The art of good practise

Every time you play something badly you have given your body bad information. Every time you play something properly you have given your body good information. The more times you play a part well, the better it is going to sound next time! When practising scales play only groups of 4 or 5 notes. When learning new repertoire or revising old repertoire practise only groups of 4 or 5 notes at one given time.  Accuracy is the key! (David Russell).

Tips on increasing speed

I attached some quotes from the book “Practicing Music By Design”. They give you an insight to the difficulties self-taught musicians encounter.

George Kochevitsky writes, “The elimination of too much muscle action is the real basis for developing technical agility.”27 (page 13,). In other words, to increase speed in your playing, you must reduce hand movement.

Recent research has shown that the better one knows individual skills (sections of a piece of music) before combining them, the stronger one’s learning of the whole will be. Therefore we must try to avoid playing a piece from the beginning to the end. We should focus on difficult section and play them slowly, analyse the sections, say the name of the notes we are playing. Once we have a full understanding of the individual section we may introduce speed bursts.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) shows the presence of increased brain activity while one is learning a new skill. As one assimilates and acquires a skill, brain activity decreases, leaving energy for approaching higher levels of skill or adding more skills.(page 13). Therefore pieces need to be mastered before they are performed!

George Kochevitsky, who relates this story in The Art of Piano Playing, states that “muscular overstrain produces a disturbance of the whole mental activity.” (page 14). Therefore, to free our playing we need to reduce tension in the hands.

The most efficient ways of practicing and studying are not intuitive and are likely to remain undiscovered by those without a guide. (Page 17). This is the unfortunate reality of the way I learnt and many other. I had guidance but it wasn’t good enough to make me develop quickly. I had to learn the art of practising through trial and error! It made me loose years of precious time!

The great pianists and violinists who wrote about using a passage from a piece as an exercise always wrote about transforming the passage by studying it with different rhythms, dynamics, accents, articulations, bowings for violinists, and transposition and voicings for pianists. Neurological, physiological, and psy- chological research has confirmed that working this way confers significant artistic and technical benefits. None of the great musicians of the past wrote about mindless repetition of scales, except to condemn these practices.(page 18)

Every time you play something badly you have given your body bad information. Every time you play something properly you have given your body good information. The more times you play a part well, the better it is going to be the next time!

Effortless Mastery

This is a great quote:

“Taking an honest inventory of our musicianship is difficult. Some feel more comfortable condemning themselves totally than accurately assessing their strengths and weaknesses. They are usually defeated by a sense of futility before they play the first note. Others believe themselves as better than they are, not wanting to face the gap they need to work on. Their performances tend to be hit and miss, but they rationalise that there best performances are how they really play, and their worst performances are flukes. It’s not really them! In this way they avoid fixing and cleaning up what needs to be fixed and cleaned. In either case, the disclosure of  flaws in their playing hurts. because there is so much emotion attached to the flaws, the latter group would try to overlook them, and the former would use them as evidence that they stink. Improvement is delayed for year or perhaps forever”

(Kenny Warner, Effortless Mastery, page 53)

Flamenco Scales

In flamenco we have various rhythms and styles called “Palos”. There are more that fifty different palos in flamenco! Most of them are not commonly played by young guitarists and singers. The scales we use in Flamenco are  either in the  mayor key (Alegrias, Guajira, Garrotin, Bulerias por fiesta and many other palos) or in the Phrygian mode (Soleares, Siguirya, Rondena and more).
There are three main scales we use when playing in the Phrygian mode (por arrival or por media).
1. Phrygian mode that is the 3rd mode of the C major scale:
2. Phrygian dominant scale that is the the scale built on the 5th note of  A harmonic minor  scale. Also known as Altered Phrygian scale or Phrygian Major scale where you raise the 3rd note of the Phrygian scale from minor to major:
Sometimes we combine the two scales by playing both the G and the G sharp note.
3. Double harmonic minor scale also known as Arabic scale, Gypsy minor scale or Byzantine scale
In modern flamenco we also play the following scales over the F chord before resolving to E:
-F melodic minor
-F whole/half tone scale
-F Lydian Dominant

Why is the Lydian mode so beautiful in Flamenco?

There are various ways of analysing flamenco harmony. All very confusing! I am going to attempt simplifying the harmonic analysis:

One of the scales used in flamenco is the Phrygian mode:  If we are in the key of C, the Phrygian mode starts on the note E.

Let’s analyse the descending  stepwise chord progression in Flamenco: Am  followed by G Major  then by F Major ending on E also known as the “Andalusian Cadence”

As you probably noticed if we harmonise the E Phrygian mode which is the third degree of the C major scale the E chord is minor. The confusion starts here! In  flamenco the E chord is major.

In my view (other people may not agree) the reason for this is because the typical chords in the Andalusian cadence are not built from the Phrygian mode but from the natural minor scale or the Aeolian mode. After studying harmony grade VI, I discovered that in a cadence V – i (in a minor key) composers turn the V chord  into major because it sounds better in the cadential context. Therefore, in a cadence V-i going from the Em chord to the Am chord you turn the Em into E major. The E major chord has then been adopted by the flamencos and incorporated into the main Andalusian chord progression.

To make the harmonic analysis easier lets just say that we are in the key of C major, that we are harmonising the Phrygian mode but for the sake of functional harmony we decide to turn the E minor into E major.

Let’s look at the stepwise dicending chord Am – G – F – E  or  vi – V – IV -III

Now, If you play the Lydian mode in the C Mayor scale the root note of the mode is now the F note which is in fact the IV note leading to the III in the key of C. But  in the Phrygian chord progression the IV has a cadential pull towards III.  The Lydian mode played over the IV (F note) reenforces the harmonic structure of the chord progression Am – G – F – E  making the Lydian melody sound beautiful over the Andalusian cadence.

Which would be the next  mode after the Lydian mode that would support the flamenco cadence harmonically? I would suggest the mode starting in G which is the Mixolydian. It would then reenforce the G chord or the V of our Phrygian descending chord sequence

Arm Support – Tips for Guitarists

Hi Guys,

This is a new invention that may help reduce tension on your left arm. This band has 2 great advantages:

1. It helps guitarist with long forearms to acquire the correct position of the right hand

2. The padding on the band will create a cushioned gap between the arm and the guitar allowing an improved movement of the biceps.


How to Practise

1. Better to play the guitar half an hour every day, than not practise for a week and then play for three hours consecutively.

2. Practise with focus and  concentration. You will progress a lot faster than if you were to use the same time playing without any specific goals or direction.

3. Manage your time efficiently.  If you pick up your guitar without knowing what to play you will probably end playing a few licks you already know and enjoy playing. However, it is more beneficial to focus on the parts you struggle with.

4. Decide how much time you have for your practise session. Then divide that time into specific blocks of time for each technique you want to cover.

5. Stay seated for short periods of time. Then have a small break. This makes learning more manageable and less intimidating.

Recommended practise session:

25 Minutes of Picado exercises played slowly alternating soft and loud pulse

5 Minutes of picado played fast

5 Minutes of Rasgueo played slowly

5 Minute of Thumb exercises played slowly

The rest of your practising time must be spent revising music, composing and recording.

Remember to focus on every movement of your  fingers, hands, arms, shoulder and back. Increasing your awareness noticing the sensory experience of touch and sound saturate your body and mind. After a few months you will notice clear improvements in your neuromuscular hand coordination, you will discover a new confidence and clarity in your playing!

The art of practicing is a discipline that cultivates the heightened awareness in every movement of our practicing, letting the sensation of sound, touch and movement saturate the body and mind from moment to moment”.

Madeline Bruser


This is an excellent study for picado that will improve your picado technique! click on the link below:

       →Estudio de Picado


If you play this exercise slowly with heightened awareness of every movement your picado technique will improve immensly!