Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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A Step By Step Guide:
LEFT-HAND FINGER PREPARATION
IN CLASSICAL GUITAR TECHNIQUE

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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LEFT-HAND FINGER PREPARATION
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.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why is left-hand finger preparation important?

Left-hand finger preparation is a key part of an effortless left-hand technique and playing without mistakes.

How do I prepare my left-hand fingers?

Always lift fingers immediately to the specific location they are needed next. Lift and move them in a shallow arc.

How do I find opportunities for better left-hand finger preparation in the pieces I play?

Examine the spots where you make mistakes. Very often, mistakes are caused by not lifting fingers to where they are needed next. If the fingers are out of position, mistakes will happen.



A Principle of Left-Hand Finger Preparation:
NEVER just lift a finger.
Always lift fingers to the specific location they are needed next

Left-hand finger preparation is a key part of an effortless left-hand technique and playing without mistakes. The principle of moving the fingers to the specific location they are needed next is a sub-category of left-hand finger preparation in general.

Especially in a difficult or fast passage, the fingers should rarely lunge frantically into position at the last moment. Frantic, last-minute lunges usually produce mistakes. Once a finger lifts off note x, it should immediately begin its journey to position itself for note y. If the journey begins immediately, there is not a jarring and jerky movement at the last split second to reach the next note. For stability, when possible, position the finger above its target note at least a few milliseconds before you place it onto the string. The player must carefully choreograph the movements, so they are made quickly with a minimum of excess motion.

How Fast Should the Finger Move to Its New Location?

I always tell my students to move immediately and quickly. I believe this instills the thought in their minds and fingers to consciously and intentionally move the fingers proactively. I want them to see their finger arrive at its destination before the new note must be plucked. That way, they will begin to develop a clear understanding of where their fingers are going.

Other teachers disagree. Instead of moving immediately and the finger halting at its destination point ready to land, they advocate slower, more graceful movements. They say it is better to arrive at the new destination at the moment the new note must be played, not beforehand. They argue that this results in smoother, fluid movements. It is a good point.

I find that in real life, when playing a fast piece, yes, the fingers will arrive at the moment the new note must be plucked. There is simply no time to arrive early. In slower pieces, I think either approach is acceptable. Although, with beginning students, I still prefer to emphasize conscious preparation via quick intentional preparatory movements. That way they learn to feel the experience of conscious finger preparation.

The Spider Exercise

The spider exercise is an excellent illustration of the importance of lifting fingers to the position where they are needed next. Here is a basic spider exercise. Example #1:

A classical guitar spider exercise

One of the key ingredients to smoothly connecting the interval changes is to follow our principle: when you lift a finger, move it to where it is needed next.

Here are each of the individual steps to follow:

Classical Guitar Spider Exercise, Steps 1-3 Classical Guitar Spider Exercise, Steps 4-6

It may be easier for you to understand by watching me demonstrate. Video #1:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #1: LEFT-Hand Finger Preparation in the Spider Exercise

As I demonstrated in the video, a finger should take the most direct route to its new destination. Don't lift a finger vertically, move it across the fretboard, and then drop it into place. Instead, move the fingers in shallow arcs.

By the way, you can watch me demonstrate how to master the spider exercise in a 20-minute video in this technique tip.

Left-hand finger preparation in easy pieces

Here is an example of lifting a finger immediately to its next destination point in an easy Moderato by Fernando Sor. Example #2:

Left hand finger preparation in Moderato by Fernando Sor

Watch me demonstrate how to play the passage with good finger preparation. Video #2:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #2: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in the Moderato by Fernando Sor

Or, here is another piece for beginners, an Allegro by Mauro Giuliani. (By the way, I selected both the Sor Moderato and the Giuliani Allegro from Charles Duncan's excellent graded anthology of easy to intermediate solo pieces, A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar Repertoire, Part One.) Example #3:

Left hand finger preparation in Allegro by Mauro Giuliani

Watch me demonstrate how to prepare the 4th finger in the Giuliani Allegro. Video #3.

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #3: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in the Giuliani Allegro

Left-hand finger preparation in an intermediate piece

Un Dia de Noviembre (Leo Brouwer)

In Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer, we have a tricky transition from measure #2-3. Example #4:

Connecting the bass line in Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

Many guitarists mistakenly lift the low dotted half note G early, leaving a gap in the bass line. That is not acceptable. The rests on the 3rd beat of measures #2 and 3 apply to the middle voice, not the bass voice. We want to connect the bass line seamlessly. Fortunately, we have two good solutions for transitioning from measure #2 to measure #3.

Below, in Version #1, we interpret the note values literally. We don't allow melody notes to ring together. We lift each melody note as the next melody note is played, and we observe the rests in the middle voice of measures #2 and 3:

Literal interpretation of Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

The key to making a smooth chord change from measure 2-3 is to lift the 1st and 2nd fingers immediately to their new positions. The first finger must lift from the 2nd string and position itself above the 6th string 1st fret. The 2nd finger must lift from the 4th string and position itself above the 2nd string 1st fret. Example #6:

Left hand finger preparation in literal interpretation of Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

You will find it is very difficult to lift this, place that, hold this, move that. Here are the moves in a nutshell. Example #7:

How to practice preparing the fingers in Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

Watch me demonstrate all these points in the literal version of Un Dia de Noviembre. You will see and understand everything much more clearly. Video #4:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #4: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Un Dia de Noviembre

The opposite approach is to let all the melody notes ring together and hold the accompaniment notes as long as possible, ignoring the rests. Some may say this more resonant sound is more guitaristic. Example #8:

Resonant version of Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

But again, the key to making a smooth chord change from measure 2-3 is to lift the 1st and 2nd fingers immediately to their new positions. The first finger must lift from the 2nd string and position itself above the 6th string 1st fret. The 2nd finger must lift from the 4th string and position itself above the 2nd string 1st fret. Example #9:

Left hand finger preparation in resonant version of Un Dia de Noviembre by Leo Brouwer

Watch me demonstrate the resonant version of Un Dia de Noviembre. It will be much easier to understand. Video #5:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #5: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in the Resonant Version of Un Dia de Noviembre

Left-hand finger preparation in advanced pieces

Grand Solo, Op. 14 (Fernando Sor)

The principle of moving fingers to where they are needed next is crucially important in difficult passages and pieces that are played at a fast tempo.

The Allegro section from Fernando Sor's Grand Solo opens with this difficult passage. Example #10:

Left hand finger preparation in Grand Solo by Fernando Sor

When I encounter a passage such as this, I realize I will have to examine each finger's "travels" in detail. I must determine:

  1. When must I lift a finger?
  2. When is that finger needed again?
  3. As soon as I lift the finger, where must I position it next?

One can tell just by looking at how many finger repositionings occur in these two measures, that this is a very difficult passage to play. And, it sounds its best at MM=126-138 for a quarter note. That's fast. The only way to play it accurately is to choreograph each finger movement precisely.

Watch how I do it. Video #6:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #6: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Grand Solo by Fernando Sor

Leyenda (Asturias)

In Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz, we have several spots where lifting fingers to the location they are needed next makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.

The first example contains a difficult bar chord that causes endless troubles for countless guitarists. But those troubles can be greatly reduced by training the 4th finger to move to its next destination as quickly as possible. Example #11:

Left hand finger preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) m37-39

Watch me demonstrate how to make the execution of the passage far more reliable by following our principle of moving the fingers to the location they are needed next. Video #7:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #7: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz, measure #37-39

Next, the transition from measure #39-40 is also difficult. In this case, an important ingredient for success is to hold a finger at its current location rather than shooting it off to a new destination. Example #12:

Left hand finger preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) m39-40

Watch me demonstrate in Video #8:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #8: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz, measure #39-40

Then, in measure 41, we have a problem spot where the melody goes from the purple 4th-string B to the blue 5th-string F#. When the 3rd finger lifts off the red A#, some players position the finger above the 4th string or worse yet, the 3rd string. If that happens, the player must lift the 4th finger early to make room for the 3rd finger to lunge onto the 5th string. The result is an audible choppy gap between the two notes. Example #13:

Left hand finger preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) m41

Watch me demonstrate how lifting just one finger to where it is needed next prevents choppiness in measure #41. Video 9:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #9: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz, measure #41

Finally, a similar problem spot occurs in measure #42 (see below). Here, the melody goes from the purple 4th-string C to the blue 5th-string G. When the 3rd finger lifts off the red 4th-string B, some players position the finger above the 4th string or worse yet the 3rd string. If that happens, the player must lift the 4th finger early to make room for the 3rd finger to lunge onto the 5th string. The result is an audible choppy gap between the two notes. Example #14:

Left hand finger preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) m42

Watch me demonstrate how the simple act of lifting one finger to where it is needed next makes this measure sound great. Video 10:

★ Be sure to watch on full screen. In the lower right corner, click on the 4-arrows icon to the right of the speaker/volume icon:

Video #10: Left-Hand Finger Preparation in Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz, measure #42

How do I find opportunities for better left-hand finger preparation in the pieces I play?

1. Examine the spots where you make mistakes. Very often, mistakes are caused by not lifting fingers to where they are needed next. If the fingers are out of position, mistakes will happen.
2. Examine spots that make you feel tension or where it seems that your fingers are working harder than they should. Chances are, one or more fingers are out of position because they are not lifting to where they are needed next.
3. Examine passages that make you feel like you are on the edge of your seat—that you could crash at any moment. Lifting fingers to the precise position they are needed next will help alleviate that feeling.
4. Examine a piece measure by measure. Track the movement of each finger. Note its starting location and when/where it is needed next. Observe whether or not you are lifting the finger immediately to its new location. It's a tedious process, but it works.

Download

This is a download from Dropbox. NOTE: You do NOT need a Dropbox account and don't have to sign up for Dropbox to access the file.

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

Download a PDF of Left-Hand Finger Preparation (with links to the videos).


3. Download the individual 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.

Download Video #1: Finger Preparation Spider Exercise.

Download Video #2: Finger Preparation Moderato (Fernando Sor).

Download Video #3: Finger Preparation Allegro (Mauro Giuliani).

Download Video #4: Finger Preparation Un Dia de Noviembre (Leo Brouwer) Literal Version.

Download Video #5: Finger Preparation Un Dia de Noviembre Resonant Version.

Download Video #6: Finger Preparation Grand Solo (Fernando Sor).

Download Video #7: Finger Preparation Leyenda (Asturias) m37-39.

Download Video #8: Video 8 Finger Preparation Leyenda transition m39-40.

Download Video #9: Finger Preparation Leyenda m41.

Download Video #10: Finger Preparation Leyenda m42.