simultaneous thumb/finger rest stroke exercise

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
Forum rules
IV Laws governing the quotation/citation of music

For discussion of studies, scales, arpeggios and theory.
Jeffrey Armbruster

simultaneous thumb/finger rest stroke exercise

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:30 pm

In one of her master classes on utube, Sharon Isbin mentions a handout that she gave to the class which shows an exercise that alternates free and rest strokes, with the thumb and i or m finger playing rest stroke simultaneously. So agian, it involves a pattern of alternation while playing an arpeggiated chord of thumb and i (or m) finger playing rest stroke at the same time followed by free strokes on the same arpeggio. I hope this is clear. In any case, does anyone know of this or some similar exercise? She indicated that she was playing a brief sequence of chords from some Villa Lobos piece.

User avatar
Posts: 749
Joined: Wed Sep 28, 2011 5:48 pm

Re: simultaneous thumb/finger rest stroke exercise

Post by guitareleven » Tue Jun 26, 2018 8:58 pm

You could try this-- with the caveat that I am aware that many teachers and exponents find such as the following recommendations to be a pursuance to the point of absurdity- suffice it to say that I have found the opposite to be so.

Amongst other things I did years ago when addressing thumb rest stroke as an issue, was to make an extreme case scenario exercise out of the e minor Bourrée by Bach with which we're all familiar. I played it using simultaneous rest strokes in thumb and fingers throughout, excepting only those instances in which the notes of the upper and lower parts were on adjacent strings. The reason for that preclusion is obvious, as otherwise each string in that case would have received an occluding delivery of a digit coming to rest upon it immediately after it had been sounded- so no rest stroke with either thumb or finger in that case, but, I did continue to force the simultaneity of thumb and finger rest stroke even in those instances in which there is only one string in between the two being sounded- so that both the thumb and the finger would come to rest upon the same string.
I never thought for a moment that this was in preparation of a performance methodology for the piece. It was pretty cumbersome and awkward at first, and even when it became less so, it would have been a picayune pedantism to insist to myself that I continue in rigid application of the technique in compromise to the greater freedom and flexibility that the more intuitive and "natural" approach ( a loaded expression I don't really like to use) would have, in which one would actually make very little use of thumb rest stroke. As I said, it was simply an exercise. It was a matter of internalizing control of a technique to parameters of requirement which exceed those which are likely to be encountered in real performance. I could have done much the same with an open string permutation exercise, but the point of conscripting an actual composition into service as an exercise, is that the pure exercise aspect is infused with the musicality of the piece, and so inculcates not only a crude assimilation of the technique in its most basic form, but finer modulations of application entailed in using it expressively. Plus, one may be less apt to devote a sufficiency of time to the practice of a pure exercise as opposed to an actual piece, for the sake of which one assumes an underlying commitment to see through to the end.
As for the technique itself, it's important, especially when the thumb and finger are brought to closer quarters, that the technique not be predicated on a "squeezing" approach, in which the two actions of finger and thumb are dependent upon each other, and their motions are directly towards each other- as if they were the jaws of a pair of pliers. Instead, their actions should be independent of each other, and confined to separate areas of the hand mechanism, in which division of function their simultaneity is simply co-incidental. As such, their directions of action are not directly towards each other, but oblique to each other, the thumb directed around the outside of the path of the finger, instead of on a collision course with it. As a togetherness, the co-actions of finger and thumb are more like what happens when you are turning a small knob to the right, rather than in contraction to a point. This is an expression of of an even more basic construct of technique, which is applicable to more than rest stroke considerations. For instance, when I am thinking about it, I am aware of my adhering to that principle when playing a series of four note chords, such as in Milan's sixth Pavan. I find I have more control over the individual lines, and the texture emerges less like undifferentiatedly homogeneous conglomerations if the thumb/finger complexes are working around the invisible knob. I will qualify the foregoing, though, with the caveat that my right hand technique is a bit eccentric in that I tend to have a higher wrist position than the flat-wrist configuration that tends to prevail in current pedagogy. This may partly be in consequence to the length of my forearm, but minimally so, as it is not so very much longer than anyone else's. Rather, it is deliberate in that, in developing my technique, I wanted to work within a configurative envelope which would include enabling my thumb to approach the strings in a more vertical aspect that mirrored that of the fingers, providing it with a similarly broad "repertoire". I have found this to be conducive to how I get the mass of my hand to assist in depth of both my rest and free strokes, as a factor in producing a full sound. But, those who favor a flatter wrist position may have to finesse operations a bit differently than as described above.
The individuality of action entailed in use of the thumb for rest strokes is salient not only to the simultaneity with finger action, but when the thumb is in sole action as well. There is a tendency for students, when first essaying thumb rest stroke, to want to do by stiffening the thumb and engaging the whole arm into downward motion. It's not that such a gross mechanism doesn't "work", but that when there is finger action either simultaneous, or even at short temporal remove, the gross approach can be disruptive, or necessitate an awkward recovery. I imagine that this may be an idea behind Ms. Isbin's exercise- the simultaneity of thumb and finger stroke mitigates against moving the hand out of position, so that whatever platform preparation for the free stroke portion of the arpeggios to follow is left intact. However, it also suggests that this mitigation is contingent upon the "squeeze" technique which I suggest earlier should be transcended. Better is the enablement of the thumbs ability to act exclusively from its "root" joint at the base of the hand just above the wrist, which is analogous to the "main" knuckles of the fingers. Here is an exercise for that-- place the i,m,a fingers on the first three strings in typical fashion. The, just try a few rest strokes with the thumb on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings (moving the thumb to the outside of the finger array, especially up on the fourth string). Observe the fingers on which the fingers are resting. If they are moving in as a consequence of a stabilizing counter-pressure to the thumb action, and your fingers are stiffening towards that end, try to make that go away. The swing of your thumb, and its stability, should grounded entirely from in its root joint, without involving the rest of the hand- or the arm (except passively). The fingers should be able to remain relaxed on the strings, with out getting caught up in the action, with no counter motion in the strings betraying otherwise. Then, try removing first your index finger, then the middle finger, so that ultimately, you have only the ring finger resting lightly upon the first string, and you are able to deliver rest strokes with the thumb without disturbing that light touch. Then, try a simple etude entailing four note upward arpeggios- the Carcassi's well known introductory etude of a few measures in C major from his method would be good for this {the one that commences: (C chord) bass notes C, then fourth string E; (A minor) bass notes A, then C; on to D minor, etc.} Each bass note is to be done with thumb rest strokes, thumb acting entirely on its own, with the fingers ready for the arpeggios without being pre-planted (whatever your teacher may be telling you otherwise) and able to commence immediately upon the ensuing arpeggiation without being dislodged, or rhythmically disrupted.

Jeffrey Armbruster

Re: simultaneous thumb/finger rest stroke exercise

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Wed Jun 27, 2018 1:32 am

Thanks guitareleven for your thorough post on this topic. My teacher is in complete agreement with you on avoiding the 'squeeze' approach to the thumb and i or m finger both in rest and free stroke--that is, he wants my thumb out in front and the fingers unblocked by its presence when they follow through on a stroke. Your image of turning a small knob to the right is really helpful! and thanks for all of the exercises, although I find all this awkward and won't be playing the Bouree like you did anytime soon. Ms. Isbin did indeed mention hand stability as being a great benefit of this technique.

My hand anatomy is a bit odd--double jointed thumb. On the upside I have a lot of natural thumb independence. On the downside, my thumb doesn't stick out in front of my fingers the way most people's do, so I have to fight twisting my wrist and hand out of position to get the thumb out in front of my fingers.

I don't know how far I want to go with this, but it seems worthwhile. I'll just continue starting with very easy exercises and try to built up. I don't have the Carcassi method but I'll look for something suitable.

Posts: 591
Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2014 7:48 pm

Re: simultaneous thumb/finger rest stroke exercise

Post by kmurdick » Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:40 pm

Two of the best players in the world, David Russell and Manuel Barrueco rarely ( if ever) use P rest stroke. If you use all three joints of P, P rest stoke almost becomes superfluous. Using P tip is a technique harpist use to get a powerful thumb stroke. Aaron Shearer, and I assume most of his students, taught this technique.

Return to “Classical Guitar technique”