Specific Technical Aspects in the Teachings of Isaac Nicola that are Linked to Some of the Great Cuban Performers (Part 3)

Regarding the right-hand technique on another side, Emilio Pujol insists on alternating fingers in the right hand, so the same finger should not play two consecutive notes. This alternation is a fundamental principle that Isaac Nicola applied from the beginning of his method, where he writes specific right-hand fingerings with the mentioned alternation.  

The second book, Lesson 4, is similar to the first exercise on Nicola’s method. It is an exercise for practicing rest strokes, alternating index, and middle on the different strings. It moves on very quickly. Thus, the successive lessons combine other right-hand fingers and patterns. In the methodological notes at the beginning of Nicola’s method’s first book, he establishes that the rest strokes will be taught first (on scales or scalar passages). 

Pujol explains the left-hand plating technique clearly in Lesson 27. Regarding the right-hand preparation, he could be more specific. However, he clarifies how to do the arpeggio technique as if we were playing a horizontal chord, each note after the other, successively. It is implied that the player will have all the fingers on the strings before playing the three and four-note arpeggio, and he indicates not to stop the strings’ resonance afterward.[1]Thus, we must play arpeggios with the free stroke technique (not resting on the following string.) If we prepare the fingers, it would have to be very quickly before playing the first note of the arpeggio.

Like in Pujol’s work, Nicola introduces the free stroke later in the method. It appears since the sixteenth exercise, always with the use of preparation (Spanish word for planting). According to Nicola, planting with the right-hand guarantees the required stability and balance in the movements of the hand.[1]In this sense, Isaac Nicola takes a step further than Pujol and specifies right-hand planting.

Nicola’s method’s symbology section has a specific symbol for preparation. The dotted line placed on numbers (for the left hand) or on top of the letters (for the right hand) indicates that we should put those fingers simultaneously on the strings. The planting symbol on the right hand appears since Exercise No. 64. (See Example 1)

Example 1 Marta Cuervo, Exercise No. 64. 

But how and when should we use right-hand planting in real-life performance settings beyond Método de Guitarraor any other precursive method? Even though the intricacies of this technique are not fully conveyed in either method, Cuban professors passed it down orally through generations. 

According to my professors from Cuba we should use right-hand planting on arpeggios or arpeggiated passages. In a four-note arpeggio, for example, we need to place the right-hand fingers (thumb, index, middle finger, and ring finger) on the corresponding strings before we play the first note of the arpeggio. We do that even if we are not playing them together (like in a chord) but successively as an arpeggio. 

Right-hand planting offers stability and confidence to the performer. We can be sure that we will play the correct string and note because we are already there before we must play it. However, planting comes with some challenges. We, performers, need to know when to use it and in which notes of the arpeggio specifically. If we plant at the wrong moment or on the wrong notes, we risk cutting the resonance of the strings before we should or when we should not cut it at all. Emilio Pujol warned us about this in his Escuela Razonada de la Guitarra.[1]

Sometimes we prepare the four notes of an arpeggio, or we might need to prepare only specific ones to keep the resonance. This nuance in the technique is called sequential planting. When there are several arpeggios in a row, we should not cut the resonance from one position to the next by placing the fingers on the strings. René Izquierdo applies this type of planting to Estudio Sencillo No. 6 by Leo Brouwer. 

Izquierdo, who graduated from the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, is currently a professor of classical guitar at the Wisconsin State University in Milwaukee and an active solo performer and chamber musician giving concerts worldwide.[1]In a masterclass for Tonebase, Izquierdo introduces the idea of sequential planting.[2]

He explains how this technique should be used throughout Leo Brouwer’s étude. In this case, it is important to maintain the resonance of the strings. The musical discourse with the arpeggios generates a resonant soundscape, a waving musical motion that is important to preserve. That is why he suggests planting one finger at a time. Thus, each finger will be on the string beforehand but not all at the same time as regular planting. (See Example 2) 

Example 2 Leo Brouwer, Estudio Sencillo No. 6, mm. 1-3.  

When performers approach an arpeggio study like this, they can take different pathways. One could be to play in the air (that is how Cuban professors refer to playing without planting). In a swinging motion, players pluck the string without making contact first, which is the string’s middle point. We can do sequential planting, having an anticipated contact while keeping the resonance of the strings. In this case, René Izquierdo’s musical intention in the study leads him to choose sequential planting. 

[1] “Biography,” René Izquierdo, accessed Aug. 28, 2022.   

[2] René Izquierdo,“Brouwer- Etude No. 6,” Tonebase Video, 16:40. https://www.tonebase.co/tonebase-guitar-lessons/rene-izquierdo-teaches-etude-number-six-by-leo-brouwer

[1] Pujol, 2:108.

[1] Isaac Nicola, Método de Guitarra (Havana, Cuba: Atril Ediciones Musicales. Producciones Abdala, 2000), 1: 11.

[1] Pujol, A Theoretical=Practical Method for the Guitar Based on the Principles of Francisco Tárrega, 2:108.