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Free Stroke vs. Rest Stroke

For years classical guitarists have been debating over which stroke to use when performing classical guitar. We have the school of thought that supports “Apoyando” rest stroke, and another that supports and suggests the use of “Tirando” free stroke. Unfortunately, these two schools do not see eye to eye.

Historically, these techniques have been used consistently, although the tendency of using one or the other depends very much on the era. Renaissance and Baroque music claim for a more contrapuntist, percussive sound which can be attained by the free stroke. Nineteenth century romantic music enjoys the benefits of the rest stroke for the accentuation of their melody lines. The 20th century was characterized for the rest stroke as being the preferred method of plucking. Rest stroke was regarded as a fundamental way of playing at that time. But, this tendency changed towards the end of the 20th century. Performers start separating themselves from this tendency to adopt the more percussive, lighter sound of the free stroke.

The problem has been that in every era there have been people advocating for each of these strokes. And while some think that is better to perform rest stroke on specific selections other believe the opposite.

So, which should I adopt? Let’s take a look at what these strokes are first.

What are the free and rest stokes?

-          Free stroke:  Also, known as Tirando, is where the plucking motion is made in such a manner that, after plucking, the finger stays in the air. Therefore it does not land on an adjacent string, it moves over the adjacent string.  In other words, if you are to play an “E” note on the open first string, you will pluck the string and let your finger move over the second string without leaning or resting your finger on that string.

-          Rest Stroke: Also, known as “Apoyando”, is the opposite of free stroke. In this case, the plucking motion is made in such a manner that after the desired string has been plucked, the fingertip lands on the next adjacent string.

These techniques, when used correctly can bring variety, contrast and sound nuances to the contemporary guitarist. Contemporary classical guitarists don’t need to feel that they have to make a choice, I believe they should master both strokes and be able to apply them as need it. The musicality within each musician should dictate how they want certain selections or passages to sound. However, I have to say, that we should try to perform in a way that represents the correct style, period or composer intentions.

Hold on, you might be thinking, “but if I do this I will not necessarily be interpreting the song my own way?” Not necessarily, interpretation does not have to partake ways apart from the composer’s intention, nor the stylistic similitudes. When you interpret a song, you basically make it your own and express what the selection means to you without changing its original intention.

This is why it is so important to research and understand a little about the selection you are performing. It will help you closer recreate the original composer’s intention. By having good background knowledge of the selection you are performing, you can select and better choose the passages to be performed by either rest stroke or free stroke.

In other words, today’s choice of one stroke or the other is based on musical taste and experience. The performer decides at which point in time he/she will use the stroke of their preference to bring the musical idea wanted to be expressed.

Although, I have to say, there are certain passages that call for specifics strokes. For example, arpeggios and lighter, faster passages tend to be better expressed with a free stroke. This stroke provides the efficiency and accuracy these passages require. While slower more melodic and expressive passages or places where a melody needs to stand out call for rest stroke. We could possibly make the case that it is easier to control more dynamic elements with this stroke for these kinds of passages.

As a classical guitarist I believe the best approach to strokes is to know and master them both. You will become more versatile, a better performer and a lot more expressive by using both strokes. These can bring variety to your interpretations and will make your sound more interesting. Also, you will achieve greater dynamic control and tonal beauty by using the best of both worlds.

So, sit down, get your guitar, practice and achieve beauty.

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