Exploring Rest-Stroke Position

by Kami Rowan
Free-stroke position is the foundational position for the right hand. On average, guitarists use free stroke about 80% of the time when playing solo. Free-stroke movement is also natural in the right-hand fingers much like holding a tennis ball, or gripping something lightly. The easiest free-stroke movement is two or three fingers playing simultaneously. This block movement uses larger muscle groups in the hand, and simply involves simultaneous flexion and extension of adjacent fingers.  Flexing and extending a group of fingers together is a common daily movement in the hand like making a fist or letting go of an object.

Alternatively, using i & m alternation with rest stroke is a complex and difficult movement, which takes a lot of coordination and practice. Because of this, free stroke is easier to teach first to beginners. Once a student is secure with basic free-stroke movement, finding a healthy rest stroke can be easy. Rest stroke and free stroke use the same hand position. Younger students often deviate the wrist or change the whole hand in order to accomplish rest stroke, but no major change is necessary.  The finger is only slightly more extended in the rest-stroke position, but the same basic principles of muscle function are applied. Not altering the right-hand position in order to play rest stroke also allows a player to move quickly between the two strokes. Here’s an easy way to find a healthy rest-stroke position.

Finding Rest-Stroke Position

Play a free stroke with the i finger on (3). Once a healthy position is determined (straight but slightly arched wrist without deviation, fingers in mid-range position, etc.), simply move the i finger to place it on string (1). The i finger is now in a rest stroke position on (1). Sometimes, depending on the player, you can even move between adjacent strings for this exercise.  For example: free stroke on (3) then, rest stroke on (2)

i free-stroke position on (3)

i rest-stroke position on (1)

A few other things to consider when playing rest stroke are not collapsing the tip joint, initiating the stroke from the knuckle joint, and not over-lifting the fingers.  Lots of younger players are using less rest stroke these days, but it provides an opportunity to create a different sound and offers more volume when playing a single line melody.  This is especially important in ensemble settings.  Rest stroke is a powerful stroke and can be a real benefit to a guitarist.
To find out more about rest stroke, see The Shearer Method Book II, Classic Guitar Developments, p.2.

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