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Tremolo for Classical Guitar

That Recuerdos del Alhambra moment...

When most guitarists think of tremolo, their attention is immediately drawn to the infamous Tarrega piece, Recuerdos del Alhambra, often the fuelling their desire to learn the technique in the first place. There’s much more benefit to be had from this technique than just playing this and Barrios’ great tremolo-based piece, Una Limosa por L’Amor de Dios; finger independence, in particular “m” and “a”, finger placement, relaxation, and co-ordination, for example are just a few.

How can I improve my tremolo playing?

Here, we provide some tips for improving or approaching the tremolo. Most, if not all guitarists, seek to play too quickly, too soon, sacrificing tone and evenness for pure speed. The key here is patience. Start slowly and build up tempo gradually-a metronome is invaluable for achieving this.
Starting out

Start out with the basic pami combination, however, don’t be afraid to try out other combinations such as pimami etc. once you’ve mastered the basics. The best exercises focus on the right/tremolo playing hand only. We suggest using a basic E major or minor broken chord in the first position to give some melodic variety to your tremolo practise.

The basic movement is as follows...

The thumb “p” plays, with “a” going down at the same time, “a” plays and immediately after “m” goes down on the same string, “m” plays and “i” immediately goes down, “i” then plays and at the same time “p” goes down ready to play again. Then the cycle repeats…

Use the 1st, highest treble string, for the ami fingers and the 6,5,4th/bass strings for the thumb, working the thumb up and down i.e. 65456 etc. Set the tempo on the metronome to a comfortable speed, say 60 beats per minute. The thumb will play on the beat with ami filling in between, so 4 beats or semi-quavers per beat will be realised.

Building up Speed

Again, start slowly and build up a notch on the metronome at a time, once mastered, don’t be frightened to move up one or 2 levels beyond your comfort zone. This will help to stimulate the fingers. Similiarly, once you’ve mastered a reasonable speed, say mm120 (4 notes to the beat) work back down the levels to ensure quality and consistency are maintained. This will help you greatly in moving up the scale more effectively too.

Practise Techniques

Playing Staccato

Playing the tremolo staccato, i.e. using the “m” and “i” fingers to cut off the previous note by placing or “planting” immediately after the “a” and “m” fingers respectively have played, is a good strategy. In this way it will help create the feeling of speed in the fingers, without having reached that actual tremolo speed. It’s also much easier to listen out for evenness without the notes ringing through their duration.

"Triplet" Tremolos

Practising “triplet” tremolos, pai, pai etc. is another classical technique used. By omitting the “m” finger you are focusing on the beginning “pa” and end, “ip” parts of the tremolo only. This often the root cause of poor or uneven tremolo playing and really helps to focus on improving the inter-relationships between these sets of fingers. Once again use the metronome, and once comfortable, build back in the “m”. You won’t be disappointed with the result!

Speed Bursts

Finally, try the speed burst approach too. Play 2 slow cycles followed by a couple of faster tremolo cycles, gradually increasing the proportion of fast to slower tremolo bursts in the process. This way you’ll build up stamina and endurance gradually, ensuring a smoother transition to faster tremolo speeds into the process.
That’s all on tremoloes for now. Again, be patient. It will take some time to master, maybe months or long, but the benefits it yields to all other areas of you classical guitar playing make it a technique well worth investing the time in. Get practising your tremolos…

Recommended Further Viewing & Reading


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