I was originally going to write this article about just finger placement, then it dawned on me that finger placement and finger preparation go hand in hand. Finger placement deals with playing the string from the same point of the finger. Finger preparation is just that, preparing the finger in such a way so that the muscles responsible for finger action are trained to place the finger at the same spot each time.
So, let’s begin with finger placement. The question that is probably on everybody’s mind is, from which point on the finger do I strike the string? First let’s address several issues. The first issue is that, if, you have ever shaken hands with a classical guitarist or seen a close up picture of his/her right hand, you would have seen that they have long nails on just the right hand. The nail is 50% responsible for, Tone, volume, and aids in accuracy, and speed.
If you don’t have long nails better start growing them, or if your natural nails are brittle try using fake nails. The fake nails are a little weird looking but they get the job done. The nail does not have to be very long. When you hold your hand up in front of your face with the palm towards you the tip of the nail should just peek up over the fingertip. Nail shape is very important and there are a lot of different ideas as to what shape works best. I shape my nail to the contour of my finger tip, rounded. It is also important to invest in some 600 grit sandpaper in order to keep the nail nice and smooth and snag free.
If you have ever played tennis or know someone who does you might have heard about hitting the ball from the “sweet spot” on the racket. As a guitar player it is your task to strike the string from the “sweet spot” on the nail. The sweet spot is the place where the nail meets the flesh. This is where you get the best tone and volume. Most guitarists will tell you that striking the string is a combination of flesh and nail. The truth of the matter is that striking the string is all nail. Put your i finger to the string and make sure that the string is in the crevase where nail meets flesh and notice that when the string is properly placed the only thing that is going to touch the string when you pull back is the nail. Try this experiment:
- place the finger on the string so that the flesh touches.
- Strike the string, notice that the tone is harsh.
Finger preparation is done to train the fingers to go the proper spot each time it’s also trains the fingers for proper movement and timing. The first use of preparation is with scales. Let’s take a first position Major scale. Here it is in tab.
Here is the sequence of finger preparation:
- Prepare both the left hand finger and the right hand finger. Make sure that the left hand fingers play on their tips and that the fingers remained arched. Make sure that throughout the scale that you are playing from the sweet spot of the finger.
- For the sake of argument let us begin the scale with the i finger of the right hand. As soon as i plays m will shoot onto it’s respective sting and await your command to play.
- As soon as m plays i will shoot out and prepare and wait to play it’s note.
This sequence between i and m will occur throughout the entire scale. You should notice that if you are playing this properly the notes will be stacatto ( short and quick). Staccato notes during this exercise are good it shows that you are preparing the fingers quickly and accurately. As you master this placement of the fingers try using what is called a continuity stroke. This is when you still prepare the notes but instead of right away it is at the last possible second. The continuity stroke results in a legato ( smooth and flowing) sound which is the desired end result of the training. The preparation will train the fingers to go to that “sweet spot” each time.
The second place we will use a preparation stroke is arpeggios. There are two kinds of preparation strokes when it comes to arpeggios, the first one is, Full preparation, the second is sequental preparation. Full preparation is used when arpeggios are ascending. Using open strings prepare you fingers like this:
- p on the sixth string
- i on the third string
- m on the second string
- a on the first string
The order and sequence of preparation is as follows:
- p plays the sixth string
- i plays the third string
- m plays the second string
- a plays the first string, the instant that a plays it’s string p should immediately go to it’s string and prepare
- The instant p plays its string i, m, and a immediately go to their respective strings and prepare.
- i plays its string
- m plays its string
- a plays its string, the instand that a plays it’s string p should immediately go to its string and prepare, where the whole process repeated over and aver again until it is mastered.
The sequential preparation is done when arpeggios are descending. Here is the sequence for sequential preparation:
- p plays the sixth string, immediately a goes to the first string and prepares.
- a plays its string, immediately m goes to the second string and prepares.
- m plays its string, immediately i goes to the third string and prepares.
- i plays its string and immediately p goes to its string and prepares.
From here the process is repeated over and over again until mastered.
Just like in the scale section of preparation strokes you eventually want to abandon the prepared stroke in favor of the continuity stroke, which will give you that smooth legato sound. For now though really work that prepared stroke in order to train the fingers to move. If this is all a little overwhelming remember slow practice is the key, concentration and focus are essential.