On Practice: Tremolo
By Daniel Roest

The tremolo technique in classical guitar and flamenco guitar is a dazzling, hypnotizing right hand effect that combines an arpeggiated bass with a mandolin-like superfast treble melody line. The bass-arpeggio line can form a beautiful counterpoint to the treble line. I'm often complimented on my tremolo by other guitarists, but I had to work at it, and many who try it can't get it right. Here are pointers I can offer to help your tremelo technique, gleaned from my experiences rolling out countless series of p-a-m-i.
·Start with a good right hand position. Keep your wrist only slightly curved to the right to account for a, m and i hitting the same string, as opposed to hitting three separate strings in an arpeggio. You don't want your tendons experiencing too much friction.
·Make the metronome your constant practice partner.
·Stay relaxed in your right hand. You may say "Sure. How do I keep my hand relaxed when it's supposed to be spitting out notes like a Lexus engine?" Read on.
·Here's the practice method that really upgraded my tremolo and increased my endurance: Staccato. Slow staccato tremolo did wonders for evening out my tremolo. Staccato, or detached, is the opposite of legato, or connected.
1.Play the 6th string with p (thumb). Right as you release the string, plant or place the a (ring) on the 1st string and freeze there.
2.Now pluck the 1st string and immediately damp the same string with the m (middle) finger.
3.Repeat now, plucking the 1st string with m (already prepared when it damped the 1st string) and immediately damp the first string with i (index).
4.Now pluck the first string and simultaneously prepare the thumb, planting it on the 6th string.
5.Repeat steps 1-4 at a very slow rate, no faster than one note per second, or 60 on your metronome. Surprisingly, this can lead to very fast tremolo speed.
·It's important to keep your right hand basically relaxed. This is confounding to beginners, but you really need to focus on this aspect. In order to have a relaxed technique that allows you great speed and control, you need to train with this specific purpose. The hand has to be emptied of tension after each stroke. To get a handle on this, turn off the metronome and do the tremelo, one note at a time, but wait for each note until you've experienced a level of relaxation, a lack of tension - then you can proceed. Patience is a virtue here. You have to drill your right hand so thoroughly that the tremolo resides completely in muscle memory. And a perfect tremolo is perfectly even; so consistent work with the metronome is mandatory.
·Mix up the string combinations in addition to 6th and 1st: 5th and 1st, 4th and 1st, 6th and 2nd, 5th and 2nd, 4th and 2nd, 6th and 3rd, 5th and 3rd, 4th and 3rd, all notes on the 1st, including thumb strokes, all on 2nd, all on 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, moving the thumb from one bass to another (6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, repeat).

This is no beginning technique. You need other things in place before taking it on. But it's an utter blast to play it well, and the repertoire available that uses tremolo is some of the greatest music on earth, such as Recuerdos de la Alhambra, by Francisco Tárrega.
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