Dynamic Guitar Technique
David Raleigh Arnold
Part I Chord Exercises
Part II Arpeggio Exercises
Part III Scales
The underlying concept of what I call Dynamic Guitar Technique is very simply stated: Take the basic moves in playing the guitar and practice them moving up and down the guitar’s long neck instead of statically. These chords, arpeggios, and scales are dynamic in a literal mechanical sense of moves within moves. In general, chords move up and down the neck by leaping, arpeggios by reaching, and scales by shifting. Dynamic is a bit trite as a catchword, but it describes very well what is going on with these exercises and what is not going on with other exercises.
In playing scales and arpeggios, you are practicing individual notes for absolute control, which is something which cannot be done with music. The scales and arpeggios are notes delivery systems. Obviously, something can be accomplished with any old scale set, but any old scale set takes up the same amount of time as one which is the best, so you must consider whether the technical exercise “solves more technical problems in less time than any other exercise,” to quote Segovia.
Let me define technique as exercises which are not music intended to be played beautifully to improve basic abilities. No instrument rewards the practice of technique more than the guitar. It is a requirement to become very good at getting up and down the neck and no pieces of music are written expressly to teach that, and of course none ever will be. Working on a book of clippings from the goal repretoire, universally considered to be a best way of working on repertoire, is sometimes thought to be the best way to improve basic abilities also. It’s helpful, but not sufficient.
American football furnishes a great analogy. Scrimmages and preseason games are necessary and important, but you also have to practice passing, blocking, and much else separately, in an organized and prioritized way. The more organized the practice, the more the practice resembles technique. For example, passing practice becomes technique when you are throwing at a target set at a series of distances.
There is no substitute for working on good technique, because it has no other purpose than to improve basic abilities, it can be designed to do so, and now it has been designed to do so.
It is necessary that technique do no harm. Many exercises can be very useful, but can be overdone. This is more of a danger to the intermediate player than to the beginner. Unintended consequences must be anticipated and incidental damage avoided. Again, sports are a good analogy. The training should not cripple you before you have a chance to play the game.
It is necessary that technique be beautiful. It’s not music, but it must have as much as possible of the capability of sounding better or worse. Few good musicians will be able to stand playing something ugly day in day out, and if it isn’t played, it can do no good. If it was not written with clear short term, middle term and long term goals, it won’t deliver even if it is practiced well.
There is a common misperception of the main problem of playing the guitar. Because it takes one finger in each hand to play a note, and because perfect right-left coordination is required to render a note, this problem is understood to be coordinating perfectly the right and left hands. Wrong. It’s right hand and left . The hand follows the finger. The arm follows the hand. All of the attention which you may pay to your body when you are playing should be concentrated at the ends of your fingers, or where they meet the strings. You can greatly degrade performance by concentrating on wrong muscles or joints, especially if there are efforts to relax anything. For speed, all effort is made as close to the end of the finger as possible. The end of your finger controls your arm. That’s how the body works. If you consider the matter a bit, you can see that the nervous system couldn’t work any other way.
Dynamic Guitar Technique was designed from the beginning to build and support whole arm coordination.
Position, that is the idea of using one finger for each successive fret, is fingering. It is just one way of telling the player where his left hand is supposed to be. It should not be considered to be information about how the body works. A lot of bad technique has been developed by making position a sort of physiological sacred cow.
It is futile to give technique to students who are not ready to get fast improvement from it. The first exercises should be ones that give quick encouragement. For a student first starting on serious technique, the chords should be the beginning. Chords give the quickest results, then arpeggios, then scales. That is not an evaluation, it’s a schedule. Chords are equal to arpeggios in importance. Scales are more important than either.
Of course it is also very bad for the soul if your practice time becomes monopolized by technique. It is also futile, because without the very noticeable positive results getting back to you in your music, your music must suffer.
If you work hard on these, I promise miracles. Concentrate on the first part of that sentence. The sooner you get into trouble with technique the better it probably is. You are working on basic abilities. It cannot be easy, but it can be very efficient and very effective.
©2007 David Raleigh Arnold - http://www.openguitar.com