Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt

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? If you haven't already, read Part 1 first. This is Part 2.

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Classical Guitar Technique

Part 2 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.

There is an Elephant in the Room

When you play the guitar, it seems as though there is ALWAYS an elephant in the room. You are working your way through a piece and all is well. But suddenly, the composer introduces something which is different from everything else in the piece. All the techniques that were easy to execute do not apply to this situation and you must learn a different technique to solve this new problem.

In this Sor study and many other pieces, that elephant is all the instances where the thumb must pluck its bass note with free stroke simultaneously with one of the fingers playing its note rest stroke.

It happens in the very first measure. Example No. 15:

Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor measure 1

It happens frequently from measure #25 through measure #32. Example No. 16:

Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor measure 25-32

The elephant makes its final appearance in the final eight measures. Example No. 17:

Sor Study No. 5 in B minor by Fernando Sor measure 41-end

Playing the melody with rest stroke on the other measures will probably not be a problem. But using a finger to play a string rest stroke simultaneously with the thumb playing a string free stroke can be difficult.

How to Simultaneously Play Rest Stroke with a Finger and Free Stroke with the Thumb

Watch me demonstrate the technique in this next video. Then, you can proceed to read and review the steps below. Video No. 10:

Video #10: How to Play Two Notes Simultaneously

Play rest stroke with the finger and free stroke with the thumb.

1. Set (plant) the thumb ("p") on the 5th string.

Place and leave the thumb on the 5th string.

2. Play only the 1st string with "m" rest stroke. "p" is still planted on the 5th string.

Exercise plant thumb on 5th string and play 1st string rest stroke

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 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 you are 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.

3. Play only the 5th string free stroke with "p". Plant "m" on the 1st string.

Exercise plant m on 1st string and play 5th string with thumb free stroke

Be sure your hand is in the same position as in Step #2 when "m" was playing rest stroke. Make sure the "m" finger is locked on the 1st string with the flesh and the left side of the fingernail simultaneously.

Play the 5th string free stroke with the thumb. Play quietly. Notice that your thumb is pulling upwards a bit more than it usually does. That is correct and okay.

4. Alternate playing "m" rest stroke and "p" free stroke.

A. Play the 1st string four times with "m" rest stroke. Play loud.
B. Replant "m" on the 1st string.
C. Play the 5th string quietly four times with "p" free stoke.
D. Repeat over and over.

Exercise play m rest stroke 3 times and then p free stroke 3 times on open strings

5. Plant "m" on the 1st string and plant "p" on the 5th string. Do NOT pluck any strings.

Pull the 1st string into the guitar with "m" (as if doing a rest stroke). At the same time, pull the 5th string slightly upward with "p" (as if doing a free stroke). Do not pluck either string. Then, release the tension keeping "m" and "p" on their strings. Pull firmly on both strings simultaneously and release the tension simultaneously.

Keep the fingers on the strings and repeat the apply tension/release tension movement over and over. Again, do not pluck the strings. Watch the video below to be sure you practice the exercise correctly.

As always, make sure the "m" finger is locked on the 1st string with the flesh and the left side of the fingernail simultaneously.

6. Plant "m" on the 1st string and plant "p" on the 5th string. Pluck the strings simultaneously.

Plant "p" and "m" then pluck. Plant "p" and "m" then pluck. Repeat about 10 times. Example No. 21:

Exercise plant pm and play pm on open strings

If you have difficulty:
1. Check that the flesh/nail contact of "m" on the 1st string is correct every time BEFORE you pluck.
2. Be sure the hand is leaning back in rest stroke position.
3. Alternate between Step #5 and Step #6.
4. Also, you can go back and watch me demonstrate the steps again in Video #10.

This Sor study and others contain a multitude of string combinations where a finger plays the higher note rest stroke and the thumb plays the lower note free stroke.

In order that you can handle any circumstance you may encounter in the repertoire, I recommend mastering all possible string combinations with all finger combinations as well. Example No. 22:

Practice all of these open string combinations of thumb and fingers playing simultaneously

Use Rest Stroke with the Fingers to Bring Out a Melody Within an Arpeggio on Other Pieces as Well

Here are a few more pieces that immediately spring to mind where one can use this technique. And as I point out in the video, you may decide you do not want to use rest stroke for the entire piece but only for certain phrases or passages.

Study No. 3 in A Major, Op. 60 No. 3 (Matteo Carcassi)

Carcassi Study in A Major Op. 60 No. 3

Study No. 2 (as numbered by Segovia) Op. 35 No. 13 (Fernando Sor)

Sor Study No. 2

Romance, Romanza, or Romance de Amor (Anonymous)

Romance, Romanza Part A

Vals Venezolano No. 3 (Antonio Lauro)

Vals Venezolano No. 3 Lauro


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 a link to the video.

Download a PDF of How to Use Rest Stroke with the Fingers to Bring Out a Melody Within an Arpeggio, Part 2 with a link to the video.

2. Download a PDF of the article with an embedded video.
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 2, with an Embedded Video.

3. Download the video. 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 10, How to Play Two Notes Simultaneously.