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Tremolo

By Daniel Nistico I am currently working on my tremolo, specifically on the stunning piece by Agustin Barrios - Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios. For me, tremolo is an ongoing skill that is linked with the general use of my right hand. For the sake of clarity, I sometimes divide the tremolo into two general categories to work on the musical and the technical. Bear in mind that it is often difficult to separate these elements. Musical The two main musical aspects that I work in regarding tremolo are related to melody and rhythm. Here is an excerpt of the most well known tremolo work for guitar, Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) by Francisco Tarrega.

I view there as being three distinct voices low, middle and high. The beaming of this excerpt might suggest that there are two voices (bass and melody), but the lower voice actually function a little differently as well see in a moment. Understanding each voice and the role they play both individually and together will help understand the musical structure. In order to understand the melodys (high voice) contour, start by singing it on its own. You can just loop the example above. Observe the motion from E descending to C and rising back up to E. It might be helpful to practice singing and/or playing that motion by singing E - C E.

Now play the bass line (low and middle voices) and sing the melody. Observe the large leaps in the bass and how these pitches harmonize in thirds with the melody. This is what creates the effect of a third voice and is part of the magic of the piece that is carried on throughout the whole work how the voices interact with each other in such a seamless way.

Due to the percussive nature of the guitar, I sometimes find it difficult to create the effect of a sustained melodic line one that simulates a singer or string player. One factor, particularly in tremolo is the connection of the last pitch of the tremolo pattern with the following bass and first pitch of the next pattern. This applies especially when the melody pitch changes (such as from E D in the excerpt). One way of approaching this is to practice slowly enough so that each pitch is clearly definable, focussing physically and mentally (listen!) to the connection between the final melodic pitch, the bass, and the first melodic pitch of the next group. It can be of value to give just a slight emphasis to the i finger.

In terms of the rhythmic elements, tremolo can sometimes sound rather stagnant, as the rapid notes can easily bog down the pulse. One way of eliminating this tendency is to practice feeling the demi-semiquavers leading into the following bass line. An effective way of achieving this is to practice the demi-semiquaver notes in triplets, grouped towards that following bass note.

Personally when playing tremolo, I like to feel as though I have complete rhythmic control over each individual pitch. Something that Ive found to be really effective is to leave out one pitch (and thus one finger) per pattern.

Technical Many of the musical issues will help the technical ones immensely, which is why I put them first and I usually put them higher in my priority. However there are a few technical issues that can further develop the tremolo. Practicing the tremolo pattern on one string, particularly the top E string, can be of great benefit and is something I do as a warm up. Do this fairly slowly and listen for consistent tone and rhythm, particularly between the thumb and fingers the top E string is good at revealing inconsistencies. Practice this with the mirror and observe any patterns of unnecessary tension in your right hand (or indeed in any part of your body!)

Next, apply some preparation, so that when p plays, i instantly prepares itself onto the string and when i plays, m prepares etc. The effect will be staccato, but this minimizes the movement of your fingers and hand. Ensure that after each finger has plucked that the tension is drained out.

You can apply the tremolo pattern to scales (also scales in thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths) and it can actually be quite fun sometimes! You can experiment with rhythm (dotted, bursts, etc.), the pattern itself (p,i,m,a, p,m,a,i, a,m,i,p etc.) and dont forget dynamics! You can also include the pinkie finger and create even more variety. You can apply the pinkie to any of the preceding ideas also I often double the first pitch of the melody with the bass in order to include the pinkie. This can further enhance the sense of melodic continuity as well as developing the right hand.

Conclusion I recommend listening to as many guitarists tremolo as you can. Some favourites of mine are Karin Schaupp and Xufei Yang. I also recommend listening to yourself as much as you can these days theres no excuse to stop you from recording yourself and listening back. Here are some references for more information and help on tremolo and some good resources to apply some of the technical aspects of the tremolo and the right hand in general

Pumping Nylon Scott Tenant Complete Study of Tremolo for the Classic Guitar Vladimir Bobri Tecnica Fondamentale della Chitarra Ruggero Chiesa Studio per la Chitarra Op. 1 Mauro Guiliani