Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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Douglas Niedt, guitarist

The Double Thumb Stroke.
Never heard of it?
It is used in a number of pieces in the standard classical guitar repertoire so it is a technique you should master. Read on!

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Classical Guitar Technique

HOW TO PLAY THE DOUBLE THUMB STROKE



By Douglas Niedt

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



Never Heard of It. What are You Talking About?

The "double thumb stroke" on the guitar is my shorthand for what bowed-string players (violinists, violists, cellists, and double bassists) would call a "double stop on adjacent strings". In other words, two adjacent strings are bowed or plucked simultaneously. The word "stop" implies that both strings are to be fingered (stopped), but in practice, either or both strings may be open. Technically, I should be calling the technique how to play a "double stop on adjacent strings with the thumb". But, "double thumb stoke" saves me some words, so that is what I am going to use in this article.

Watch me as I explain the basics of the double thumb stroke in Video #1:

Still Confused? Here are Examples.


You can watch me play each of these examples of the double thumb stroke in Video #2 following the musical examples below.


One of the most well-known examples of the double thumb stroke is found in Leyenda (Isaac Albéniz). (Example #1):

Leyenda (Asturias) double thumb stroke




Numerous examples are found in the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. (Examples #2, 3, 4):




Villa-Lobos Prelude #1, double thumb stroke







Villa-Lobos Prelude #5, double thumb stroke







Villa-Lobos Etude #11, double thumb stroke







Here are more examples by other composers. (Examples #5, 6, 7):



Cavatina by Stanley Myers, double thumb stroke







Gymnopedie No. 1 (Erik Satie), double thumb stroke







El Testament d'Amelia (Miguel Llobet), double thumb stroke




Watch me demonstrate the above musical examples in Video #2:

How to Execute the Double Thumb Stroke

The best way to teach you to play the double thumb stroke correctly is to show you with these videos.

First, let's look at the basics of how to contact the strings with the thumb in Video #3. This is important!

Now, watch Video #4 to learn how to correctly execute the double thumb stroke:

The double thumb stroke is most commonly used on the wound bass strings. Occasionally, as shown below, it is used on the treble strings. (Example #8):

Prelude #1 (Heitor Villa-Lobos) E major Section, double thumb stroke

In Video #5 watch me demonstrate how to use the double thumb stroke on the treble strings:

Pros and Cons of Using the Thumb Double Stroke

On several of the pieces cited above (Préludes 1 and 5, Cavatina, Gymnopedie No. 1, and El Testament d'Amelia), rather than playing both strings with the double thumb stroke, one could play the double stops with the thumb and "i", "m", or "a". So why bother using a double thumb stroke?

Tone Quality

The tone quality can sound rather "scratchy" and/or thin when a finger (instead of the thumb) is used to play a melody note on a wound bass string. The thumb double stroke will often sound far better.

Plucking the Two Notes Simultaneously

However, try as we might, the thumb double stroke can never pluck both strings truly simultaneously. If absolute simultaneous sounding of the two notes is essential, then use the thumb and the "i", "m", or "a" finger to play the double stop.

In Video #6, watch me demonstrate and explain the Pros and Cons of using the double thumb stroke.

Rest Stroke or Free Stroke?

In all the previous examples of double stops on adjacent strings, the note that is higher in pitch is the melody and should be louder than the note below it. This is usually the case in most double stops played with the double thumb stroke. In these instances, the thumb double stroke should be executed with rest stroke (watch the video and you will learn why).

But occasionally, you will come across a double stop where the note that is lower in pitch should be emphasized. (Example #9):



Prelude #1 (Heitor Villa-Lobos) melody on bottom of double stop, double thumb stroke

Watch me demonstrate in Video #7 how to emphasize the melody with the double thumb stroke when it is on the lower pitched string.

And sometimes, it could go either way.

In the fast arpeggio section of Villa-Lobos' Prélude No. 2, is the melody the upper note (5th string) of each interval? (Example #10):



Prelude #2 (Heitor Villa-Lobos) melody on top of double stops, double thumb stroke




Or, is the melody the lower note (6th string) of each interval? (Example #11):



Prelude #2 (Heitor Villa-Lobos) melody on bottom of double stops, double thumb stroke

If you hear the 5th string as the melody, double thumb REST strokes will help you to emphasize the 5th string. But, if you hear the 6th string as the melody, double thumb FREE strokes will help you to emphasize the 6th string.

In Video #8 listen to how you can manipulate the sound of a passage by how you use the double thumb stroke. I also give a brief summary at the end. Watch:

Summary

1. The double thumb stroke is a technique commonly used in the classical guitar repertoire.

2. It must be executed with precision to be effective.

3. It is usually used to bring out the melody on the higher pitched string of a double stop. But it can also be used to emphasize the melody in situations where the melody falls on the lower pitched string.

4. It is usually used on the bass strings but may also be used effectively on the treble strings.

Downloads


1. Download a PDF of the article with links to the videos. (The videos in this tip are too large to embed in the PDF).
This is a download from Dropbox. NOTE: You do NOT need a Dropbox account and don't have to sign up for Dropbox to access the file.


2. 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. Double thumb stroke Introduction. 02:07

Download Video #2. Double thumb stroke Real-world examples from the classical guitar repertoire. 04:19

Download Video #3. Double Thumb Stroke How to contact the string with the thumb. 06:33

Download Video #4. Double Thumb Stroke The technique of the double thumb stroke. 02:44

Download Video #5. Double Thumb Stroke The thumb double stroke on the treble strings. 01:19

Download Video #6. Double Thumb Stroke 6 Pros and Cons of using the double thumb stroke. 02:25

Download Video #7. Double Thumb Stroke How to emphasize the melody when it is on the lower pitched string. 01:58

Download Video #8. Double Thumb Stroke The melody on either the higher or lower pitched string and Brief Summary. 02:12