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Teaching the right hand and basic ergonomics – Comparison of Popular Methods Pt. 1

There are many methods out there for different levels of players.  Unfortunately, there are so many types of method books out there, that finding the right one can be difficult.
In this post I will look at four popular methods that are popular/used for teaching guitar.  The four popular methods in use today are Fredrick Noad’s Solo Guitar Playing/Book 1, Aaron Shear’s Learning the Classic Guitar: Part 1The Hal Leonard Beginning Guitar Superbook, and Christopher Parkening’s The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method – Volume 1.  Other than the Superbook, they are more geared towards a comprehensive guide to classical guitar.  The Superbook, is aimed for the absolute beginner that can be used for any style of guitar.
Excerpts are taken from the books to give reference to the information presented in each method.  Topics mentioned from each book is basic sitting position, right hand technique, how the book teaches notation, and comments about musical examples.
The following chart gives a brief summary of the type of information found for Right Hand guitar technique and comments about supplemental material used.

Noad


Sitting Postion:

There are two positions described in the book for women. The rules for both are as follows:

1. Sit in the front of the chair, holding the guitar upright and leaning forward. To see your hands, bend the head forwards slightly, rather than pulling them back.

2. The weight of the right arm is taken on the guitar, do not let the elbow project over the edge, as this alters the angle of your right hand.

3. Right hand should be able to hang loosely, with the knuckles along the same line as the strings.

4. Your wrist must not touch the face of the guitar, when you play it will be raised about 3 1/2 inches.

Learning how to read notation:

States the two rules to reading music:


1. Learn to count as you read.

2. Keep your eyes on the music, and do not look at your left hand. 


There is a guitar diagram at the beginning of the book that shows the notes of a staff and their relation to the fret board. Based on that diagram, notes and rhythms are shown in notation. Guitar techniques such as alternation and arpeggios are introduced with reading, The bass strings are first introduced, Individual notes on the treble strings are then introduced. Goes into explaination of smaller note values such as 32 notes. In teaching to reach it shows the forest position of the guitar neck.

Comment on musical examples:

These pieces are mostly didactic, they seem really uninteresting but are packed with useful information regarding technique. All the pieces are duets. This book does introduce chords in notational form and not in chord symbols. The musical examples do incorporate different time signatures and gives preface notes on suggestions on how to practice the piece. Talks about the portamento, playing a note and moving the same left hand finger to the next note without reducing pressure on the fingerboard, thereby sounding the intervening tones before playing the second note, most appropriate in slow passages of lyrical style. Also goes into detail about use of ornamentation. 

RH technique:

Says to play slowly. When playing chords and arpeggios:


1. Rh does not lift from the guitar. In fact the whole movement can be completed without and upward movement of the knuckles.

2. When correctly played, should have a single sonorous sound. 

Arpeggios

1. Play the thumb on the 6th, fingers on the 3 2 1.

2. Play p and have it rest on 5.


3. Without moving the other fingers, sound the 3 with I. 

4. Without moving a, repeat with m

5. Sound a, perform free stroke with it.


rules – ascending arp. Place thumb and fingers in advance, descending only thumb and next finger to play, in a combined arp place the first ascending part of the arpeggio in advance. says both free stroke and rest stroke should be perpendicular to the face of the guitar. 

Shearer

Sitting Position:

5 points of sitting: Aim to find overall position to where both right and left hand are most comfortable together, advocate of alternatives to the footstool


Before – Right and Left hand checks – RH moving only from elbow (elbow to fingertips, all move as one unit) carrying hand across strings, LH i on 1st fret, then c on the 19th (highest fret)

  1. Moving guitar head forward or back-
    RH – moving headstock back impedes the hand and forward eases the point of contact
    LH – moving headstock back puts less strain on your wrist, moving it forward will make the wrist arch more
    Compromise – recommends slightly forward because it is equal advantage for both hands.
  2. Tilting the bottom of the guitar in or out on your left thigh
    RH – if tilting towards your inner thigh there is a sharper angle that your forearm touches the rim of the guitar. When tilting it out there is less.
    LH – tilting in creates less strain on the hand, there will be less arch. Tilting out will create more arch and strain.
    Compromise – slight angle with bottom tilted slightly outward so that the upper rim leans against your chest. Equal advantage for both hands.
  3. Raising or lowering the guitar head-
    RH – little affect unless moved to the extreme.
    LH – left hand most comfortable when headstock is high. Avoid placing the guitar head too low – doing so would twist forwarm to the limit of its counterclockwise rotation.
  4. Raising or lowering the entire guitar in relation to your torso-
    RH – little affect unless moved to the extreme
    LH – move the guitar until you can comfortablely reach the highest fret, should be able to reach the highest fret without dipping the shoulder.
  5. Moving entire guitar to the right or left in relation to your torso-                                          RH – little affect unless moved to the extreme                                                                        LH – Position guitar far enough to the right so that you can reach the entire range of the fingerboard. Do not twist torso. Most students don’t position the guitar far enough to the right.
Teaching notation:

Teaches to read music with five considerations – Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Dynamics and Timbre. Starts first with open strings then gets progressive more One thing that is emphasized is the use of duets to help the student learn how to read music. Pieces are easy and are geared to specific concepts that are being introduced such as syncopation, and string crossing. Strategies that are used for sight reading –

1. Clarify the rhythms

2. Solfege each note and visualize it on guitar. Seems to be geared towards the amateur guitarist.

RH Technique:

Talks about the 3 joints of each finger and the ranges of each, arch of the wrist and alignment. Focuses mostly on operating the fingers within the midrange of their movements.
Aim – position the wrist accorading to muscular alignment, arch the wrist and position the knuckle and middle joints to their midway position and establish most effective tilt of the hand for tone, the equalization of the length of the fingers and most direct extension and flexion of p.
Steps –

  1. Align I, m and a to the respective parts of the wrist and forearm.
  2. Hold the wrist until the fingers are in their comfortable midway position.
  3. Tilt the hand to the left so that the tip and middle segmnets of a are
    approximately vertical to the plane of the soundboard. Both i and m will be tilted to the left.

Avoid circular motion of p. doing so can cause counterproductive tension. For doubled jointed people, keep the p middle joint slightly flexed to brace it against the force of a stroke. Inactive fingers should move with the adjacent active finger. Do not allow the inactive finger to remain rigid. When practicing prepared rest strokes, p would be resting against i. When doing free stroke, flex the middle joints. When doing doing free stroke with I and m, keep a and c somewhat more flexed. Do not let the tip joint hyperextend because it gives a more secure feeling, helps clear the adjacent string improves clarity, and finer control of tone color.

Superbook


Sitting Position:

Doesn’t clarify which position is optimum. It states to position the body so that the legs and arms don’t have tension. Tilt the neck up, never down. Do not tilt the body(keeping it vertical); avoid slanting the top of the guitar so that you can see it better. Balance your weight evenly from left to right and sit straight but not rigid.

Teaching notation:

Emphasizes the notes and briefly skims over rhythms. Starts out by teaching the 1st string, notes on the string, and moves on. First introduces chords and inversions with the 3rd string. Teaches rhythm as the book progresses. Pick oriented. Shows how to do basic alternate picking. Shows students introduction to open chords.

Comments on selection of materials:

Good use of examples in showing the concepts that is being introduced and used. Some of the music maybe alittle outdated (the easy pop melodies), I feel that a lot of todays children would not know these tunes. This book seems to be geared towards the absolute beginner/children.

RH Technique:

Focuses on using a pick.
Parkening
Shows sitting positions for both men and women. For men, talks about the four points of contact:

  1. Against the body.
  2. Inside the forearm on the highest point of the curve of the guitar.
  3. Inside the right thigh.
  4. Resting on the left leg in the natural curve of the guitar.

The neck should be at a 35-degree angle. There should be space between the body of the guitar and the player to allow the back of the guitar to vibrate freely. The headstock would be tilted back toward the left shoulder.

Teaching Reading:

Begins with the note names on the staff. Then moves on with the rhythms. Goes to the eight note in note division. Has rhythm studies but doesn’t relate the note to the fretboard, instead just focusing on the rhythm. Starts with the open bass strings first, then to the treble. Reverses this order with notes on the treble strings first and moves onto the bass strings.

Comments on the selection of materials: 

Parkening says that the best way to learn technique is through music pieces that you enjoy (p. 7). Uses a lot of duets in the musical examples. In the musical examples it has already introduced important concepts such as planting and arpeggios. As the musical examples progress, more and more concepts are introduced such as musical terms, ties, scales, and other types of basic music theory. Volume 2 goes into detail about performance anxiety, and other performance related practices. Also goes into detail about interpretation for period pieces.

RH Technique:

Talks about the use of joints for the different types of strokes. Use the base joint for rest stroke, the middle for free stroke. RH is placed toward the end of the soundhole. The hand and forearm should be positioned so that they form a natural arch of the wrist. Fingers should be also perpendicular to the strings. P stroke should be at a 45 degree angle that begins near the center of the nail and releases at the left end of the nail. Mentions to keep the RH still and move only at the finger joints.

In conclusion, the differences in how each book explains proper seating and right hand technique is vast.  The most comprehensive is the Shearer book; Aaron Shearer takes it up a step from Noad by going into depth of how the hand should work in relation to the body.  The least comprehensive is the Parkening and Superbook, which provides abstract information in dealing with proper technique.

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