Specific Technical Aspects in the Teachings of Isaac Nicola that are Linked to Some of the Great Cuban Performers. (Part 2)

The second book introduces the term “guide finger,” referring to the slurs’ technique. This device gives an extra layer to the left-hand preparation technique. Isaac Nicola provides, like before, some pedagogical guidelines to professors. According to him, two main essential elements form the practice of slurs: the stability in the placement of the guide finger and the meter’s precision or tempo. When doing ascendent or descendent slurs, we need to place the finger correctly on the lower note (the guide finger). Otherwise, the balance will be off, affecting the overall position, trajectory of the movements, and clarity of the passage. 

To show this way of playing, I recommend a performance video of Manuel Espinás, released on the Guitars Salon International’s YouTube channel in 2013.[1]We can observe his performance of Vals de la primavera by Agustín Barrios (Mangoré), his left-hand preparation. In the piece’s second section, his use of the guide fingers anchoring the slurred and not slurred notes is evident. The slurs are very clean and respond to the phrasing of the musical discourse. (See Example 1)

Example 1  Agustín Barrios, Vals de la Primavera, mm. 33-36. 

The award-winning Cuban classical guitarist Manuel Espinás implements this technique smoothly. Espinás’s performance of Vals de la Primavera makes him seem like he is playing fewer notes. He is always in contact with the strings, which gives him stability and anchors his left hand. His use of guide fingers while doing slurs and not slurred passages manifests in his playing. However, guide fingers utilization goes beyond slurs. Even though Nicola does not explain it specifically in the Método de Guitarra, we learned it orally through Cuban professors. 

Great performers and students from Cuba use guide fingers to go from one position to a further one. When the next chord, for example, has a different shape, we will try to find a finger that is common to both chords. That guide finger will always contact the string while switching chords. Using guide fingers like this will improve our accuracy while moving up and down the fretboard. Since the finger never left the string, the risks of missing the following notes while landing on the position decrease. It also allows us to keep the hand more stable and grounded. 

Joaquín Clerch discusses some subtleties of this left-hand guide finger technique in one of his masterclasses released on Facultad de Música UANL’s YouTube channel.[1]Here he teaches the first movement of Decamerón Negro by Leo Brouwer. (See Example 2)

Example 2 Leo Brouwer, Decamerón Negro, 1st mvt: “Tranquillo.” 

He calls the guide finger “dedo común,”or common finger in English. When moving to a different chord and position, we often have a common finger that we can keep on the string as a guide finger.  In the excerpt, the melody ends on the 3rd finger, and the following note is with the second finger, so we cannot keep the same finger on the string. However, we can maintain the second finger to guide us until the next chord. He explains that when the third finger is pressing, the second has zero tension and sits comfortably on the string. In other words, there is contact but no pressure at all. 

However, sometimes there are not any guide finger between chords. Clerch keeps playing and explains how he does the next transition. This time the chord coming from the first fret does not have the melody on the exact string as the next one. That switch provokes not having the finger in contact with the string anymore. Besides, the melodic line corresponds to the first fret’s bar position, which makes it difficult for the hand. Consequently, Clerch suggests a speedy transition to the next chord, ensuring we arrive with enough time before playing. It is a rapid preparation of the whole hand position without using specific guide fingers.

[1] Facultad de Música UANL, “Curso Joaquín Clerch. Capítulo 2,” YouTube Video, 1:05:12, November 24, 2020. https://youtu.be/ovBBL2-5R6U?t=1257

[1] “Barrios ‘Vals de la Primavera’ played by Manuel Espinás,” YouTube Video, 4:49, July 9, 2013. https://youtu.be/Q8tXewnIVpQ?t=133