From The Practice Studio – Expressive Technique: Articulation – DYNAMIC

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: First, Review of Articulation

Articulation can be thought of as the way we shape or craft each individual note in a piece. By altering the attack and/or decay of a note, we thereby create different articulations. There are four basic categories of articulation: agogic (time), dynamic (volume), relationship (note groupings), and timbre (sound color). Some of these categories are explored in greater depth in my other posts (dynamics, timbre, accents, etc.), but it is still important to put all the different articulations together in one chart to understand the breadth of the topic, and to create a means for understanding and practicing articulation.

Carefully tending to the study of articulation is a pathway to developing a truly unique and expressive performance of any piece of music, regardless of style period or composer. It is akin to the way each of us express ourselves in speech, the way we articulate each word in order to create meaning within the context of a sentence: each slightly different, and each unique. Learning to control articulation doesn’t happen randomly, it must be practiced methodically. In order to become comfortable producing these different articulations, we must incorporate them into our technique practice on a regular basis. I believe this is best done by using pre-existing technical and musical drills and adding articulations to the exercises. Therefore, each guitarist can immediately add these expressive devices to their current technical drills without having to learn an entirely new set of exercises. The video lessons provide an approach to practicing articulations on our instruments.

New Skill – Articulation – Dynamic

In this lesson we will approach Dynamic (volume-based) articulations. These include accents and marcato. These articulations affect the volume level of a note.

Dynamic Articulations can be used to accent a note to make it stand out from others in a texture. Rarely will music sound expressive if all notes are of equal dynamic values. Certain notes will need to be brought out, usually those in the main melody, so learning this technique is crucial. It is also important to learn to make notes quieter than the accented notes, so the work on this technique is really two-fold: making notes louder and making notes quieter. This technique should be applied to scales, arpeggios, and block chords. The physical technique involves pushing the string inward toward the body of the guitar in order to displace the string further than non-accented notes. It takes some getting used to, and all right-hand fingers must be able to do this individually, so careful practice is required to make this a standard part of our technique.

Thanks for joining me and practicing articulation on the guitar!

Brad DeRoche

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