Method: Guiliani‘s Right Hand; an Exercise in Speed and Dexterity


Esercizio No. 5, by Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), is an arpeggio whirlwind taken from his virtuosic Op. 48 set of studies, and with it, this lesson will explore planting, right-hand speed, and left-hand dexterity.


Giuliani, an Italian by birth, travelled to Vienna in late 1806, joining some of the preeminent musicians of his day: Beethoven, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, and Joseph Mayseder. That Giuliani was accepted by the cognoscenti of Vienna is quite revelatory, for at that time, the guitar was considered as little more than a parlor novelty. Giuliani’s music (and his innovations) not only transcended that narrow view, and the early 19th century guitar’s limitations, but are still in use today. He was one of the first to write a guitar concerto, though by today’s standards it would not strictly be classed as one. His contemporaries were constantly being measured up to his “full” voicings: better harmonic use of the fretboard. And our RH mechanism, and finger use, is based on his school of thought—thumb for bass, and alternating strokes with the other fingers. All considered no mean feat as the sixth string was a recent guitar innovation that had only been added a quarter-century earlier.

Op. 48, printed in mid-1813 when Giuliani’s star was just ascending in Vienna’s society, is, according to Bryan Jeffrey, the first definable collection of “studies” for classical guitar from the 19th century. Fittingly, these exercises are not for complete beginners, as much of his later output would be, but are works that challenge and improve technique.


By its continuous sextuplet rhythm, Esercizio No. 5 is the perfect vehicle to practice the RH planting technique. The sextuplet is intrinsic to the guitar idiom; with its constant motion, No. 5 will help inform a variety of other pieces—from Mertz’s Fingal’s Cave to Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 11. Micro Study 1 utilizes five rhythms to coordinate the RH planting technique (bar 1 has made the sequential planting explicit). Planting is best described as: fleshy touch ahead, stroke through the nail, then repeat. This technique promotes RH stability and security. The first two rhythms are essential, as they allow you to observe, and feel, if you are planting the next finger ahead of the current. Once comfortable, practice open-string speed bursts (bar 5): 2 beats of triplets into 1 beat of sextuplets. Then, slowly extend beats, 2 into 2, 2 into 3, etc. Not only will this improve speed, it will also help with stamina. Note: The quicker you can reset your fingers, the more relaxed they are, and the faster you will be. (For further sextuplet practice, see Giuliani’s 120 RH exercises No. 25–32.)


On the surface, Esercizio No. 5 is just one movement, however Giuliani actually employs  two different harmonic devices. Section A, bars 1–10, consists of triads against a ground note: open E and then open B. Section B, bars 11–19, is melody and accompaniment. Micro Study 2, based on section A, will work a series of triads up (and down) the fretboard, helping clarify the upper fretboard chords in this key. There is a lot packed into this micro study. So, along with aiming to achieve coordination and good tone (clean notes), it also works LH and RH planting, finger independence, and the RH arpeggio mechanism. However, shifting cleanly is the main purpose, and it is attained through the use of anchor fingers that slide lightly up the string. Lift the others up, especially finger 3 (otherwise you will squeak), and laser the fret change ahead with your eyes. The rhythms here reflect the popularity of this harmonic device; along with Giuliani, Villa-Lobos also used it in Prelude No. 4.


Micro Study 3, based on section B, has a couple of aims: first, clear (legato) melody notes floating above the bass and accompaniment (through RH volume control); and secondly, LH stretching, in thirds, down one string. Once playable and secure as triplets, double the rhythmic rate to approach Giuliani’s sextuplets.


Micro Study 4, based on bars 8-9, is for practicing this tricky change and for LH sequential planting. The arrows indicate which fingers need moving in advance; finger 3 first, then as notated: 2 and 1. Go slow at first, while making sure you are clear which fingers are planting ahead. Another thing to consider is that along with the LH fingers moving in sequence, the RH mechanism needs to move up a set of strings. This is accomplished by tracking the forearm back, with the LH move. Again, once the triplets are secure, double the rhythms for speed burst practice.


This esercizio was printed at a time when the guitar’s notational rules, voice attribution, and stemming were in its middle stage. When compared to J.K. Mertz’s Fingal’s Cave, published 36 years later, the difference in notational voice clarity is evident. So keep in mind the original print music does not fully spell out which voices need to be kept on and where the melody really stands. In section A, the “melody” is in the bass and alto registers, with Giuliani exploiting them in bars 7–10. In section B, the melody moves from the treble voice for bars 11–16, and into the bass part from bar 17 to the end.


Giuliani was, in the words of Thomas Heck, “the first truly great virtuoso/composer for the classical guitar.” His works pushed the boundaries of what the guitar could achieve. With his flamboyant style, virtuosity, full-voiced harmony and, yes, his celebrity lifestyle, he did for the 19th century guitar what Segovia and Barrios would later do in the 20th century: raise its status and create masterpieces.