Carcassi’s Etude No. 4 explores the execution of slurs while holding a variety of chord shapes with the left hand. These fixed fingers pose a perfect challenge for working on slurs and developing legato phrasing.
Here, we’ll dive deeper into Carcassi’s Etude No. 4 and show you his best methods for approaching this piece from a technical and interpretive point of view.
Click here to watch the tonebase lesson on this topic with Tengyue (TY) Zheng for FREE!
This etude features an abundance of slurring, one of the most useful techniques on the guitar.
Proper slurs in this piece can make the music sound fluid and release stress right-hand, but it can provide significant challenges for a beginner!
Zhang makes a distinction between the pulling finger (the left-hand finger that initiates the slur) and the targeted finger (the left-hand finger that lands to play the second note of a slur).
The targeted finger should be firm to prevent unwanted sounds, and don’t push up or down on the string, which can bend it and create issues with pitch.
Here are six tips for slurring that can give you a more nuanced understanding of the movement.
#1: For the best tone on a slur, use a finger with shallow flesh and no nail. For this reason, the fourth finger is a great candidate for the targeted finger. Experiment with deeper contact of the finger with the string, or touching with the side of the flesh. Inconsistencies with slurs are often due to the landing point of the left-hand fingers.
#2: Visualize the movement of the targeted finger in three different directions.
Imagine a slur as a left-hand rest stroke; for example, D-sharp with the fourth string on the 2nd string, resting it on the 1st string to sound a D-natural.
Slur diagonally into the wood of the fretboard.
Aim for your palm when slurring. This creates a smoother follow-through, like in boxing, where the movement continues past the point of contact.
#3: Use a technique called “scissor hand.” Imagine a counter-motion with the targeted finger as the pulling finger moves but don’t actually move it. This helps find a neutral point, so we don’t bend the string.
#4: Use the wrist to pull the finger, maintaining constant tension in the fingers and a gentle arm and wrist. This creates a very even slur with a nice flow, and is much easier to keep constant than moving finger-by-finger.
#5: Power the slur with your third joint. All joints of the finger will move, but imagine that the third joint initiates it (pictured below).
#6: Fine-tune the volume of the right hand so that a regular note and a left-hand slurred note sound the same. Practice slurs slowly and try to match sounds. If the slurs are too weak, it will sound choppy.
How can we build the strength needed to play a difficult slur cleanly?
Similar to running with sandbags or performing weight-lifting exercises, if we play a tough slur at a very loud volume, it can reinforce the necessary movements and build strength in the fingers.
Practice difficult slurs at maximum volume three times and then return to a normal volume.
Dynamics and balance
There are three different ways to shape the phrases in this etude.
First, we can crescendo for the first half of each bar and then decrescendo for the second half.
Second, we might only grow for the first three notes and then decrescendo for the remaining ones.
Third, we can play a constant push toward a louder volume. Practice with each of these shaping types and make them sound fluid. This way, we can easily switch between them as we assemble our performance.
We often think we are playing a particular dynamic, but it doesn’t always come across to an audience. Working with several variations of a passage can reinforce the differences between them.
At the first stage of working on this etude, do not aim for speed.
Simply find the optimum technical movement, and play it at the speed that’s most comfortable without excessive stress.
The top speed of a given practice routine should be just a notch below where we can perfectly maintain our standards of quality. Pick a few different speeds below this top speed, and practice there for several weeks.
Every few weeks, test a few new speeds that start to slightly push your upper limit. Be disciplined with this system and there’s potential for great results!
Try to avoid using the same finger back-to-back, especially in passages without open strings. Our fingering choices should serve our musical intent.
Identify where you have minimal flexibility with fingers, and work backward to find where to shift from.
For example, the second beat of the penultimate bar is fixed, meaning we can only play it in one spot. Fifth position would be the easiest place, therefore, to play the first beat. Continuing to work backwards, seventh position is optimal for beat two of the first measure of that line (22).
Now that we’ve covered how to approach everything from phrasing to fingering technique, we should be readier than ever to tackle the infamous Carcassi Etude No. 4.
If you’d like to watch the full lesson on this topic by Tengyue (TY) Zheng for free, click here.
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