Making music, whether with one’s voice or with an instrument, demands total physical engagement. If the goal of musical expression is indeed making real the sounds that emanate mysteriously from within oneself (i.e. from “mind,” “heart”, or “spirit”), then the means of producing these sounds must become so facile as to be imperceptible to the player, a gesture as simple as producing words from one’s mouth. Of course, any speech therapist would testify that the production of words that comes so easily to most is in fact an astoundingly complicated choreography of facial and oral muscles; and playing guitar is perhaps even more physically involved than this, given that it demands the coordination of more disparate muscle groups, many of which sit largely unused during our daily lives.
What then are the muscles used by a right-handed guitar player? The simple answer seems to be those of the left and right hand, the former to depress individual notes and chords on the frets of the fingerboard, the latter to strike the string or strings that the player wishes to sound. While this is an inaccurate oversimplification, the dichotomy of left- and right-hand action is a principle essential to approaching guitar technique. Perhaps applying it to the left and right arms is more precise. For the vertical and horizontal motion of the left hand is generated not just by the fingers, but also by the wrist, the elbow and even the shoulder. Far more involved (and important) is the right-hand motion, which potentially can be generated by two joints of the thumb, two joints of each finger, as well as the versatile shoulder, elbow, and wrist. That the player may use his fingers and/or a pick of some sort further complicates the right hand. Multiple combinations of these right- and left-hand motions may be used by a guitarist; unfortunately, some will support, others obstruct, his ability to sing with his instrument.
In the following series of essays I will address, as comprehensively as I am able, techniques that will support an aspiring guitarist. The pieces will be divided as follows:
i.) Left-hand Technique
ii.) Introduction to Right-hand Techniques
iii.) Gypsy Right-hand Technique
iv.) The Benson Method
v.) Fingerstyle Technique
The essays will serve to introduce guitarists to the possible motions available to them in order that they may alter their existing technique or adopt entirely new motions to improve their ability to play effortlessly. Furthermore, I will offer exercises that hasten the development of sound left- and right-hand technique, both of which require considerable time and dedication to cultivate. Stay tuned!