with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Lesson 6 – Rest Strokes and Scales

Rest Strokes

We began the lesson when I demonstrated my week’s work on the rest stroke. I played Carulli’s Allegro from Shearer “Classic Guitar Technique”, Volume 1, p 56. The piece is a series of three note arpeggios. Owen asked me to treat it as an exercise, and to play the middle note, the high note, using the rest stroke. This is a new stroke for me, and it wasn’t until the night before my lesson that I felt like I had it under control. Though it still needs some work, I can now control the quality and volume of this stroke.

We moved on to the other rest stroke piece I had been working on, Carulli’s Waltz on p 66. This piece is a series of six-note arpeggios, and the third and fifth notes were to be played rest stroke. This piece is more complex because the rest strokes come on the first, second, or third string, and in varying orders. The chords are also more interesting. I played fine, but I have occasional trouble with the resting portion of the stroke not coming to a complete stop against the lower string, and this causes some ringing of unwanted strings.

Carulli's WaltzIn measure 26, the left hand fingering as marked requires a difficult stretch. I had substituted a partial bar to simplify this, and he caught me immediately. He asked me to finger it as written, and to release the pinky from the D on the second string in order to then play the F on the first string a few notes later. “It’s not necessary,” he told me, “to hold that note all the way through.” When I asked why he preferred that I not use the barre there, he explained that most players at the level of this book are not accustomed to playing barre chords, although they’re easy for me. While this answer doesn’t satisfy me, I can imagine that I have something to learn from practicing the stretch required to play this measure cleanly without the barre.

I’m to play these two pieces every day and polish them until I can do them with ease. These are my rest stroke practice pieces. I need to continue watching my hand to make sure that it’s moving properly and without wasted motion. And I’m to play them at an unhurried pace so I can pay attention to the details.


Owen asked about my scales, and I showed him the A Major scale at the fifth fret of the sixth string using i-m, m-i, and i-a right hand patterns.

He then showed me the C Major scale that begins in second position on the fifth string at the third fret. This scale requires a position shift when ascending on the second string after the E at the second string fifth fret. This allows the last five notes after the shift to be played on the second and first strings, and extends the scale to a full two octaves for a finish at the first string eighth fret.

When coming down the C Major scale, the pattern is different. It stays in fifth position for an entire octave. After the C on the third string fifth fret, it shifts to second position and continues down to the low C.

When you make a shift, you don’t want to drag the finger along the string, because this friction can slow you down, and especially on the lower strings, it causes unnecessary string noise. You should release the string and hop to the next note. The best way to do this is to take a little pause at the time of the shift and make sure you completely release the pressure. Then, as you perfect the move, the pause gets smaller and smaller until it is gone and the shift is seamless. A small squeak of the string when shifting is an indication that there is left hand tension that is carrying over from one note to the next.

We talked about the change that came about in the 70’s and 80’s where the younger players began to play without the squeaks and noises long associated with the guitar. Now, squeaking strings are rarely heard. I think this is a natural growth of the instrument.

I’m working out of a booklet called Why Scales that Owen Middleton published in 1994. It’s only eight pages long, and contains scales similar to the famous Segovia Scales, but the fingerings are different. It also has some discussion about why and how to use scales, and about playing without dysfunctional tension. It’s available for $3.95 from http://www.andysmusiconline.com . Andy’s is the Mobile, Al, music store where Owen conducts his private lessons.

The B Melodic Minor scale is good for teaching proper shifting, as it has so many. It begins in II (second) position at the second fret of the fifth string and continues to F# on the fourth string fourth fret. Then, it shifts to VI position for five more notes, then finishes in IX position. It descends in VII position for five notes, then IV position for four notes, then the last five notes are in II position again. The descending scale is just the Aeolian mode, the natural minor scale. Ascending, the 6th and 7th tones are sharped. He emphasized again to make a small pause at each shift until I have learned the scale and perfected the no-tension shift. This scale will take some work for me as I’m not used to hearing the melodic minor scale.

English Dance

I played the English Dance again for him, and this time, I played all the way through with no errors. It was musical and at the right tempo, and when I finished he just laughed and told me I should be proud of my playing.

Chromatic Scales

I showed him the chromatic exercise I had been playing, the 1324 pattern from Lesson 4. He reminded me that I need to transfer left hand pressure from note to note and only play with minimum pressure. He showed me the 1342 pattern, where you play the 1, then add 2 and 3 together to play 3, then add 4 and play 4 (all four fingers are now on the fingerboard). Then, release 3 and 4 together and play 2. This should be played on all strings across the fingerboard. When working on left hand fingerings, play simple patterns, like i-m, with the right hand. He suggested that I stick to one or two patterns and learn them well, while playing different right hand patterns. Coordination between the hands is important.

He reminded me to play very softly in order to help reduce tensions in both hands. If your hand gets tired or tight while playing, you know you’re too tense and need to do two things: slow down, and practice playing more softly.

New Pieces

We looked at Fernando Sor’s Andante I on page 72. This is a deceptively simple piece. It’s short with not a lot of notes, but there’s much detail in the right hand fingering. The pattern isn’t repetitive like it has been with the previous pieces we’ve worked on. I had a lot of trouble on my first play through (and later after I got home) playing the right hand part. This will require focus and work, and I’m not sure yet of the logic of the fingerings.

We looked at Sor’s Allegretto I on page 74. This piece is interesting because it requires attention to the voicing of the different parts. The bass line must be emphasized. The end of the first line emphasizes the treble part. The second line begins by emphasizing the bass line again, and the ending is another treble part. The middle voice must be kept soft throughout so as not to conflict with the other parts. The last two pairs of notes should both be played i-a i-a, instead of the i-a p-m that’s marked in the book. The ending of each of the two parts should slow for a slight retard.

We also looked at Mauro Giuliani’s Allegro on page 76. This is an arpeggio piece that’s a good exercise. There are many places throughout that require a special fingering. Otherwise, one finger will be stuck in a place that’s hard to make the next note. It’s important to pay attention to the marked fingerings for maximum ease and best flow.


He asked to hear me play Adelita. As I began, he reminded me to prepare the first two notes by placing them together so that the backup for the first pull-off was ready ahead of time. He also noted that I should hold the two-note pair, the octave B’s on the 6th and 4th strings in measure 15, just a little longer before playing the next notes. This measure should not be hurried. He gave me another tip: The two-note chords at the end of the first, second, and third measures, and throughout the piece, should be played softly relative to the single notes. Otherwise the chords will drown out the melody. The fourth measure should be played full and strong.

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