Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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27 REASONS TO PRACTICE THE CLASSICAL GUITAR
WITH THE RIGHT HAND ALONE
Part 2

Douglas Niedt, guitarist

"Douglas who?"

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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27 REASONS TO PRACTICE THE CLASSICAL GUITAR
WITH THE RIGHT HAND ALONE
Part 2


By Douglas Niedt

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


7. Correct or improve the balance between the melody, bass, and accompaniment.

Practicing with the right hand alone is an excellent way to fix or improve the balance between the melody and accompaniment.

In the famous Leyenda or Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, the piece opens with these measures. Example #1:

Leyenda measures 1-2

Countless players think, "Oh, this opening passage is really easy." But most play it wrong. They play the open B's too loud.

Yes, the player could correct the problem by practicing with both hands together. But in my experience, the left hand distracts the guitarist from listening closely to the right hand and feeling the touch of the right-hand fingers.

We can correct the problem more quickly by extracting the open strings from the passage and practicing with the right hand alone. Example #2:

Leyenda measures 1-2 open strings extracted

Now, we can practice the passage on open strings with the right hand alone. Example #2a:

Leyenda measures 1-2 open strings only

We can focus on playing the melody notes strongly with the thumb but playing the open B's with a very light touch, so they are just barely audible. When it comes to improving the balance between voices, exaggeration is helpful.

Practice with the right hand alone, slowly at first, until you achieve an exaggerated balance, and the right-hand feels confident. Then, add the left hand, still playing slowly, and try to maintain the exaggerated balance. Go back and forth between right hand alone and both hands together, first very slowly, and then gradually work up the speed to your desired tempo and balance.

Watch me demonstrate how this works in Video #1.

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

Practice with the Right Hand Alone:
Correct or Improve the Balance
Between the Melody, Bass, and Accompaniment

Here is an excerpt from an easier piece, an Allegro by Mauro Giuliani. By the way, you can find the complete piece in Charles Duncan's A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar Repertoire, Part 1. The melody jumps back and forth from the bass voice to being part of the arpeggio. Example #3:

Giuliani Allegro original

If we don't emphasize the melody as it jumps from the bass to the arpeggio, the piece sounds like a generic arpeggio study. We would fail to realize that Giuliani has turned what appears on paper to be a relatively simple piece into a semi-virtuosic miniature in three voices. Here is the passage re-notated in three voices as it should sound when played correctly. Example #4:

Giuliani Allegro notated in three voices

Now, our "simple" piece has become more complicated. And, it becomes an ideal candidate for practice with the right hand alone. Learning to play the piece in three voices and emphasizing the melody is difficult to do if we have to keep track of both hands. Instead, let's extract the open strings. Example #5:

Giuliani Allegro standard plus extracted open strings

Now, it will be much easier to teach the right-hand fingers to keep the melody loud with "p," m," and "a" while keeping the accompaniment in the background by playing the "i" finger quietly with a light touch. Example #6:

Giuliani Allegro open strings only

Remember, when it comes to improving the balance between voices, exaggeration is helpful. Play "p," "m," and "a," very loud, and barely touch the repeated third-string notes with "i."

Once you achieve an exaggerated balance, and the right-hand feels confident, add the left hand. Still play slowly, and try to maintain the exaggerated balance. Go back and forth between right hand alone and both hands together. Learn to switch your mental focus from hand to hand as desired. Play very slowly at first, and then gradually work up the speed to your desired tempo and balance.

Notice that we are only practicing measures #1-2, not the entire section or the entire piece. On any piece, always begin with a narrow focus—practice one or two measures over and over, very slowly at first. Play slowly enough that you don't make any mistakes.

Once you've got it, move on to the next measure or pair of measures. Combine the small groups into larger groups until you can play the entire passage or piece.

Watch me demonstrate the process on the Giuliani Allegro in Video #2.

For more information, see my technique tip on Interval and Chord Balance..

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

Practice with the Right Hand Alone:
Correct or Improve the Balance
Between the Melody, Bass, and Accompaniment
on an Easier Piece

8. Apply or improve string damping.

In my four-part series on String Damping, I ask:

Have you ever learned a piece, and even though you are playing it quite well, noticed that something still doesn’t sound quite right? You are playing all the right notes and the correct rhythms, but it just doesn’t sound clean?

One of the steps of polishing a piece that you might have missed is the application of string damping throughout the piece. It is one of those details that contributes to the overall impression of how you sound. A great way to clean up your playing is to damp unwanted resonances and clashes of notes and harmonies.

In many cases, applying some types of string damping to a passage can be an overwhelming task when attempted with both hands together. Let's have a look at a beginners-level piece titled Andante by Matteo Carcassi. (You can find the complete piece in Charles Duncan's A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar Repertoire, Part 1.) Example #7:

Carcassi Andante m1-8 original

If we do not apply string damping, the open bass strings ring freely, making the bass register very muddy. Example #8:

Carcassi Andante m1-8 no string damping

But if we apply string damping with the right-hand thumb where Carcassi has inserted 8th-note rests, most of our problems are solved. However, I would also damp the open E and A in measure #7. Example #9:

Carcassi Andante m1-8 with string damping

For a beginner, the application of string damping while also playing the left hand will be a difficult task. Once again, practicing with the right hand alone comes to the rescue. Let's extract the open strings. Example #10:

Carcassi Andante m1-8 extracting the open strings

Now, we have this. Our task of learning the string damping is much easier to understand and teach to the right hand. Example #11:

Carcassi Andante m1-8 practicing with the right hand alone on open strings

We can focus 100% on training our thumb to damp the strings. At first, focus on one or two measures at a time. Play very slowly, so you don't practice mistakes. Also, as you play on the open strings, try to hear the real music in your head or sing the melody out loud. Once the right hand is secure in that one measure or measures, add the left hand. Switch back and forth between the right hand alone and both hands together until the string damping is secure. Then add one measure or two measures. Continue to build the passage in small increments.

In Video #3, watch me demonstrate how to practice string damping with the right hand alone.

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

Practice with the Right Hand Alone:
Apply or Improve String Damping

9. Improve your control of dynamics. Increase your dynamic range.

Practicing the dynamics of a piece with the right hand alone is an excellent way to be able to focus on the touch of the right hand—but only in the early stages. The reason is that the right-hand touch will feel quite different when we play open strings as opposed to fretted notes, so we must do most of our dynamics practice with both hands. But practicing dynamics with the right hand alone is still very helpful, especially if we are working on a passage that is difficult or strenuous for the left hand.

Let's go back to the anonymous Romance. Here is one possible schema of dynamics we could use for measures 1-16. Example #12:

Romance with schema of dynamics

If we wanted to focus on improving our dynamics from measures #7-11, which contain the climax of this section, it would be a great idea to practice them on open strings. Why? Because these measures contain bars and a difficult stretch that wears out the left hand very quickly. Practicing both hands together would limit our practice time quite a bit. If we overdid it, we could even strain or injure our left hand.

Therefore, let's extract the open strings from measures #7-11. Example #13a:

Romance extracting the open strings Part A Romance extracting the open strings Part B

Now, we can practice efficiently on the open strings with the right hand alone without straining the left hand. Example 13b:

Romance practice the dynamics with the right hand alone on open strings

I also recommend that you try to hear the melody in your head as you practice. Also, sing the melody out loud with your intended dynamics as you play the open strings.

Practicing on the open strings will also help you to extend your dynamic range. With the extra focus you have when you play the right hand alone, you can focus on your right-hand touch. Play the quietest notes with the lightest touch possible. Play the loud notes right up to the point where the tone begins to break, or the string begins to buzz.

However, when you add the left hand, you will find you must adjust how loud you can play certain notes and chords. For instance, in the Romance example above, you will not be able to play measures #9 and #10 as strongly with the fretted notes and bar chord as you can on the open strings. Therefore, on any piece, as soon as the right hand alone feels confident, add the left hand to make any necessary adjustments to your right-hand touch.

Watch me demonstrate how to practice dynamics with the right hand alone on Romance in Video #4.

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

Practice with the Right Hand Alone:
Improve Your Control of Dynamics.
Increase your dynamic range.

There. You have five more reasons to practice the right hand alone. We have 22 to go.
See you next month.

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

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3. Download the videos. Click on the video you wish to download. After the Vimeo video review page opens, click on the down arrow in the upper right corner. You will be given a choice of five different resolutions/qualities/file sizes to download.

Video 1. Practice with the Right Hand Alone: Correct or Improve the Balance Between the Melody, Bass, and Accompaniment.

Video 2. Practice with the Right Hand Alone: Correct or Improve the Balance Between the Melody, Bass, and Accompaniment on an Easier Piece.

Video 3: Practice with the Right Hand Alone: Apply or Improve String Damping.

Video 4: Practice with the Right Hand Alone: Improve Your Control of Dynamics. Increase your dynamic range.