picado

Everyone wants to play fast. But speed sounds rubbish if the pulsation of the music is not there. Playing fast might impress those who do not know, but if you wish to play flamenco, forget speed. Concentrate instead on control and accuracy. Compás is everything and it is adherence to compás (like a train on a track) that gives pulsation to the music and pulsation is far more important than speed. All you do by playing slower is that you make people tap their feet slower! The exhilaration is no different. One last thing – everyone has limits. Learn yours and enjoy them.Whilst you practice scales, concentrate on:

  • weight exchange between left hand fingers
  • moving your right arm to avoid bending your wrist.

starting off – string walking

Practice first planting only one finger on all strings from the bass to the treble and back again. Practise using “a”, “m” and “i”, but each one alone. If you find the left hand chords difficult for you at the present time. use simpler chords, or even open strings. After that move on to use other fingers.

  • keeping your wrist straight, and move your whole arm up and down to accommodate the relative heights of the strings. When you are playing on the bass strings, your wrist will be at the top edge of the guitar.

When you are comfortable with planting one string, let’s start using two strings.

  • Remember place – press – release?
  • As you press, the next finger should be placing.

Practise these variants:

a-a-a-a-a
m-m-m-m-m
i-i-i-i-i
a-m-a-m-a
m-a-m-a-m
a-i-a-i-a
i-a-i-a-i
i-m-i-m-i
m-i-m-i-m


Download the tablature file for string crossing.

Before you can play picado fast, you need to enable the right hand to play a sequence of notes on one string.

Download the tablature file for picado on one string (speed bursts).

Do the above exercise on all six strings, starting from the bass, moving to the treble.

Download the tablature file for chromatic scales.

This exercise involves string crossing – make sure that you do not repeat any fingers.

speed bursts

Speed bursts are exactly what they sound like – a series of notes played in rapid succession.

Start on the second string and play five notes i-m-i-m-i, rest and repeat. Play them as fast as you can trying to make the five notes more of a continuous movement as opposed to five individual movements. Keep everything even: tone, volume and rhythm. Practise on all strings using the above right hand finger combinations.

pdf file Download the tablature file for picado speed bursts.
You can also apply speed bursts to the second chromatic scales exercise very easily.

staccato practice

Practice all scales staccato as well as the more usual non-staccato way. When you practise staccato, the scale should sound slow, but the movement (that is, the planting) should be as fast as you can properly make it.

24 Comments

  1. mike
    Posted July 30, 2007 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    the pdf file links don’t work…but the information on your site is very useful

  2. Posted July 30, 2007 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that. All should be fixed now.

  3. richard
    Posted October 15, 2007 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Miguel

    Question….how do you get the staccato-muted effect when changing string?
    When going from bass to treble I plant on the next string and can just about mute the previous string to stop it ringing (even though the planted finger is on the next string). However, when going the other way from treble to bass presumably you have to let the string ring (because if you mute you can”t plant on the next string).

    hope you can understand what I’m trying to say!!?
    Richard

  4. Posted October 16, 2007 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Yes I do understand what you are saying…

    Remember the objective of the planting is to assist your fingers to quickly and accurately get to the string before playing. This is a help for many players whose fingers tend to fly away from the string and this greater distance that their fingers have to cover means that speed and security is impossible to achieve…

    Hope that helps.

  5. richard
    Posted October 23, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks.

    A slightly different question….do you have any advice about tapping with your foot to keep a regular beat. On some videos I’ve noticed that different players in the same group will tap their feet on different beats…even though they are playing the same song together. Rarely do I see players tap every beat. I’ve seen Moraito tap the even beats when playing bulerias (which is tricky).

    Is it a personal thing..?

    regards…..

  6. Posted October 31, 2007 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Yes it is a personal thing. The Moraito thing you have seen is common in Jerez where contra-tiempo is King.

    As far as my own practice is concerned, Ä° try is minimize all percussive effects from me or the guitar, and recording them later with cajon and palmas.

    I think that this the trend of modern players – using the guitar and feet as percussion is becoming less common with the increase of specialized percussion players.

  7. rickard/sweden
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    hi Miguel ,i want ask
    ´will u explain for me abouth left hand fingers
    a good way to be more free from tension,i warm up and stretch my fingers before practis always..
    frm.Rickard

  8. Posted January 26, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rikard,
    There is an exercise for you in the “left hand” page.
    Miguel

  9. Twister
    Posted August 19, 2008 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Hi Miguel,

    A question for you is of knuckle. When I try to play picados, the first knuckle of my right hand’s fingers are mobile. I mean – they participate in pulling a string, the fingers are not straight and frozen. The knuckles are flexible.

    Do I go in a wrong direction?

    And BTW: I began to practice your gruppetos and.. Oh, Lord.. I’m so far from perfection. So, please say how much it takes just to get it sounding acceptable, not perfectly. My fingers seem to be so weak =(

    Thanx! =)

  10. Posted August 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    If you allow the first knuckle to (that is nearest the nail) flex as you play the note, you will lose the power and force that has been imparted by the rest of your forearm and hand. That is the advice that most guitarists give and I agree with it. I have read that Manolo Sanlucar also agrees, but I have also seen Vicente Amigo (Meastro Sanlucar’s ex-student) do what you are talking about.

    My advice is to practise more slowly and concentrate on not allowing your knuckle to flex.

    Regular and constant practise is the only thing that will help you start to gain control. Regular and constant means the same amount every day, not five hours one day and then a rest for six. Do these exercises everyday for say half an hour, practise with a metronome. Practise as if you were performing in front of an audience – in other words, practise how you mean to sound, if you can’t do that, practise more slowly. I start my scale practise by playing crotchets at 50 beats per minute. That is really slow, but it enables me to really concentrate on what I am doing and it allows me to consciously deep process my movements.

  11. arno
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Hello !
    My name is Arno and I am from Croatia !

    I am trying to learn some flamenco basis on my own because there are no teachers near the area where I live. I have some problems with my index finger when playing picado but I discovered that I am more comfortable when playing with “m” and “a” finger.
    Is it a big failure if I continue to exercise this way for my basic picado playing ?

    Thank you for your help !

    Best regards !

    From Email, 2008/10/29 at 12:17 PM

  12. Posted October 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Hi Arno, and thanks for your question. I too have preferences of fingers, and I find that i feel much more secure playing picado with i-a rather than i-m. However, though I might be able to play well with my comfortable finger combinations, I am aware that the less comfortable fingers need to become more proficient.

    In order to do this, I should be practising not my strongest techniques, but my weakest techniques in order to make me a guitarist that is totally in control of the music and the instrument.

    A final point that I would like to make is that technique seems to develop as a whole and it is rare to find a guitarist who is excellent with say arpeggios, but is hopeless at tremolo. Any work that you do on one technique (or combination of fingerings) benefit other, related techniques.

    I hope this makes sense and is useful to you.

  13. Jonah
    Posted January 14, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi!

    Miguel, your tips are very useful. I love playing flaminco, but sometimes i don’t like practicing. Yet i know practice makes perfect!!!

    Thanks!

    Salutations!

  14. MarcChrys
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Miguel

    I am trying to improve the speed of my picado technique and had some basic questions:

    Where should my thumb be? Sometimes I let it hang free in the air,
    sometimes I allow it to move up the guitar from the soundhole to the top,
    sometimes I let it stay on or near the low E string? I have seen some guitarists who pretty much keep their thumb on the bottom E string or around it, but have seen others who allow their thumb to ‘ride up’ the guitar.

    I have also read that the aim should be to ‘press down’ rather than ‘plucking the string upwards’? Striking the string where ‘the nail meets the flesh’?

    Should the fingers be fairly straight and stiff – or can they be fairly
    relaxed and curved?

    How can I work on getting the distinctive picado staccato snappy sound? At the moment I am practising scales or segments of scales, trying to increase speed. Also just drumming my fingers against a surface as quickly as possible. I also find that in an I-M picado I can play faster if I begin with M.

    Any help much appreciated.

    Marc

  15. MarcChrys
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    PS From my observations there seem to be 2 main types of picado – a) those where the guitarist switches from arpeggio and does a ‘light’ soft picado sequence (here it seems the hand stays pretty much in its normal position – thumb on E string) and then b) the long picado scale runs at full force (where the hand moves higher up the guitar). I’m probably totally wrong!

  16. Posted January 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Dear Marc,

    “Where should my thumb be?”

    If your thumb is attached to the 6th string (bordón) you will experience problems as you move up and down the strings because you hand will become progressively cramped or stretched. Nearly all guitarists advise that you move your right hand as a unit when playing picado across the strings. Allow your thumb to “ride up”, as you call it.

    Regarding finger extension, that is,

    “relaxed and curved or stiff and straight”

    . The advice generally given is that your fingers should never be allowed to be stiff. Stiffness brings along tension, and tension is our enemy. Relaxed and curved would be my advice.

    To get

    “the distinctive picado staccato snappy sound”.

    Practice, practice and practice and practice consistently over a long period of time. Speed bursts are very useful to achieve this aim. Most guitarists have a natural preference of either the i finger or the m finger. Practice imimi and mimim, but play using the sequence that is strongest for you.

    Your second post shows good observation and good questioning ability. Picado is not just scale runs and picado is not only play apoyando, but sometimes also tirando. If you combine (tirando) picado and arpeggios, what might have appeared to be clear differences do seem to blur…

  17. MarcChrys
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much – that was enlightening.

    One slightly related question – again from my observation as someone coming from a rock/jazz background – is ‘what are flamenco players doing when they’re just generally playing?’ Hmm, that’s not clear at all! What I mean is when I see videos of someone like Vicente Amigo, it seems to me that (apart from when he’s playing picado alzapua or rasgueado) a lot of the time he’s just playing notes with the fingers (NOT thumb) of his right hand in a curled position. I’m not quite able to make out whether he’s using m-i or m-i-a combinations. I guess this may be some kind of thumb-less arpeggio technique? sorry if I’m not clear.

    • Posted February 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Players like Vicente that you mention are guitarists with such a technical facility usually combined with a profound understanding of flamenco and flamenco forms (both historical and geographical) that any attempt to try to emulate these people is almost certainly doomed to frustration and failure.

      Arpeggios are commonly used, and the a-m-i combination, with or without the thumb is very common.

      Whilst such technique is greatly admired, it is not a necessary condition for playing quality flamenco. Making the notes sound properly and giving every note it’s correct value makes music sound more musical that one thousand notes badly played. In my humble opinion.

  18. MarcChrys
    Posted February 3, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Well said! On some flamenco forums I’ve perused I sometimes get the impression that many flamenco aficionados see technique and speed as everything, while the actual music and quality of sound (its emotionality, melody etc) are scarcely mentioned? BTW I wasn’t trying to emulate Vicente (!), just wanted permission (!) to play as seemed natural to me.

  19. Posted February 3, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Search and read for the post entitled:

    Sabicas says…

  20. Posted May 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I think that if i and m are too much curved you will never play fast picado. Is very important to push down the string and to move the knukles.

  21. Gerald
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    hi miguel

    I really admire your website about teaching flamenco, to be honest I envy flamenco guitarists who use i-m finger while playing scales in a relaxed manner. I do have a question, what do you mean by pushing the string down??? I play scales using i-m but i pluck it or strike it upward and I find it difficult to control while planting. Any help will do, thanks.

  22. Klemen
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Hi, I have a question regarding my wrist/hand position for the basic picado / string walking. When doing for example a-m at the bass string, what happens to the angle of my hand? Is my wrist always straight? If that’s the case and if I create a perfect placement (thumb resting on 6th string, the other three resting on the treble strings) and I move my arm up to reach the bass string with a-i, the ami fingers are now under an angle (45o) and I can’t really pick this way. So what do I do, drop in the wrist towards the ground or pull it out – forward/away from me?

    Also… I’ve played classical on my own for a few years now, started doing the string walking and I noticed it totally screwed my picking precision in e.g Asturias that I was beginning to do quite well in when I went back to my classical posture (guitar between my legs). Does that mean I’d have to choose one or the other posture from now on?

    • Posted December 15, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Regarding your first question – it sounds to me that you are attacking the strings perpendicularly, by that I mean by the flat of your nail. If that is true perhaps you might consider using more the side of your nail and pushing the string off as if the nail was a ramp. This might resolve some of the issues you are having with the angle of your wrist. 45 degrees does sound like there is some serious twisting going on… When you are playing picado on the bass strings try to move your whole arm, as a unit, higher up towards your face so that you are not really change your nail string attack angle.

      Regarding the second paragraph… I have no idea what the implications are as I have never played in the classical position. But I have used the traditional flamenco position, the Paco position, the Oscar Herrero position (with a foot stool), played lying down on my bed, on the sofa and so on… Principally I change these playing positions so alleviate muscle strain in long practice sessions.

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