Guitarsite Forums Discussion Popular Topics Classical -vs- Fingerstyle Answers

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    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 it’s also difficult if you’ve 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 seriously consider the more disciplined classical approach. Things will be much easier in the long run, no matter what the repertoire. Check out my site at for an occasional free lesson, score or tab. Pleasant picking, John Francis

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