally dotted like this. (I play the dotted slurs) All right?

[00:01:27] If the counting looks a little scary, think of it like this: one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one. Like that. But even that is kind of difficult, especially at higher speeds: one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one. It's a little hard to count.

[00:01:50] So, if that doesn't work for you, I highly recommend the bouncy, bouncy method. It sounds silly, but actually works. It'd [00:02:00] be like this: boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, bounce. Like that. Boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, boun-cy, bounce. It works very well.

[00:02:11] Also practice the passage with no slurs, so you learn to recognize the sound of absolutely even notes, like this. (I play the passage)

[00:02:24] Get the sound of that rhythm into your ears. Because rhythmically, the passage should sound the same whether you're playing the slurs or not. So, without the slurs: "dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah." With the slurs, the same: "dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah."

[00:02:50] So, there are four versions of the slurs that you need to practice in random order:

[00:02:55] 1. Play the slurs in the opposite rhythm.

[00:03:02] [00:03:00] 2. Play the notes evenly without any slurs.

[00:03:08] 3. Play the slurs in the correct rhythm.

[00:03:15] 4. And then, even practice the wrong rhythm, because that will help you and your fingers recognize the difference between right and wrong.

[00:03:30] In a longer passage such as this, it may be a good idea to break the passage down into smaller parts. So here, we could practice just the first four 16th notes:

[00:03:44] 1. Opposite rhythm. Think bouncy, bouncy. Or, one two three four, one two three four. Like that.

[00:03:53] 2. Then, without any slurs.

[00:04:00] [00:03:57] 3. Then, maybe try bouncy again.

[00:04:07] 4. Try it evenly.

[00:04:11] 5. No slurs.

[00:04:15] 6. With slurs, even.

[00:04:20] 7. Do it wrong.

[00:04:25] 8. Opposite.

[00:04:32] 9. Even, no slurs.

[00:04:33] 10. Even, with slurs.

[00:04:35] So just randomly bounce around from one version to another until your brain, your ears, your hands start to zero in on what's right, and what's wrong.

[00:04:48] To continue, we would practice the next group of four [00:05:00] 16th notes. Those four. And again, random practice.

[00:05:06] 1. Bouncy. Boun-cy, boun-cy. Boun-cy, boun-cy.

[00:05:07] 2. Even, no slurs.

[00:05:08] 3. Even, with slurs.

[00:05:11] 4. Wrong.

[00:05:16] Mixing it up until you get the hang of it, and then combine those two groups together. Work all the four patterns or versions.

[00:05:27] Then take the next four 16 notes. Yeah. Just keep combining the smaller groups into bigger groups.

[00:05:34] An important note is that this practice method will develop the ability to control the speed of your fingers' pull-offs. But even so, at times, they may revert to pulling off too quickly. To prevent, that as you perform the passage, think the opposite dotted rhythm as you play. If you do that, the fingers will play the slurs evenly. So [00:06:00] if I'm playing this...

[00:06:03] What's going through my mind is the bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. I'm thinking that. And that keeps the pull-offs in check, keeps them in rhythm.




Transcript from Video #2: How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Easier Piece: Allegretto, by Fernando Sor

[00:00:00] This practice strategy could be used with easier pieces too. Let's have a look at an Allegretto in E major, by Fernando Sor. We start off with a dotted rhythm. And then we have measure 27 with two slurs, two pull-offs. So, it should sound like this.

[00:00:32] But, many students tend to pull-off too quickly on those two slurs, mangling the rhythm. Sounds like this. That's no good.

[00:00:55] So once again, to fix it, intentionally practice the [00:01:00] opposite rhythm. So, the fingers want to play short-long, short-long, like that. So, we practice the opposite: long-short, long-short. This type of practice is the most effective strategy to correct uneven slurs.

[00:01:26] If the counting looks a little scary to you, and it does, you can count it like this: one two three four, one two three four, one two three four. But even that, it's kind of hard to do, especially fast: one two three four, one two three four, one two three four. So instead, you can use my bouncy bouncy method, which is like this: boun-cy boun-cy boun-cy. Boun-cy boun-cy boun-cy. Works very well. Sounds silly, but it works well.

[00:01:58] And, to save [00:02:00] time, isolate measure 27, which contains the slurs. In other words, there's no sense in playing those measures, because the problem is not there in those measures. Save yourself time. Focus on just the measure with the slurs.

[00:02:18] So, what we'll do, is practice in four versions.

[00:02:22] 1. We'll play the slurs in the opposite rhythm, the dotted long-short, long-short, or boun-cy boun-cy boun-cy, boun-cy boun-cy boun-cy, boun-cy like that.

[00:02:35] 2. Then, we'll practice the notes evenly without any slurs. Like that. Several times over and over again, getting that sound of what even sounds like.

[00:02:50] 3. Then, we'll try to play the slurs in the correct rhythm.

[00:03:00] [00:02:58] 4. And then, even practice the wrong rhythm. Again, so that your fingers and your ears and your brain recognize the difference between wrong, and right.

[00:03:18] And again, that bouncy rhythm is a key part of this practice.

[00:03:29] And remember, on any piece you play, to save practice time, focus your practice on the slurs only. Later, practice the passage in its larger context. And, if the fingers tend to want to revert back to their tendency to play the slurs unevenly, and they will, think the opposite rhythm, the bouncy, bouncy, bouncy rhythm, to keep the slurs even. So, as you're playing [00:04:00] that, you should be thinking: bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, to keep the fingers from pulling off too quickly.




Transcript from Video 3: Rhythmically Even Ascending Slurs, Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3

[00:00:00] This practice strategy also works with ascending slurs, or hammer-ons. Let's look at the beginning measures of Prelude No. 3, by Hector Villa-Lobos. We have...then, we have two slurs into the chord at measure four.

[00:00:31] So, unfortunately, some guitarists play it like this... So, the slurs, they should be even 16ths, like that. But they mangle the rhythm and play...that. So, we have to fix that. And to fix it, we [00:01:00] intentionally practice the opposite rhythm. So, the fingers want to play: short-long, short-long. And to prevent that, we do the opposite: long-short, long-short, long-short, long-short, like that. So, to sound correctly like this... We practice long-short, to prevent... that!

[00:01:23] So what we want to do, we want to isolate the slurs in measure three, because there's no sense in practicing this beautiful opening, because that's not the problem. The problem is our two slurs.

[00:01:38] So we isolate the slurs. And, we're going to practice those in four different versions.

versions. [00:01:44] 1. We're going to play them in the opposite rhythm.

[00:01:48] 2. We're going to play the notes evenly without any slurs. Because that tells our [00:02:00] ears and our brain what "even" truly sounds like.

[00:02:04] Because once again, the passage, the two slurs, should sound the same. Whether they're plucked or slurred, the rhythm is the same, four sixteenths.

[00:02:19] 3. Then, we want to practice the slurs in the correct rhythm, of course.

[00:02:24] 4. And then, even practice the wrong rhythm, so that you and your fingers recognize the difference between wrong and right.

[00:02:38] And then, we overcompensate by practicing the opposite rhythm like that. And, we want to do that randomly. That's the best way to practice.

[00:02:51] And, on the opposite rhythm, if the notation kind of scares you, all we're doing is one two three four, one two three four, one two three [00:03:00] four, one two three four. Like that.

[00:03:02] Now that's hard to count fast. One two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one, two, three, four. And what you can do instead is my "bouncy, bouncy" method. Boun-cy boun-cy, boun-cy boun-cy, boun-cy boun-cy, boun-cy boun-cy. Works very well. It's a little silly, but it does work.

[00:03:19] Once again, to save practice time on any piece, always focus your practice on the problem area. In this case, the slurs. Then later, practice the passage with its larger context, getting into it.

[00:03:36] Now, if the fingers revert to their tendency to hammer-on too quickly, think the opposite rhythm, the long-short long-short, or bouncy bouncy. Think that as you're trying to play evenly, and it will keep the rhythm even. It will prevent your fingers from hammering-on too quickly if you [00:04:00] think that opposite rhythm. Works very well.

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1. Download a PDF of the article with links to the videos.

Download a PDF of How to Play Rhythmically-Even Slurs on the Classical Guitar (with links to the videos).


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Video 1: Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Advanced Piece, Capricho Árabe.

Video 2: Rhythmically-Even Slurs on an Easier Piece, Sor Allegretto.

Video 3: Rhythmically-Even Ascending Slurs, Villa-Lobos Prelude No 3.