with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Lesson 4 – Adelita and Segovia vs the California Hand


Owen picked up my music book, and Adelita fell out, landing on the stand ready to be played. That was a fortunate accident. I had forgotten I had it tucked inside. He asked me, “What is this?” and I said that I’d been working on it and had a few questions. I asked him about the grace notes. I said they are written before the bass notes. “They always are, but they come with it,” he said. So I demonstrated measures 11 and 12, and he commented, “That’s a hard spot.” I agreed.

I asked why it was written that way, and he told me that it’s assumed you understand that the grace notes are not counted, they’re not part of the rhythm. They’re crushed into the beat. Those are not really sixteenth notes, they’re just whatever they happen to be.

It also depends on what era you’re talking about. If you’re talking about the Baroque era, a single grace note would be on the beat followed by a second one of equal value. But in the Romantic period, the grace notes become crushed into the beat and are no longer counted. Nowadays, it’s pretty much the way it was in the Romantic period.

I told him I had been listening to some of the better players on this song, and he asked who. So I told him Pepe Romero and Narciso Yepes (I forgot Liona Boyd). “I met Narciso once,” he told me. “Blind as a bat. I showed him a piece of music, and he looked at the page from about two inches away, his face right up to the page. It’s amazing he could even read music. He had a five-fingered technique, and could play with incredible speed. I listened to him play a whole concert, and he played on a ten-string guitar… I loved that ten-string guitar. I always wanted one.” So I told about seeing them in Barcelona, and then about a couple friends I had who each own one. He told me he had never had a chance to play one.


He asked me about my memorization exercise. He had asked me to memorize a simple piece from the previous week’s work, and to know it well enough that I could start playing at any measure. This particular piece is very simple, and is only twelve bars long. So I played it once from memory (he put the music in front of me, but I refused to use it), and then he asked me to play the 4th, then the 6th, then the 11th measures, which I did with little hesitation. He was pleased with that. “You get better at this,” he said, “and you stop struggling to learn the piece, and you get it thoroughly learned.”

I explained Adelita to him using all the tricks he had showed me, and I played the parts for him. He was very pleased with that little demonstration, and commented again that this makes the piece so much easier to remember, because you can actually think about it without your guitar.

Tips for Adelita (or any technical piece)

He recommended that in a technical place, like measures 11 and 12, you play very softly, and not expect anything for a while. Don’t force it to sound, because if you do that, you learn the forcing along with the music, so it becomes part of the music. Every time you get there, you strain something, because you’re forcing you hand to do something. It’s better to let it just be half there. He demonstrated measure 12, and said, “Just slow it down, don’t push your hand at all. In a short time, this will become real easy. If you force your hand, it will take longer, and even then, it won’t be as smooth.” He said that a person with a smaller hand would have more trouble with this, and that it might be worthwhile to release the sixth string while playing the grace notes, until it starts to flow a little better.

Other Assigned Pieces

I played Prelude No. 12 for him from Shearer 1 on page 47, and he asked me to make sure and hold the bass note as long as possible while the rest of the arpeggio was being played.

I played Folk Song on p53 with Owen playing the second guitar part.

I also played Carulli’s Country Dance on p55, and he showed me how the last two notes of the third measure should be played i-m, in order to set up the i-m of the treble part of the fourth measure. The last note of the 15th measure should be played with the fourth finger so the third finger can get the low G on the sixth string in the 16th measure. In measure 21 and 22, make sure the thumb plays the bass notes on the beat, while the i and m fingers alternate the other notes. At the end of the piece, play from the beginning, but omit the repeats and end at the 16th measure.

He emphasized that all of these pieces should be played at a plodding tempo to allow my hand to relax as much as possible. Make sure the hand is loose between the notes.

We talked about Carulli’s English Dance on p69, one of my assignments for the coming week. He played it for me, then showed me how the index finger plays the notes on the off-beat in the first eight measures like a whisper. Likewise on measures 9 through 12. For these first 12 measures, the emphasis is on the treble, so we make the thumb very soft. Beginning with the 13th measure, the emphasis is on the thumb. This is not as easy as it looks, but this is the kind of detail that brings the piece out. In measures 13 through 15, the thumb plays on the beat with emphasis, and the treble notes alternate between i and m. There is a beautiful contrast between measures 9 through 12, and measures 13 through 15.

Also, in 2/4 time, you have a strong/weak accent. This piece is written with eighth notes, so the count is “Strong-and-weak-and Strong-and-weak-and…” The weak note is weaker than the strong note, obviously, but the “and” is even softly than the weak note. This provides a pulse to the music. Measures 13 though 15 should be played legato.

Scale Work

He talked about scales. We played the two-octave scales beginning on the A of the fifth fret. Pay attention to strict alternation of the right i and m fingers. Then play it m-i. Then play i-a. It’s confusing at first, but it gets to be very comfortable, because those two fingers are the same length.

Play the chromatic exercise at fret 5 with fingers 1,2,3,4. Then play 1,2,4,3. The trick here is to place the fourth and third fingers together, then remove the fourth to play the third. Once that is comfortable, play this with different fingers of the right hand.

The next week, play 1,3,2,4. In this case, play 1, then place 3 and 2 together and play 3. Then, remove 3 and play 2. Then place 3 and 4 together and play 4. You put them down in pairs. This ingrains the principle of preparing the fingers and keeping them close to the strings. Also, you play a note and transfer the pressure to the next one. See my first lesson report for a discussion of this.

Scales are much more useful if you focus instead of just cranking them out. Many players play lots of scales with no focus, and it’s questionable whether it really helps them, and may even hurt them. When you play scales, spend time working where the confusion is. If it takes no effort to do them, “then no wood is burning up here,” he said tapping his forehead with a finger. “Move on to the next one.”

Hand Position – The Segovia Hand vs The California Hand

He commented again on hand position. There is no single right way to hold the right hand. You have to be flexible and vary the position for different sounds. The West Coast players play with a straighter wrist, and the sound is rounder and fatter, but it doesn’t have the projection of the Segovia hand. The Segovia hand isn’t quite as sweet, but it will carry to the back of the auditorium, while the angled hand is softer and doesn’t carry as well. The Segovia hand has a more focused tone, and it has more overtones in it. You need these two styles for different kinds of sounds. Everything is right as long as you have no dysfunctional tension. If it sounds great, it doesn’t matter what your hand looks like, as long as you’re not hurting yourself. If you are playing with too much tension, you’re destined for a short career.

I commented that I found the Segovia sound harsher and less pleasing when I played. He showed me how my first finger was too vertical. Instead, it needs to lean with the knuckle just a bit toward the headstock, so the nail and flesh play together. If this isn’t possible, the nail is too long. See Figure 7 on page 13 of Shearer Classic Guitar Technique Volume 1. If you don’t have the book, the “a” finger is vertical, and “m” and “i” have progressively more tilt to them. This gives the Segovia hand a much nicer sound.

I’ve been assigned to work on Adelita playing as softly as possible. Whisper. As soft as I can make it. This will cause the left hand to also play lighter, and reduce the tension there. Later, after this has become a reflex, we can bring up the volume without bringing up the tension.

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