From The Practice Studio – Expressive Technique: Articulation – ATTACK

By Brad DeRoche

Brad DeRoche is an active concert and recording artist. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in Classical Guitar Performance from Eastman School of Music and records for the Centaur Label.
He serves on the board of trustees for the Guitar Foundation of America and is currently Professor of Music, Music Department Chairperson and Director of Guitar Studies at Delta College.

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From the Practice Studio is a series of posts designed to improve our practicing. In my many years of experience as both a performer and educator, I noticed that most of us “students of the guitar” often approach learning technique in a haphazard or unstructured manner. Because of this, I developed a somewhat unique approach to practicing expression and other techniques that I found helpful for both myself and my students. My approach is to systematically apply most of the common and practical expressive concepts and articulation marks to our current technical drills. This way, we are practicing not only control over the movements of a particular scale or arpeggio, but also the expression that would typically accompany it in a piece of music, thereby eliminating the disconnect between technical and expressive playing. The goal of these articles then, is to help us to improve how we structure our technique practice and help make us more expressive, artistic musicians. So, let’s get out our instruments and work through some ideas together….

Expressive Technique: Attack

This involves the onset of sound – the attack – or how the note develops its sound in terms of amplitude and timbre. Plucked notes, slurs, and glissandi, are the primary forms of attack.

There are several ways to alter the attack sound of a note on the guitar. A standard plucked note is one type of articulation, but there are also slurs (or hammer-ons and pull-offs in the popular jargon) and glissandi (slides) which create different attacks. Slurs and glissandi offer a softer or slower onset of sound compared to the more abrupt attack of an articulated (or plucked) note. Most expressive music requires a wide variety of attacks in order to create melodic patterns that convey the greatest emotion and meaning. These articulations require strength, speed, and precision from our left-hand technique, so it is crucial that we spend a good amount of time practicing them. Simple digital exercises can be created using various patterns, or we can also apply the techniques to our scales.

To create a good slur technique, the left-hand fingers should land on the fingertip, rather than the pad part of the finger, and we should aim to land as close the fret as possible to get a clear sound and reduce the amount of energy needed to get a good sound. The fingers should also remain curved and move primarily from the proximal knuckle joint (where the finger attaches to the palm), rather than from the middle or tip joints. Also, be sure to keep the hand properly aligned with the neck. Practicing slurs should be part of our daily technique regimen. With glissandi, it’s best to have a light touch, slightly lifting the finger when sliding, but still keeping contact with the string. Many players also advocate leading with the elbow prior to making a long glissando, another facet of the technique that should be practiced with simple exercises until it becomes habit.

Thanks for joining me and practicing attack on the guitar!

Brad DeRoche

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