The Play-Prepare Double-Movement: The Two Actions of Every Note

Most of us want to play cleanly and smoothly at high speeds.  We want our music to flow out of the guitar sounding effortless.  

But as we get faster, we often tense our muscles.  We feel out of control.  And we feel the music seems to be “getting away from us”.  

So how can we be sure we always get to the next note on time? How can we avoid memory-slips and unnecessary fumbles?

Action #1: Play the Note

This part of playing is rather obvious. This action is where we flex our right-hand finger through the string. At the same time, a left-hand finger presses a fret.

We can use good guitar technique for this. And moving our fingers well is an ongoing study. We can continue to refine and improve our movements and tone quality.

Action #2: Prepare for the Next Note

The second part of playing any note is to prepare for the next note. This means that before we play the current note, we need to know where the note will be.

In the right hand, this means that when one finger goes in, another comes out. The finger that comes out prepares on or over the next string to be played.

In the left hand, this means that we hover over the next note to be played. This isn’t always possible, but we can at least know what the next note will be, and have a plan to get there.

These Happen at the Same Time

It’s important that these happen at the same time. We can think of this as a compound movement. Play and prepare. Finger in and finger out, simultaneously.

On very slow music, this matters less. But as we accelerate to even a moderate speed, the benefits arise. We enjoy more precision and control.

And because we think ahead, we avoid many problems we may have otherwise.

Note: This method of movement also makes for faster guitar scales.

Use Quick, Discreet Movements (Snap to It!)

In practice, it helps to form the habit of deliberate movements.

When we first learn a piece of music, we tend to play slowly. But if the piece will be faster, it pays to use discreet movements, from the start.

To play “quick, discreet movements”, we can move the fingers in a short burst of action, then freeze. We give space between the notes, but the actions themselves happen as almost a twitch. (“Hurry up and wait.”)

In the right hand, this is sometimes called “quick-prepping”.

Later, we can remove the spaces between the notes. We’ve already practiced preparing each note, so we gain higher speeds more easily.

Exaggerate Preparation for Memory Practice

We can also exaggerate the preparation of each next note as a memory tool. We can firmly plant each finger on the coming note and pause.

To do this well, we must wait to play any given note until we also know the next one. Doing this slowly removes any “muscle-memory”. Instead we rely on our knowledge of the piece. We visualize the music and our fingers to know the next note.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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