Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt, guitarist

We often come across passages where the melody is part of an arpeggio. How do we play the passage so that the melody is clearly heard and the arpeggio stays in the background? Read on for the answer.

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Classical Guitar Technique

HOW TO USE REST STROKE WITH THE FINGERS TO BRING OUT A MELODY WITHIN AN ARPEGGIO
Part 1 of 2



By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved.
This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.

The perfect example of what I am addressing in this tip is in Fernando Sor's famous Study No. 5 in B minor. It is actually Exercise No. 22  in Sor's Twenty-Four Very Easy Exercises, Op. 35. But Andrés Segovia renamed and renumbered it in his 20 Studies for the Guitar by Fernando Sor Study No. 5.

The piece is in three parts—melody, accompaniment, and bass. Here it is, and notice I have highlighted all the melody notes in red. Example No. 1:

Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor page 1 Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor page 2 Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor page 3

One of the goals of this exercise is to teach the guitarist to bring out the melody more prominently than the arpeggio accompaniment and bass notes. When played properly, the first impression a casual listener will have is that two guitarists are playing. One is playing the chordal arpeggio accompaniment and the other is playing the single melody notes. Example No 1a:

Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor notated as a duet

Watch me demonstrate how the piece produces the illusion of a guitar duet. Video No. 1:

Video #1: Study No. 5 in B minor (Fernando Sor)

Creating the illusion of a guitar duet.

Two methods may be used to emphasize the melody so that it stands out from the accompaniment.

Method #1, Today's Status Quo

Most guitarists today play the piece with all free stroke in the right hand. They bring out the melody by playing it louder (obviously) but also by making a conscious effort to play the accompaniment notes very quietly. This is made easier by the fact that "p" and "i" almost always play the accompaniment notes. Therefore, if the guitarist tells himself to play "p" and "i" with a feather-light touch, the melody notes will automatically be more prominent.

Method #2, The Old School Way

Another way to separate out the melody from the accompaniment is to play the melody notes with rest stroke and the accompaniment notes with free stroke. This is more of an old-school approach but is very effective, particularly in producing the illusion of a guitar duet being played on one instrument.

Historical Considerations

Some guitarists and scholars would nix the entire idea of using rest stroke on any music written prior to Tárrega because it might not be "historically correct". I always study the historical performance practices of other eras, but in the end, my decisions on how to play a piece are based entirely on what sounds best on modern instruments. As a professional, I pay extra attention to how things sound on recordings and in concert halls.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Method

ALL FREE STROKE

REST STROKE ON MELODY

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY:

Easy to play.

Initially more difficult to learn the rest stroke technique.

DYNAMIC RANGE:

More limited dynamic range (loud and soft)

Wide dynamic range.

TEXTURE:

All notes ring freely as an arpeggio.

The note on the string below the melody note is damped by the rest stroke.

SEPARATION BETWEEN MELODY AND ACCOMPANIMENT:

The separation between the melody and accompaniment is not as apparent.

The separation between the melody and accompaniment is obvious, sometimes stunningly so.

TONE QUALITY:

The tone quality of the melody notes is not as good as rest stroke, especially in loud passages.

The tone quality of the melody notes played with rest stroke is exceptional, whether loud or soft.

SPEED:

Excellent for fast passages.

Can sound labored and too heavy on fast passages.

HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS:

In pieces from certain eras, free stroke may be more historically correct.

Historically correct or not, sometimes rest stroke makes the piece sound better.




Watch me demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of each method in this video. Video No. 2:

Video #2: Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Method

Rest Stroke vs. Free Stroke

How to Play Rest Stroke on the Melody Within an Arpeggio

We are going to learn this technique using Fernando Sor's Study No. 5 in B minor referenced above.

1. Set (plant) the thumb ("p") on the 4th string.

Place and leave the thumb on the 4th string.

2. Play the 1st string rest stroke with "m".

Exercise: Plant the thumb and practice m rest stroke on 1st string open

Watch me demonstrate the details of this exercise. Video No. 3:

Video #3: Rest Stroke Exercise

Plant the thumb on the 4th string.
Play the 1st string with rest stroke. Allow the tip joint to slightly collapse (hyperextend).

Be sure "m" is pulling INTO the guitar to produce a full-bodied tone. Relax the tip joint enough to allow it to hyperextend slightly. In other words, allow it to bend backwards a little bit. Or, you can think of letting the tip joint "give". Or, think of it as collapsing slightly. Use whatever thought works best for you. Do NOT bend it or keep it stiff or straight. You can still play rest stroke with a straight tip joint, but the sound will be more hard-edged and percussive. In most pieces, we want a full and warm tone on the melody.

Be certain to use standard rest-stroke technique. Place the finger on the string so that the string touches the left side only of the fingernail. Also, be sure the string is in contact with the flesh and fingernail simultaneously before plucking the string.

If the string is getting caught in any way on the fingernail, you are most likely not contacting the string correctly. If both sides of the fingernail contact the string, the fingernail will catch. If the flesh contacts the string before the fingernail (instead of simultaneously), the fingernail will click and catch. In some instances, the nail may be too long or shaped incorrectly.

Guidelines for the thumb:

In my over 50 years of teaching, it seems to me that variations in length, width, joint stability, joint malfunctions, and other oddities occur more often in the thumb than any of the other fingers. For this reason, I find it difficult to give precise advice on how to place and use the thumb, especially in more advanced techniques such as this. But I will give it my best shot.

If your thumbnail is fairly long and well-shaped, its placement should be similar to that of "m". Contact the string simultaneously with flesh and nail. However, the string should contact the center to right side of the thumbnail, not the left side. Stay away from the left corner of the nail as it will often catch on the string.

A longer thumbnail makes it easier to get good contact with the string. If your thumbnail is short or non-existent, all flesh is okay but flesh+nail usually produces the best sound and is easiest to control.

3. With "p" still planted on the 4th string, set "m" on the 2nd string. Bend and collapse the tip joint.

Be sure the left side of the "m" fingernail is seated on the 2nd string. Practice bending and collapsing the tip joint of "m". Do not let the finger leave the 2nd string. Keep the left side of the fingernail touching the string as you alternate bending the tip joint and then collapsing it. Do not pluck the string.

This is hard to describe in words. Watch me. Video No. 4:

Video #4: Tip Joint Exercise

Plant the thumb on the 4th string. Bend (flex) and collapse (hyperextend) the tip joint of "m".

4. With "p" still planted on the 4th string, play the 1st string with "m" rest stroke and then the 2nd string with "i" free stroke.

Exercise: Play 1st string rest stroke with m and then 2nd string free stroke with i

A. Set "m" on the 1st string and hyperextend the tip joint slightly as described above. Pluck the 1st string with "m" rest stroke. Pull into the guitar and come to rest on the 2nd string. The tip joint should still be hyperextended (collapsed).

I will show you in this close-up video. Video No. 5:

Video #5: "m" remains hyperextended as it comes to rest on the adjacent string.

With the thumb planted on the 4th string, play the 1st string with "m" rest stroke.
"m" should remain hyperextended as it comes to rest on the 2nd string.

B. Then, bend or flex the tip joint of "m" and bring the "i" finger into position to pluck the 2nd string.

C. As "m" (in its bent fingertip state) is lifted off the 2nd string, pluck the 2nd string free stroke with "i". Play the "i" finger very quietly to train it to play its accompaniment notes quietly in the piece.

I will show you in this close-up video. Video No. 5:

Video #6: Alternate "m" rest stroke and "i" free stroke.

Plant the thumb on the 4th string.
Alternate playing the 1st string with rest stroke and then the 2nd string with free stroke.

That's it! Repeat over and over, of course very slowly. Keep "p" planted on the 4th string. Play the "m" rest strokes loudly, and the "i" free strokes quietly.

SPECIAL NOTE: I try to use "m" on almost all the melody notes in this particular piece to maintain a consistent sound throughout. Other players (including Segovia) use "m" to play the notes that fall on the 2nd string and "a" to play the notes that fall on the 1st string. It is a good idea to practice these exercises both ways. Be able to play the rest strokes with “m” or "a". That way, you will be able to use either finger to play rest stroke on other pieces as well.

Why It Works

Many players and teachers maintain that rest stroke and free stroke can be played from the same hand position. That is absolutely true. However, that position is actually a compromise between the two and the rest stroke movement will be more across the string rather than into the guitar. It will still sound like a rest stroke but with a slightly percussive and harder-edged tone.

For a full-bodied rest stroke where one pulls into the guitar (which minimizes any percussiveness and maximizes its warmth), the hand position is different from the free stroke. The hand leans slightly back for the rest stroke and moves slightly forward (towards the floor) for free stroke.

But, in arpeggio passages where we choose to use rest stroke on the melody notes, we can minimize the hand position change by utilizing the flexibility of the tip joint. Remember:

1. Collapsing or hyperextending the tip joint allows the finger to pull into the guitar to produce a full-bodied rest stroke.

2. Bending or flexing the tip joint after the finger rests on the next string alters the position of the hand, but only slightly. This enables the next finger to play its free stroke without making a major change in the hand position.

It is this collapse/bend of the tip joint of the rest stroke finger that enables the hand to play true rest strokes in conjunction with free strokes while minimizing hand movement.

Watch me demonstrate the subtleties of these hand position changes in the next video. Video No. 7:

Video #7: Hand Position.

Watch the subtle differences in the hand position for rest stroke and free stroke.

Incorporate the technique into an actual piece

Now, let's begin to incorporate the technique into one complete measure of our Sor Study, but still left hand alone.

We will use measure #3 as our starting point. But of course, the technique and method of mastering it may be applied to many other pieces. Example No. 4:

Sor Study No. 5 measure 3 as written

First, we must train "i" and "p" to play quietly.

Set "m" on the 1st string with the tip joint bent or flexed, not hyperextended or collapsed. Play "ipip" very quietly with free stroke on the 2nd and 4th strings.

This is an excellent exercise to practice. Example No. 5:

Sor Study No. 5 exercise to play i and p quietly

Next, we will extract the open strings of measure #3 to make our exercise for the right hand alone. We do not want to be distracted by issues with the left hand. Example No. 6:

Sor Study No. 5 exercise measure 3 open strings extracted

Now, play the entire measure, still on open strings. Be sure to play "p" quietly. Example No. 7:

Sor Study No. 5 exercise measure 3 on open strings

Finally, play the measure both hands together. Example No. 8:

Sor Study No. 5 exercise measure 3 played as written hands together

Watch me demonstrate how to practice the technique on open strings and then as written. Video No. 8:

Video #8: Practice measure #3 on open strings and then as written.

Practice measure #3 on open strings and then as written.
Use rest stroke on the melody and free stroke on the accompaniment.

Several measures use this pattern, so you are well on your way to mastering the technique on this piece. The other pattern that is used in several measures is this one found in measure #4. Example No. 9:

Sor Study No. 5 measure 4 as written

If we extract the open strings, we have this. Example No. 10:

Sor Study No. 5 measure 4 open strings extracted

All the practice techniques are the same but on a different set of strings. Examples 11 through 14:

1st string rest stroke then 2nd string free stroke
exercise to play p and i quietly
exercise open strings right hand alone
exercise measure 4 as written rest stroke and free stroke

To practice the technique, watch as I walk you through all the steps. Video No. 9:

Video #9: Practice measure #4 on open strings and then as written.

Watch as I go through all the steps to master measure #4.
I will show you how to use rest stroke on the melody and free stroke on the accompaniment.

Several other measures throughout the piece have slightly different configurations but all are played in the same way.

And once again, these same practice strategies may be applied to any other piece you play. If a passage consists of a melody contained within an arpeggio (or the entire piece is an arpeggio), you can use rest stroke with the fingers to emphasize the melody to any degree you desire.

This concludes Part 1.

Downloads

These are downloads from Dropbox. NOTE: You do NOT need a Dropbox account and don't have to sign up for Dropbox to access the file.

1. Download a PDF of the article with links to the videos.

Download a PDF of How to Use Rest Stroke with the Fingers to Bring Out a Melody Within an Arpeggio, Part 1 with links to the videos.

2. Download a PDF of the article with embedded videos.
This is a large file.

Download a PDF of How to Use Rest Stroke with the Fingers to Bring Out a Melody Within an Arpeggio, Part 1, with Embedded Videos.
1.16 GB


3. Download the individual videos. Click on the video you wish to download. After the Vimeo video review page opens, click on the down arrow in the upper right corner. You will be given a choice of five different resolutions/qualities/file sizes to download.

Download Video 1 Sor Study No. 5. Illusion of a guitar duet.

Download Video 2 Advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Download Video 3 Exercise. Plant p on 4th string, play m rest stroke on 1st string .

Download Video 4 How to bend and collapse the tip joint of m .

Download Video 5 Exercise. Set m on string, hyperextend, pluck rest stroke .

Download Video 6 Exercise. Play m rest stroke then i free stroke.

Download Video 7 Subtleties of Hand position.

Download Video 8 Sor Study No. 5, measure 3.

Download Video 9 Sor Study No. 5 measure 4.