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I have been getting some really interesting questions in response to my poll from those who’ve joined my list recently.

Right now I’m in Amish Country for my Kauffman family reunion, driving past quilt shops and horse-and-buggies, but wanted to answer a question or two right now.

Here’s an Amish buggy we passed on the way:20110624-035741.jpg

And here’s an interesting two part question on right hand technique:

“1. How do I make my right hand ring finger “a”strong?


2. For “i”,”m” alternation will the ring finger”a” move along with “m” ?”

Part 2 is easier to answer. Yes.  The “a” finger will move with the “m” finger. In fact the pinky will move with the a finger as well. The “a” might move a lot, or it might move just a little. There is no reason to keep it from moving—In fact you’ll cause A LOT more tension if you try to keep it from moving. Just keep the hand relaxed, move from the large knuckle, let the fingers do what they need to do.

Don’t worry—your fingers are still capable of amazing independence. If there is an arpeggio or fingering (or strumming/rasgueado) pattern where greater control over movement/non-movement is necessary, then you can practice that in and of itself and your fingers will be able to handle it.  But there’s no need to over control every little thing the fingers are doing if they are not getting in the way. Here’s a little video I made (away from the guitar) that demonstrates this.

[jwplayer config=”Iphone Vid Player” mediaid=”1111″]

Now let’s get to part 1:

“1. How do I make my right hand ring finger “a”strong?

The “a” finger is often a bit weaker because guitar music tends to favor (or more often feature) “p”, “i”, and “m.”  There is often an easy and stable fingering solution that uses i and m and lets the “a” finger get away just hanging out in the background.

But when you need to use “a” you really friggin’ need to use it! It’s got to be well developed and capable of independence from the “m” finger. And it’s got to be fast.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Technical Studies

Guiliani 120 Studies

You can download them free at the above link. There are a lot of great ones for developing “a” finger independence and strength, and I’d suggest starting at #11 or 12 with this purpose in mind. Play steadily with the metronome, see which ones slow you down the most, and focus on those.

—Play #s 18-24 with more follow through on the “a” finger, thus making it more prominent, bringing the e string out musically.

—#38 is especially good for the “a” finger!

There’s a lot more you can do with these studies to strengthen and polish “a”‘s capabilities. Just be sure to keep the hand relaxed, move from the large knuckle, and keep the knuckle nearly over the string being played.

Watch my video on the Bouncing Hand Syndrome to review some tips about right hand position and use. Another one to watch is the one about Rest Stroke vs. Free Stroke. These exercises should be done free stroke.

2. Using arpeggios and patterns from the repertoire:

Intermediate: Try Francisco Tarrega’s Study in E Minor. It’s a gorgeous little piece and not difficult if you have basic technique down. Be sure to focus on making the “a” finger sing. Romance de Amor is more famous ( and more advanced for the left hand) but basically the same thing for the right hand.

Brouwer Study #6 is an awesome little piece, worth working up, and gives your “a” finger a workout.

Advanced:The arpeggio in Villa-Lobos Etude 1 is legendary for its “a” finger improvement potential. If you can’t play the whole piece, you can get a start on the arpeggio pattern but just practicing it as an exercise with a few chords—Em -Am-F etc.


The “a” finger is capable of a lot. There was a fellow in my graduate guitar program at Cincinnati who was missing most of his index finger. His “m” finger became his “i,” and his “a” finger filled in for the “m.” His pinky was the new “a”. He was able to get these three to do pretty much the same thing that we expect from our i, m, and a!

Until next time (when I get back to a real guitar instead of a pitchfork)