If you are like me, you may be wondering what you gain as a classical guitarist with every new technique we learn. Certainly there are several techniques that at the beginning you cannot really tell what purpose is behind them. Other ones are very straight forward and very easy to see what benefits they will bring to your performance.
There is one technique that will help you further develop your right hand finger accuracy; it’s called “Planting” or playing with preparation.
So, what it is?
Ok, planting is when you set or anchor your right hand fingers on the strings before making the plucking motion. The plant can be full or sequential.
- Full Plant is when you plant all your fingers at once. In other words, they are all prepared simultaneously before playing the musical passage. For example, you plant your right hand fingers simultaneously to play a passage that goes: P-i-m-a.
- Sequential Plant is the opposite. Is when you have to plant your fingers one at a time either because the notes are not in a specific order or because you have a broken passage. An example for this is a passage that goes like this: P-m-i-a-i-m. First, plant you thumb. As you pluck with your thumb you are preparing or planting finger “m”, and then as you pluck with “m” you plant finger “i”, etc…
Traditionally, full plant has been used on passages that go in ascending order and sequential in passages that go in descending order. Arpeggios and scales are one of the best ways to practice planting.
Mauro Giuliani’s 120 Studies for Right Hand Development is a great resource to practice planting; also, the Segovia Guitar Scales and the scales book published by the Royal Conservatory of Music from Toronto. Unfortunately, this book is not being published anymore, but if you have a friend or a teacher who owns the book you should give it a try.
A very important thing to keep in mind is the angle of attack and contact point. The contact point is the place where the right hand finger touches the string to be plucked. To produce the best quality sound your angle of attack should be at a 45 degree angle. The fingers should make the plucking motion in such a way that when they are being pulled out of the string part of the fingertip flesh and part of the nail touch the string. This will give you a very well rounded sound. It will not be too bright or too warm, it’ll be just perfect. Practice this until the finger reaches the correct contact point without any hesitation.
One more thing, keep in mind that when you start practicing the planting you want to start slowly. As a consequence, this will result in an interruption of the sound; your sound will cutoff and this is ok. In fact, when you start practicing this technique you want to hear that abrupt interruption of the sound. This will tell you that you are preparing correctly. As you progress and get better at it, the preparation time shortens. Eventually, you will be able to plant with no perceptible loss of sound.
So, what can you gain by using planting?
A sense of security - If you plant, your finger will already be in position to play what’s coming and you will know for sure where you fingers are at the moment of playing. John Williams said in an interview: “If I'm on the string before I play it, I have greater confidence in knowing I'll play the right note”.
A sharp and even sound – when practiced correctly and with a metronome you will develop a great deal of evenness. You will learn to coordinate your fingers. Also, your sound will be crisp, sharp and articulated.
A choice in articulation – if you want “legato” or “staccato” you will have the tools to make it sound just the way you want.
As always, adapt this technique to suite your needs. I personally think it is a valuable technique to cultivate and be proficient at, but use it based on the sound and results you want.
My teacher said to me at one point: “The purpose of technique is to make the work easier and achievable for you. But, if a specific technique doesn’t work for you, adjust, modify and make it work”.
I believe those are wise and great words to keep in mind, especially at practice time.
So, give planting a try and make it work for you!