Following my post on good technique, I wanted to follow up with a detailed analysis of Segovia’s technique, mostly because it caused such a stir when I first made mention of critically evaluating the master. But I think we have much to learn from doing so. My basis for evaluating Segovia’s technique is to simply evaluate whether he used his body in a way that was efficient and healthy, according to the science of biomechanics and modern medicine, principally the four rules of efficient musculoskeletal function.
Below, I have taken a photo of Segovia from the internet and marked some of the most apparent issues that he has with his technique. I’d like to reiterate that his faulty technique did not make him a bad musician. But it does mean that he had to work harder than someone with good technique. It also means that he was at a higher risk of injury than a musician with good technique.
Can you play guitar well with faulty technique? Yes.
Would I recommend it? Definitely not.
Good technique is safer, and more efficient. Why would you choose otherwise?
In the top right, you will see an image marked Excessive Arch. This photo show’s that his wrist is flexed too much. The limit of flexion should be around 10 degrees, 20 max.
To understand why eliminating arch is important, do this simple experiment.
Keeping your wrists free of arch (free of flexion and extension) allows you to move your fingers more quickly, maximizes their range of motion, and eliminates muscular tension. Violating this rule can put the player at risk of developing tendonitis, De Quervain’s Syndrome and other hand diseases.
Deviation of the wrists poses much of the same risks and causes similar problems as excessive arch, as both violate the principle of muscular alignment. Try the above experiment again, this time deviating your wrist. Start with a straight wrist, with your palm facing you. Then bend your wrist to the left or right for the experiment. Both wrists should have no deviation when you play the guitar.
Because of the use of the footstool, the Maestro has a twisted spine and is not aligned. This means that he must use the muscles in his core body and back to hold himself up instead of allowing the spine to naturally balance. This leads to tension. It also puts the player at risk of developing scoliosis, lumbargo, herniated discs and other spinal disorders.
Since the development of many guitar supports, guitarists can now sit (or stand) without twisting the spine, and without raising one leg, which causes lateral curvature of the spine and further twisting.
You will see in his left hand, that the base joints of his fingers are bent backward away from the fretboard (extended) while the other joints are bent forward toward the fretboard (flexed). This violates the principles of uniform direction of joint motion and midrange function of joints. While it does not look particularly bad, the muscles that extend and flex the fingers are both pulling on his joints in opposite directions. This creates tension and puts him at risk for tendonitis, repetitive strain injury, tenosynovitis and more.
Though we might progress slowly, we as humans tend to improve a little in every generation. Segovia played the guitar when it was a new instrument. As we have passed through generations, we have learned about the body, about health. It is very exciting to see the developments in every generation. We are getting closer to having a codified and standard technique for the guitar.
How many great guitarists can you name from the past? From Segovia’s time? Now think of how many you can name today. I’m sure there are many, many more. Case in point.
As always, practice well, practice smart, and practice healthy.
Justin performs Petite Valse on guitar
Watch Justin perform Hirsh's Petite Valse with his teacher.