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This article is from the Guitarra Magazine archives and was originally published in the 1970s. It's part five of guitar great Douglas Neidt giving instructions on classical guitar technique!
Please click here for Sheet Music Reading Technique part one and Sheet Music Reading Technique part two .

In the previous two articles (Interval and Chord Balance Part I and Part II) we have considered several methods for controlling the balance of notes within intervals and chords. In this issue we will discuss some special techniques and examples involving the thumb.

In Etude No 7 by Heitor ViIIa-Lobos we find the following passage:

Example No.1:
Measures 24-26. Etude No.7 by Heitor Villa-Lobos

Measures 24-26. Etude No.7 by Heitor Villa-Lobos

The melodic line, which Villa-Lobos has highlighted for us by placing accents next to each melodic note, occurs in, an inner voice played by the thumb. While the B# and second C# in measure 24 and the E in measure 25 pose no difficulty since they sound alone, the others are problematic, particularly the first C# in measures 24 and 26. The C# on the fifth string in the F # minor chord (first beat of measure 24) is the first note of the melodic phrase and must sound distin ctly and clearly as a melodic note, not just part of the F# minor chord. For this reason, simply strumming the entire chord with the thumb will not suffice. The most effective way to play this chord would be to play the low F# with the thumb free stroke or a very light rest stroke, play the melodic note C# with a heavy rest stroke with the thumb, play the F# on the fourth string with the thumb free stroke, and to play the A, C# and F# with free stroke i, m, and a respectively. The entire chord would be arpeggiated:

Example No. 2:

Guitar stroke as melodic note

In order to master this technique of using the thumb rest stroke to bring out a note in the middle of a chord I would suggest practicing in three stages. First, practice a fou r-note ch ord using the thumb rest stroke on the fifth string while using i, m, and a free stroke to play the treble strings:

Example No.3:

Four note chord with thumb rest stroke

Practice at first without arpeggiating the notes. The thumb should come to rest securely against the fourth string after loudly playing the fifth string while the fingers very lightly brush the treble strings pianissimo. Once this feels secure, try arpeggiating the notes very evenly - no obvious space or pause between the fifth and third (p and i) strings.

In the second stage, add the fourth string (example four) played free stroke by the thumb. Begin by playing slowly, one string at a time. Be certain you maintain a heavy, secure rest stroke on the fifth string resting snugly against the fourth string thus producing a very loud A and that the thumb pulls up to play the f ourth string free stroke producing a very soft D.

Example No. 4:

Free stroke by the thumb

Gradually play the notes closer together until you produce the sound of an evenly arpeggiated chord with the fifth string sounding forte and the others piano.

In the third stage add the sixth string (example five). The sixth string can either be played free stroke with the thumb or with a very light rest stroke. In either case the thumb would barely brush the string, not pluck it. Again, begin by playing very slowly, one note at a time. As an exercise it would be a good idea to exaggerate the balance playing the fifth string fortissimo and all the others pianissimo.

Example No.5:

Very light brush stroke

Again, gradually play the notes closer together until they sound as an arpeggiated chord, the fifth string loud, the others soft. Finally, apply this technique to the F# minor chord in the Villa-Lobos Etude No.7.

This same technique is useful in many other pieces as well. For instance, Granada by Isaac Albeniz opens with an E major chord in which the melodic note E is found on the third string:

Example No.6:
Measures 1-4. Granada by Isaac Albeniz

Measures 1-4. Granada by Isaac Albeniz

This opening chord would be played and arpeggiated in the following manner:
Example No.7 :

Arpeggiated chord

Begin by practicing the bottom four strings:
Example No.8:

Bottom four strings stroke

Playing very slowly with the thumb, simply brush over the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings very lightly and upon reaching the third string, suddenly pull hard into the soundboard of the guitar producing a loud rest stroke coming to rest securely against the second string. Gradually speed up until the four notes sound as an arpeggiated chord.

Next, practice the top three strings:
Example No.9:

Top three string stroke

Playing very slowly and evenly at first, play the third string with the thumb with a heavy, loud rest stroke followed by the Band E played free stroke with i and m or m and a. Play the three notes faster and faster until they sound as an arpeggiated chord. One note of caution: as you speed up the notes, be certain that the thumb is still playing the third string rest stroke coming to rest securely against the second string. Because i (or m) is playing the second string free stroke immediately after the thumb stroke, many players will shy away from letting the thumb follow through into the second string. Rest assured that with correct practice the thumb and finger wiI1 not run into or get in the way of each other. The thumb, having completed its rest stroke, will lift off the second string at the same exact moment the second string is plucked by the finger.

Finally, combine the two stages of the exercise and apply the technique to Granada and other pieces containing similar passages.

Example No. 10:

2nd string free Stroke

This technique is used not only to bring out a particular note of a chord but to give a chord an exceptionally full, weighty, or powerful sound:

Example No. 11:
Measures 4-5. Prelude No.1 by Manuel Ponce

Measures 4-5. Prelude No.1 by Manuel Ponce

The chord on the first beat of measure five should sound very full and lush which can be accomplished by playing the sixth and fifth strings rest stroke with the thumb coming to rest securely against the fourth string and playing the third and second strings loudly (maintaining the correct overall chord balance by playing the melodic E loudly) with i and m or m anda.

Returning briefly to Etude No. 7 by Villa Lobos let us cover one more balancing technique. Referring back to Example No. 1, in measure 25 on the first beat we find an F# on the fifth string (the melodic note) with an open low E beneath it. Both notes should be played rest stroke with the thumb. But as in some of the exercises above, simply brush the sixth string very lightly and then play the fifth string rest stroke pulling hard into the fourth string. It is essential that the thumb play deeply (into the soundboard) into the fifth string resting securely against the fourth string to produce the desired effect. Begin by practicing the notes separately gradually increasing the speed until they sound together, the sixth string piano and the fifth string forte. This technique can also be used in Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 1 as well as numerous other pieces:

Example No. 12:
Measures 1, 12-13. Prelude No.1 by Reitor Villa-Lobos

Measures 1, 12-13. Prelude No.1 by Reitor Villa-Lobos

In these three articles about interval and chord balance we have covered the most common balancing techniques and examples found in intermediate and advanced repertoire. (There are many more chord balancing techniques and variations on light brushing rest stroke the techniques already discussed, but their use is too subtle and involved to be explained on paper.) Next issue we will put these techniques to use by studying an entire piece measure by measure examining how to properly balance the voices.

Douglas Niedt is a concert artist and Chairman of the Guitar Department, Conservatory of Music Univeristy of Missouri at Kansas City.