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September 2014
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Classical Techniques: Rest Strokes and Free Strokes for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar

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Classical Techniques: Rest Strokes and Free Strokes for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar
The technique for playing “lead” on classical guitar is almost always a rest stroke. This technique is called a “rest stroke” because the finger comes to a rest on the next lower string. Rest strokes produce a louder and thicker sound than the a free stroke. (You could think of rest strokes as sounding like humbuckers, and free strokes like single-coil pickups). Rest strokes are often used for playing scale passages and for “bringing out” (i.e., making louder) a particular note or group of notes.

Simultaneously playing a rest stroke with a finger and a free stroke with the thumb takes a bit of practice, but it is a very important tool. Keep the hand in its rest-stroke position and, as you pluck the thumb, bring it “up” a bit more than usual, away from the guitar. Your thumb should touch (or almost touch) your i finger closer to the knuckle than it would if you were playing all free strokes. There are different ways to indicate a rest stroke. Personally, I feel that it is a musical decision best left to the player, but when a rest stroke is written it is often indicated by a marcato, or “carrot” mark.

Because a is playing a rest stroke while p is playing a free stroke, a may sound a bit later than p if it gets “caught” on the string. To avoid this, stiffen a slightly more than usual. Of course, this may be the effect you want; delaying the melody a tiny bit helps to bring attention to it. But, as always, let the end result be for a musical reason, not a technical one.

Don’t place the left-hand fingers that are playing the harmony until you are ready to play them with your right hand (on the “and” of beat 1). In the next-to-last measure, you will need to place your first finger right on the beat, as it plays at the same time as the melody. Be sure to make that shift smoothly, and to not place fingers 2 and 3 on the strings until the “and” of beat 3. Even though measures 4 and 8 are identical chords, I have fingered them differently to make the full bar in measure 9 easier to get to. Also, notice that in measure 9 a moves from string 1 to string 2, and m and i move from strings 2–3 to strings 3–4.

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This lesson comes from:

Classical Guitar for the Steel-String Guitarist
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