From the Summer 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY RHAYN JOOSTE
Estudio No. 16 by Dionisio Aguado y García (1784–1849), published in his monumental treatise Nuevo Méthodo para Guitarra, offers a set of uncomplicated musical devices that employ both hands to practice and secure synchronization in a truly Spanish fashion: with contiguous scale runs, chord stabs, and flare. Aguado was 59 years old, at the height of his powers, and having retired to Madrid, he coalesced all his guitar comprehension into this volume. The observations and depth of inquiry within place it on par with today’s methods; there is very little Aguado did not consider in the realms of guitar technique or sound production. Located near the back of this work are a set of 27 studies into which Aguado consolidated his perceptions and prior publishing output. I selected No. 16 from these studies because it surpasses its intentions and is easily overlooked due to its small size and placement in this groundbreaking 1843 method. This lesson will explore alternating fingering, coordination, advancing speed, string-crossing, left hand slurs, and chord changes.
OVERVIEW The year is 1837 and Aguado had recently returned to Madrid from Paris, the sanctuary city that held Chopin, Paganini, and Liszt safe during the revolutionary times. He had spent 11 years there playing, teaching, and contemplating the guitar; not to mention living, practicing, and performing with Fernando Sor. Aguado was a younger contemporary of Sor, however, he could not have been more compositionally different. Sor was fully engaged in the musical life of the times, well-traveled, and although generally described as conservative in his compositions, he has a musical depth to his language that Aguado lacks. However, Aguado more than makes up for it with a fine attention to detail and flare in a guitar-centric repertoire. He dedicated his life to the solo guitar and, unusually for this period, did not write for any other instrument; thus, his overall musical output reflects this obsession with the instrument. And, significantly for modern classical guitar players, Aguado used nails, while Sor did not.
ALTERNATING STROKES Picado or apoyando (rest stroke)—is there a difference? Yes, there is, and as this study was written by a thoroughly Spanish guitarist, picado is probably what Aguado was employing when he played scale runs. However, as this is pure speculation, this article will combine picado, tirando, and apoyando into just one alternating stroke action. It is not going to deal with the basic technique for each one, other than to give this broad comparison. Picado is to flamenco what apoyando is to classical guitar; the difference lies in the execution. Picado is an alternated i m rest stroke, with a fairly straight RH digit; the thumb secure on string 6. The RH fingers are kept straighter, flex less, and use more energy. Apoyando is also an alternated rest stroke, however, not just the i m combination. It has slightly more curl to the fingers, due to mid-joint flexion, and less accentuation (energy); importantly the RH thumb tracks with the fingers as they move across strings.
Crucially for all these techniques, and this lesson, the key to being fluid and fast is not in executing the downward stroke of the finger, but in the ability to return that finger to the start position for the next stroke. The earlier and more relaxed you are at lifting the finger up from the stroke, the sooner the next stroke will be. This study is the perfect vehicle for practicing alternating strokes. Replicated below are two of Aguado’s own exercises (Ex. 25 & 24) from his 1843 method. Ex. 25 has been placed first for a reason: Note the repeated i finger movement. Ex. 24 No. 2 will further develop this fast-return mechanism; finally No. 1, coordination and slurs. Utilize more than Aguado’s i m combination to get the full benefit from these.
If these techniques are new to you or need refreshing, then I highly recommend you investigate the next few suggestions. Ruben Díaz’s YouTube channel has a plethora of great picado instructional videos. For an effective overview of right-hand positioning, finger employment, and so much more, Scott Tennant has you covered, as only he can, for excellent technique in Pumping Nylon, as does Martha Masters’ The Total Classical Guitarist. A final top recommendation for any aspiring modern guitarist is Matt Palmer. His insane YouTube videos and his book The Virtuoso Guitarist Volume 1, he teaches how to develop a three-finger approach to scales that may become a staple of modern classical guitar technique.
All that being said, there is still really one effective but basic exercise for coordination: chromatics. If being a “good” guitarist could be simplified into one statement, it would be: excellent coordination of both hands. This Chromatic ex., which is an extension of a Scott Tennant idea (bar 1), is a great first drill for most guitarists. It is fantastic for warming up the synchronization of the hands due to being a triplet rhythm with 4 fingers, which will help solidify your dexterity.
RIGHT HAND Estudio No. 16 begins straight away by alternating sextuplet scale fragments and chord shapes. Aguado advances the technical challenge as the ideas move up the fretboard. These fragments are carefully thought-out; two bursts across two strings, then three bursts across three strings.
Now, speed per se is not what a lot of guitarists struggle with, especially on just one string; it’s the ability to cross strings at speed that most find challenging. Micro Study 1 is purposefully simple to accommodate mindful practice on this very thing. It also focuses RH application on alternating fingering with thumb tracking and, finally, speed bursts. Open strings are what the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía employed to practice his RH technique; if it works for him, it should for you. (Of course, he used all six strings up and down, but we all have to start somewhere.) Apart from a fast finger return, you will also need to maneuver the RH mechanism above the required strings, so you need to have a relaxed arm, with progress initiated from the back and shoulder socket, all scapula or shoulder blade movement. Do not lift with the clavicle or collar bone; of course having long sleeves is also advantageous.
At slower speeds, this micro study proposes six fingering solutions: two common ones, a more compound three-finger one, then all reversed. Realistically, as you dial into faster BPMs you will need to make a choice: What finger combination works best for you on scalar patterns at higher speeds? Is it, like Leo Brouwer and John Mills, i a? Or are you old school and prefer the Aguado-approved i m? Possibly, you favor the modern three-finger method employed by the Assad Brothers and, more recently, Matt Palmer? No matter which one, you need to make a choice, stick with it, and nurture it. It should be possible to practice any finger grouping up to and beyond 120 bpm; after 130 bpm, use the one combination you favor.
Micro Study 2 hones in on the scale fragments, placing the left hand back in and extending Aguado’s original idea to encompass 12 frets. It also, crucially, reverses the ideas, so adroitness can be built up and down the scales. This micro study builds stamina with alternate fingering and triplets, thereby creating irregular string-crossing finger combinations. If this micro study is a leap after the first, place Aguado’s original left-hand notes back into No. 1 and work up to No. 2. Short bursts of speed are the answer to becoming faster overall.
Micro Study 3 is the extension of Aguado’s addendum one-bar suggestion at the bottom of the original publication of Estudio No. 16: 32nd note practice. It uses the same set of scale fragments and finger combinations as the previous micro study, but with a faster rhythm and string-crossing. This time the aim is fluid execution or speed. I suggest you practice it after having played through section A and Micro Study 2 a few times. Its main goal is to build speed and endurance by increasing the workload of the RH fingers. Make good use of the rest to totally relax the fingers and prepare for the next burst. If needed, break it up into quarter-note sections and practice those individually until fluid.
A slight aside here on metronome use and feeling the pulse of all these note groupings: Start slow, with the metronome pulsing as eight notes, so you will only have to think in terms of three or four groupings per beat initially. Once you have internalized the “feeling” for this, mentally switch the metronome pulse on to a quarter-note, or double-timed rhythms. Be aware that the 32nd notes begin with a very short rest. A tip: identify the RH fingers that are on the beat, as these serve as anchor points when playing fast. Aim to have them on time.
LEFT HAND Estudio No. 16 is in binary form (A B)—section A deals with scales into chord shapes, while section B has chords into slurs. They complement each other and offer a concise set of practical ideas to work out your left and right hands and their coordination. Micro Study 4 presents a compilation of left-hand finger slurs in the most common combinations. Although succinct, it will help find any finger combinations that are not evenly matched in strength and dexterity. Focus in on these and exercise them further if needed. Aim for even tone between the LH slurred note and its preceding RH stroke. If reversed, this study will utilize all LH finger combinations.
Micro Study 5 is an added bonus to this lesson—a Paul Gilbert-inspired rock idea that has been transposed to a classical context for practicing coordination, speed, and slurs. Again, split it into small bites if needed.
CHORDS Practice Estudio No. 16’s chords separately from the slurs (and scales) and get familiar with the finger shapes. Keep in mind this was written on a short-scale neck, which is reflected in their form. The main goal of this lesson is to practice coordination and speed, not to verify your 19th-century chord contour contortionist skills.
Note: compartmentalization of the technical challenges within Estudio No. 16 (and this lesson) will make acquiring new techniques straightforward and shorten the distance to achieving higher speeds later on down the line. So, aim to practice three separate areas—chord shapes alone, scale fragments, and then slurs.
EDITIONS There are always accuracy issues with music publications this antiquated; even more so with this method, which along with incorporating elements of Aguado’s earlier books (and its various incarnations) has also acquired assorted translations over time. What follows is a short guide, based on Brian Jeffries’ assessment, of the various editions available. There were four main printing runs by Aguado to further his ideas and “school”: Neuvo Estudios (Madrid, 1820), Escuela de Guitarra (Madrid, 1825), Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare op. 6 (Paris, 1834) and Nuevo Método para Guitarra (Madrid, 1843). Each one was built on the ideas previously presented, so the final Madrid method could be taken as the authoritative account. Make sure to check the titles, language, and date to corroborate that you have the right original edition. Highly recommended is Tecla’s excellent English translation, based on that 1843 Madrid version, which is available for sale online.
FINAL REFLECTION This study, although remarkably short, covers a lot of practical ground in terms of developing fluid coordination. Aguado was meticulous in his approach to the guitar and his method remains one of the pillars of our modern technique. According to Brian Jeffries, “anyone who studies the book and successfully works his way through it will probably have received the most solid grounding in technique that any book can give him.” A young John Williams utilized this method every day for sight-reading when he first began his studies. And it is from this well-thought-out manual that the modern guitar gets its detailed instruction on achieving a clear tone using a particular arrangement of a flesh and nail stroke we use today.