The Long-Short: Classical guitar lesson in phrasing and expressive playing

The “Long-Short”: a great tool to make your guitar music more expressive

The “long-short” is a musical device that allows for continuity and flow in your playing.  It may seem a bit nit-picky at first, but in fact is an incredibly powerful tool to connect more with listeners.  On the classical guitar, every note starts dying as soon as we play it.  The long-short creates the illusion of a sustained sound and cohesive melody line.  This keeps listeners more engaged and interested in the music, which is really what we are after!

So what is it?

The gist of this technique is that when you have a long note, followed by 3 or more shorter notes of equal duration, the volume of the first short note is determined by the decay of the preceding long note.  This “completes” the long note.  The following short notes phrase forward to the next downbeat or long note.

It often takes some patience and time to really develop this as a default way of playing phrases, but is well worth the time and effort.


  The Gist of This Video:

The long line is an aspiration for our playing. It’s what you want for your playing and for your music, so that the very first until the very last note, you hold your listeners attention. So it’s just like a good movie or book. The listeners attention is held for the entire time. They are engaged, emotionally and intellectually, for the entire duration of the piece. And there are several things that we can do to help create this interest. One of these things is the long-short.

The long short is a way that we can continue the action moving forward. Ideally we want to keep action moving, and never stop. We never want to allow the energy to wane, even for a second. What we want to do, is to keep going. One of the ways to do this lies in how we handle our phrases, and the connection of one note to the next.

When we have a long note followed by three or more short notes, the first of the shorter notes “completes” the long note. How do we do this? The volume of the first short note is determined by the decay of the long note. So it ends up being very quiet. From there, the remaining short notes lead us to the next downbeat or event. It sounds very simple, and it is. But that doesn’t make it necessarily easy. Each piece you are playing could have dozens or hundreds of these little opportunities.

In your practice, you could make an extra copy of your music, and just find every example of this that you can and mark them. Then you will have to slow down considerably to actually implement and perform all the details involved in playing this way. If you try to implement these while playing quickly, it is highly unlikely that you’ll get them all. They are fairly easy to miss if you are not in the habit of playing them. Be diligent!

Good luck!  And Thanks so much for reading!

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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