This article is from the Classical Guitar Playing FAQ, by Joshua Weage (firstname.lastname@example.org) with numerous contributions by others.
Tremolo is hard and to attempt to master the technique requires
a significant commitment. It is also not a common technique, although
one of the greatest pieces for the classical guitar, 'Recuerdoes de la
Alhambra' by Tarregga, is a study of it and the desire to
learn tremolo probably has its roots in this tune for most players. Other
pieces which use tremolo are "Campanas del Alba" by Eduardo Sainz de la Maza,
(check it out, it's worth it) and of course, flamenco in general.
Tremolo is performed as follows:
1. Pluck a bass note with p.
2. Perform a free stroke with a on a treble string.
3. Perform a free stroke with m on the same treble string.
4. Perform a free stroke with i on the same treble string.
5. Go back and do 1.
Simple! The difficulty comes in playing it at MM (crotchet)>=134.
ie. In 4/4 time, there are sixteen notes to the bar, and with 134
beats a minute, this is 536 individual string plucks a minute. Further,
they must *all* be played with even timing, otherwise an uneven, galloping
sound is produced.
To learn how to do this not-mean-task well requires a
metronome. I haven't heard of anyone learning tremolo without using
some sort of metronome, although going <click> with your tongue
has been used! Set the metronome to a slow speed - you can't really
make it go too slow, say 30 bpm (beats per minute), although
you may find it easier to set it to an equivalent of 60 and
count this as two clicks of the metronome to every beat. Then
Start by making a simple chord with the left
hand, say an E major, and plucking the bass strings
with the thumb and the first string with the other fingers.
Once this is familiar change the treble string on which
you pluck with your fingers. A necessary skill of the tremolo
player is to be able to switch strings smoothly. Also, you must
be able to play the 2nd and 3rd strings without colliding with
the next highest treble string. When this
is becoming familiar, try changing the chord on the left hand.
From the beginning, accuracy is important. Each pluck of
the string must be made with the same part of the nail. Failure to do
this will result in 'halting' and an irregular rhythm. A further point is
the idea of sympathetic motion of the thumb and fingers. At the
start of a sequence, the thumb plucks a bass note and the other fingers
are extended ready to perform free strokes. After the a finger
has plucked, do not re-extend it, but wait for both the m and the
i fingers. When all three are ready, extend them to their starting position
at the same time as the thumb is moving in to perform its pluck. This
is hard to do as speed increases - but I warned you.
Patience is the name of the game.
And so is practice.
Practice a minimum of 5 minutes a day, anything up to 30 minutes
a day. Increase the metronome setting by two notches when you
feel confident at the current speed. If you then begin to have
trouble, go back one notch. Using this idea, you can progressively
increase the speed at which you can play the tremolo.
When the metronome is at roughly 90-100 bpm you will find
your fingers getting mixed up, and this is where practice is
more essential than ever. Hopefully at sub 90 bpm you can play
a smooth tremolo and can play the thumb on any bass string and the
i-m-a fingers on any treble string. To increase speed further
the following tip can be used:
Simply play at a slightly slower speed than normal and
then instead of playing pami, try other sequences, such as pima,
pmia etc. Additionally, some have found that playing very slowly
and emphasizing different beats of the pami sequence (or
whatever sequence you are on at the time) can lead to improved
smoothness. So, an aim is to be able to play tremolo near 90bpm
with any sequence of treble fingers and emphasising any of the
notes in that sequence.
Above all, patience and practice is needed. Without
patience you will become tense, and your right hand will tighten
up, reducing your ability to play the tremolo well, as well as
decreasing the pleasure of playing. As always in guitar playing,
but especially on tremolo when tension can easily build,
you must be relaxed when playing.