What is a Guitar Playing Technique

practicing the guitarAs promised before – let’s dig a little deeper into the subject of practicing and this time I’ll express my thoughts about developing guitarists’ playing technique as this is a very important factor in successful guitar playing.

Sometimes people say that one or another guitarist (or other instrumentalist or a singer or an athlet) has a good technique. How to get it and why do we need that at all? A simple formula would tell you that technique = talent+hard work. Some people seem to learn many activities without even noticing it – takes the rollerblades on off he goes! Takes skis and again – elegant from the first moment. Takes up the guitar and from the first moment the playing position is as taken from a good method book. The rest of us just need to compensate the talent with hard work. But the physical talent depends greatly on the previous experience so sometimes it isn’t really talent but it is work, too. But this work has been done from early age on and sometimes without noticing. From a certain level the hard work is the only thing that gets you further. So called talent is a pleasant thing to start with but it takes more than that. It may be different in other fields of music but the classical playing techniques explore the utmost abilities of human body and mind.

Studying the classical guitar techniques takes about 16 years if done regularly. It is a normal and average estimation as most of players start at the age of 6-7 and go through all the schools with about 16 years. Nevertheless, there have been interesting experiments through times and I remember it was Štěpán Rak who put some Finnish students on a right track with just a couple of years. There were people who said that those students were lacking the musical expression. Truth is that we can compare playing and instrument with doing some sports but in music there is more than just a good technique. Techique must be applied to a musical material to make any sense at all. That’s why it may take time for understanding more complex music forms than just a song. (Ironically, I have now moved from sonatas to songs:)

One can compare it to learning to speak – if you know and can articulate a bunch of words in any language it doesn’t automatically mean that your speech makes sense. But apart from music a specific field of action can be practiced separately – the playing mechanics. So what the hack is this?! Mechanics are the actual finger movements and a playing technique is made up of different mechanical elements. For example – if you are good at playing scales then I would say that you have a good scale-technique but you need many different mechanical skills to execute a scale on the guitar: producing the sound, position of left hand, position of right hand, moving from string to string in both hands, shifting positions, cooperation of hands, ability to articulate everything rhytmically, ability to press down the strings correctly with your left hand, knowledge about where to press and so on.. So it may very well be that a player can do all the mechanical aspects but can’t put them effectively together and the result is weak technique. Can be the other way, too. There are players who do everything “wrong” but still don’t make a mistake and can rely on their technique. But this is an exeption as there alwasy are some.

The older guitar method books doesn’t address playing mechanics but think that if you practice a scale then you will automatically practice everything in it (the mechanical elements). It is true only when you already know how to execute those different mechanical movements. If not, then the most effective way to improve your technique is to deal separately with your playing mechanics.

The fact is that a human being cannot concentrate on more than 2-3 things at the time and the other aspects of mechanics must act automatically. If you now add to the 9-10 mechanical elements the other important things – the music, expression, performance, memory, action on the scene etc. then you will find that there is no way that you can control all of those aspects conciously. So the work with mechanics and more generally, playing techniques, must be done previously and act automatically.

In my next post I will share you some of the study material that I have used to improve my technique.

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