Playing arpeggios is an essential part of guitar playing in every style that I've encountered so far including flamenco, jazz, folk, and western classical. However, each style has a different approach to playing arpeggios, and today I'll be sharing a unique approach that is used extensive by flamenco guitarists, one of the most virtuosic guitar-playing styles in the world.
'Ethnomusicology for the World' is my online lesson series where I strive to help the world understand and appreciate its own diverse musical cultures. Let's delve right in to the musical concept we'll be exploring today: arpeggios.
Before You Begin:
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Musical Concept: What are Arpeggios?
An arpeggio is an Italian word which refers to the playing of the individual notes within a chord in succession. On the guitar, the simplest way to understand arpeggios is to hold a chord shape and pluck the notes of the chord as opposed to strumming it. The key is to not play the notes all at once, but one after the other.
In flamenco guitar, there is a very specific right hand position used to play arpeggios. This was an amazing discovery for me, as I didn't start off learning flamenco until I had played guitar for over 10 years. Needless to say, it was a challenging experience adapting my hand position to the flamenco style. However, I now fully appreciate the benefits this position and I want to share it with you!
Musical Example: Guajiras Falseta (Juan Ramon Caro)
To illustrate the flamenco arpeggio position I'll be using the flamenco style of Guajiras, which largely alternates between an A major and E dominant 7 chord.
Check out the example video and observe my right hand position!
The key is to bend your right hand at the wrist such that your fingers are almost perpendicular to the strings. Naturally, your thumb will be able to rest further forward, far from touching your index finger as you play.
A helpful tip is to minimise the space between your right arm and the top lower bout of the guitar. If you are able to rest the weight of your arm entirely on the guitar, go for it!
Initially as I forced my hand into this position, it simply felt awkward as my wrist was bent in what seemed an unnatural manner. I was too used to keeping my hand in line with the length of my arm. However, my advice is to experiment and consciously remind yourself to relax your arm and hand. Eventually you will find a comfortable arpeggio position and reap its benefits.
What are its benefits you say? These are a few I have experienced personally:
- Increased volume and dynamic control
- Improved stability of the right hand
- Improved tone of individual notes
- Consistency in tone with a dedicated playing position
Musical Exercise: Arpeggiating I - V7 in A Major
To get started with the flamenco arpeggio position, we'll use the simple chord progression from the guajiras style, in a 12/8 compound meter.
Here are some important notes as you play this exercise:
- Play rest strokes with your thumb, it will help in stabilising your hand initially
- Maintain your bent wrist position at all times (practice in front of a mirror)
- Ensure your index finger is always behind the thumb, never colliding
- Use a metronome, start slowly and gradually increase your speed
I hope you enjoy practicing and learning this distinctive style of playing arpeggios. While there are lots of different approaches to playing the guitar, we have to be discerning to select the ones that benefit us the most. I personally am very comfortable adopting this flamenco style of playing arpeggios as flamenco is an extremely technical and virtuosic style, and I have seen many amazingly skilled flamenco guitarists playing this way.
Do leave a comment with any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them. Follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website neilchanmusic.com as I share new music videos and lessons on those very music videos, each and every week, to help you along your own musical journey.
Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan