Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt

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Your Personal Guitar Lesson With Douglas Niedt

Douglas Niedt

Tremolo Patterns You Never Knew Existed

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Niedt Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The standard classical guitar tremolo pattern is “pami”. But, this standard 4-note tremolo can be played with any combination of fingers. Some players prefer “pima”. Both patterns are shown in example #57:

standard pami tremolo

As explained in Part 1, Ana Vidovic and I often use only three fingers (including the thumb). Ana Vidovic uses “pmim”. I use “pimi”. Both patterns are shown in example #58:

pimi and pmim tremolo patterns

Although the standard classical guitar tremolo consists of four notes, no law exists saying the tremolo has to be four notes. It can be three notes as shown in example #59:

tremolo pattern can be three notes

The tremolo pattern favored by flamenco guitarists is a quintuplet pattern that consists of five notes and can be executed several different ways as shown in example #60:

flamenco 5-note quintuplet tremolo pattern

Even a sextuplet six-note pattern is possible as shown in example #61:

sextuplet 6-note tremolo pattern

I use a technique I call a double-string tremolo on some South American music and arrangements of other music. Instead of the fingers plucking a single string, they play two adjacent strings in one stroke. I use this technique in Jorge Morel’s arrangement of Fernando Bustamente’s Misionera, shown in example #62:

double-string tremolo pattern


A guitarist you may never have heard of describes a plethora of tremolo techniques in his Grand Method for Guitar. William Foden (1860-1947), a native of my hometown, St. Louis, was known as one of the greatest guitarists of his age, especially among American players. He was known as the “wizard of the guitar” and famous for his brilliant technique. The capsule biography at the end of his guitar method says, “the outstanding feature of his playing was his unbelievable fast tremolo. Nothing like it had ever been heard before him. His technical agility and skill was extraordinary.” As a side note, he was also the teacher of Walter Fritschy who established the guitar program back in the early 1960’s at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City where I now teach.

Foden describes the tremolo as “a more or less rapid repetition of the same note or chord, and is performed on the guitar by various methods of right hand fingering.” He describes one-finger, two-finger, three-finger, and four-finger tremolos. In his descriptions, the thumb is not counted as a finger. And, the thumb may play a bass note before the first melody note as in conventional tremolos or simultaneously with the first melody note. To the best of my knowledge, several of these patterns are rarely used or heard today. Indeed, he tells us “The various styles of the tremolo for guitar, has never before been fully explained…” Let’s have a look.

William Foden’s One-Finger Tremolo

One-Finger Tremolo Method #1

What Foden calls the “regular one-finger style of tremolo” is exclusively a finger action, swinging the finger rapidly back and forth across the string with down and upstrokes. Foden says the action is done mainly from the “second joint” or middle joint.

He says the “m” finger is more frequently used but that a guitarist should be able to use the “i” finger just as easily. He says one should be able to change from one finger to the other “without the least inconvenience.” This is especially important he says, because a finger can become strained or tense when using this technique in an extended passage. When one finger becomes tired, switch to the other. He also changes fingers when the music changes from one string to another. Foden demonstrates the use of the one-finger tremolo in his Melody as shown in example #63:

Foden's one-finger tremolo

Note the shorthand method Foden uses to notate the rhythmic value of the tremolo. This type of notation translates as shown in example #64:

shorthand notation of tremolo, part 1 shorthand notation of tremolo, part 2

Depending on the style of the piece and tempo, sometimes it isn’t important to count a specific number of finger strokes. Foden says, “the tremolo must be executed rapidly; yet, in keeping with each particular style, and also with the character of the composition. The number of strokes to be played, are not always indicated; but if the time is accurately counted, the strokes will take care of themselves.”

Interestingly, Foden uses the plectrum style (pick style) of notation to indicate the direction of the finger strokes in his introductory exercises for this technique. Always start with a normal stroke. In other words, you play the first string and follow through towards the second string. Foden indicates this with a “V”. Then, the finger restrikes the first string with the back of the fingernail. Foden indicates this with a “П”. Another way of thinking of it is that a normal free stroke with a finger is done in the same direction as an upstroke with a pick which is notated with a “V”. The finger stroke with the back of the fingernail is done in the same direction as a downstroke with a pick which is notated with a “П”. See example #65:

Foden's plectrum or pick style of tremolo notation

Not only single notes, but intervals and chords may also be tremoloed with this method as shown in example #66:

Foden's pick or plectrum style of tremolo notation for intervals and chords

One-Finger Tremolo Method #2

The other form of the one-finger tremolo is to place the thumb across the tip segment of the index finger (as a support). Strike the strings down and up with the index finger using a loose wrist/ forearm rotation. In other words, use the index finger just like a pick.

The notation for the plectrum style of tremolo is identical to that of the regular one-finger tremolo. Foden states that his compositions always indicate the style by fingerings and/or the style name.

William Foden’s Double Tremolo

This tremolo is executed by striking two non-adjacent strings simultaneously with “i” and “m”. The strokes are done with the same technique as the regular one-finger tremolo. I find this very tricky to do.

A double tremolo from Foden’s Grand Method for Guitar is shown in example #67:

Fodem's double tremolo

William Foden’s Two-Finger Tremolo

The two-finger tremolo begins with the thumb playing a bass note, then “im”, “ia”, or “ma” (rare). Either finger in each pair may be used first. Example #68 shows many possibilities:

Foden's two-finger tremolo patterns

Foden expands the concept of the tremolo to include patterns where the thumb plays its bass note simultaneously with the first melody note as shown in example #69:

Foden's two-finger tremolo patterns with the thumb playing with the first note

On a traditional tremolo pattern such as “pami”, the melody is somewhat interrupted by the stroke of the thumb alone. In other words it rings, but it is not re-struck each time the thumb plays. Foden seems to favor patterns where the thumb plays simultaneously with a finger, producing a truly continuous tremolo melody above the thumb accompaniment.

William Foden’s Three-Finger Tremolo

Foden’s three-finger tremolo patterns include the traditional “pami” or “pima” patterns. He also includes this pattern in example #70:

Foden's 3-note tremolo pattern

Foden says, “This manner of fingering is especially desirable for rapid and even tremoloing. It is not easy and will require much practice before it can be brought under absolute command.”


Four-Finger Tremolo (plus thumb)

One of my readers told me he has been experimenting with using the little finger (“c”) in his tremolo patterns as shown in example #71:

4-finger tremolo using little finger and thumb simultaneously

This is yet another way to try to achieve a truly continuous tremolo melody.

Chordal Tremolo

Laurindo Almeida uses a chordal tremolo in his arrangement of The Sound of Music by Richard Rodgers (example #72):

Almeida chordal tremolo

Note that Almeida’s notation uses the 32nd-note shorthand symbol on all note heads regardless of the underlying note values. Foden takes the underlying note value into account when determining how many shorthand beams to add to the stem. In other words, if the repeated notes are supposed to be 32nd-notes, if the underlying note value is an eighth-note, Foden only adds two shorthand beams to the stem rather than three. As shown in example #73, Foden would have notated the first measure as:

Foden-style notation for chordal tremolo

He says the chordal tremolo “is played by quickly brushing back and forth across the strings (using your “i” finger or your thumb).” This is done with all flesh, no fingernail.


And you thought tremolo was just “pami”! As you see, many finger patterns and note combinations can be used to create a tremolo effect. Are they all used frequently? No. Are they something you should spend a lot of time trying to master? Probably not. Many are just not very practical. But, if you are looking for a certain special effect, or looking for a novel way to execute fast repeated notes, one of these techniques may be what you are looking for. You too, can be a guitar wizard.

END OF PART 4 of 4.