The Solo Guitarist Network
Solo Guitar Technique

Tone Production

Guitar players have a great deal of choices with regards to technique. Unlike many other instruments there are more ways to produce a tone than one can count on one's hand. For example: one can use a flat-pick, a flat-pick along with fingers, one's thumb, one's thumb and fingers, a thumb-pick and fingers, a thumb-pick and finger-picks, one can even produce tones by tapping the strings. Each of these methods are legitimate and have their own advantages and disadvantages. For the solo guitar one will find that most of the repertoire was written to be played with the bare fingers and thumb. There are many reasons for this. Aside from the fact that there are centuries of tradition associated with this practice, fingerstyle provides for the most intimate relationship between the artist and the music they produce. But even among fingerstylists there are major differences, among them the fingernails.

Nail Care

Francisco Tarrega and Fernando Sor found the nails to be an inconvenience. Dionisio Aguado felt that the nails were necessary to accommodate speed. Andres Segovia took what many feel to be a more practical approach of utilizing both the nail and the flesh. By trimming the nails to a length just visible over the fingertip when looking at the palm, and following the contour of the fingertips, one is able to produce a very warm round tone. The right hand, (picking hand), nails should not be trimmed with clippers, but should be filed with a fine emory board and then polished using the finest grit wet or dry sandpaper available. 600 grit paper that has been quartered and then rubbed together to produce an even finer grit will do quite nicely. One should always keep a quarter of this paper in their wallet. There are also many fine finishing and polishing boards available in most cosmetic departments that serve quite well. If one takes proper care of the nails problems will be minimized. Vitamin B supplements are known to help strengthen, thus benefiting the nails. There is now a nail strengthener / polish made by OPI called Nail Envy that comes in a Matte Finish. It is not shiny and is nearly undetectable. You can find it at the nail salons in most malls. I am tying to work out a deal to carry it on this site. It really works.

Playing Position

Playing position deals with how one sits or stands with the guitar. Most solo guitarists have chosen to sit with the guitar. One might not think there could be so many ways to sit, but there have been many differing opinions as to what makes the best position. Fernando Sor sat with the lower bout of the guitar resting on a table, while Dionisio Aguado invented a special stand to hold the guitar. Matteo Carcassi and Andres Segovia used footstools. There have also been devices to place between the guitar and the leg of the guitarist in order to raise the guitar to comfortable level. The dynarette cushion is one of the most popular devices. Most agree that the guitar should be place on the left leg to avoid any twisting of the back. For safety's sake one should hold the guitar in such a way as to provide full access to the entire fingerboard and make sure that the wrist of the picking hand is neither twisted, too arched or too flat, thus preventing the ill effects of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Classical -vs- Fingertsyle

Having played fingerstyle for twenty-eight years prior to making a complete switch to classical two years ago, I know that there are major differences between the two techniques. I forced myself to adopt the classical approach because of the many advanced techniques it employs. I compare fingerstyle to driving an automatic with two feet, a hard habit to break. Why should you if you've got a good driving record? By exploring the different approaches we may find a few reasons.

Fingerstylists assign the thumb to the bass two strings and each finger to its own string: the first finger to the D - 4th string the second finger to the G - 3rd string, the third finger to the B - second string and the pinky to the E - first string. When working out of a four note chord such as a D-chord the thumb will move to the fourth string and the fingers will shift accordingly, leaving the pinky completely off of the strings. Melody is played by the finger assigned to the string. This hampers speed. Players have no way to use alternate picking like a flat picker. These up and down strokes would also help with deciphering rhythms. Doing without them is, indeed, like riding the brake. Classical players use this type of finger placement for arpeggios, but when it comes time to play melody the first two fingers will alternate, allowing for lightning fast playing and precise rhythmic variation. Classical players will even use three fingers on the same string to obtain a tremolo. Occasionally the thumb will interplay on the same string as the three tremolo notes. For a long time time alternate picking with two fingers on the same string felt very awkward. I had composed many of my own tunes for fingerstyle. Traditional fingerstyle allows for the pinky of the right hand. The only time it is used in classical is for rasquedo, which is actually a flamenco technique. I struggled off and on for many years before finally throwing off the pinky. Change was truly difficult. It took years before I was comfortable. Smooth tremolo came even later. Tremolo is like gaining balance on a tightrope. One must really want to achieve it.

Another technique that classical players use is called the "rest stroke" is one of the most basic for them. Most classical methods cover this before tuning. Tone before tuning! As opposed to the free stroke the rest stroke comes to rest on the next string after follow through. The angle of the attack is somewhat different, as is the volume one is able to achieve for the notes that are executed correctly. By mixing these strokes with free strokes in arpeggios or chord melodies this allows chosen voices to stand out. This sounds simple enough, but itís also difficult if youíve been playing without them for years. This technique, alone, separates amateurs from seasoned professionals. I had been playing for twenty-five years before I heard of this mysterious technique that fingerstylist Michael Hedges was using. Francisco Tarrega is accredited with emphasizing the rest stroke among his pupils over one hundred years ago.

I am sure there are other differences, but hopefully we have covered the most significant ones. I have to admit that I learned more in the first year of applying strictly classical technique than in the twenty-eight years of fingerstyle. It was also proven to me that classical pieces are far easier and sound better when played classically. I implore anyone to seriously consider the more disciplined classical approach. Things will be much easier in the long run, no matter what the repertoire. -John Francis

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