Welcome to one of the most active flamenco sites on the Internet. Guests can read most posts but if you want to participate click here to register.
This site is dedicated to the memory of Paco de Lucía, Ron Mitchell, Guy Williams, Linda Elvir, Philip John Lee and Craig Eros who went ahead of us too soon.
We receive 12,200 visitors a month from 200 countries and 1.7 million page impressions a year. To advertise on this site please contact us.
barred chords or positions in which the index crosses many strings to bar them. is clean tone simply about pressure? how do classical guitarists with their higher action achieve clean tone? is it about positioning of the index/barring finger with regards to the inside of the knuckle joint ? (with it's "gap" leading to dead-sounding notes)
how is it that people who do not appear to have massively muscular fingers get such clean tones? (practice, of course, but what is the essence of barring cleanly?) what is thumb pressure like on the back of the neck?
additional unrelated question:
preamble: It's depressing to view the thread in which TK plays Recuerdos de la Alhambra (very nicely by my limited ear, hence the depressing part- reading the comments that follow in which intonation and tuning is discussed, and as a former perfect-pitch-possessor who now can barely maintain relative-pitch as it's all just a continuum of frequencies, it turns out, and octaves are the only inarguable interval) and realizing that what I will openly call "minute" differences are a big deal in classical-guitar-land. (how any of these detail-oriented-folks ever stoop to listen to any other musical styles is beyond me. it must all sound out of tune to them.)
question: I've never met a guitar with good intonation higher up. (I admittedly use cheap guitars) are there known tricks for minimizing the impact of this? is this what the cult of expensive guitars is based upon? (sonority wise, an open-pore cheapo I have sounds amazing to me, it's great until about the 12th fret intonation wise...) I don't see any funny staggered bridge saddles or micro-frets here in this community. I recall a thread about cutting the whole shebang 1mm shorter to compensate for stodgy fingering that inadvertently bends strings. Ricardo, you hinted that such compensation is not for flamenco guitars and that playing technique needs to be improved. (awareness and pressure control?) I'm reminded of deliberately scalloped fretboards on electrics for bending, and the required sensitivity in playing technique to use such...
feel free to ignore either question and focus on the one that bothers/excites you most
(Frank Zappa when asked what inspires him said "things I love, things I hate")
are there known tricks for minimizing the impact of this
Sorry I don't have time right now to look up the exact time stamp, but Ricardo explains it somewhere in there. Essentially, the idea is to stop thinking that one fret=one precise pitch that can't be changed at all, like "if I put my finger in this little box I'll get this note and that's that". Instead you use the slight up or down changes in pitch you can get by pulling the string in one direction or the other with your left hand (like when you do vibrato) and that way you can get better intonation.
"Anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page. What you cannot fix is that pristine, unsullied whiteness of a screen or a page with nothing on it—because there’s nothing there to fix."
how is it that people who do not appear to have massively muscular fingers get such clean tones?
Although it never made a lot of sense to me, the claim is that a well executed barre doesn’t need thumb pressure at all, it is actually the weight of the arm pulling backward and down that gives the required clamp of the notes. It is probably true since I have heard that explanation so many times, I just never thought about it. What I teach students is to start by doing a very big aggressive continuous abanico rasgueado, but mute the strings with the left hand and maintain it over the desired fret position. While keeping the strumming going, very very gradually apply pressure to the Barre chord. Make sure you pass through a very “dirty” or unclean sound gradually getting cleaner until you are squeezing just hard enough to hear all the notes of the chord ringing. Then keep strumming and gradually decrease the pressure back to the muted sound. The idea is you get used to the MINIMIAL amount of pressure needed on THAT guitar to make a clean sound. I feel the action of various guitars requires more or less squeeze, however, it is VERY minimal. A high action guitar requires a lot less pressure than you might have thought compared to a low action guitar, and the above exercise will show you exactly how much.
The exercise has the added benefit of training your left hand to NOT squeeze too hard when you play with loud right hand dynamics.
RE: how to get cleaner sound on bar? (in reply to gerundino63)
Wow Ricardo, what a good tip and exercise.
indeed. this is a good exercise. I thank you, Ricardo. I press too hard with my thumb and still often get dead notes in passage. this minimal pressure thing sounds like the key to avoiding too much tension.
List of Arts Where Experimentation is Dangerous: 1) Sword-Combat 2) Aerial Acrobatics
I find myself targeting pressure where and when it needs to be used in a barr, even though my index is barring all 6 strings at once. Like pressure on the bottom strings only because the top ones are fretted with other fingers . My hands are small and it’s not always easy to Barr and stretch out, so I shift my index around depending on the chord or sequence of notes.
RE: how to get cleaner sound on bar? (in reply to Ricardo)
Ricardo, I ran into a similar suggestion on the Delcamp a couple years ago and it saved my left hand after years of frustrating pain.
Another thing I do now is switch between cords and indavidial melodic fingered lines. Trapped myself a few times learning rasgao and had to lay off for a week here in there. Now that have more control I can use a lighter touch on both hands instead of hamstring away like a mad man 😖
I prefer my flamenco guitar spicy, doesn't have to be fast, should have some meat on the bones, can be raw or well done, as long as it doesn't sound like it's turning green on an elevator floor.
RE: how to get cleaner sound on bar? (in reply to ernandez R)
From my experience and analysis, getting a clean barre has three basic elements:
1. (How much pressure)
Applying not more than about the minimum total effort necessary to get a clean sound: this is where a type of exercise like Ricardo's is very useful. Pumping Nylon talks about it as well as any more recent classical guitar method, I think.
Note that the minimum effort during plucking is slightly higher than the minimum effort after that just holding that ringing note. So once you get that kind of sensitivity you could even try to relax it a bit after a stroke and would still maintain clean sound.
2. (How to generate that pressure)
From my own think about this and experience, the key is to generate most of what is required with a small pull of the entire left forearm, from the elbow towards your back, upper arm rotating around the shoulder. Obviously the fingers are not loose but the pressure to push the fingertips into the fretboard is now generated mostly as a small pull with the left lat(*) rather than from a thumb clamp. (But you don't think about lats, just think about moving your left elbow backward a bit; this will activate the left lat)
For this to work well, the fretboard has to be kept in place, so you also apply a small counter with your right arm against the top bout/edge of the guitar (with your right lat; but again think about right elbow squeeze/move backward) - otherwise the guitar, viewed as one plays it, would tend to want to rotate in response to the left hand elbow pull with the left lat.
In the classical guitar position where the neck is much higher and the fretboard is turned a bit toward the ceiling (they like to be able to see the surface of their fretboard), the usual advice is "let the left arm weight pull the fingers down" - they mean that as your left arm hangs, there is a torque from gravity around the left shoulder so that results in a bit of a pull into the fretboard. Two things: first, just the "weight" is not enough, you still need a bit of lat pull, and second, this explanation is generally inapplicable for other guitar holds, like for flamenco; it is sort of helpful for the particular case of a very classical guitar hold. But the more general idea is as described in the previous two paragraphs; in the particular case of a classical guitar hold, it can be roughly proxied with what the classical guitarists advise in terms of weight of arm.
As an exercise (not for regular playing), you should get to a point where you can produce a clean sound without any thumb - it being entirely off the neck - including full barres either with or without any other left-hand-finger use.
When doing this properly and combining it with (1), i.e. with minimum required amount of effort for a clean sound using what is a feather-effort pull from the big lat muscles, this feels like almost nothing and the thumb hardly has to do much more than anchoring and little secondary adjustments.
3. (Minimizing interference from left-hand non-barre fingers)
This is specific to fingerings involving a barre - you might find that you can do a clean full barre when the other left hand fingers are not being used to fret any notes, but that you lose some of the clean barred notes (on the remaining strings) when adding other left-hand fingers as in different chord shapes (or vice-versa). Work on left-hand finger independence to minimize interference of the left-hand fretting 2nd, 3rd, 4th fingers with the full or partial first-finger barre. The left-hand finger independence exercises from Pumping Nylon are useful for this, but just practice problematic configurations till the sensitivity and independence develops so that moving around and pressing on different position with the non-barre fingers does not affect the pressure of the barre finger.
In some situations it is still difficult to produce clean barred finger sounds despite getting good at the three elements above. If so, -- one trick is to turn the barring finger around its long axis a bit (in my case counter-clockwise if viewed from a player's perspective); -- another, if the 2nd finger is available, is to add some pressure with it as if closing scissors (2nd finger closes in on top of barring 1st finger). You can see this in some Paco de Lucia videos; -- focusing on just the notes fretted with the barred finger, like Jason described; -- experimenting with the left-hand thumb position and adding a bit of thumb clamp just opposite the offending string/note(s);
A couple things I would add to the fantastic answers provided above.
If your hand(s) has too much tension when playing, there is a good chance that there is tension elsewhere in your body that may be contributing to tension in the hand, the shoulder(s) is a likely culprit. A general method to work on this would be when practicing something, set the tempo to where you don't need to focus on what you're playing and instead, concentrate your attention to your body, scanning it piece by piece, focusing on relaxing anything that is engaged unnecessarily. You may find your legs are partially adducted, a shoulder is slightly elevated, or maybe your elbow is flared out. This mindset of using a metronome as a means of practicing whole-body relaxation while playing, instead of simply increasing a tempo, can be very beneficial. Also, relaxed breathing can't be overlooked, as we have a tendency to hold our breath during difficult passages.
In the event that you are barring halfway between two frets, try fretting just behind the fret.
The exercise Ricardo described can be expanded to specific passages, scales, etc. Here is Kiko Loureiro (not a flamenco player, but his technique is ridiculously relaxed) giving some examples (specifically around 2 and 4 min) applying this to scales.