Playing the Lisbon Portuguese Guitarra by Ronald Louis Fernandez (continued)

Section 5. Right hand techniques: Free and Rest strokes

The thumb and fingers on the right hand are indicated by the letters. p, i, m, a-- these letter come from the first letter of the words polegar (thumb), indicador (index), médio (middle), anular (ring). The same letters are commonly used  to indicate the right hand fingers for the classical guitar.

 From studying photos and watching a number of good players it will become obvious that there is great variation in the right hand position . In addition, it should be realized that the right hand Lisboa position is different than that of the Coimbra style. (see photos below). The difference between these two styles is best understood by study with a master of each style. However, here are some comments which should be helpful.

Photo of Lisbon hand position with index finger playing free-stroke

Photo of Coimbra hand position with index finger playing rest-stroke

In the Lisbon style, the index finger mainly plays with free-strokes, whereas in Coimbra style there is heavy reliance upon rest-strokes. While the free-stroke can be played with either the index finger or the thumb, in Lisbon style the use of free-stroke by the index finger is most importance.The free-stroke basically involves playing one course of strings without coming to rest on an adjacent course. In contrast, the rest-stroke involves playing across one course and resting on the next course. Another explanation of the difference is: with the free-stroke (pulsação livre) the finger crosses the string and proceeds toward the hand, while with the rest-stroke (pulsação apoiada) the attack is toward the soundboard.

The fact that the Lisboa style relies heavily on the free stroke and the Coimbra relies heavily on the rest stroke is reflected in the way the index finger is used. Many Lisboa players slightly curve their index finger while playing the free-stroke--such a slight curvature allows them to cleanly play one string and not touch the next string. In contrast, Coimbra players seem to play with the index finger held straight and stiff--this allows them to forcefully play a string (with a rest-stroke) and then to rest against the adjacent string.

Some competent Lisboa guitarists tell me that you should not support the right hand by placing the little finger on the soundboard or the pickguard, however, I continually observe many good Lisboa guitarists resting their fingers on the soundboard. It seems to me that the Lisboa style can be played without resting your little finger on the soundboard if you position your right arm properly on the side of the guitar. In the contrast, Coimbra guitarists tell me that you should rest your hand on the pickguard glued to the soundboard--such a hand position is used by Carlos Paredes, the great Coimbra guitarist.

While the ring finger is never used in the Lisbon style, the middle finger is occasionally used. While I have rarely observed much use of the middle finger Pedro Caldeira Cabral told me that the great Jaime Santos used his middle finger. Also, in his book (1999: 320), Cabral mentions an old technique called "dois dedos" which employs the index and middle fingers in alternating free strokes to play melodic passages. Practically speaking I do not see modern players using the middle finger of the right hand.

Despite the very rare use of the middle finger, it is accurate to state that the right hand technique in the Lisbon style is founded upon the thumb and index finger.

Among the basic Lisbon techniques are the "figueta" and the "dedilho". The figueta is a technique which uses the thumb and index finger in alternation, typically the thumb plays a rest stroke and the index plays a free stroke.

The dedilho is a technique for playing melodic passages with the index finger. In this technique the index finger first hits the string and then after it crosses the string changes direction and hits the string with the back of the fingernail. Great speed can be obtained with this technique. (I should mention here that the "dedillo"--which is a Spanish spelling for the Portuguese word "dedilho"-- is mentioned as early as 1536 in Luis Milan's book El Maestro written for the Spanish vihuela. For more information, see Luis Gasser's book, Luis Milan on Sixteenth-Century Performance Practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

When the up and down stroke of the index is played in rapid succesion to emphasize one note, it is called "trinado" which comes from the verb "trinar" which means to waiver. This embellishment technique is very characteristic of the Lisbon style.

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