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Technique Studies - Alternation (Part 1)

By Jorge Caballero



Regardless of your current level of playing, if you want to improve your right hand technique, you need to improve your knowledge of alternation. Below is part 1 of several entries I will post on this critical topic.


Understanding alternation and its proper use are critical to develop right hand technique. In general, it can be said that mastery of alternation decides to a large extent the quality of a guitarist's right hand.


In its simplest definition, alternation is a principle of guitar technique. It dictates that, unless superseded by special, contextual factors, a guitarists should never pluck two or more notes occurring in succession with the same right hand finger.


In the context of arpeggios, alternation occurs almost naturally, as the arpeggio, per se, implies the use of different strings per note. It is therefore in the context of scales where students must ensure that alternation is followed prudently.


Alternation Pairs


The simplest forms of alternation are the result of interactions between two fingers. They are called Alternation Pairs. They are as follow.


  • (I-M) or (M-I)

  • (M-A) or (A-M)

  • (I-A) or (A-I)

  • (P-I), (P-M) and (P-A), or (I-P), (M-P) and (A-P).

Alternations involving P and any finger are rare in the context of scales.


String Passing / String Crossing


Within an alternation sequence, String Passing is the process of passing from one string to another in which the finger plucking the next note conforms to the natural configuration of the fundamental chord/arpeggio position of the right hand. For instance, understanding that:

is the natural configuration of the chord/arpeggio position, then,

are examples of String Passes. The same would be true if:

Conversely, String Crossing denotes instances where the finger that plucks the new string to be played does not conform to the natural configuration of the fundamental chord/arpeggio position of the right hand. Below are some examples of String Crossing.


As would be expected, string passing is understood as more comfortable to the right hand than string crossing (due to self evident reasons through practice), whereas string crossing presents problems for students that should not be ignored or carelessly addressed.


But aside from the definition of alternation, string passing and string crossing, how can we use this knowledge to improve our alternation skills? There are two methods we can use: Sequential Counting and Pairing, which I will explain in Part 2.



© 2021, Jorge Caballero. All rights reserved.





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