An improved right-hand technique
for the classical guitar
Regarding right-hand techniques for the classical guitar Wikiversity writes:
The two primary plucking techniques are:
· Rest-stroke (apoyando), in which the finger that plucks the string rests on the next string afterwards; and
· Free-stroke (tirando), in which the finger hits nothing after plucking the string.
Tirando is a method of plucking used in classical guitar and flamenco guitar. Tirando is Spanish for "pulling" (in English, it is also called a "free stroke"). After plucking, the finger does not touch the string that is next lowest in pitch (physically higher) on the guitar, as it does with apoyando.
Since the end of the 20th century, many professional classical guitarists prefer tirando, and have moved away from thinking of apoyando as the basic principle of guitar technique.
The above is considered factual information among all guitarists. Both techniques are being widely used, each serving different purposes and needs. One could simplify it by saying apoyando allows for strength and speed while tirando is the way for easier chords, arrpegios and generally less agressive but better/fuller sound. Classical guitarists do indeed tend to use tirando more often in order to achieve polyphony, while for obvious reasons flamenco guitarists use apoyando mostly as their favorite.
Of the two techniques mentioned, apoyando has always been the least problematic. Everybody masters it with ease, it feels strong and confortable and gives the player the confidence to achieve absolute performing. It is no coincidence that when teaching the guitar to a newbie we prefer start him/her with apoyando. Tirando technique, on the other hand, varies widely from guitarist to gutarist. Not only does it affect each individual's sound quality and character, but also the arm, wrist and hand position all the way to the fingernails!
Being a classical guitarist myself I always came across these problems when trying tirando (apoyando was never an issue). Many times throughout my guitar journey I caught myself adjusting my tirando. For instance, let's say my fingernails grew bigger>I would adjust my tirando. Let's say that for some reason I would get accustomed to a new right hand position>I would adjust my tirando. Or I would change the angle of my wrist>I would adjust my tirando. And this happened automatically, not deliberately! But yet, not something to pass unnoticed.
That led me to believe that there is something wrong with my technique. Then again I knew that there was no strain whatsoever when playing, nor did I have a problem with my sound quality or speed. None of my teachers had anything to correct either. It was just that from time to time something would slightly vary, be it my right hand/arm/wrist position or even the way I "hit" the strings. (Notice that I wrote "hit" and not hit, there is a reason for that and I'll explain it later on)
Not so long ago, my thoughts were that there might be something wrong with the tirando technique itself. And that perhaps that's why everybody seems to find their own technique of tirando based on either what's confortable for them, or how they get used to playing or whatever. I know that tirando is supposed to be a "free" stroke, but I would expect more sophisticated background from a technique. And that's not to say that tirando is without goals, it's just that it provides no specific "path" as to how to achieve them except for some very general guidelines. I believe that a proper technique should offer that in order to be considered effective.
INEFFICENCY OF TIRANDO
One major problem of tirando is its lack of strength. Sure, there 'll be many to argue that there are great guitarists out there that managed to play the guitar achieving loud and rich sound and I wouldn't deny that. But that's not the matter here. There are artists without arms that can paint masterpieces with their feet, does that mean that painting with the feet is a better technique than using the hands? Of course not. So why shouldn't one blame tirando for this major major drawback? Especially since apoyando, tirando's rival let's say, does offer strength with ease.
Another problem is that it is so "free", as mentioned it the previous chapter, that it allows the player to adjust it to his/her liking to a point where you can see all kinds of variations of postures, guitar angles, hand angles, fingernail shapes, you name it. While that doesn't actually sound bad on its own, leaving space for each individual to bring his own style, it sure demonstrates the weakness of the tirando technique as being vague and without basic principles. Do what you like doesn't sound like a technique, does it?
At this point one might say: "But we don't do what we like, we have specific way to pull the string, specific fingernail shape, specific finger movement etc". Then why do we see so many differences among guitarists, in all of those aspects? Does everybody pull the string the same way, does everybody have the same fingernail shape, does everybody move the fingers the same way? I think not. How different is apoyando among guitarists? Besides anatomical reasons, which of course would always allow for slight diversities, the same!
Thus one must realise that all this advice on how to play tirando properly is not a guideline of the technique itself rather than advice of our teachers based on their own experience. Let's be honest, tirando identifies itself as a technique that "is not apoyando"! What could one expect...
IS TIRANDO USELESS?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! But in my opinion it is incomplete. It is a technique that sets goals (eg lighter/faster string pulling) and sets some ground rules (eg let's NOT rest on the next string, let's run like a "little man") but never actually goes on to explain how exactly it should be performed, leaving infinite space for the individual to suit oneself.
Whoever finds his tirando technique and sound, good for him! Others may never succeed in that and end up quitting, following a bad technique with crappy results and others even injuring themselves. This research tends to create the illusion to some that they might were never meant to be guitarists in the first place, that they don't "have it", and vice versa.
Not to mention that tirando too is responsible for the guitar to be such a low-volume instrument and be considered as such. Of course the guitar is not that powerful by its nature, but I don't think that would be the case if, let's say, we all played the guitar using only apoyando.
THOUGHTS THAT LED TO A DISCOVERY
As I mentioned earlier, my tirando has always been a beacon of problems and worrying. There were times that I felt afraid to pull the strings to perform a sforzando for example, for fear of injuring myself or breaking a nail OR I would subconsiously make slight alterations to my playing in order to play it. Both situations didn't feel right. In fact, I can never say I felt really comfortable with this technique my whole life. That wasn't the case with apoyando or rasgueado even.
To me it has always been obvious that it's impossible to achieve proper technique by grabbing a ruler or by mimicking others or by standing in front of a mirror. How we look incorporating a technique is a final byproduct of that technique, it is not a goal. Nor is it logical to approach it that way, because we KNOW we are not exactly the same anatomically. If you wanted to be sure that you do an exercise properly in the gym, you should probably count on the rules of the exercise (for instance: keep legs bent) and the feeling of it while performing it, not how you look while doing it compared to another person. Even if you could succesfully replicate how the other person looks like, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that you got it right! So the looks of a technique is not good enough for me. I needed a basic feeling out of it.
That need for a proper feeling reminded me of a short era when I started taking tennis lessons (I've always admired that sport). I remember vividly how specific our teacher would become on how to hit the ball with the racket. At first, I was even skeptical if there was need for such teaching. It seemed simple, right? Well let me inform you: If you hit the ball an inch further from the center of the racket you could even get your shoulder disslocated, no kidding. But that wasn't all. You had to actually not hit the ball but "hit" it (remember that?), it was more of a push and roll rather than hit. Whenever I got it right I was powerful and it felt so right! When not, well it was a meh feeling.
This memory got me thinking: What if there was some way to improve my technique and get a nicer and stronger feeling out of pulling a string? The next thing that came to my mind was the piano. How bad should we guitarists feel that a multi-step mechanism (very indirect sound production) can be so stable, precise and goodsounding, while we that have direct sound production ability can't? I thought then: I want a technique that offers me that, I want to turn my right hand into a mechanism (like the piano has one) that will perform effectively EVERY TIME I use it.
I know how pushing a button on the piano feels, and it was then I realised that my tirando rules on how my mechanism works had never ever been set! That's why the fingers would adjust their movement now and then, because there was never clear reasoning behind their movement, there was never a specific rule that drove them, there was never a specific feeling to be satisfied. It was plain chance. It was an anti-apoyando techique and nothing more.
When I finally thought of a ground rule to follow in order to satisfy a specific feeling, I was on my first step to a new discovery...»
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