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Online Akustik Travels

Old School Right Hand Technique

by Claude Samard Polikar

The current popularity of World Music, whether it be cuban, oriental or gypsy, has made western world guitarists think more and more about upgrading their right hand technique, to the ways of the true « World » vibe.

The sophisticated Up and Down stroke technique was simply unheard of by those self-taught World artists who spontaneously developped their own «economy picking» technique. Like many other rock-generation guitarists, I’ve often wondered why there is such a gap between our way of playing and the old way, by a generation of guitarists born and raised on acoustic guitars, regardless of any ethnic or geographical consideration, since their particular «stroke» is pretty much the same, from Cuba to Corsica, Django Reinhardt being probably the best example of one self-taught guitarist using this technique. The strokes simply look so seamless, efficient,  easy even. I guess there are two reasons for this : first the influence of instruments akin to the ones we are used to playing that use this technique, such as the plectrum banjo, the mandolin and the oud, particularly the first two which in the first part of the XXth century were considered serious rivals to the guitar long before the rock ‘n’ roll era. The second reason is because it simply comes more naturally.

These musicians never studied their instrument academically speaking and most of them never even learned to read music (and let’s face it, it’s much easier to sight read through a sheet of music using the up and down stroke technique anyway).

Django Reinhardt

The guitar was always considered a «fun» instrument before ever becoming the wrist twisting instrument of torture we know. Even though there have always been guitar virtuosos, the learning part was a lot less mind bending and the metaphysical-guitarist sessions inspired by the likes of gurus such as Mick Goodrick, were yet to come. So that basically the guitar was the kind of instrument you would just pick up and play in any party situation, right then and there, on the spot, without any warm up or even any proper tuning involved, just 6 sturdy strings and go with it – in a club, a restaurant you name it - anywhere ! In reality a guitar was appreciated for it’s plain efficiency, straightforwardness, without the trimmings, natural. The Gambale «sweeping» method only forced us into a kind of concept that was far from revolutionary anyway.

The pick is just a thing-gummy that comes between you and your instrument, and everybody has his own personal way of dealing with it. Some of us think it’s really the most un-natural and annoying thing ever invented, like Jeff Beck who finally decided to just give it up entirely. But for others it’s become part of their style! Would Django ever have become Django without his typical up and down pick strokes? After listening tell me what you think!