Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson




This month's technique tip video is like having a guitar lesson with me! Pick up your guitar, hit play, and follow along with me as I explain a neat way to learn how to control the loudness of notes within an interval or chord. Hit the pause button frequently to follow along step by step.

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INTERVAL AND CHORD BALANCE UPDATE

By Douglas Niedt

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

A few years ago, I wrote a four-part technique tip about how to balance the notes (volume-wise) in an interval or chord. The articles are still good. They are still accurate. However, one of my students came up with another way to practice this technique, and it is a little different from what I recommended. I think it's a great way to practice and some may find it works better for them than my practice method. So, this is an update to those articles.

This video is really like having a guitar lesson with me. Pick up your guitar, hit play, and try out this practice method as I explain it step-by-step. Be sure to hit the pause button frequently.

Below is a list of topics I cover and the time code for each. Later, if you want to refer to a particular spot in the video, you will be able to find it quickly.

  1. How to play the thumb loud and the fingers quietly. Example: Prelude No. 1 (Heitor Villa-Lobos). 00:00

  2. How to keep the thumb quiet while simultaneously playing a note loud with a finger. Example: Saltarello a.k.a. La Volta). 06:17

  3. How to bring out the middle note of a three-note chord. Example: Andante Religioso from La Catedral (Agustin Barrios). 11:02

  4. How to bring out any note of a four-note chord. Example: a C dominant ninth chord. 14:48


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HERE IS A TEXT SUMMARY OF THIS TECHNIQUE

Scenario #1: If you have a chord where you want to pluck the fingers quietly on the upper strings but pluck the bass note with the thumb very loudly, try this:
  1. Play the upper open strings (the higher-pitched strings) with the right-hand fingers extremely quietly. Exaggerate, barely playing them at all.
  2. While playing the upper strings with the right-hand fingers, plant the right-hand thumb on its bass string. This is the note you want to play loudly.
  3. As you continue playing the higher-pitched strings very quietly with the fingers, tug the bass string very hard with the thumb. Keep tugging. Don’t release the thumb’s pressure on the string.
  4. As you continue playing the higher-pitched strings very quietly with your fingers, let go of the bass string. It will be very loud, but your finger plucks will remain quiet.
  5. Repeat the process.

This method trains your hand to exert a lot of force behind the thumb while keeping the finger muscles loose and relaxed.

Scenario #2: If you want to play one or more fingers loud on the higher-pitched strings but keep the thumb quiet on the bass strings, try this:

Let’s say we want to play the 2nd string loud and the 6th string quietly.

  1. Play the open 6th string with the right-hand thumb extremely quietly. Exaggerate. Barely pluck the string.
  2. While playing the 6th string extremely quietly with the thumb, plant the right-hand middle finger on the 2nd string. This is the note you want to play loudly.
  3. As you continue playing the bass note with the thumb very quietly, tug the 2nd string hard with the right-hand middle finger. Keep tugging. Don’t release the middle finger’s pressure on the 2nd string.
  4. As you continue playing the 6th string very quietly with your thumb, let go of the 2nd string. It will be very loud, but your thumb plucks will remain very quiet.
  5. Repeat the process.

So, we're engaging the muscles in the middle finger very strongly, while keeping the thumb muscles very loose and relaxed.

You can practice all combinations: right-hand thumb and right-hand index finger, thumb and right-hand middle finger, thumb and right-hand ring finger. You can also practice using two right-hand fingers and the thumb or three right-hand fingers and the thumb.

I also recommend practicing on different combinations of strings. Have the thumb play the 5th or 4th string instead of the 6th string. Have the fingers pluck various combinations of treble strings.

Scenario #3: Bring out the middle note of a three-note chord.

Let’s say we have a chord on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th strings and we want to bring out or emphasize the note on the 3rd string.

  1. Begin by playing the 1st and 5th strings together. Play the 1st string with the right-hand ring finger and the 5th string with the right-hand thumb. Play the strings extremely quietly. Exaggerate.
  2. While continuing to play the 1st and 5th strings very quietly, plant the right-hand middle finger on the 3rd string. This is the note you want to play loudly.
  3. As you continue playing the 1st and 5th strings very quietly, tug the 3rd string hard with the right-hand middle finger. Keep tugging. Don’t release the middle finger’s pressure on the 3rd string.
  4. As you continue playing the 1st and 5th strings very quietly with the thumb and ring finger, let go of the 3rd string. The 3rd string will be very loud, but your thumb and ring fingers plucking the 1st and 5th strings will remain very quiet.
  5. Repeat the process.

So, we're engaging the muscles in the middle finger very strongly, while keeping the muscles in the right-hand thumb and ring finger very loose and relaxed.

Also, practice with the thumb, index, and ring fingers, emphasizing the index finger. You can also practice playing three-note chords with only the right-hand index, middle, and ring fingers without the thumb, and try to develop the ability to emphasize any finger individually.

Scenario #4: Learn to emphasize any note within a four-note chord.

You can use the same practice method to bring out any note of a four-note chord. Play the notes you want to keep in the background extremely quietly, tug on the string you want to emphasize while continuing to play the quiet notes with the other fingers, and then let go of the string you want to play loud.

This is a wonderful skill to have as you will be able to emphasize the loudness of any note of any interval or chord at will.