with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Lesson 7 – Free Strokes and Rest Strokes Together

Rest Stroke

I began the lesson by playing Carulli’s Allegro from Shearer “Classic Guitar Technique”, Volume 1 p56 to show Owen how I had been improving my rest stroke. He commented that I was playing with good form and on the thumb side of the fingers for better tone. When I finished, he was quite pleased and told me that I played with good economy of motion and with no extra tension at all.

I asked him about the slight curl of my right pinky, and he replied that it was natural for it to move along with the other fingers, if it is properly relaxed. He told me not to fight that, and let it go where it wants to go. A slight curl is okay, as long as it’s not curling up into the palm or sticking out straight. It will move as you play and that’s all right. He said you can take a very loose rubber band and tie it around the ring finger and pinky as a reminder that those two fingers should go together.

I told him that I had difficulty getting good tone from the ring finger rest stroke. He told me that we have to work on each finger separately, as each finger is different, and each nail is different, until you find the way to make that finger sound the way you want it. The Carulli piece is a middle finger piece, and Sor’s Study in B Minor is another. He said we will work on some ring finger pieces soon, like Carcassi’s Study in A, or Spanish Romance.

I played Carulli’s Waltz from p66. This piece still needs some work, and I also need to finish memorizing it, as it’s part of my daily practice for rest strokes.

You can improve without practicing sometimes, because the reflexes catch up with the brain.

I played Sor’s Andante I from p72. This piece was exceptionally difficult for me at first, and I was almost fighting the right hand fingering. After a few days work, though, it became fluid. He was pleased with my work on this too.

Free Stroke and Rest Stroke Together

We began work on Sor’s Andante II from p73. This piece has something new for the rest stroke, in that the thumb is playing free stroke at the same time as the fingers play rest strokes. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by playing the bass note slightly ahead of the treble note, and then slowly, over time, bringing them together. The first eight measures are played all free stroke. Beginning with measure 9, and continuing through measure 24, the treble notes of the bass/treble pairs are all played rest stroke.

I played Sor’s Allegretto I on p74. I noted that the fingering on the last note of the first line is only appropriate when returning to the first measure. The low G there should be played with the second finger so the next note, the C, can be played with the third finger. When following the G with the B on the 5th string, however, the B should be played with the second finger, and that means the G should be played with the third.

Fingerings should be thought out and marked on the page so they can be practiced consistently until they become automatic.

Scales – Right Hand Errors

I played the two octave C scale beginning on the third fret of the fifth string. This scale requires one shift on the way up and one on the way down. He caught me repeating a right hand finger when I should have been alternating i-m. “Most people will make an error and repeat a right hand finger on the shifts,” he told me. It’s important to practice the shifts and pay attention to each hand. He had me move up a fret and try again, and he sang along as I played: “i m i m i m i m i…”

The Logic Behind Scale Fingerings

The scales I’m learning use the fingerings that Owen learned from Alexander Bellow. These are not necessarily the most convenient fingerings for playing, as they were designed to develop proper shifting technique. They are arranged so that you encounter certain shifts that are important and difficult to do. It’s hard to make a shift and land on the fourth finger, for example, and that shift is featured as the B Minor scale starts to descend. It also shows up in the descending part of the three-octave G Major scale. When shifting, the elbow leads the hand. The elbow moves and the hand follows, and shifts become easier.

I played Giuliani’s Allegro from p76. There is a repeated figure throughout this piece where the bass moves and the treble stays on one note. He asked me to play the treble notes while alternating i-m-i-m, so the whole pattern looks like p-i-p-m-p-i-p-m. This is a good habit to develop, as it gives every finger something to do, spreads the work load out, and keeps the notes fluid.

Minimal Pressure

I played the 1324 left hand pattern chromatic exercise. He reminded me to let the left hand fingers curve, not the wrist. Don’t arch the left wrist too much. And keep the pressure light. The muscle between the left thumb and index finger should be nice and loose. I also returned to the first assignment he gave me to play 1234 (left hand fingers) all the way across the neck and make every note buzz. He complimented me often, saying, “That sounds awful.” “Thanks so much,” I replied. This exercise teaches the minimum amount of pressure necessary to sound a note.

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