Guitar Technique Tip of the Month
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The ability to collapse your left-hand tip joints is an important technique.
Collapsing or straightening the tip joint of a left-hand finger has the potential to:
1. Provide an anchor to stabilize a chord formation.
2. Provide extra leverage to successfully execute a pull-off or an ornament containing a pull-off.
3. Prevent pulling a string into another string thereby maintaining optimal string spacing. In some cases, collapsing the tip joint will enable the player to intentionally push a string away from another for extra clearance.
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Classical Guitar Technique
LEARN TO COLLAPSE YOUR LEFT-HAND TIP JOINTS
By Douglas Niedt
Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved.
This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.
We are taught early on to always keep our left-hand fingers bent. We train ourselves to keep our fingers bent at the middle joint and the tip joints. In most situations, our fingers are strongest and work most efficiently when the joints are bent. But as with many rules of classical guitar technique, there are times when it is better if we break the rules.
The technique of allowing the tip joint of a left-hand finger to collapse (hyperextend) or straighten (but keeping the middle joint bent) is useful and sometimes essential in three situations:
- Playing certain formations in high positions on the fretboard.
- Executing pull-offs (descending slurs) or ornaments containing pull-offs.
- Maintaining proper string spacing on awkward or difficult chords.
Hyperextension of the tip joints is also employed to play partial bars. But I have already discussed that in my tip Specialty Bars Part 3: Partial Bars.
Your ability to collapse (hyperextend) the tip joints of the left-hand fingers is dependent upon some genetic physical traits of your fingers. Some players' fingers will collapse or hyperextend only slightly. That is okay and this technique tip will probably work for you.
Some players' joints will not collapse at all. Unfortunately, if your fingers are in that category, this technique tip will not work for you.
Finally, the middle joint must stay bent while collapsing (hyperextending) the tip joint. If the middle joint collapses when you attempt to collapse the tip joint, this technique tip will not work for you.
Stability in High Positions of the Fretboard
In the following examples of chords in high positions on the fretboard, it is helpful or even essential to allow the tip joint of the first or second finger to collapse in order to play the chord or passage.
In the Piu mosso arpeggio section of Prélude No. 2 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, a chord is held at the 12th, 13th, and 14th frets. Most players will find it impossible to play the chord clearly without allowing the tip joint of the second finger to collapse (Example #1):
Watch me demonstrate in this blockbuster video (Video #1).
Three examples may be found in La Catedral by Agustín Barrios Mangoré. In the first movement, the Preludio "Saudade", we have a chord that requires the tip joint of the second finger to straighten or collapse to play it clearly (Example #2):
Watch me demonstrate in this video. I assure you it is more interesting than watching paint dry (Video #2).
In the second movement, Andante Religioso, once again the second finger must straighten or collapse to play the chord comfortably and reliably (Example #3):
I'll show you (Video #3).
The final example from La Catedral is the difficult ending passage of the third movement (Allegro Solemne). I provide three versions of left-hand fingering. In each of them, the tip joint of the first finger must collapse to play the passage successfully (Example #4):
This video demonstration will soon be on Netflix (Video #4).
Pull-offs (Descending Slurs) and Ornaments Containing Pull-offs:
Pull-offs (descending slurs) and ornaments containing pull-offs can often be played more successfully and consistently by collapsing the tip joint of a finger.
I often observe students who have trouble playing the opening pull-off of Capricho Árabe by Francisco Tárrega (Example #5):
They either produce a weak pull-off or in attempting to do a strong pull-off, actually pull the string off the edge of the fretboard. A simple remedy is to collapse the tip joint of the first finger. This stabilizes the string and gives the 4th finger additional leverage to snap strongly off the string without having to worry about the string being pulled off the edge of the fretboard.
Let me show you (Video #5).
Also in Capricho Árabe, is a difficult ornament in the first measure of the F-major section (Example #6):
This ornament can be played without collapsing the tip joint of the third finger. But for many players, collapsing the tip joint stabilizes the string, keeping it from moving. This enables the player to pull off more firmly with greater control, resulting in a clearer and more predictably successful execution of the ornament.
I've been trying for years for an Academy Award nomination—this may be the one. Watch (Video #6).
A difficult ornament appears near the end of Tárrega's well-known Adelita. Many players can play the ornament without collapsing any tip joints. But for others, collapsing the tip joint of the second finger may be helpful (Example #7):
Watch me demonstrate the technique (Video #7).
Sometimes a chord fingering causes a left-hand finger to pull a string sideways, usually towards the floor. That finger will then damp the adjacent string or cause it to buzz. Straightening or collapsing the tip joint of the finger will often fix the problem.
In the Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach we have this formation in measure #21 (Example #8):
Many players will find that their second finger pulls the third string down towards the open second string, producing a buzz or sometimes damping the string entirely. Once again, straightening the tip joint of the second finger or allowing it to collapse will fix the problem. In some instances, this technique enables the player to push a string out of the way of another string to provide extra clearance.
Let me show you (Video #8).
A similar example occurs in Pavane for a Dead Princess by Maurice Ravel (Example #9):
Although some players will be able to play the chord with no adjustments to their tip joints, for many it is crucial that the tip joint of the second finger bends so that the second string is not pulled into the first string.
Watch me demonstrate in this final riveting video (Video #9).
In general, when a passage, chord, ornament, or pull-off (especially in the upper reaches of the fretboard) seems to be very unstable or difficult to play, allow the tip joint of the first or second finger to straighten or collapse. Often, that will fix the problem or at least improve the consistency of execution.
Collapsing or straightening the tip joint of a left-hand finger has the potential to:
- Provide an anchor to stabilize a chord formation.
- Provide extra leverage to successfully execute a pull-off or an ornament containing a pull-off.
- Prevent pulling a string into another string thereby maintaining optimal string spacing. In some cases, collapsing the tip joint will enable the player to intentionally push a string away from another for extra clearance.
1. Download a PDF of the article with links to the videos.
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.
2. Download PDFs with the videos embedded in the PDF (no worries about links or videos disappearing or changing).
These are large files and may not work on all devices. These are downloads from Dropbox. NOTE: You do NOT need a Dropbox account and don't have to sign up for Dropbox to access the files.
Download Learn to Collapse Your Left-Hand Tip Joints with Embedded Videos Pages 1 thru 9 (634 MB)
Download Learn to Collapse Your Left-Hand Tip Joints with Embedded Videos Pages 9 to end (491 MB)
3. Download 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. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 1 Villa-Lobos Prelude 2. 02:00
Download Video #2. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 2 La Catedral Preludio Saudade. 01:23
Download Video #3. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 3 Barrios Catedral Andante Religioso. 1:18
Download Video #4. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 4 La Catedral Allegro Solemne. 01:26
Download Video #5. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 5 Capricho Arabe First Pulloff. 01:49
Download Video #6. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 6 Capricho Arabe F Major Section Ornament. 01:29
Download Video #7. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 7 Adelita Ornament. 01:36
Download Video #8. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 8 Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1. 01:40
Download Video #9. Tech Tip Collapse Tip Joints Video 9 Pavane for a Dead Princess. 01:34