Whether a beginner or advanced player, we all have the joy of playing the right-hand exercises by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829). These studies have such an amazing impact on player development and right-hand technique that it's no wonder that the 120 studies are the standard for learning RH arpeggios.
As a student, I spent hours and hours trying to master the 120 studies. Still to this day, I practice all 120 weekly. The studies are designed to be played and practiced in groups. Each group has a specific rhythm and arpeggio concept the student should gravitate toward and master. For example, exercises 18-20 can be considered one group since they all contain a triplet pattern with the harmonic interval of C and E played on different parts of the triplet with each exercise.
These subtle changes are what make the 120 arpeggio exercises so incredibly effective. I highly recommend breaking down the studies into these small groups to help you focus on your technique, while also listening to yourself play.
So, what exactly are we listening to when we play these RH arpeggios? Well, to be honest, the correct answer is "everything." Listen to your tone, listen to the balance between each voice. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Am I playing with a heavy thumb?
Learning to balance the voicings is always the first step. When playing, listen to the volume of each stroke with your fingers. Is there a voice that is louder than the others? If so, practice playing that voice a little softer with the fingers to balance the volume between each voice. For harmonic voicings, like in study no. 1, remember to focus on attacking the strings simultaneously to get the best-sounding chords!
2. Is my RH position correct?
It's always a great idea to examine your technique when practicing, especially when you are practicing exercises specific to one hand! Be sure to look at your right hand and examine the positioning. If you have questions about technique, head over to https://www.stringwerx.com/ and sign up for my mailing list to receive my free Guide to Great Technique.
3. Am I using the correct RH fingerings?
Many of the Giuliani 120 studies have multiple RH fingerings. It is incredibly important to explore each of these variations. Try to match the tone of each variation with the original fingering, and ask yourself the same questions about balance, tone, and expression. Let's look at the RH fingering variations in the 2nd study.
4. Can I play with expression?
As silly as it may seem, playing exercises, scales, and etudes with expression is just as important as adding expression to repertoire. Focus on shaping phrases within the RH patterns. Enjoy exploring all of the tone colors that add to your playing!
5. How can I add dynamics?
Dynamics are an incredibly underrated and difficult technique for the RH. I say this because, as you explore RH technique, you will discover that how you approach plucking the strings determines your control and dynamics. This makes it difficult to balance a crescendo or diminuendo that moves between multiple dynamic levels. Use the RH studies to practice each dynamic level (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff), then practice using crescendos and diminuendos.
6. Should I be practicing with a metronome?
Yes. Always. Start at a slow and comfortable tempo. Don't try to play the exercises to quickly until you've mastered all of the above!
Each of these questions allows you to explore the 120 RH studies beyond the notes written on the page. I highly recommend playing them regularly in order to keep your right-hand chops active and working to your advantage!
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